And lo, such a thing exists

Sep. 21st, 2017 08:52 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

As much as I thought it might not, time is starting to assume its normal course.  The days are starting to be the length that I expect them to be, not stretching out in front of me like a desert I didn’t bring enough water to get across.  For a while there I had to be so busy just to fill those days up. Walking, riding, swimming, cleaning, organizing… if I stopped too long and tried to do something like write or knit then I had too many of those pesky feelings all at once and had to clean out another damn closet. Now I’m mostly okay as long as I don’t think about how Thanksgiving is in two and a half weeks and I really don’t know how to manage that holiday if I can’t have it with my mother and where do we have dinner now for all the holidays and really I’m going to have to move because my dining room can’t hold everyone and… see. There it goes.  I’ll worry about that next week when it might not result in having to clean all the grout in the house with an old toothbrush after jogging 3km.

The point, before I started worrying again, was that things are okay enough now (oh man who is going to make the pies) that as long as I stay sorted, I can knit, and it feels like it helps a lot, and what’s really interesting is that this idea, that once the shock passes, that knitting is going to be a really useful way through grief… It’s not just me who thinks it. My inbox (thank you, thank you, thank you for the wonderful notes and letters and thoughts, I am reading them all, even if I can’t answer) is chock full (okay there are five) people who have written to me not just to suggest that knitting would be helpful (because there are a lot more than five of you who think that) but to call the kind of knitting they think would be helpful “Grief Knitting.”  These charming knitters have even gone so far as to cite the specific projects that they think would be the most helpful, and you know what’s interesting? They have a lot in common.

All the projects are challenging – challenging from the perspective of that particular knitter, for sure, but challenging none the less. They were kinda tricky for the knitter to complete, and they took up some of that scary mental energy that comes with grief. (Oh no mum always makes the turnips too.) All the projects are things that sparked a tremendous amount of joy and pride – the knitters think what they made was beautiful, and feel that they did a good job… and finally (here’s where it gets weird.) All of the projects but for one, were for babies.

Think about that. It’s a pretty compelling bit of information, and it makes me feel better that the two things I’ve knit since my mum died are both tiny things.  First the little hat, and now Elliot is bedecked in a matching sweater.

gussweater 2017-09-21

It’s beautiful to be sure – the yarn is Northampton, but with a bit of a twist. It was the natural colour, but I gave it to Judith to dye at the last Strung Along retreat, and it went for a swim in her indigo pot.  It’s a beautiful blue now, and reminds me of her when I look at it, which is really quite nice, and it suits Elliot pretty well.

wholegus 2017-09-21

The pattern is Gus, and here’s where it didn’t quite fit the bill to be Grief Knitting, it was pretty easy.  The pattern’s well written – so I didn’t struggle with anything at all.  I’ll have to try something from a less competent designer next.

gussweater2 2017-09-21

I tell you this, even unfinished (which it technically is, I’m waiting for the buttons) it does spark a tremendous amount of Joy.  Part of it is that little face, and the other part?  It is the pockets. I can’t tell you how much I love pockets on a baby sweater. It gives me an unreasonable amount of happiness to think of two perfect, tiny pockets, in a proper, handy spot… all for someone who has absolutely nothing to put in them.

pocketsgus 2017-09-21

Delightful.

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Posted by Amanda

The Trouble with Grace

The Trouble with Grace by Jenn LeBlanc is 99c at Amazon and iBooks! This historical romance serves as a prequel for the next book and seems to feature a triad of sorts. Readers recommend this one for those wanting a different sort of historical romance, while others said it was hard to get invested in the romance.

She had no idea what passion was,
Until she saw them…
 

Lady Alain needs a husband, and Quintin Wyntor will do just fine.

She will offer him a mutual agreement of respect and independence–
As long as he never visits her bed to claim his marital rights.

But seeing him with a man, with Calder, changes it all.
For better–and for worse.

Passion stirred.
Desire ignited.

And yet, she still never wants to touch or be touched.

But Quinn’s heart is shattered when his lover walks away so he decides to explore his feelings for Celeste to ease his broken heart.

In one unchecked moment of passion, mutual need spins out of control and bringing Calder home now may just be impossible.

Will Celeste give in to what Quinn wants for her?
Or will she stand her ground and hope they find another way…
 

This book is the story of Celeste and has her happily for now.
It is also the beginning of Calder and Quinn’s story which will be continued in THE SPARE AND THE HEIR.

This book is an autochorissexual romance (on the asexual spectrum) but contains important pieces of a gay romance. Both are explicit.

Warning: this book has a cliffhanger ending for Calder and Quinn, but is very much part of their story.

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Down & Dirty

Down & Dirty by Tracy Wolff is $1.99! This sports romance is the first book in the Lightning series. Readers said that while the book is definitely a sexy contemporary, it has some great emotional depth. However, some felt the romance aspect happened a bit too quickly.

This hard-bodied football star is used to scoring. But he needs all the right moves to get past a fiery redhead’s defenses in a steamy standalone novel from the bestselling author of Ruined.

Emerson: Talk about bad first impressions. I have too much riding on this job to show up late on my first day looking like the winner of a wet T-shirt contest, all thanks to an arrogant quarterback who drives like he owns the road. Hunter Browning thinks that because he’s famous, he can fix everything with a smile and a wave of his hand. He’s too bronzed, buff, and beautiful for his own good. Or mine. I can’t let on that I’m a fan . . . no matter how much fun we’d have in the sack.

Hunter: Hitting that puddle was my best play since winning the Super Bowl with a touchdown pass. Sure, it’s not my preferred way to get a girl wet, but I’ll make an exception for Emerson Day. She’s got a sharp tongue and a red-hot temper, even with her soaking clothes plastered to her every curve. Now I know exactly what my next play will be: hire Emerson as my personal real-estate agent, save her job—and see if I can take her off the market.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

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A Summer for Scandal

A Summer for Scandal by Lydia San Adres is $1.99! This is a historical romance set in the Caribbean with a heroine hiding her writing identity. One promising review said the feeling between the hero and heroine is very much like Mr. Darcy and Lizzie, but some said the plot execution could have used some work. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads.

Arroyo Blanco, 1911.

When Emilia Cruz agreed to accompany her sister to a boating party, she had no idea that the darling of the literary world would be in assistance—or that he would take such pleasure in disparaging the deliciously sinful serial she writes under a pseudonym. No one save her sister knows she’s the author and to be found out would mean certain scandal.

Stuck on his long-awaited second book, Ruben Torres has begun to edit in secret a gossip paper whose literary reviews are as cruel as they are clever. The more he writes about the mysterious author of a popular serial, the more papers he sells…and the more he is determined to find out her identity before anyone else can.

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Vampire Warrior Kings Boxed Set

The Vampire Warrior Kings Boxed Set by Laura Kaye is $1.99 at Amazon and iBooks! It’s $2.49 at all other vendors. This set collects books 1-3 in the Vampire Warrior Kings series and features vampires, obviously. Just a note that these romances are on the shorter side.

Get Laura Kaye’s three bestselling and award-winning Vampire Warrior Kings stories at one great price! Travel from Northern Ireland to Moscow, Russia, to Tromso, Norway in this exciting series featuring the world’s remaining vampire warrior kings as they battle immortal enemies in an escalating war and find unexpected love.

In the Service of the King
Kael, Warrior King of the Vampires loathes the Night of the Proffering. He needs the blood of either his mate or a human virgin to maintain his strength, but hasn’t enjoyed the ritual since he lost his mate. Until he lays eyes on his new offering, Shayla McKinnon, who will give him anything he wishes. Will Kael give in to their overwhelming desire–even if it means risking Shayla’s life?

Taken by the Vampire King
Henrik Magnusson is supposed to be immortal but, thanks to a mysterious ailment not even the blood of the Proffered can sustain him now. Then he rescues a beautiful young woman, and is filled with blood lust and desire he hasn’t felt for centuries…

Seduced by the Vampire
Kate Bordessa has fled to Russia to escape her family’s hopes that she’ll become one of the Proffered. But when she stumbles upon a wounded vampire, she’s instinctively driven to protect him. Will her connection now to Vampire Warrior King Nikolai Vasilyev be strong enough for her to embrace a destiny neither of them was expecting?

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A Series of Unfortunate Monograms

Sep. 21st, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

Who thought this was a good idea?

 

Or this?

(Never in my life have I so fervently hoped that a cake was chocolate.)

 

Or, Aunt Flo help us, this?

"So, when's the party?"

"At the end of the month."

 

Amy M., Jenna B., & Kim W., URQTs. At least, I like to think that you are. Not in a creepy way, of course, or like I know firsthand because I secretly stalk you or anything...that would just be weird. I mean, look, I'm just trying to give you a friendly compliment, in a completely platonic, non-stalker-esque kind of way, Ok? Ok. As you were.

*****

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Posted by Carrie S

B+

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

by Helena Kelly
May 2, 2017 · Knopf
Nonfiction

I am sorry to inform you, Dear Bitches, that Jane Austen: The Secret Radical is not the stirring tale of an undercover Jane who lives a life of seeming calm while secretly running top secret missions for the abolitionist movement in the dead of night. However, it’s a fascinating nonfiction piece of detective work that points out that in the context of her day, Jane would have come across as a much more politically and socially progressive writer than she does to modern readers.

Author Helena Kelly’s premise relies on the idea that every time period and every culture has its own frame of reference. If I tell you that I do all my shopping at Walmart, that tells you something about me that is different from me saying that I do all my shopping at Whole Foods. Cultural references aren’t always that name brand specific (“name brand” is, itself, a phrase that is a cultural reference) but we all rely on thousands of these references without ever thinking about it.

Over time, certain themes stay current, which is one of the reasons that so many older books remain relevant and meaningful. However, most of the references with which the books’ original readers approached the text are lost, giving the book a different flavor with each new generation of readers. Kelly tries to look at Austen’s texts through the lens of Austen’s first readers, and she finds a lot of plausible evidence that Austen was writing very progressively about marriage, class, slavery, and money during a time when England was at war and dissent or criticism was repressed, often severely.

Here’s an example: In Mansfield Park, there is one reference to slavery that all readers can easily understand, and that is when Fanny brings it up at the dinner table and is shushed. Readers with more knowledge of history also know that when Sir Thomas goes to Antigua, he’s probably dealing with problems on his plantation, which is run by slaves. So far things are pretty overt. However, readers who read Mansfield Park when it was published would also have noticed that Fanny’s favorite poet, William Cowper, was famous for his poems in praise of abolition, and that Maria quotes from a passage about slavery written by Laurence Stern that was all the rage at the time. These, among other references, are obscure today but would have been glaring to Regency Era readers.

The other method Kelly uses is to analyze the text for things like repeated words and certain symbolism. For instance, in Mansfield Park, a book that deals with the idea of being trapped in multiple ways, the word “chains” is used thirteen times whereas in all other her other books combined it’s only used twice. In my opinion, sometimes this method of analysis is plausible and sometimes not so much. It’s clear that Kelly knows her Austen. However, all English majors know the trick of making everything symbolic, whether it’s intended to be or not. I buy the idea that Northanger Abbey is a book with a lot of content regarding sexuality but I don’t buy the idea that the scene in which Catherine opens boxes is about masturbation. Sometimes a box is just a box.

This isn’t light reading, but it’s also not mired in academic jargon. To my surprise, I read it in two days, lured on by the suspense of wondering just what Austen allegedly had to say about various topics. I found the chapters on Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park to be the most convincing and entertaining. The amount of scholarship and the clarity and approachability of the writing is truly impressive.

One of the reasons that I loved the chapters on Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion is that while Kelly does get into the darker subtext, she also celebrates reasons that the romances in those two novels are successful at a level I hadn’t considered. With other novels, Kelly is less sanguine about the eventual happiness of the couples. If you don’t want anyone casting aspersions on Edward from Sense and Sensibility, or Knightly from Emma, or Edmund from Mansfield Park, back away from the book slowly.

I would recommend this to people who have an interest in Jane Austen at an academic level. I would NOT recommend it to people who simply enjoy Austen for some nice reading, nor to those whose primary attachment to Austen is from the television and film adaptation, which tend to soften things considerably. If you fall into either of the latter groups, then this book will either irritate you or successfully ruin all conception of Austen as light and happy. If you like getting into the nuts and bolts of writing and history, then this book will be perfect for you.

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Posted by SB Sarah

After our first and second installments of Podcast and Episode recommendations, my playlist has grown considerably. I listen to podcasts while walking my dogs and while cooking, and I find that sampling new shows is both fascinating, affirming, and intimidating. Fascinating because I learn about so many new cool things, affirming because I’m so excited when there are new shows, and intimidating because I pay closer attention to finer details of my own podcast after I listen to a new one.

But! I always love finding new episodes to recommend, either from shows I’ve already subscribed to, or shows that I’ve just discovered. Here are a few recent favorites.

Still Processing Podcast header with photographs of the two hosts back to backI’ve already recommended Still Processing from the NY Times, hosted by Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham. You can listen on the NYT website, on Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you haven’t tried Still Processing, please, please try the episode titled, “We Care For Ourselves and Others in Trump’s America.”

Morris and Wortham talk about the concept of self care, the co-opting of the term, and the history of personal, physical, and spiritual care for marginalized people. They also have a guest, Matthew Steinfeld, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, talk about diagnosis and care – and about the mental and emotional toll of contentious conversations, and the personal cost of doing the work to engage with people who hold views that are toxic and bigoted. I have listened to this episode, no lie, three straight times. It’s mind blowing.

Adrift podcast I’ve also tried a new show: Adrift, with Geoff Lloyd and Annabel Port. It’s a comedy podcast that seems to be partly about social awkwardness and embarrassment, and partly about random comedy. The two were radio DJs or presenters, and their show ended in March of this year.

The first episode featured stories about Annabel’s dog that had me laughing so hard I couldn’t go up my stairs until I calmed down. It’s sort of silly absurd comedy mixed with stories of social hesitance, and for the most part the two episodes I’ve listened to so far have been quite funny.

Rough TranslationAnd finally, also new: Rough Translation, a new podcast from NPR about issues affecting countries around the world that have a parallel with issues we’re facing in the US.

The first two episodes, “Brazil in Black and White,” and “Ukraine vs. Fake News,” were so interesting, I kept shushing the dog who was whining at me. Then I realized he was whining because I was standing completely still in my kitchen, holding his food bowl, stuck in place trying to fully process what I was listening to. Poor dog (yes, I fed him and his brother).

You can find Rough Translation on NPR’s website, on iTunes, and on Stitcher.

What podcast episodes have rocked your brain lately? Got any to recommend? 

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Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.It’s time for Wednesday Links, where we post some neat things we’ve found on the internet. I’m currently in one of those states where I’m not sure what day it is and when I do figure it out, it’s always earlier in the week than I’d thought. Which is a real bummer.

Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries has a Kickstarter to be made into a movie! It’s already been successfully backed (yay!), but there are some awesome stretch goals that the team is working toward.

Big thanks to all of you who sent me the link to Entertainment Weekly’s cover reveal & interview with Lisa Kleypas. I loved this little historical fact from the Q & A:

Where did your idea for a female physician/doctor come from?

When I write these historical romance novels, I do an incredible amount of research just to get the flavor of the time period and to pick up all these details that give the story life. As I was reading about important people back in the late 1800s in England, the name Elizabeth Garrett Anderson came up. I was shocked to realize that she was the only female physician in England for 20-30 years and I had never even heard of her. After she got into the British Medical Association through a loophole after completing all these studies at the Sorbonne in France, the British Medical Association changed their rules so that no more women could be admitted for another 20 years. And I could not stop thinking about her because what an incredible thing to be the only woman in an entire country for that long. So I based this character Garrett Gibson on her and, of course, used the name Garrett, because I loved the idea of using a slightly androgynous name for this really tremendously accomplished and brave woman.

Also, what do you think of the cover? We had some thoughts here at the Bitchery.

 

The Ripped Bodice is doing a Blind Date with a Book, where readers can purchase books based on the description. Readers won’t know the actual title of the book until they receive it and unwrap it! I always love it when people do this. And just a reminder that The Ripped Bodice has graced us with an affiliate link for all of your online shopping.


Laptop Cord Winders

I have one of these from Above the Fray, and it's great for keeping my MacBook cord contained and safe from being pulled or frayed. There are earbud winders, too! -SW


In a previous Wednesday Links, we mentioned that Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester was being made into a stage production. Well, welcome Reader Melinda who saw it! Here’s her review:

Not long ago you mentioned on the blog that Lifeline Theatre in Chicago is doing a stage adaptation of “Sylvester” this fall. I’m a resident of Portland Oregon but realized that I’d be in Chicago visiting family during the play’s previews. So we got tickets.

Yesterday afternoon we went to the show, and I am pleased to report that it was well done and very, very fun! All of us enjoyed it–not only myself and my daughter, who are Georgette fans and familiar with the story, but also my husband and son in law who had never heard of Georgette or Sylvester.

The theatre is small, so the environment is intimate, and the production is creative (costumes are suggested, casting is diverse, each actor plays many parts, and there is a “game of love ” theme that organizes and comments on the action). I was personally amazed that such a long and complex novel could be dramatized in a way that made it manageable for a 2-hour running time and yet retained the essential character (and comedy) of the book.

Interestingly enough, the program mentioned that this is the theatre’s fourth adaptation of a Heyer novel, so it seems they have an interest in this kind of literature. They also seem to have done adaptations of Dorothy Sayers and “Miss Buncle’s Book.” If I were a Chicago resident I would definitely be keeping my eye on their future productions

Does anyone else plan on seeing it?

Erotic romance author, Selena Kitt, did an AMA (ask me anything) over at Reddit and I thought the Q & A was pretty informative for authors! Check it out! She talks about promoting books, how to manage a large backlist of books, and more.

Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

More 99c Books from the Swerve Sale!

Sep. 20th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Level Up

RECOMMENDED: Level Up by Cathy Yardley is 99c! Sarah and author Bree Bridges (one half of Kit Rocha!) had an entire podcast episode dedicated to squeeing about this book. If you want more geeky romances in your life, the next book, One True Pairing, is also on sale!

Geeky introvert Tessa Rodriguez will do whatever it takes to get promoted to video game engineer– including create a fandom-based video game in just three weeks. The only problem is, she can’t do it alone. Now, she needs to strong-arm, cajole, and otherwise socialize with her video game coworkers, especially her roommate, Adam, who’s always been strictly business with her. The more they work together, though, the closer they get…

Adam London has always thought of his roomie Tessa as “one of the guys” until he agreed to help her with this crazy project. Now, he’s thinking of her all the time… and certainly as something more than just a roommate! But his last girlfriend broke up with him to follow her ambitions, and he knows that Tessa is obsessed with getting ahead in the video game world.

Going from friends to something more is one hell of a challenge. Can Tessa and Adam level up their relationship to love?

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Crossing the Line

Crossing the Line by Audra North is 99c! This is the third book in the Hard Driving series, but it works fine as a standalone. I’ve read some of North’s books in the past and she does write some pretty sexy contemporaries. Readers loved the chemistry between the hero and heroine, but others wanted more racing action.

He wanted her the first time he saw her. It didn’t matter that he was on stage in front of a room full of reporters, or that his publicist was telling him to move on, or that she was asking him a question about racing. One look at her “just been bedded” hair — completely at odds with her deliciously prim appearance — and Ty Riggs is hooked.

Corrine Bellows is one of the woefully few women in a male profession: sports reporting. In a field where “Hey, sweetheart, can you fetch me a cup of copy” is part of her job description, she’s determined to keep things professional. And while interviewing Ty Riggs, the hottest new driver on and off the track, is a major scoop, Corrine knows that she is in major trouble when it becomes clear that Ty wants so much more and is determined to get it. As things heat up between them, Corrine finds herself on shakier ground. Her big secret just may destroy everything.

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Beauty and the Highland Beast

Beauty and the Highland Beast by Lecia Cornwall is 99c! This is a historical romance with Beauty and the Beast elements. Readers say the book has a great start introducing the hero and the heroine, but there were others who felt a lot of the plot points seemed unnecessary. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads. This is the first book in the A Highland Fairytale series and right now, you can grab all three books for less than $3!

Powerful and dangerous highlander Dair Sinclair was once the favored son of his clan, The Sinclairs of Carraig Brigh. With Dair at the helm, Sinclair ships circled the globe bringing home incredible fortune. Until one deadly mission when Dair is captured, tortured and is unable to save his young cousin. He returns home breaking under the weight of his guilt and becomes known as the Madman of Carraig Brigh.

When a pagan healer predicts that only a virgin bride can heal his son’s body and mind, Dair’s father sets off to find the perfect wife for his son. At the castle of the fearsome McLeods, he meets lovely and kind Fia MacLeod.

Although Dair does his best to frighten Fia, she sees the man underneath the damage and uses her charm and special gifts to heal his mind and heart. Will Dair let Fia love him or is he cursed with madness forever?

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Meat

Meat by Opal Carew is 99c! It doesn’t look like this book is part of any series, so you can read without worrying about details from any previous books. I wanted to include this book because the title made me giggle. This definitely falls into the erotic romance category, so expect a lot of sexytimes. However, readers thought the book could have benefitted from being a bit longer.

Just one taste isn’t enough…

I ran into Rex Keene—literally—when I was trying to catch my flight and his muscled, tattooed arms stopped my fall.

Then our flight gets canceled, and we’re stranded in the same hotel room together…it ended up being the steamiest night of my life.

All I knew is that I had to see him again.

I just didn’t expect him to show up a week later in the restaurant I manage…as our new head chef.

But the generous, tender man I spent that night with is gone; instead he’s arrogant, demanding, and terrorizing the staff.

But he won’t give up until we’re together – and I’m not sure I can stay away.

Which man is real?

Who is Rex Keene?

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Wedding Wrecks, Fangirl Edition

Sep. 20th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

Imani wanted this cake for her wedding, only with bright lime green flowers instead of pink:

 

She got this:

 

Yeeeah.

 

And Meredith asked for this design with little pumpkins instead of apples:

 

... but she got this:

 

Preach.

 

And finally, as a baker herself, Zoey decided to keep her wedding cake design SUPER simple to avoid potential wreckage:

No piping required! Just plain frosted tiers and colored sugar crystals!

 

Say it with me, now:

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Oooh, Sherlock, you so bad.

 

Thanks to Imani R., Meredith R., & Zoey K., who want to know if I seriously just turned this post into a SuperWhoLock love fest. And the answer is yes, YES I DID.

*****

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Speaker of the Lost by Clara Coulson

Sep. 20th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by SB Sarah

D

Speaker of the Lost

by Clara Coulson
September 15, 2017 · Knite and Day Publishing
Nonfiction

It’s getting a little bleak for me, reading-wise. This was the first book I finished after 8 DNFs in a row, some of which were nonfiction and some romance or fantasy. I was pretty excited that the beginning of this story was so promising. Then it became repetitive, emotionally limited, inconsistent, and then offensive.

Summary time! Stella Newport is a brand new FBI agent. Specifically, she’s a Lark, which is the name given to the agents in the paranormal investigation division. She’s sent to work with a curmudgeonly, unkind agent named Oswald Bolton, known informally as “Oz.” There are a couple of familiar character types here: the intelligent rookie who is more than she seems, paired with an experienced, jaded agent who lost his partner prior to the start of this story, and who doesn’t want to work with anyone else because emotional vulnerability is awful and he hates it. He works alone – doesn’t anyone understand that?!

This novel is book 1 of a new series called “Lark Nation,” but according to the listing, it’s part of the same universe as another series. First off: I do not think this book works as a stand-alone, and that’s a shame. The exposition and world building presumed that I knew things that I did not, and many major elements, like the entire other worlds and universes that exist parallel to the one the characters inhabit, are very sparsely described.

As a result, I switched between being frustrated that I didn’t get what the characters were talking about and being annoyed that they were so lacking in basic understanding of jurisprudence. For FBI agents, they didn’t know much about aspects of investigation that I would think were obvious. For example: if you suspect your partner has been hit in the head with a brick, throwing that brick into the water while you’re having a tantrum because she’s been fridged seems like a bad idea. Oz’s reasoning is that the rain washed away the evidence that it was used in an assault, but that’s some pretty flawed reasoning for an experienced agent. There are also multiple instances where “something” isn’t right, or “something” seems off, but the main characters shrug it off, or figure they’ll deal with whatever it is at a later time.

Stella and Oz are in Maine investigating a beheading. Some guy was walking home at night on a deserted road, and a headless horseman shows up and lops his head clean off. So Stella is sent to assist Oz, who is already on site, but because there are so many supernatural crimes happening all over the country – a byproduct of some event that happened in the earlier series which I didn’t read – there’s not much in the way of backup for either of them. At one point Stella has a call with her supervisor where she has to tell him about a few more beheadings that happened, and I was so confused how that wasn’t information said supervisor would need to know as soon as they had happened.

The book started out pretty strong: Stella is nervous about her first investigation, but very smart, capable, and confident in her training and her abilities.

Then we meet Oz. Oz is grumpy and also, he’s an asshole. They start by trying to figure out why the dude lost his head. Then more people start dying, and the narrative starts repeating itself. For example: I was told over and over that Stella isn’t sure if she wants to be the one who breaks down Oz’s defenses/”scale the concrete wall Oswald…had built around his heart”/lather rinse repeat.

Honestly, I didn’t care if she did or not. It was perhaps the second or third day of their working together, he barely managed to treat her with respect, and I didn’t really know the scope of what happened to him in the first place. I have dreadfully low tolerance for characters who lack any emotional fluency, and even less for people who use that excuse to treat other people poorly. Example: here’s Oz after he berates a local cab driver – and this is in a small town where he and Stella are already worried about gossip regarding the FBI’s presence and investigation:

Oz knew he’d been too hard on the guy, but again, he couldn’t bring himself to care about the feelings of a random stranger who would ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme. The cabbie would get over his scare, resume his normal activities, and live, if not happily ever after, then some mediocre variation.

Nice, huh? And it’s pretty consistent with how he treats ancillary characters. I don’t care what kind of structures he’s built around himself. It’s probably a good idea he stay inside them. One of the goals (I presume) of this book is to establish Stella and Oz’s partnership as agents, but the overtly romantic tone, the constant reassertion that it’s somehow Stella’s job to emotionally heal Oswald, and the compressed time period of a few days or maybe a week, did not do enough to make me believe in their alleged progress.

The two things that frustrated me most, aside from the repetitiveness of Stella vs. Oz Walls, were as follows.

First: there was not enough connecting the magic to reality.  There’s a magical world connected to the real one, and the FBI has some sort of jurisdiction over it. But how that works is not ever fully explained, nor is their authority over magical events that happen to humans. Stella has some kind of magical ability (more on that in a moment) and both she and Oz have mage kits and magical rings but the integration of their individual magic into the reality they inhabit was also poorly built. The magical rings are particularly ludicrous: to use one, they have to point the ring at a target and yell “SHOOT!” to make things happen. I kept picturing the elementary school kids in my neighborhood playing superhero and waving their hands at each other: “BOOM! You fell down!” Without a more robust explanation of how the magic works, what the cost is, what its effects are, why they have it and some don’t, the whole wave-your-ring-at-the-bad-guy part seemed dumb.

Then, there’s this part which ruined the whole book for me. Get ready.

Stella is described by Oz when he meets her as follows:

She was roughly twenty-five and built like a ballet dancer, with light brown skin and facial features that spoke of a multiracial ancestry. Her long hair was tamed into a ponytail of black ringlets, leaving no shadows on her face to hide her bright green eyes. No, vividly green eyes. Eyes that almost seemed to shine, even.

I didn’t read about any other characters of color aside from Stella, but figured there would be some. To my knowledge, there were not – though I may have missed a description or two, as I began reading pretty quickly once the book began to sour for me.

Then Oz and the reader learns something pretty crucial about Stella:

Show Spoiler

Stella is revealed to be a powerful telekinetic, and part fae. Oz, it turns out – and this is revealed about him after Stella divulges that her grandmother is Summer fae – hates and distrusts the fae. Which leads to this rumination on his part:

Faeries were not his favorite creatures – they stood one step below vampires on his list of THINGS I HATE – but most of his ire was directed at full-blooded fae. They were mischievous, sadistic creatures, who’d taken their inability to lie and honed it into a mastery of manipulation. They were cold, callous, crafty, and clever, and every interaction Oz had with them in the past ended in absolute disaster….

To think Newport had their blood running through her veins unnerved him. It made him question everything she’d said and done since the moment they met. But…Oz rejected the impulse to categorize Newport with her inhuman relations….

No, Newport’s interactions with Oz had been true to form. She was what she appeared to be. Headstrong. Smart. Practical. Controlled…. She didn’t have faults as an agent that a few years of fieldwork wouldn’t fix.

Weighing all those qualities against her fae blood, Oz could find no legitimate reason to shun her. Her heritage was beyond her control. Her behavior was not, and what she’d displayed so far spoke of a talented agent in the toddler phase who’d one day grow to be a truly spectacular force.

My comment on my device: “Oh, no.”

So Stella is to my knowledge the only character of color in the book, and she’s part fae. But it’s ok: she’s not like other fae, and though Oz hates them all, she’s proved herself so he won’t shun her. Am I supposed to look at Oz favorably for overcoming his own prejudice? Am I supposed to ignore the substitution of “fae prejudice” for racial prejudice?

WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. LIVING. HELL.

If I cringe any harder, I’ll develop a hernia. Sloppy characterization that’s painfully racist is not what I wanted. I’ve sat here watching my blinking cursor trying to think of coherent words to respond to that scene. Stella even lampshades herself in an earlier part of the book, joking with a receptionist who expected Oz’s new partner to be “another brown-haired man around thirty-five” that her unit is “a little more diverse.” But she’s still a token character – on multiple levels.

I get so excited when I see more inclusivity in the fiction I buy. But this is not the representation I’m looking for. This is the exact opposite.

I was close enough to the end that I finished the book, but neither Oz nor the story were redeemable for me. There was so much potential in the first chapters: a bit of X-Files with a complicated set of partners, plus a headless horseman – who talks to the heroine! They have whole conversations after he yanks his head out of his saddlebag! They were the most interesting pair in the book, now that I think about it.

I would have been a lot happier if Stella had left Oz to his grumpy racist emotional navel gazing and run off with the murdering headless horseman.

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO comes from Amanda, who isn’t me, I swear:

I’m sorry that I can’t remember anything about this book, but there are so many paranormal romances starring vampires that they all blur together – I can’t even be sure about the plot. All I recall is the start; the heroine worked at a hospital, and was in the morgue when a recently arrived body jumps up and attacks her. As she’s slumped against the wall dying, the last thing she sees is the hero who arrives too late and takes her away to a mansion filled with other vampires, so she’ll be able to learn about her new existence. The mansion vampires are good and the vampire that randomly attacked the heroine is rogue?

All I remember about the book is that it was a paperback from a decade or so ago, from when my sister was in a vamp-fanatic phase. It just niggles away at the back of my brain, because I know I’ve read it, but browsing the vamp romances on Amazon doesn’t ring any bells.

I fill like this is a Black Dagger Brotherhood book, but it’s been so long since I’ve read one.

Contemporary Romances & YA Fantasy

Sep. 19th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

The Girl with the Red Balloon

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke is $1.99! This is a pretty new release and I mentioned how excited I was about it in this month’s Hide Your Wallet. Reviewers on Goodreads recommend this title for fans of magical realism, but some felt the heroine was a bit boring.

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

Truth or Beard

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid is 99c at Amazon! I know Reid is an auto-buy author for many of you and this one has an enemies to lovers feel to it, judging by the description. Readers say it has Reid’s trademark humor and quirkiness, but warn there’s a scene where the hero is with another woman. I know that’s an off button for some, but Reader Katie Lynn explained that it isn’t a form of cheating.

Beards, brothers, and bikers! Oh my!

Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James, recent college graduate and perpetual level-headed good girl, has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life.

His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her…

But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Jessica James has spent her whole life paralyzed by the fantasy of Beau and her assumptions of Duane’s disdain; therefore she’s unprepared for the reality that is Duane’s insatiable interest, as well as his hot hands and hot mouth and hotter looks. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang, the Iron Order.

Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk?

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This book is on sale at:

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Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is $1.99! This is a YA fantasy novel that was nominated for a RITA in 2012. Michelle wrote in her RITA Reader Challenge Review:

The biggest reason I picked up Grave Mercy originally was because of the assassin nuns. Because come on, how awesome does “assassin nuns” sound?

Then I saw it was first-person present tense, and almost held back from getting it. That particular style has been notoriously difficult for me to get into in the past, and I’ve been getting burnt out on it.

However, I went ahead and got the book anyway, and I’m thrilled I did. LaFevers uses language so well that I sank immediately into her style without the 5-10 pages of struggle that normally accompanies reading present tense.

Here, she’s created a fantastic medieval world of gods, saints, political intrigue, and romance that swept me away completely.

And yes, the assassin nuns were pretty much as great as they sounded.

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

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All That Matters

All That Matters by Erin Nicholas is 99c! This is the third book in The Billionaire Bargains series, but it can be read as a standalone. Also, the heroine is the billionaire in this romance! Some readers felt the ending seemed a bit unresolved, while others thought this was a rather fun romance. It has a 4.1-star rating on Goodreads.

When billionaire Emily Steele breaks off her eight-year relationship with the only boy she’s ever dated, she quickly realizes she has a lot to learn. About the world. About herself. And men. Definitely men.

A friend’s bachelorette party in New Orleans is the perfect place to get in touch with her inner vixen. Trouble is, she’s never actually met her inner vixen. Worse, her overprotective uncle’s determination to keep her safe means she’s going to have a babysitter for the weekend. A tall, handsome babysitter who makes her tingle from head to toe.

Will Weston has always thought his boss’s niece was special, and now that she’s single, he’s even more acutely aware of her beauty and charm. Her uncle’s insistence that he accompany her to the world’s sexiest city has mistake written all over it—until she offers his best friend a million dollars to be her date.

Now there’s no way Will is staying behind, even though he knows something crazy is going to happen. Because falling in love in a weekend is definitely crazy.

Warning: Contains a woman with enough money to buy a date for a weekend in New Orleans, a guy who’s never going to let that happen, a bachelorette party on Bourbon Street, hot sex to slow jazz, and beignets… because there has to be beignets.

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO request is from Lynn, who is trying to find an older historical:

I’m trying to find a historical romance in paperback. My mom had it roughly around the 80’s-90’s. It was so excessive that I loved it.

The heroine was a mountain woman who lived alone. She saved the hero from a bear. The descriptions were awesome — I remember “bluer than a possum’s balls in a skiff of snow” and “colder than a witch’s tit”. The hero was a city feller, and I think she might have tried to make it in the city for him, but it’s been many years since I read this book.

I would love to find it, because it was crazy.

I am very interested in this heroine!

Let's Play Telephone

Sep. 19th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

Ever wonder what could possibly go wrong with a simple inscription on a basic cake? Well, WONDER NO MORE. 

Below I've listed the inscriptions some of my trusty Wreckporters ordered from professional bakeries, followed by the cakes they actually received:

 

"God Bless Neal"

I hear it's His middle name.

 

"Welcome Baby Arnold"

The spacing is what really sells it.

 

"Happy Birthday Mom"

Now that's a cake only a mother named Bob could love.

[Btw, I'm starting to wonder if a baker named Bob is doing these on purpose. And if so, I want to shake Bob's hand.]

 

"Congrats British Lit"

I hope this starts a trend; I want to see all the ways bakers butcher "Kyrgyzstanian."

 

"Happy Bandwidth Upgrade Day"

"Band With Upgrade" is the name of my retro Steam Powered Giraffe cover band.

(I realize only about 3 people will get that joke... and I'm ok with that.)

 

"Grats to Dad"

I like to think this is the baker's revenge on everyone who shortens "congratulations" to "grats." "CONGRATS" IS SHORT ENOUGH, PEOPLE.

 

"Old Dirty Thirty"

At some point you stop being surprised. Or so I'm told.

 

"When I'm 64"

That's actually how John says it when he's singing in his "drunk McCartney" voice, so maybe Kit sang her order over the phone. Drunk. While imitating Paul McCartney. 

(Don't keep us in suspense, now, Kit: did you?)

 

Thanks to Colleen C., Suzanne R., Morgan & Eric, Katie D., Ethan D., Leslie C., Becky L., & Kit K. for really phoning it in today. ;)

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

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Posted by Amanda

This post is being sponsored by AdamandEve.com, and, while we have some amazing toy recommendations, here is the most important information:

AdamandEve.com is offering Smart Bitches readers 50% off a single item plus free standard shipping in the US and Canada with code SMART. Please note: certain exclusions apply, but the coupon covers most of the store.

Additionally, you also get a free gift with purchase: a pink vibrating egg, which is sure to give you some bang for your buck.

Previously, Sarah and I put together a list of personal recommendations and recommendations of popular products from the site. We also invited Reader Jaymzangel to send us some recs as well!

This time, I’m picking some items that I think would be great for the fall season – for yourself, or someone else, or both!

This post is extremely NSFW! You have been warned!

A&E Intimate Pleasures Kegel Set: Okay, this serious looks some awesome rose gold jewelry. I love how customizable this set is with two different silicone sleeves and four differently sized balls. Perfect for the classy, kinky goth!

A&E Intimate Pleasures Kegel SetKitty Playballs Set: If you prefer your Ben Wa balls more on the cutesy side, check out this set! Though it only comes with one sleeve, it still has four differently weighted balls. Plus, a pink carrying case with a lock!

Kitty Playballs Set

 

Fetish Fantasy Web Restraint: Looking to get freaky on Halloween? Or perhaps you want to roleplay Spider & the Fly with your partner? This restraint system fits any bed, comes with four cuffs, and has 24 different “web lines” the cuffs can attach to or slide along during play. The set also comes with a free satin mask as well. How much fun does that look?

Fetish Fantasy Web Restraint

The Rendezvous Gift Set: First off, this set of toys comes in a case that looks like a book. Hello!

Imagine putting in on your bookshelf and having company be none the wiser. The set also comes with nine items, which is a 40% savings if you had purchased everything separately. I’m a sucker for a bargain. There are toys, bondage tape, a mask, candle, and a variety of lube samples.

The Rendezvous Gift Set

Salted Caramel Intimate Earth Flavored Lubricant: One of fall’s signature flavors is salted caramel. Sorry, pumpkin spice fans – I couldn’t find any lube for you. This lube in particular is water-based and warms up. It’s also safe for vegans! This brand also comes in cherry and strawberry flavors that are more tart than the salted caramel one, according to reviews.

Salted Caramel Intimate Earth Flavored Lubricant

Wicked Aqua Salted Caramel Flavored Lube: I found not one, but two salted caramel flavored lubes! This one is also vegan-friendly and water-based, but I like the packaging of this one more. It looks like a fancy hand soap dispenser. It does not seem to be a warming lubricant, but it does have some other fall-ish flavors like Candy Apple and Mocha Java.

Wicked Aqua Salted Caramel Flavored Lube

Revitalize Pocket Vibrator Kit: This pocket vibrator comes in baby blue and pastel pink. It’s waterproof and features three different silicone attachments. So it’s pretty much like putting a costume on your vibrator. It only takes one AA battery and is waterproof, which is something I consider a “must have” when it comes to my sex toys.

Revitalize Pocket Vibrator Kit

Big thanks to Adam & Eve for sponsoring this post and for the coupon and free gift to our readers!

I so love doing these posts. Not only do I get to browse sex toys for “work,” but it gives me a chance to talk about them with all of you. As a side note, the romance genre and community have really helped me in terms of discussing my sexuality and my sexual needs with my partner. It’s reaffirming in the sense that sex isn’t something to be embarrassed about, though I’d definitely say I’m still in the learning process.

What do you think about the items recommended? Have any you’d love to suggest?

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Posted by Amanda

Hamilton’s Battalion

Hamilton’s Battalion is available for preorder at Amazon for $4.99! This is a historical romance anthology from Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner, and Alyssa Cole and many of you were super interested in it after it was mentioned on the most recent podcast episode with Cole. I’m excited to see the cover once it’s been finalized.

Love in the time of Hamilton…

On October 14, 1781, Alexander Hamilton led a daring assault on Yorktown’s defenses and won a decisive victory in America’s fight for independence. Decades later, when Eliza Hamilton collected his soldiers’ stories, she discovered that while the war was won at Yorktown, the battle for love took place on many fronts…

PROMISED LAND by Rose Lerner

Donning men’s clothing, Rachel left her life behind to fight the British as Corporal Ezra Jacobs–but life catches up with a vengeance when she arrests an old love as a Loyalist spy.

At first she thinks Nathan Mendelson hasn’t changed one bit: he’s annoying, he talks too much, he sticks his handsome nose where it doesn’t belong, and he’s self-righteously indignant just because Rachel might have faked her own death a little. She’ll be lucky if he doesn’t spill her secret to the entire Continental Army.

Then Nathan shares a secret of his own, one that changes everything…

THE PURSUIT OF… by Courtney Milan

What do a Black American soldier, invalided out at Yorktown, and a British officer who deserted his post have in common? Quite a bit, actually.

* They attempted to kill each other the first time they met.
* They’re liable to try again at some point in the five-hundred mile journey that they’re inexplicably sharing.
* They are not falling in love with each other.
* They are not falling in love with each other.
* They are…. Oh, no.

THAT COULD BE ENOUGH by Alyssa Cole

Mercy Alston knows the best thing to do with pesky feelings like “love” and “hope”: avoid them at all cost. Serving as a maid to Eliza Hamilton, and an assistant in the woman’s stubborn desire to preserve her late husband’s legacy, has driven that point home for Mercy—as have her own previous heartbreaks.

When Andromeda Stiel shows up at Hamilton Grange for an interview in her grandfather’s stead, Mercy’s resolution to live a quiet, pain-free life is tested by the beautiful, flirtatious, and entirely overwhelming dressmaker.

Andromeda has staid Mercy reconsidering her worldview, but neither is prepared for love—or for what happens when it’s not enough.

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This book is on sale at:

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Shacking Up

Shacking Up by Helena Hunting is 99c! This is part of a huge Swerve sale going on and we’ll definitely feature more books this week. This book has a romantic comedy vibe and is actually pretty funny, but I’ll admit that it does take some suspension of disbelief, since it can be a bit zany at times.

Ruby Scott is months behind on rent and can’t seem to land a steady job. She has one chance to turn things around with a big audition. But instead of getting her big break, she gets sick as a dog and completely bombs it in the most humiliating fashion. All thanks to a mysterious, gorgeous guy who kissed—and then coughed on—her at a party the night before.

Luckily, her best friend might have found the perfect opportunity; a job staying at the lavish penthouse apartment of hotel magnate Bancroft Mills while he’s out of town, taking care of his exotic pets. But when the newly-evicted Ruby arrives to meet her new employer, it turns out Bane is the same guy who got her sick.

Seeing his role in Ruby’s dilemma, Bane offers her a permanent job as his live-in pet sitter until she can get back on her feet. Filled with hilariously awkward encounters and enough sexual tension to heat a New York City block, Shacking Up, from NYT and USA Today bestselling author Helena Hunting, is sure to keep you laughing and swooning all night long.

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amazon

 

 

 

The Billionaire Beast

The Billionaire Beast by Jackie Ashenden is 99c! This is an erotic Beauty and the Beast retelling and, while this is the second book in the Billionaire Fairytales series, it can be read as a standalone. Readers really felt for the hero, but felt the heroine seemed like a doormat at times.

Dark, tortured, and intimidating, these dominant billionaires will steal their innocent heroines’ breath away. Overwhelmed by their desire to control their world, they push their heroines to explore their deepest desires. But even the most unworldly of heroines can unlock these billionaires’ secrets.

Nero de Santis: Damaged. Bastard. Beast.

Nero hasn’t left his house in ten years—he demands the world come to him, and the world is only too happy to bend to the strong-willed billionaire. Ruthless, cold, and selfish, Nero wants for nothing and takes care of no one but himself. His last handful of assistants have left his house in tears, but the prim redhead applying for the job looks up to the task. Nero has spent his life shut within the walls he built, with no care to have more than a window to the outside world. But the fiery passion he senses beneath his reserved assistant’s exterior makes him want to break down the barriers he lives behind, and unleash the beast within.

Phoebe Taylor: Uptight. Misunderstood. Engaged.

Phoebe needs the obscene amount of money that comes with being Nero’s personal assistant for one thing, and one thing only—to pay for the mounting hospital costs that her fiancee’s two-year coma continues to incur. She’s heard rumors that the de Santis beast is a force that cannot be tamed—but even she isn’t prepared to handle the smoldering intensity simmering beneath his hard shell of feral dominance. Nero is hiding something, something he is fighting with every step he takes. Yet he can’t help but stake his claim on this woman who has shaken up his life, and Phoebe can’t believe this animal of a man is the one person to ever look into her eyes and see her soul. Nero wants to keep her. He wants to devour her. And Phoebe just might let him.

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The SEAL’s Rebel Librarian

The SEAL’s Rebel Librarian by Anne Calhoun is 99c! Sarah read this novella and while she felt the ending was rushed (which is a common problem for me in novellas), it still earned a B grade:

I really enjoyed reading this novella, and recommend it for fans of hotter contemporary romance.

And really, I haven’t met many people who can resist that title. The story inside comes very, very close to living up to the promise of it.

The second in the Alpha Ops novella series that features an alpha Navy SEAL and the librarian who brings him to his knees.

Jack Powell never planned on leaving the Navy, but his final mission as a SEAL left him with a tremor and a bad case of nerves. He’s home, taking some college classes and trying to figure out what comes next when he meets Erin Kent, a divorced college librarian with an adventurous bucket list and a mission to get her ex-husband’s voice out of her head. Jack guides Erin through skydiving and buying the motorcycle of her dreams, blithely accepting Erin’s promise that their relationship is purely temporary. But when Jack gets the chance to go back into the shadowy world of security contracting, can he convince Erin to break her word and join him on the adventure of a lifetime?

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Now That's A Bad Day

Sep. 18th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

Where is the moment we needed the most?

You kick up the leaves and the Volvo is lost...

You tell me your blue skies fade to grey

Your baker still hates you, too, they say

But I don't need no carryin' on!


You fall in the line just to hit a new low

You pretend that you meant to, but everyone knows


You tell me it's hard working here offline

Your coworkers mock you all the time

But I don't need no carryin' on!


So you had a bad day

You're itching downtown,

You sing a sad song just to drown out the sound!


You say you must know,

You tell me don't lie,

Then you work on a smile and you opt for the pie.


You had a bad day!

Now that's a bad day.

 

Thanks to wreckporters Connie L., Deborah P., Melissa F., Fribby, Monique R., Anony M., & Rachel B. for inspiring a new CW policy: from now on, we want any and all apologies handwritten. ON CAKE.

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

A-

Burn for Me

by Ilona Andrews
October 28, 2014 · HarperCollins
Urban Fantasy

The Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews is a huge hit with the Bitchery (especially Amanda) and though the series is somewhat over for now, that gives new readers a perfect excuse to binge all three books. Reader Aidee Campa has given us a great guest review of books one and two if the series to give you a nudge in the right reading direction!

Aidee recently graduated from college, where she was an English major and a political science minor. She started reading romance in high school, but isn’t quite sure which was her first romance read—Jean M. Auel, Fern Michaels, or something that she has completely forgotten by now. She loves reading, writing, chocolate, and listening to music, although not necessarily in that order. The most recent books she’s enjoyed have been Alisha Rai’s Hate to Want You, Alyssa Cole’s Extraordinary Union, Ilona Andrews’ Wildfire, and Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom (there are more, but that’s probably a good place to stop).

I don’t clearly remember what made me pick up Burn for Me, but I do remember that I listened to it as an audiobook before I read it. I recommend listening to it, even if you’ve already read it, because Renee Raudman, the narrator, is really good. And before going any further, I would like it to be clear, I love this book. I have read it multiple times, and so far, I haven’t gotten tired of it. I will try my best to balance my love for this book with some critical analysis, but I can’t make any promises.

Here’s the cover copy for Burn for Me from Amazon:

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile situation. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run and wanting to surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

I think Andrews does a wonderful job of working with a trope that to some may seem to have run its course—the PI in the magical world. I feel this is because Nevada isn’t like most PIs I’ve read before. She already comes with a family—one that she is not looking to distance herself from—and she is likeable but still has flaws that can lead to bad consequences. The world is vividly drawn, and Andrews generally manages to walk that fine line of explaining enough without overwhelming the reader with information. The plot moves in a logical way, and yet that logic wasn’t immediately obvious to me until I had read Burn for Me a few times—which could be because usually, when I read for pleasure, I don’t pay close attention to this sort of thing, unless it’s very annoying and incredibly obvious.

In any case, the two points that may count against this book with some readers are that it is told in first person from Nevada’s point of view, and, because of that, Rogan is a little more opaque.

Nevada and Nevada’s family are all likeable. Or at least, the family we meet in this book—this is only the first book in what is looking to be a trilogy, or possibly a quartet. Nevada is good at her job, and that is amazing to watch in action. A lot of the time, we might be told a character is good at their job, but that is never shown on the page. The first two chapters are of Nevada doing her job as a PI in a world with magic.

Nevada has a strong sense of herself and her code and how it applies to her job:

Some easy job this turned out to be. At least I didn’t have to go to the hospital. I grimaced. The welt decided it didn’t like me grimacing. Ow.

The Baylor Investigative Agency started as a family business. … We had only three rules. Rule #1: we stayed bought. Once a client hired us, we were loyal to the client. Rule #2: we didn’t break the law. It was a good rule. It kept us out of jail and safe from litigation. And Rule #3, the most important one of all: at the end of the day we still had to be able to look our reflections in the eye. I filed today under Rule #3 day. Maybe I was crazy and John Rutger would’ve taken his wife home and begged her forgiveness on bended knee. But at the end of the day, I had no regrets, and I didn’t have to worry about whether I did the right thing and whether Liz’s two children would ever see their mother again.

And here’s something a bit further down which illustrates how she thinks of her family. The affection and tension is evident here, especially if one considers that Nevada is a grown woman still living with her family:

If Mom saw me, I wouldn’t get away without a thorough medical exam. All I wanted to do was take a shower and eat some food. This time of the day she was usually with Grandma, helping her work. If I was really quiet, I could just sneak into my room. I padded down the hallway. Think sneaky thoughts… Be invisible… Hopefully, nothing attention-attracting was going on.

We are also introduced to her family at the beginning of the book, and the interactions between Nevada, her sisters, her cousin, her mother and grandmother are great. Here is another snippet, where we meet most of Nevada’s family, and which introduces them nicely:

“Let me go!” Arabella snarled.

“Think about what you’re doing,” Bern said, his deep voice patient. “We agreed—no violence.”

“What is it this time?” I asked.

Catalina stabbed her finger in Arabella’s direction. “She never put the cap on my liquid foundation. Now it’s dried out!”

Figured. They never fought about anything important. They never stole from each other, they never tried to sabotage each other’s relationships, and if anyone dared to look at one of them the wrong way, the other one would be the first to charge to her sister’s defense. But if one of them took the other’s hairbrush and didn’t clean it, it was World War III.

“That’s not true…” Arabella froze. “Neva, what happened to your face?”

Everything stopped. Then everyone said something at once, really loud.

“Shush! Calm down; it’s cosmetic. I just need a shower. Also, stop fighting. If you don’t, Mom will come here and I don’t want her to—”

“To what?” Mom walked through the door, limping a little. Her leg was bothering her again. Of average height, she used to be lean and muscular, but the injury had grounded her. She was softer now, with a rounder face. She had dark eyes like me, but her hair was chestnut brown.

Grandma Frida followed, about my height, thin, with a halo of platinum curls stained with machine grease. The familiar, comforting smell of engine oil, rubber, and gunpowder spread through the room.

Their interactions continue in this manner throughout the book, even when the family members get upset with each other for logical reasons.

Here’s a slightly spoiler-y snippet of Nevada and her mom arguing:

“Okay, so you were right. It is a little bit about Dad, and it is a lot about keeping a roof over our head. This is our home. I will do almost anything to keep it. Also I negotiated with MII, and if I die, you get the name of the agency back for one dollar.”

Her face twisted. “I don’t care, Nevada. Sweetheart, I don’t care. I want you to be okay. None of it is worth losing you. I thought we were a team.”

“We are.”

“But you didn’t tell me. And you got Bern to cover it up.”

“I didn’t tell you because you would do exactly what you did last night. You’d order me not to do it. We are a team, but you’re my mother. You will do everything to keep me safe, and there is a point where it’s my decision to stay safe or not.”

My mother considered it. “Okay. Point made.”

We only get to know Rogan through Nevada for the majority of the book. Because the book is told from her point of view, it is possible for us to have an inaccurate impression of Rogan. This impression is not fixed by the end of the book, so I learned to be careful of Nevada’s observations. She’s good, but she isn’t infallible—which I like, but which some readers may find annoying.

That’s actually one of her flaws: she is good at observing people and coming to fairly solid conclusions, but occasionally, her own biases and assumptions get in the way of her conclusions, and sometimes she doesn’t have all the information.

To sum it up, you should all go read this book and stop reading this review, because I cannot clearly communicate how great this book is. The world building is intriguing, the characters are well-done, the plot is tightly woven. In case you hadn’t guessed it by now, I anxiously awaited Wildfire. I give this book an A-.

More exploration of Rogan would have been nice, but I don’t know that it could have fit into this book so well.


White Hot
A | BN | K | iB
The adventures of Nevada and Rogan continue in the sequel to Burn for Me. I also listened to this book before I read it, because I preordered it on Audible—I was that sure I would like it. However, there is an excerpt of Wildfire at the end of White Hot in the eBook and probably print versions, so if that kind of thing is important to you, make your choice accordingly.

As I expected, I also really liked this book. All the characters grow, even secondary ones like Leon, Nevada’s youngest cousin. Nevada and Rogan move firmly into the serious-romantic-involvement realm, although it isn’t exactly clear where their relationship will go by the end of the book, due to certain choices Nevada must make. Andrews’ plotting skill is on display in this book, too, so that while some threads clearly lead somewhere, it is harder to pick out where other possible threads might lead.

This book opens with Nevada using her awesome magical skills, while still trying to preserve her incognito status. She uses a disguise which involves a cloak/cape, among other things. Then she takes on a client with a very dangerous case. However, this time, she doesn’t make the same mistakes she made in Burn for Me, which was cool to see, because books wherein characters insist on repeating the same kinds of mistakes that got them into trouble before confuse me and will frustrate me to the point of not being interested in the book anymore.

The action related to the overarching conflict begins earlier in this book than in Burn for Me—Rogan is using quarters as projectiles by chapter 2—and so does the flirting between Nevada and Rogan. This is not to say that Nevada and Rogan do not argue at all during the book. They do, in a spectacular manner, but they are also working together on a case, and they are both capable of professional behavior most of the time.

We see the sisters, cousins and grandmother take a more active role in defending the family from attack and in helping out Nevada. That was also pretty cool, because it rounds them out in a way—we knew that her grandmother was a mechanic for the army, but actually seeing her drive a tank was awesome. In that same sequence of scenes, we get Leon using his magic for the first time, which results in the following commentary:

“I live in the gym. My biceps have teeth and my teeth have biceps.”

And any suspicions you may have had about Nevada’s family being more than they appeared on the surface are also confirmed by the end of the book in a variety of ways.

The case that Rogan and Nevada are working on in this book is tied to the case in Burn for Me, but it is not a replica. Andrews also managed to stretch out the overarching conflict in a way that did not feel unreasonable. This is also hard to do, because there comes a point when you—or maybe it’s just me—wonder, why can’t we know who the bad guys are?

Wildfire
A | BN | K | iB
There is a fairly clear transition from how Nevada perceived Rogan in Burn for Me to how she sees him by the end of the book. In Burn for Me, she came to the conclusion that Rogan didn’t see people as people, but by the middle of the book, she is convinced otherwise, and by extension, the reader can also be convinced otherwise. This makes their growing romance more believable. Yes, Rogan is attractive, but for a romance, attraction can’t be the beginning and end of it. The heroine and the reader should see in the hero something beyond attraction.

Nevada thinks of Rogan as a dragon, and while her initial conclusions about him are partially correct, he is also a caring dragon with a sense of humor. This transition is believable because Andrews shows us the transition on the page—we get to see Nevada witness Rogan’s reaction to losing people who were important to him. If Nevada just told us that Rogan wasn’t a sociopath, I would be hard-pressed to believe it, because Rogan isn’t a nice guy, especially when seen from a distance.

More of the world is explained, but we still don’t know everything there is to know about it, and like I said above, we still don’t know who the bad individual pulling the strings is.

But we do have covert team of stealth ferrets and a Chinese ferret-badger, so I guess that makes up for not knowing who the big baddies are—a little.

I give this book an A-, too. I would have liked for the conflict between Rogan and his family to have been resolved in this book, and I’m hoping it will be tied up in the third book. It also would have been nice for Rogan to tell Nevada his story, but at least Nevada didn’t make a wholly uninformed decision.

Go read this book, please. Or listen to it, whichever will make you the happiest.

Historical Mysteries & Romances

Sep. 17th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

A Curious Beginning

RECOMMENDEDA Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn is $2.99! This is a historical mystery and Sarah really enjoyed it. She also immediately read the second one after finishing the first. Here’s what she said:

I read A Curious Beginning with an I-cannot-put-this-down enthusiasm and devoured it very quickly. I relished both the characters and the mystery. The Veronica Speedwell series is excellent and intelligent fun, and while the second isn’t quite as satisfying as the first, I heartily recommend them both.

In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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amazon

 

 

 

Duke of Darkness

Duke of Darkness by Anabelle Bryant is $2.99! This is the second book in the Three Regency Rogues series and the third book is also on sale! This is a romance between a man and his ward, which I know is catnip for some of you. However, some readers felt the book lacked a tremendous amount of historical accuracy.

London, 1817

The Duke of Wharncliffe, Devlin Ravensdale, is devastated when he receives a missive announcing the death of his only relative, Aunt Min. Consumed with guilt, he regrets not having visited her in years, despite that he has chosen a reclusive lifestyle to hide his secretive past. Saddened by the loss, he dutifully honors his aunt’s last wish, to take responsibility of a young ward, Alex, and arrange a suitable marriage.

Reluctant, yet determined, Devlin sets off to collect his young charge, only to discover the he is a she, and Alexandra is stunningly beautiful…posing an unexpected temptation.

Tasked with finding an eligible bachelor, Devlin is forced back into society, a world where he has something of a dark reputation. Worse yet, it seems the beguiling beauty has a secret of her own to hide. Still, finding a husband for Alexandra shouldn’t prove difficult as long as he’s able to let her go.

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This book is on sale at:

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The Wild Marquis

The Wild Marquis by Miranda Neville is $1.99! This historical romance is the first book in The Burgundy Club series and was talked about highly by author Sarina Bowen in a previous Whatcha Reading. Readers love the setting of “book collecting” and found the auctions instead of grand balls a nice change of pace. It has a 3.7+ avg on Goodreads. A couple other books in the series are also on sale!

The Marquis of Chase is not a reputable man.

He is notorious for his wretched morals and is never received in respectable houses. The ladies of the ton would never allow him in their drawing rooms . . . though they were more than willing to welcome him into their bedchambers. Ejected from his father’s house at the age of sixteen, he now lives a life of wanton pleasure. So what could the Marquis of Chase possibly want with Juliana Merton, a lovely, perfectly upstanding shopkeeper with a mysterious past?

A moment’s indiscretion?

A night’s passion?

Or a lifetime of love?

Even the wildest rakes have their weaknesses . . .

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Seduced at Sunset

Seduced at Sunset by Julianne MacLean is 99c at Amazon and Barnes & Noble! This is the sixth book in the Pembroke Palace series, but it can be read as a standalone. Both the hero and heroine have secret lives, which readers liked. However, some warn that while it can be read on its own, it’s the last book in the series and does check in with couples from previous books.

USA Today bestselling author Julianne MacLean brings the popular Pembroke Palace Series to a passionate, satisfying conclusion…

Sometimes the matchmaker finds a love of her own…

Lady Charlotte Sinclair has long given up her dreams of happily ever after. Years ago, a tragic accident claimed the life of her beloved fiancé, but somehow she found the strength to go on—as an independent woman with a secret double life that has earned her millions. Lately, however, she has begun to yearn for something more…

While setting out to play matchmaker for her mother, Lady Charlotte meets a rugged, handsome stranger who saves her from a thief in the street, but her heroic rescuer soon turns out to be more mysterious—and dangerously captivating—than any man she has ever known. Swept away by passion into a sizzling summer affair with a man who leads a double life of his own, she vows to live only for pleasure with no promises of tomorrow. But soon she must accept that one final night of ecstasy with an irresistible lover is never going to be enough…

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Posted by Jen

Whether you're a kid or just feel like one, nothing beats seeing one of your favorite characters in cake, am I right?

And if you've already seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2, I bet this is one of your new favorites:

(By Tattooed Bakers)

HE IS GROOT!

And just look at all that fabulous detail & airbrushing!

 

Here's another favorite no one's ready to "let go" just yet:

(By The Hobby Baker, photo by Alison Greenwood)

Olaf! Let's just pretend he's singing our version of his summer song.

(Those waves are fantastic, btw; love how the number 5 is floating off to the side.)

 

Groot and Olaf may be the new characters in town, but some classics never get old:

(By Sonata Torte)

Winnie-the-Pooh, and the whole gang, too!

 

I'll admit it: I still love cartoons, and I still really love the Ninja Turtles:

(By You've Been Cupcaked)

Look how cute! And lookit Mikey on his back! D'awww.

 

This next one is for my fellow writer Sharyn, because "it's so fluffy I'm gonna die!!"

(By The Bunny Baker)

That's Agnes from Despicable Me, and I want her stuffed unicorn.

 

Ever see a character you grew up with and instantly get the show's theme song stuck in your head?

(By Richards' Cakes)

"Down in Fraggle Rock!"

 

Time for another favorite, this time from The Lego Movie:

(By April Heather)

Yay Unikitty!

Would you believe April is just a hobby baker? She made this for her daughter, so I think I speak for us all when I say, "JEALOUS."

 

How about an old arcade classic?

(By Sculpted Sweets)

It's Pac-Man, now in 3D! Great design, great colors.

 

And everyone's favorite Pixar robot:

(By Sweet Disposition Cakes)

Wall-E! Look closely; that "dirt" is actually chocolate sprinkles.

Here's a fun flashback for you: my first Sunday Sweets EVER was of a Wall-E cake.
I also have the Pop Funko toy perched on my monitor, so he can watch me while I work. :)

 

And another universally loved 'bot - though I think he prefers "droid":

(By Mira que Tarta)

R2D2!

Like Wall-E, there are a TON of great R2 cakes out there, but I love the extra details here: the themed number 7, the Tatooine landscape, and those bitty yellow wires on R2's "feet."

 

And finally, from droids to dragons:

(By Richards' Cakes)

WOW.

This How To Train Your Dragon masterpiece needs a closer look, so here are a few detail shots:

He's even wearing a saddle!

I'm amazed bakers this talented don't also go into the clay figurine business. I'd buy some of these dragons for my desk in a heartbeat!

 

Hope you enjoyed your Sweets today, everyone! Happy Sunday!

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

Movie Review: Tulip Fever

Sep. 17th, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl

Among people who keep an eye on movie news, Tulip Fever has been a bit of a folk tale. It was announced in 2013, and screened at the 2015 Venice film festival, but then its release dates kept getting pushed back and back and back. When Fandango actually put up a release date, it was for the last weekend in August, but in reality it opened on Labor Day weekend.

It’s a weird movie with the most random cast imaginable. Three Oscar winners (Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, and Judi Dench), Holliday Grainger in her obligatory period drama, Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice), the kid and the chick from Valerian (who I guess come as a package deal?), Kevin McKidd (who needed something to do during the Grey’s Anatomy hiatus?) Matthew Morrison for some reason, and Zach Galifianakis. It’s written by Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) and directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl). It’s based on the novel Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach.

Waltz and Vikander sitting for their portrait, with tulips in a vase in the foreground. A petal falls, because tulips don't last long. Tulips, man.

Set during the Tulip Mania in Amsterdam in the 1630s, it’s…well, it was marketed (such as it was) as a thriller, but there’s nothing remotely thrilling about it. It’s the story of Sophia (Vikander), who is married to an older merchant, Cornelis (Waltz), and he engages a painter (Dane DeHaan, aka Valerian) to paint their portraits. Sophia and the painter fall into lust, and they plan to escape after making a bunch of money on the tulip market. There’s also a plot with Maria, Sophia’s maid/cook (Grainger) who has a paramour of her own, and there’s a secret baby….

There’s just a lot happening.

Cornelis acquired himself a young wife because he wanted an heir, but he has some issues with his “little soldier.” When DeHaan shows up, Sophia has pants feelings, he has pants feelings, and after like, a conversation and a half (all held while Cornelis is in the room), they both conclude that they are in love, and must bang. IMMEDIATELY. A lot.

Alicia Vikander coming down into a room with patterned walls (leaves in curly-cue shape all over the wall) wearing a blue gown with a white lace collar.

At the same time, Maria is carrying on an affair with the fishmonger, William, who, in an effort to make enough money to buy them a farm, gets involved in the tulip market, and does really well for himself until he gets pressed into service by the navy. He’s not able to send word of where he is or what’s going on, and Maria is now pregnant. Sophia comes up with a plan to fake a pregnancy herself and to hide Maria’s. Once Maria gives birth, then Maria will be able to be with the baby, but of course I see about twelve holes in this plan right here. Meanwhile, Sophia and her painter also want to be with each other, and…and…

Show Spoiler
eventually there’s a couple of faked deaths.  Because that’s how to properly ghost from a relationship. Twice.

There are some interesting things happening in the setting. The Dutch school of painting in this era is fantastic, and the film lays out why: with the Reformation putting a stop to religious art, the artists turned their attention to ordinary life and ordinary people. When plotting out the portrait of Cornelis and Sophia, the painter offers his selections of props and the reasons for them: scales and a globe to symbolize worldwide commerce, a skull for mortality, and something else to symbolize vanity (and then a whole diatribe on how it’s vain to have your portrait painted, but if you have a warning against vanity in the painting then it’s ironic or something?). So that bit was interesting.

Alicia Vikander, next to a window with a letter. The shot is composed like a Vermeer painting with light streaming in.

The whole concept of tulip mania and the fact that people were buying tulip bulbs for absurd amounts of money were also fascinating. Like…it’s tulips. Tulips are  pretty, but…it’s a tulip. (I’ve typed out tulip so many times that it doesn’t look like a real word anymore.) I admit totally that I don’t really understand the stock market or how all of this actually is supposed to work, but I do know a frenzy involving money when I see one.  (My dad used to do stock market…stuff…and in the pre-internet age, when there was a channel that just did stock prices on a ticker, he would plunk 7 year old me down in front of it, with a list of three or four stocks I was to watch for, and I would yell the numbers up to him.  A+ parenting.)

All of the actors involved in this film are great (I was quite pleasantly surprised by Galifianakis, who I mostly don’t think about) (although seriously, Waltz as an doddering old man with no sex appeal? what?), and they are doing the best they can.

Dane DeHaan walking through the streets of Amsterdam, carrying his painting supplies. The street is muddy and wet.

The costumes are great (although I am excited to see what Frock Flicks has to say about it, because I have some questions), and the set design is fantastic. I’m enjoying this trend of “the past, especially pre-sanitation systems, is a muddy, messy place.” It makes things more real. Chadwick at least framed some shots to look like Dutch master paintings.

The problem lies in the script and the fact that the movie doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Tom Stoppard is great with witty dialogue, and there are some genuinely funny bits (Tom Hollander’s doctor is one), but they seemed rather out of place. The passage of time is unclear. The only way to measure anything is by the progression of Maria’s pregnancy.

You’d think with that writer and that cast and being produced by the Weinsteins, you might have a good movie. But the main crux of everything is just a mess. What’s the point? No one learns anything, not even the audience. No one can seem to explain why people went bonkers over tulips. No one can explain why Sophia and Valerian decided that they were in love enough to run away together. No one can explain anything, really. The movie is pretty but unsatisfying.

And again, my friend Kayleigh would think me remiss if I didn’t wonder why anyone would bang Valerian when you have Christoph Waltz RIGHT THERE.

Christoph Waltz, in a GIANT RUFF, posing for his portrait. It's kinda hot, in that Cone of Shame kind of way.

Romance Wanderlust: The Delta King

Sep. 17th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Carrie S

Romance Wanderlust - a yellowed and burnt edge map with a compass in the corner, with Romance Wanderlust written across itWelcome back to Romance Wanderlust, where I travel the world via the Internet in search of romantic locales. This month we have a place that I’ve actually been to: the Delta King, in Sacramento, California. I haven’t stayed at the Delta King but I can say from experience that their restaurant is nice and that they make a lovely virgin strawberry daiquiri. While I endorse the daiquiri, I can’t endorse the hotel experience as I’ve never stayed there.

The Delta King is a paddlewheel steamboat permanently moored off of Old Sacramento on the Sacramento River. Old Sacramento is a historically preserved area of Sacramento in which most of the buildings date back to the mid-1800s. It’s the kind of place where you can get saltwater taffy, crystals, creepy antique dolls, gourmet Chinese food, an elaborate costume, or a tattoo with equal ease. It’s also home to several museums including the Railroad Museum. It’s one of our claims to fame. Surely you’ve heard of it. No? Ah, well. We are a small city.

Walking down the gangplank to the Delta King

During the Gold Rush, people came to Sacramento by boat and docked where the Delta King is now. I could tell you some very unromantic things about the link between the boats, the boardwalk, and a certain cholera epidemic, but let’s just move on and picture a more romantic version of the Gold Rush.

Think of stylish gamblers, brocade vests, and a great sense of adventure. Think of Mark Twain, who lived here for quite a while, and of Calico Palace, the delightful historical novel by Gwen Bristow. Got that? Then you are ready for a visit to the Delta King.

The Delta King doesn’t actually date from the Gold Rush although it closely resembles earlier paddlewheel steamboats. It was built in 1927 and transported people between Sacramento and San Francisco. The trip lasted over ten hours and included jazz music and dancing. The Delta King website has a menu from those days. Mock turtle soup cost twenty-five cents and a sirloin steak with potatoes and rolls cost one dollar. Allegedly one might also buy alcohol on board, even during Prohibition.

These trips ended after the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge connected Sacramento and San Francisco by road. The Delta King shuttled troops during WWII and was a home to construction workers in British Columbia in the 1950s. Finally the Delta King sank in the San Francisco Bay due to causes unknown. Maybe it was just tired.

In 1984 the Coyne family purchased the boat, hauled it out of the water, and had it refurbished, preserving as much of the original wood as possible. Now it’s a hotel permanently moored alongside Old Sacramento. It includes a restaurant and a bar, and on various nights there is dinner theater, community theater productions of a more formal kind, or live music. I’ve never stayed in one of the rooms, although since we are dreaming here I say go for broke and stay in the Captain’s Quarter, which includes a private veranda and a ship’s wheel. Warning – I suspect but have not confirmed that it might be noisy because Old Sacramento at night has a lot of noise. The Delta King is also, allegedly, haunted by its first captain and by a little girl with a red ball. They are said to be benign.

I have had dinner in the restaurant, which is high in both price and ambiance. For something more low key, a few times my husband and I went to the deck bar on a hot summer day and I had a virgin strawberry daiquiri (I don’t drink alcohol and it’s nice to find a place that has a good non-alcoholic drink). Looking out over the river on one side and the tourists on the other was truly delightful and quite romantic!

Oh look someone saved me a spot.

The Delta King is romantic because it’s pretty, and it’s on a beautiful river, with the lovely Sacramento Delta breeze wafting by. It’s also romantic because you can imagine that you have just arrived in California in 1849 – you are fatigued, of course, but excited with regard to the shop you plan to open in the new city (the real riches lay in selling to miners, not panning for gold). There are great opportunities in the male-dominated landscape of the Gold rush for a woman who has a clear head for business and for personal matters – just be aware that you can expect a minimum of one marriage proposal per day.

Or, you can be more true to the Delta King’s actual history, and pretend that you are a happy member of the Roaring ‘20s, eating cheap caviar and drinking gin on the boat’s deck. Sacramento may be a little backwater, but women were given the right to vote there in 1911 and you are ready to bring women’s issues to the Capital! If you meet a handsome and progressive Senator on the trip between San Francisco and Sacramento, so much the better.

Or maybe you are headed the other direction, away from Sacramento and toward life in San Francisco, the big city, newly rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake. Although in reality the Delta King doesn’t go anywhere, in imagination anything can happen.

Outlander 3.01: The Battle Joined

Sep. 16th, 2017 09:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl

outlander season 3 with claire and jamie on either sides of a stoneOUTLANDER IS BACK Y’ALL

Previously: A lot. So much.

The title shot is a tattered flag with St. Andrew’s Cross, falling into a cart of captured battle standards, pulled by the British, and the camera pans over a field full of dead Highlanders. The Battle of Culloden is over, and the British are going over the fields, killing the wounded and looting their bodies.

As this all happens, we find Jamie, who is under the dead body of Black Jack Randall.

He’s dying, breath whistling in his lungs, as he remembers the last gasps of the ’45 Rebellion- his last conversation with Prince Charles, the final charge into the guns, armed with swords.

Jamie, standing against the backdrop of battle.

It’s damned effective editing and storytelling.

Jamie, smelling Claire's abandoned shawl, in the seconds after the went back through the stones.

Night falls, Jamie remembers leaving Craig Na Dun, smelling Claire’s shawl, then more of the battle.

We see Rupert fighting (Thing 2), and Murtagh, who tells Jamie that the Lallybroch men made it home. Jamie sees Randall, and for them, this battle is distilled down to they two. They fight, intimately, and Randall scores a hit on Jamie’s leg, but Jamie get him in the side with his dirk, and eventually, Randall falls on top of Jamie, and dies. Jamie doesn’t have the strength to push him off and get up.

Claire, in white, walking across the battlefield filled with dead Highlanders and British soldiers.

Jamie has a vision of Claire walking across the battlefield to him, all in white. She touches his face, and asks if he’s alive. In reality, it’s Rupert, who gets Jamie to a house, even as Jamie begs to be left to die where he is. The chunk of amber with the dragonfly that Claire found in the museum in 1968 falls out of his sporran on to the field.

Claire, super pregnant and super annoyed at her stove.In Boston, in 1948, Claire and Frank have found a house – it’s big and Victorian. She’s trying. She’s trying really hard. (There’s a hilarious line reading where Frank puts on an American accent talking about “rustling up vittles.”)

Several months later, a very pregnant Claire is trying to light the stove to rustle up said vittles, and it’s not working. She eyes the giant wood burning fireplace, and goes out to get firewood.

(Also, like, I understand, but the part of Boston their type of house is in doesn’t look like that. They shot it in Glasgow, but dammit, I KNOW BOSTON.)

(Also also that house is expensive. And when they were first built, you needed at least one maid to keep things going.)

(I’m just saying.)

On the street, Claire meets one of her neighbors, who is impressed by Claire’s ingenuity and also by Frank’s obvious progressiveness: other husbands would lose their shit at not getting a conventional meal. Her new friend is like, well, most husbands just want their wives to do the usual cooking and cleaning and raising of the children, so Claire is lucky. “You won’t find another man like Frank again.” Claire’s like, yeah, no, you’re right.

Said other man is in a small house with a bunch of other men, some wounded, all broken. There’s no escape. There’s just waiting.

Jamie, just his face, laying in the dark. His lower jaw is trembling; death isn't coming fast enough.

Claire and Frank go to a party with Frank’s colleagues, and while one of the officious assholes pontificates on Truman, Claire tries to enter the conversation talking about a thing she read in the Boston Globe on the topic. She is belittled and all but called a little lady, and Frank is told that he should keep an eye on Claire’s reading habits, and soon enough, she’ll be trying to get women into Harvard Law. Claire’s like, the med school admits women and has done for three years. Those women are mocked, and “past experience shows that few women succeed as physicians.” Frank tries to help, saying that Claire was a nurse, but….

Surely Claire is looking forward for more fitting and domestic concerns? Claire does not eat his face. But she wants to.

Morning at the house of doomed men. Jamie asks if anyone knows what happened to Murtagh, and no one does. The British come in, in the person of one Lord Melton, and he’s been ordered by the Duke of Cumberland to execute everyone found to be involved in the “late treason.” Is anyone innocent? No, no one tries to claim innocence. They’ll all be shot, like soldiers. They have an hour to prepare themselves, and Lord Melton will provide writing materials if anyone needs.

In Boston, Claire lights the stove under a pan of bacon and eggs, and Frank is happy that bacon is a thing again, after rationing (but hates American tea in the bags, which… legit). She is SO VERY pregnant. He muses about the American obsession with new things, but that’s why Claire likes America. She’s also been thinking about applying for US citizenship. She never really had strong ties to England, and she wants the baby to have a “Real home.” She won’t let Frank really touch her, though, not even on the belly. He’s like, since when are you not English? You’ll walk away from your heritage that easily? She says it’s something she wants to do, and he’s like, you don’t need to, my job provides us with residency. “That’s not what this is about.” He knows that: it’s about a wife who won’t let him touch her, and he accuses her of using the pregnancy to keep him at a distance.

Frank standing behind a seated Claire. He reaches down to touch her belly, and she flinches away from his hand.

She tries to walk away, but he wants to have the fight now- he wants to know when she’s going to come back from the past. She’s angry that he asked her to leave behind “everything that truly mattered to me.” She says she’s kept the bargain, and he says no, the bargain was they’d raise the baby together, and not being with her isn’t keeping that. She accuses him of just wanting a good fuck and says there are girls are Radcliffe who will be happy to oblige. He snaps that he’s not the one who’s been fucking other people and she whips an ashtray at his head.

That’s enough to make them both realize this has gone too far and it’s time for a walk. Frank reminds her that he didn’t force anything on her, and he’s not forcing her to stay. “Go, or stay, but please, do it because it’s what you really want to do.”

In the house, the executions are happening, and everyone is facing them as best they can. Rupert tries to argue for the lives of two teenage boys, and Lord Melton is apologetic, but Cumberland instructed that no exceptions are to be made on account of age. He does allow them to go together, though. Another man offers to write a letter for Jamie, but Jamie declines. The man asks about Claire, but Jamie says that she’s gone. Melton asks for volunteers to be next, and Rupert takes the place at Jamie’s side. He didn’t want to say goodbye while Jamie was asleep. He also says it’ll be good to see Angus again. And that he doesn’t forgive Jamie for Dougal, but he won’t hate him for it, either. Then Rupert takes his turn at the firing squad.

Frank is sleeping, rather, not sleeping (all the modern conveniences in the house are SO NOISY) on the couch, when he gets up and starts writing a letter to Reverend Wakefield, asking him to look into one James Fraser. Before he can finish it, though, Claire comes down. Her water broke, it’s time.

In Scotland, the walking men have all been executed, and Lord Melton has his men prepare to carry out the wounded. His clerk asks if they’re to be shot lying down, and Melton is like, the fuck you say. Prop them up! “Good lord. No man in the king’s custody shall be shot lying down on my watch. Not even traitors.”

Jamie volunteers to go first, and gives his name. Melton hears, and goes over to Jamie. He asks if he’s Red Jamie, and sends another man out. He whispers to Jamie if he remembers the name John Grey. Jamie does, but “either shoot me, or go away.” Grey was Melton’s younger brother, and Grey said he owes Jamie a debt. Jamie remembers it as Grey promised to kill him, but “I dinna mind of you do it for him.”

Lord Melton, asking is Jamie is the "Jacobite known as Red Jamie?" and Jamie saying yeah, his enemies called him that.

Melton is like, this is a fucked up mess. My family owes this man a debt of honor, Cumberland would love to have a well-known Jacobite to appease the crowds at Tower Hill, so what’s to do? Melton loads Jamie into a haycart, bribes the driver, and sends him away. He feels like it’s entirely possible that Jamie will die on the way there, but if he does, it’s not on his head. (Jamie would rather be shot, thank you. Given how hellish the journey is, I don’t blame him.)

Claire groans in labor, Frank supporting her (she tells him she was glad she missed him with the ashtray, he says her aim was great, it was just his reflexes) when the (male) doctor comes in, and asks Frank how far apart her contractions are. Frank’s like, what’s a contraction. He also tells Claire there’s no reason to panic. She’s not. He asks if this is the first child, and Claire tells him (and Frank) about the miscarriage with Faith. He sends Frank to the father’s waiting room, and Frank asks Claire to please try not to throw an ashtray at her doctor. She will not promise that. He leaves, then turns back and says “I love you.”

The delivery room is an operating room. They put Claire under for the birth, over her objections, even as she says that she’s capable of deciding how she wants her birth to go. She manages to call them bastards as she’s losing consciousness.

Jamie wakes up to find Jenny and Ian: he’s home. And in really bad shape.

Claire wakes up, much as she did once before, to discover herself alone and not pregnant anymore. “Where’s my baby? Is it dead?” She is not. Frank comes in with a tiny angry baby girl. “She’s perfect, Claire.” Claire calls the baby beautiful, and Frank kisses her, “Just like her mother.” Claire apologizes for being so horrid, and Frank’s like, it’s gonna be fine now. Everything is going to be fine. It’s a new beginning for all of us.

Then a nurse comes in and calls the baby a beautiful little angel. “Where did she get the red hair?”

Claire, looking up from the baby, she's a bit shook.

Frank, also shook. It may be a new beginning, but not with a clean slate.

RHG: Elyse, you have not read Voyager, correct?

I MISSED THIS SHOW HI SHOW WELCOME BACK.

In the book, all we know about Jamie’s Culloden experience is that he comes to with Randall’s body on top of him, so seeing the battle from his perspective was really great and one of the strengths of this adaptation.

One of the other strengths comes in the form of one Tobias Menzies, who play these two characters that are incredibly unsympathetic on the page. Black Jack is Black Jack, but Frank we see pretty much exclusively through Claire’s POV, and she’s in a really fucked up and complicated place when it comes to Frank. Tobias found all the points of Frank that are sympathetic, a man who is doing his best.

And who also knows that it’s purely due to Claire’s self-control that she didn’t murder his entire department at that party.

Elyse: I have not read Voyager, so this is all new to me.

The first thing that really struck me about this episode was how the fight between Jamie and Randall mimicked a lot of sexual and intimate moments. When Randall is dead, and on top of Jamie, it looks like two lovers sleeping post-coitally. I was more than a little weirded out by this, actually, because I feel like the show sexualizes Jamie and Randall’s relationship which is that between a rapist and his victim. They imply a lot that Randall and Jamie’s destinies are entwined or some shit, but rapist and his victim.

Claire saying “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ” while trying to light the burner on her stove was basically an accurate depiction of me trying to cook anything ever.

I thought it was interesting that Claire was in a lot of ways more empowered in the past than she was in the “modern” day. The show runners allude to the frustration a lot of women felt after WWII when they were pushed back into the domestic sphere, but Claire held a position of significance in Jamie’s world too (to be fair, partly because she was his wife).

Overall it’s a good opening to the season, but I won’t be happy till Claire and Jamie are reunited.

RHG: My bet is episode 4.

How about you? What’s your over-under on what episode they get reunited?

Also: where possible, mark your book spoilers, please!

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Posted by Amanda

Open book with light and sparkles floating up from the pages.It’s time for September’s Whatcha Reading! If you’re new here, Whatcha Reading is the post where we gush or gripe about all the books we’ve been reading this month. And sometimes, it’s awfully terrible on our wallets. We wish we could say we were genuinely sorry about that.

Sarah: I am very much looking forward to this month’s discussion of what you’re reading. I’ve DNFd several books in a row for a variety of reasons, so I’m now carefully researching newer-to-me sub-genres. Based on Amanda’s recommendation, I’m going to try Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). But I’m watching this thread like damn, hell, and whoa to see what you’re enjoying – so thank you in advance for sharing your recommendations!

Amanda: All right, Sarah. Strap in. Because you’re probably going to want to glom up both of these books.

I have two books on my Kindle that come out in October and I don’t know what to read first.

There’s Grigori by Lauren Smith ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). The heroine is working on her PhD in mythology and she totes believes there’s evidence that dragons are real. And of course, the hero is a dragon shifter.

Take the Lead
A | BN | K | iB
Then there’s Take the Lead by Alexis Daria. It’s a contemporary romance that takes place on a dancing reality show. The heroine is a dancer and in the latest season, she’s paired with a dude who stars in an Alaskan Wilderness nature show. HELLLLOOOOO.

Sarah: OK I AM LISTENING TO ALL OF THIS.

Redheadedgirl: Ohhhhhhh

I’m reading The Duke’s Bridle Path ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), which is two related novellas by Grace Burrowes and Theresa Romain that involve horses. I like it!

I also, after finishing a disappointing book (and because of a conversation on the Book of Faces), just reread Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), which I still like, in spite of McCaffrey’s myriad of Capital-I-Issues.

Deep Dark
A | BN | K | iB
Elyse: I just started Deep Dark by Laura Griffin which features a white hat hacker heroine!

Redheadedgirl: Once I finish the Bridle Path, then I will move on to Alisha Rai’s Wrong To Need You ( A | BN | K | G | iB ).

Carrie: I’m reading Unwanted Girl by M.K. Schiller ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). It’s a romance between a wealthy writer who is a recovering addict and a woman from India who is studying to be a teacher. I like it so far because both characters tend to defy stereotype.

What have you been reading? Anything good or disappointingly bad? We want to know all the details!


By request, since we can’t link to every book you mention in the comments, here are bookstore links that help support the site with your purchases. If you use them, thank you so much, and if you’d prefer not to, no worries. Thanks for being a part of SBTB and hopefully, you’ve found some great books to read!

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Fade To Wreck

Sep. 15th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

Just when you thought Fridays couldn't get any better, along comes...

WEDDING WRECKS!

 

Molly S. ordered this lovely ombré design for her wedding cake:

But instead, she got this:

Molly paid $500 for it.
It was still frozen solid in the middle.
And it left a giant puddle on the tablecloth.

NEXT!

 

Stephanie R. tells us the bride wanted a combo of these two cakes:

Oooh. Aaah.

So, a blue ombré fade on a smooth tiered cake with a monogram?

ROGER THAT.

o.0

***

ROGER, KILL THAT.

 

And finally, not a wedding cake, but Michelle tells me they wanted this for Madisyn's birthday:

 

I guess the baker didn't feel like making all those strands of fondant, though - which would probably be ok, provided the aforementioned baker can pipe even lines of oh who are we kidding.

Mmm. Finger-y.

 

Thanks to Molly, Stephanie, & Michelle for reminding us maybe it's time for a new trend. I'm thinking... chevrons. Eh? What could go wrong?

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Sep. 15th, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Carrie S

Villette is such a frustrating book. It’s a book that makes you work hard, and it’s a book that refuses to reward either the reader or the character with a happy ending. It took me two weeks to read through Villette, and I was irritated for every minute of it. However, by the end of the book I felt a weird compulsion to immediately read it again. Villette is a puzzle. An annoying and sometimes infuriating puzzle.

Villette was written by Charlotte Bronte. It was her last novel and it was published before her very short marriage and subsequent death, but after the deaths of her siblings. It’s her most autobiographical novel. Like Jane Eyre (a book which I have read approximately once every one or two years for the last 34 years), Villette tells the story of an unassuming teacher who falls in love with an older, grumpy man. But alas, where Jane Eyre represents what Bronte may have wanted, Villette more closely resembles what actually did happen, albeit still in a very fictionalized form, which means that neither the protagonist nor the reader can have nice things.

Villette is about a young woman named Lucy Snowe, who narrates the novel. Lucy falls upon hard times when an unspecified disaster leaves her without family or means. Lucy becomes a lady’s companion and then a teacher at a boarding school in the fictional town of Villette, a stand-in for the school at which the real Charlotte Bronte taught in Brussels.

Lucy falls in love with two men. The first, Dr. John, is handsome and charming and refers to Lucy as, I shit you not, “an inoffensive shadow.” We (the readers) hate him. This guy is allegedly based on one of Charlotte’s publishers on whom she had a crush. The second guy, M. Paul Emmanuel, is weird looking, cranky, sexist, and demanding. He’s a teacher at the same school as Lucy. He is a stand-in for Bronte’s real-life unrequited love, the teacher M. Heger, who was married. There’s a lot of repressed female rage here.

Vanessa from Penny Dreadful insults men as only she can saying you weak, foul, lustful, vainglorious man
This could apply to any of the men in this book although Lucy is much too repressed to say so.

Villette is a difficult book to read because:

  1. Lucy, the narrator, habitually lies to herself, to the people she talks to, and to the reader (usually these are lies of omission). The reader has to read between the lines to figure out what Lucy is really thinking, and to figure out what is really true.
  2. Lucy’s mental health is pretty shaky plus one time she gets high on opium, so we’re often not sure what she sees and what she imagines.
  3. Much of the dialogue is conducted in French. If you have a version with translations, you’re golden, but mine did not (I had a 1993 paperback edition published by Wordsworth Classics).
  4. Lucy often wanders off into stream-of-consciousness monologue and she never uses a short word where a long one, or twenty, will do.

Here’s an example of the prose style. I selected it by opening the book at random, secure in the expectation that whatever page I turned to would feature brooding and long words. This passage is written much more clearly than most of the passages yet it still manages to contain the phrase “win from her stone eyeballs” which is, admittedly, pretty metal.

And here Mrs. Bretton broke in with many, many questions about past times; and for her satisfaction I had to recur to gone-by troubles, to explain causes of seeming estrangement, to touch on single-handed conflict with Life, with Death, with Grief, with Fate. Dr. John listened, saying little. He and she then told me of changes they had known: even with them all had not gone smoothly, and fortune had retrenched her once abundant gifts. But so courageous a mother, with such a champion in her son, was well fitted to fight a good fight with the world, and to prevail ultimately. Dr. John himself was one of those on whose birth benign planets have certainly smiled. Adversity might set against him her most sullen front: he was the man to beat her down with smiles. Strong and cheerful, and firm and courteous; not rash, yet valiant; he was the aspirant to woo Destiny herself, and to win from her stone eyeballs a beam almost loving.

So there you go.

It’s also a frustrating book to read for those, especially romance fans, who may be expecting a happy ending. Lucy is lonely and isolated, but the reader will surely note that she brings a great deal of this condition upon herself by rebuffing anyone who tries to talk to her. Indeed, her only friend is the flighty Ginerva, who is unrebuffable. The more Lucy tries to rebuff Ginerva, the more Ginerva likes her. It’s weird yet adorable. On a similar note, Lucy complains about not being seen, but she’s violently opposed to seeking out or even accepting any kind of attention.

Spongebob Squarepants reads with a judgy face
A close facsimile of my judgey face.

Lucy also firmly believes that any hope can only lead to disappointment, and any effort only lead to humiliation. There are Victorian rules at play here – for instance, she can’t just take initiative and start writing Dr. John letters on her own. But I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating Lucy’s passivity is, especially because we know from the beginning of the book that she is capable of great acts of courage.

It took a lot of Internet reading for me to get any kind of grip on this book. I learned that one of the important things about the book is the timing. It was one of the first books to use stream-of-consciousness narration and intense psychological insight. It’s a novel that is much more about the inside of Lucy’s head than anything happening outside it. Since Lucy doesn’t want to give anyone full access to her head (not even herself – she’s the denial queen) this makes the book a puzzle.

I have a real love/hate relationship with Lucy but one thing I do like is that she never bothers with being “likeable.” She’s actually pretty horrible, and it’s surprising that Villette just goes for it. On her first day as a teacher she rips up a student’s essay and tosses another student into a closet. She hates having to take care of a child with disabilities when all the other teachers are on vacation (the attitudes expressed towards this child are BY FAR the most odious and dated part of the book). She hates foreigners (despite moving to Belgium) and she hates Catholicism (despite moving to Belgium) and when Ginerva gets too cuddly Lucy stabs her with a pin. When it comes to the xenophobia and the anti-Catholicism, Victorian readers would perhaps have seen these traits as being positive, but for modern audiences they are yet more indicators that Lucy is kind of a horrible person, and that she’s not shy about being a horrible person.

Lucy is presented with two ideal female types. Ginerva, Lucy’s frenemy at the school, is pretty, flirtatious, and mercenary. Polly, a girl who shows up as a child at the start of the novel and as an adult later on, is “pure,” childlike, and submissive. Torn between the Whore and Virgin archetypes, Lucy wants to choose a third option, but she doesn’t want to end up being the Ghost Nun. Lucy is also torn between “Imagination” and “Reason.” She’s a pragmatic character in a gothic novel, and a romantic person struggling to repress all of her romantic feelings and tendencies (I mean “Romantic” as in the sense of the literary movement as opposed to romantic love). I also learned that there’s a lot of stuff in the story about gender, identity, and sexuality.

On the one hand I’m so happy that I finally finished this damn book and will never have to slog through it again, because it was tedious and annoying and kind of like eating broccoli – maybe it’s good for you, but it’s not fun. On the other hand now that it’s over I suddenly feel a wave of fondness towards the Lucy/Ginerva dynamic – which I learned is basically like the relationship between Wednesday Addams and Amanda Buckman (the Girl Scout from Addams Family), or maybe Liz Lemon and Jenna from 30 Rock (many thanks to the bloggers who participated in Reading Rambo’s Read-A-Long for this insight).

I also feel a sense of nostalgia for those happy days before page 513 when Lucy wore a pink dress instead of her habitual grey and a jealous M. Paul calls the dress “scarlet” and gets all huffy about it. So maybe someday I’ll get some Cliff Notes and tackle this book again chapter by chapter and try to understand what the hell is going on with the florid prose and the heroine who is fine with shoving a noisy student into a closet but who is self-effacing around adults to the point of self-abuse.

Wednesday Addams and Amanda Buckman at summer camp
If you picture Wednesday offering to be the victim you have a great picture of Lucy and Ginerva here.

Now for the romance. This is already a long post, so I’m not going to analyze the romance except to say that every interaction between Lucy and M. Paul is pure romantic comedy gold.

Then, Dear Reader, we get to the last page.

Suffice to say that you should not read this on or near anything breakable.

SPOILER!  I AM SPOILING THE END!

Click for spoilers!
Paul dies in a storm, but maybe not. We are told to stop and imagine a happy ending. However it is heavily implied that we are imaging an ending that doesn’t occur and in actuality M. Paul is fish food.

What the Hell, Charlotte? I made it through 513 pages of tiny tiny type for this?

I have no idea how to grade Villette. I know a lot of people love it and I can see how it’s an insightful psychological novel, but Sweet Jesus it’s tedious and frustrating and utterly unrewarding in the end. This is why we can’t have nice things! Because Charlotte was super depressed and decided to screw over her readers on page 513!

I’m giving this book a C even though, yes, it’s a classic and after I stop foaming at the mouth maybe I’ll realize that it’s a masterful piece of wonderfulness and I’ll be super embarrassed and give it an A+.

In the meantime, here’s Lucy:

Lydia from Beetlejuice saying My whole life is a dark room

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Posted by SB Sarah

Elyse’s mom underwent mega-major surgery for the second time in two years, and Elyse faced down the second surgery with a portable bag of self-care and attention. We talk about what she packed to bring with her to the waiting room and to her mom’s post-operative recovery, with a side trip to call blocking apps, video games, and evil squirrels. Then we return to methods of coping, tools for self care, mindful attention to one’s anxiety, and, of course, how romances help with soothing ourselves. We talk a lot about the upcoming Mary Balogh novel, and the dosages of plot that work best for us.

Alternate title for this episode: Boiled Hearts and the Iron Goddess of Mercy

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Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Each and every new podcast receives a transcript, which are thoughtfully handcrafted by Garlic Knitter each week – thank you, Garlic Knitter!

And we have a podcast transcript sponsor this week which is most excellent.

The podcast transcript for this episode is brought to you by Tracy Ewens, who would like you to know about her new contemporary romance, Brew – A Love Story. You might have seen her ads on the site – her covers are very unique. Brew is the ninth in her Love Story series, but it’s a standalone sweet contemporary romance with smart, clever characters and plenty of snappy dialogue. 

Boyd McNaughton is working on balance. He’s a father, brewmaster, and the oldest of four brothers. When he’s not running his family brewery, his days are busy with carpools, teen angst and drama, and well-intentioned friends determined to set him up with the perfect date. 

Ella Walters is working on connection. She moved to Petaluma to escape her past, to slow down, and to give herself space from her less-than-affectionate family of distant overachievers.

When Boyd’s son Mason seeks out Dr. Ella for advice, and Boyd stumbles all over her newly-healed heart, Ella finds herself longing for more than she expected. But family is messy, and both Ella and Boyd will need to let go of the past to find a better future together. 

Brew – A Love Story comes out on September 19th, and it’s only $3.99. You can find Brew – A Love Story by Tracy Ewens wherever books are sold. 


Podcast Sponsor

This podcast is brought to you by A Covert Affair by Susan Mann.

Transcontinental pursuit, daring rescues, intense covert flirting and chasing stolen rare manuscripts from India. A typical day’s work for your average librarian, right? It is if you’re Quinn Ellington, a young research librarian who gets pulled into the super spy world she’s always loved reading about by a very handsome visitor to her library. Now using her librarian mind, she must assist him to uncover clues and stop a global disaster.

Shelve under: Travel, Romance, Art Theft, Hostages.

Librarian and CIA agent-in-training Quinn Ellington and her handsome spy boyfriend James “Bond” Anderson find themselves in the middle of an international incident when the Indian ambassador is kidnapped from a Library of Congress event. The key to saving the ambassador is tangled up with a long-lost sacred library, a desecrated temple, and some very modern machinations. At least their cover as blissful newlyweds isn’t too hard to pull off . . .

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Well that’s just unfair

Sep. 14th, 2017 09:38 pm
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Posted by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee

Yesterday I finally shook my head clear of the fog it’s been in, and decided that it was time to get myself in gear.  I went to the grocery store. I planned a good dinner. I cooked that dinner, and I fed it to people I love.  I managed to say something vaguely supportive to a friend, and when the lady in the queue ahead of me in the shop was annoyed about how many bruises were on the apples she’d chosen, I somehow magnificently managed not to say anything that even remotely suggested that her problems were totally ridiculous to me (and should be to her) unless they involved a dead mother.

I even sat down to work for a little bit – to start getting caught up on the chaos that is my work life.  That’s right, my mum’s been dead two weeks, almost to the hour, and I just yesterday managed to acknowledge that I have to earn a living, and contribute meaningfully to the charity I’ve promised my time to, and I did that.  I sat down, thought something like “C’mon Steph, get it together” and moments later, my laptop had a complete seizure and suffered a fatal stroke. I’ve had that beast since 2011, I planned the first Sock Summit on it, that’s how old it is, and now is when it leaves me.  It’s a joke, I tell you. I can only assume that it was depressed by the goings-on around here and decided there was nothing left to hang on for.  (It was wrong. I swear I was pulling my scene together.)  I took it as a sign, a sign that I was supposed to be knitting, and set about making our wee Elliot a hat. (This is Canada. Winter is coming. Winter is always coming.) I’d had my eye on this Garter Ear Flap hat from Purl Soho for ages, and I had some MadelineTosh DK (so aptly called “Happiness”, which is just what I’m looking for) and a little math and whammo – that pattern works just fine.

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It’s sweet as pie, actually, and Meg put it on him after dinner (that’s a lie. I rammed it on his wee head so fast it made his head spin around) and we both agreed it made him look properly like a gnome, and cackled about that for some time.  (There is a very, very great deal to be said about how much a tiny person can lift spirits.)

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Suits him, doesn’t it? He’s so happy and unaffected by all that’s going on around him, and making him little things is such a balm for my heart, and Meg’s too, I think. He’s been nothing but light and sunshine over the last little bit, and for a minute or two I didn’t even mind so much that my mother and my laptop were dead while he smiled at me.

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Today was all about starting him another sweater, because I see now that he’s the secret to sanity over the next bit – and somehow trying to whip my iPad into shape to do at least part of the job of my laptop for a few days before I can figure out how to replace it.  If this entry looks weird, it’s because I’ve worked out a really odd system for getting a post up. I suspect it will be the pictures that are really strange, but screw it. Look at me! I got something done two days in a row.

I honestly never thought I’d be proud of that. See you tomorrow, if nothing else dies.

Helping After Irma

Sep. 14th, 2017 07:13 pm
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Posted by Redheadedgirl

WE WERE JUST HERE.

So, Hurricane Irma barreled over the Caribbean and into Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. I honestly can’t tell if the damage in Florida is less than Texas because Irma didn’t park over a city and rain for days, or if we’re suffering from 500 Year Hurricane fatigue.

But what we do know is that Irma caused MASSIVE destruction over the Caribbean, such as Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, and Barbuda. What this post is mostly going to be is ways to help those communities, with link round ups for Florida communities.

The Community Fund for the Virgin Islands is taking donations for relief: “100% of the proceeds will go directly to the cause, no fees are being charged by the Foundation. CFVI will update the public and donors through social media on how these funds are being used and distributed (Facebook.com/CFVirginIslands or search for Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands). We will be coordinating with local government, national efforts, and other local nonprofits. Additional information will be provided as it becomes available.”

Caribbean born Author Tobias Buckell has a list of places to help the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, St. Martin, and general Caribbean relief.  He also has good information on the scope of devastation in the Caribbean.

Andrea Grimes of Traitor Radio, bless her, also has a list of places that need help, just like she did for Harvey.

I found this “Adopt a family in the US Virgin Islands” form, which signs you up to send a flat rate Priority Mail box of supplies to specific family.

GlobalGiving is, like they did for Harvey, collecting to distribute to local organizations. The NYT tells me that they’re very good at coordinating with what local orgs need.

I’ve been looking for more places to help Puerto Rico, and not finding much that isn’t covered above.

A Vox article lists ComPRmetidos, which is Puerto Rico based, that is looking to raise $150,000.

The Connecticut Chapter of the National Puerto Rican Agenda (a nonprofit that aims to unite, educate, and create solutions for Puerto Ricans in PR and the US) has a form for people looking to volunteer.

If you know of anything else, please let us know in the comments?

Finally, I would urge all of our US community to call your Representative and Senators and remind them that the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico are US Territories, and we cannot forget them when it comes to disaster relief. These are US Citizens with no voice in Congress, and I think we have a moral responsibility to make sure they aren’t forgotten.

If you have any other places people can throw their support or dollars, please leave them in the comments. And let’s hope and pray that Jose gets bored and spins himself out.

Contemporary Romances on Sale!

Sep. 14th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

The Negotiator

The Negotiator by Avery Flynn is 99c! This is a Kindle Daily Deal and is being price-matched at select vendors. Readers loved the ball-busting heroine and the fake relationship element, but some found the romance and its characters to be superficial. It has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.

Wanted: Personal Buffer 
Often snarly, workaholic executive seeks “buffer” from annoying outside distractions AKA people. Free spirits with personal boundary issues, excessive quirks, or general squeamishness need not apply. Salary negotiable. Confidentiality required.

Workaholic billionaire Sawyer Carlyle may have joked he needed a buffer from their marriage-obsessed mom, but he didn’t need a waiting room filled with candidates to further distract him. (Thanks, bro.) But when a sexy job applicant shooes his mom and the socialite in tow out of his office, Sawyer sees the genius of the plan. And the woman. In fact, Miss Clover Lee might just get the fastest promotion in history, from buffer to fake fiancé…

This free-spirit might look like hot sunshine and lickable rainbows, but she negotiates like a pitbull. Before Sawyer knows what hit him, he’s agreed to give up Friday nights for reality tv, his Saturdays for flea markets (why buy junk still baffles him), his Tuesdays and Thursdays for date nights (aka panty-losing opportunities if he plays his cards right). And now she wants lavender bath salts and tulips delivered every Monday?

Yup, she’s just screwing with him. Good thing she’s got this non-negotiatable six-weeks-and-she’s-gone rule or Sawyer may have just met this match..

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Love the One You’re With

Love the One You’re With by Lauren Layne is 99c! This is the second book in the Sex, Love & Stiletto series that takes place in the magazine world, but it can be read as a standalone. Layne writes some great banter and many of the reviews agree. But some found the focus on the heroine’s “reinvention of herself” to be rather repetitive.

As a leading columnist for Stiletto, Grace Brighton has built a career warning women about rotten, cheating liars. She just never suspected her fiancé would be one of them. After Grace takes a heart-mending hiatus, her first assignment is to go on a couple of dates with a counterpart from the men’s magazine Oxford and report her impressions. Grace 1.0 may have been instantly smitten with the gorgeous correspondent, but Grace 2.0 has sworn off relationships for six months, and she’s not falling for his outstanding bod and trophy-winning kisses… or is she?

Jake Malone wants to get back to the fly-by-night, who-knows-what’s-next guy he used to be, and he knows exactly how to do it. Oxford is adding a travel section, and Jake—with no wife and no kids and a willingness to live anywhere, eat anything, do everything—is perfect for the job… except that his playboy reputation makes his new editor nervous. To get the gig, he must agree to a fluffy joint article with Stiletto.

But after just one date with snooty, sumptuous, sensational Grace Brighton, Jake starts taking this assignment a whole lot more seriously…

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This book is on sale at:

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Honor

Honor by Jay Crownover is $1.99 at most places! It’s $2.99 at Barnes & Noble, though. Crownover writes bad boys and this book seems to be on the darker side of the contemporary romance spectrum. But it has the same problem that I tend to take with first person POV book descriptions in that it’s hard to get a sense of what the book is actually about.

Don’t be fooled.

Don’t make excuses for me.

I am not a good man.

I’ve seen things no one should, done things no one should talk about. Honor and conscience have no place in my life. But I’ve fought and I’ve survived. I’ve had to.

The first time I saw her dancing on that seedy stage in that second rate club, I felt my heart pulse for the first time. Keelyn Foster was too young, too vibrant for this place, and I knew in an instant that I would make her mine. But first I had to climb my way to the top. I had to have something more to offer her.

I’m here now, money is no object and I have no equal. Except for her. She’s disappeared. But don’t worry, I will find her and claim her. She will be mine.

Like I said, don’t be fooled. I am not the devil in disguise… I’m the one front and center.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

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Love Walks In

Love Walks In by Samantha Chase is $2.99! This is the second book in the Shaughnessy Brothers series, and books 1 and 3 are also on sale. Aside from this series, many of Chase’s books are discounted. Readers loved the balance of lighthearted and emotional moments. One of the “negative” comments from Goodreads reviews is that the sex scenes weren’t detailed enough.

Book #2 in New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Samantha Chase’s dazzling new series: The Shaughnessy Brothers are back

He lives by a schedule

Aubrey Burke is on the run from an about-to-be-disastrous mistake when resort owner Hugh Shaughnessy catches her climbing through his office window. Until Aubrey tumbled into his life, Hugh had relied on work and discipline to safeguard a heart damaged by family tragedy. Now his careful world will never be the same.

She lives for the moment

Hugh’s approach to life and love is the opposite of Aubrey’s, but she soon finds herself falling hard for the handsome hotel mogul. There’s a darker reason behind her “live for today” attitude than Hugh could possibly know, but for the first time Aubrey dares to hope this man’s love might make it worth taking a chance on the future.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Happy Womb Expulsion Day!

Sep. 14th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

 All together, now!

 

Happy bathday to you...

 

Happy birdhday to you...

*sigh*

[ahem]

Happy BLIMDAY dear...

[whimper]

 

Brithty sooo-oong...

[sound of head banging on desktop]

 

HAAAAPPY...

 

 

 

(For a 90-yr-old grandmother)

 

 

(Supposed to be "Matthew.")

 

OH FORGET IT.

 

Thanks to Alex B., Alexander O., Aaron, Brittany G., Amber T., Anita B., Allison R., Anony M., Gemma G., Genevieve B, & Julia G. for the wreck-along.

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

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Posted by Carrie S

B+

The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss

by Max Wirestone
March 14, 2017 · Redhook
Classic

This year at San Diego Comic-Con, Orbit gave away copies of The Astonishing Mistakes of Dahlia Moss, the second book in the Dahlia Moss series. Never one to turn down a free book, I snatched it right up and promptly discovered that I had struck gold, for this book is freaking hilarious.

Dahlia is basically a geeky cozy mystery (although there is a little gore and some very unfortunate vomit). At the start of the book, Dahlia Moss is working unofficially as a private detective while she works on getting her license. She’s dating a botanist named Nathan and flirting with a police detective named Anton Shuler. She’s also started online gaming with a Twitch following, which basically means that she plays games online while people who are also online watch her play and yell at her.  Twitch is a real thing that allows people to watch other people play through video games (among other things).

The use of Twitch chat as a Greek Chorus, or, as Dahlia refers to it, as her personal Statler and Waldorf (the muppets) is pure genius as it not only helps move the plot along but also provides the most glorious comedy, matched only by Dahlia’s new bodyguard, Daniel, and by Nathan as the botanist who woos Dahlia with cacti.

The plot kicks into motion when Dalia gets a large donation in her Twitch tip jar. The donor, whose user name is Doctor XXX then asks Dahlia to meet him at a hotel:

“Gosh, I don’t know, Doctor XXX,” I said, trying to sound positive and not at all concerned. “I have a plan for tomorrow.”

This was true, in that my plan was not to be drugged and murdered in a hotel.

Meeting someone named Doctor XXX at a place I had never heard of was so obviously a bad idea that even Twitch was against it. DON’T DO IT!!! said Twitch chat, with all caps and exclamation points and Kappas, which are these screaming disembodied heads that are hard to explain because they don’t make a lot of sense out of context. Actually, now that I think about it, they don’t make a lot of sense in context. But no matter.

Needless to say, despite the advice of Twitch chat, Dahlia ends up at the hotel and bodies start piling up. To add to her difficulties, she has to play a game she doesn’t know how to play in a tournament and when she’s not playing (which is most of the time) one of the other players keeps handing her a baby named Undine and taking off for “bathroom breaks.”

Eventually, during a break from gaming, Dahlia wanders around the engine room of a boat (for detective reasons) with her laptop and Twitch chat for company:

“Who’s that,” asked Twitch chat. It’s important to remember that not everyone was watching me yesterday, so they weren’t necessarily filled in on the business. I was going to explain, but the rest of Twitch explained the business to themselves.

Well, said Twitch chat. Some crazy person asked Louise [Dahlia’s online name] to meet them at a hotel.

Oh, don’t do that, said the newcomers.

She already did. Except the person was missing. And there was a murder. And Louise is still trying to find the guy.

Why would she do that? Asked more of Twitch chat.

She crazy, Twitch chat answered.

Let me give you some context for how funny this book is. As I mentioned, I got this book at Comic-Con. Comic-Con is a strange place. Every year the lines get worse and every year I vow not to stand in them and every year I stand in them anyway and I get bitchier and bitchier about it. This year I got to Comic-Con early in the morning and I waited in a line for three hours at the end of which I had a chance to draw a ticket out of a bag. If the ticket said, “WINNER” then I could give that ticket to my daughter who would use it to have the entire cast of Steven Universe (the world’s most wonderful cartoon) sign a poster for her, thus cementing my role as Mother of the Year for at least ten minutes. If the ticket did not say “WINNER,” then I would have wasted three hours. I did this VOLUNTARILY.

Yes, I got a winning ticket and my daughter shed tears of joy, so that worked out well. STILL. It was a long morning with no promise of payoff and I was very cranky about it.  But there I sat, in line for three hours, reading Dahlia Moss and laughing my face off. No amount of stress, sleep deprivation or lack of coffee could keep me from laughing out loud and occasionally yelling aloud along with Twitch chat to the occasional consternation of people near me. Even later in the day, when I was even more hungry and tired and cranky, the book kept me laughing. I seriously spent a whole day at Comic-Con following my daughter around and reading Dahlia Moss, which also has the advantage of being a lightweight paperback (or even lighter as an ebook, but I like paper). It is so funny that even Comic-Con cannot defeat it.

The book has romantic elements but is not centered around them. One fun quirk about the heroes is that neither one is conventionally good looking. Nathan is cute but very skinny. Dahlia says “he looks like a turtle who has somehow gotten out of his shell.” Meanwhile, deadpan snarker Shuler has a bit of a pudge. I find the fact that neither of them represents physical perfection but they are still considered attractive to be incredibly endearing. There’s no sex, at least, none that we get to read about. It’s more romance-friendly than romantic.

The book also does a great job of portraying geek culture as a diverse place that includes some assholes (no matter what is happening, someone on Twitch always finds time to comment “Take off your shirt”). But it is generally full of all ages, genders, and ethnicities (both geek culture in general and this book in particular). Some of the gamers have great social skills and some not so much. Dahlia doesn’t come across as any one kind of geeky stereotype. She’s just a person who really loves games and also Pokémon.

After I got home, I found the first book in the series, The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, and read it for the first time while I had a mysterious Evil Death Headache that involved throwing up and sleeping a lot. I found the first book to be like the pilot of a TV show. The characters hadn’t taken full shape yet. The second book not only fleshes out the characters from the first book but also introduces the commentary from Twitch, which really increases the funny. Still, even though the first book was not as great as the second, it had me laughing through my Evil Death Headache fog and that takes some doing, let me tell you.

The most recent book, The Questionable Decisions of Dahlia Moss, comes out on January 9, 2018. I’m dying to read it, but maybe I should save it for a root canal or a funeral or something equally traumatic. It seems difficult to defeat the power of Dahlia.

Links: Pasta, Dates, & Tentacles

Sep. 13th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.Hi there, September! How you doin’? Also, is it just me or does it feel like the month is flying by? I’ve got some great books waiting for me on my Kindle and I hope you do too!

Zazzle is having another saleUse code: ZAZZLEDEAL30 to get 30% (site wide!) and the sale ends 9/14/2017 11:59 PM PST.

Included in the sale is our Slayer of Words Collection and our Disrupt the Patriarchy Collection! Treat yourself! Or a friend! Or why not both?!

Just a reminder that Redheadedgirl is arranging her UK travels and wants to coordinate a meetup across the pond on October 11th. If you’re interested in getting together, please fill out this Google Form!

Thanks to Reader Suzanne for sending me this Kickstarter link for Consentacle! Consentacle is “a card game of human-alien intimacy.”

In Consentacle, you and a partner squirm your way to a mutually satisfying Human x Alien romance… with or without the benefit of verbal communication! You’ll need to divine the other’s desires in order to build trust, play your cards right, and transform mutual trust into starry satisfaction. How tingly will your interplanetary liaison feel in the end? Will your encounter leave one party sweaty and exhausted, the other hungering for more? It’s up to the two of you to find out… together!

The game has already been successfully backed, but the Kickstarter is your chance to get your hands on it early!


Miniature charge cables

These mini cables are terrific for keeping in your bag to plug in your battery backup. They're 5" long and don't take up any room or get tangled, and they weigh nothing. There is an Android set and an iPhone set.


May I present to you one of the funniest GoFundMe campaigns I’ve ever seen of a date gone wrong:

I recently took a girl I met on tinder to Nandos. We had a lovely evening, and enjoyed each others company very much. After our meal, we repaired back to my house for a bottle of wine and a scientology documentary.

About an hour in to Louis Theroux and chill, my date got up to use the toilet. She returned with a panicked look in her eye, and told me she had something to tell me.

“I went for a poo in your toilet”, she told me “and it would not flush. I don’t know why I did this, but I panicked”, she continued “I reached into the toilet bowl, wrapped it in tissue paper, and threw it out of the window”. 

Trust me, you’re going to want to keep reading.

Also…let me introduce you to the Pasta Grannies! It’s a YouTube channel where lovely little nonne show you their pasta-making recipes and secrets.

Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

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Posted by Amanda

The Forgetting

The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron is $2.99! This is a Kindle Daily Deal and is being price-matched! This is a book that was included in Elyse’s Uppercase Box subscription. Readers loved how there were some great plot twists that they didn’t see coming, but others thought there was too much stuff wrapped up in the abrupt ending. Have you read this one?

What isn’t written, isn’t remembered. Even your crimes.

Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person’s memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.

In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn’t written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.

But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

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Absolute Trust

Absolute Trust by Piper J. Drake is $1.99! This romantic suspense series features heroes with dog companions. Drake also writes some serious competence porn. Some readers felt the ending seemed rather unresolved, while others said this was a rather sweet romantic suspense.

LOVE IS THE GREATEST RISK OF ALL
After multiple tours of duty, Brandon Forte returns to his hometown on a personal mission: to open a facility for military service dogs like Haydn, a German shepherd who’s seen his share of combat and loss. It also brings him back to Sophie Kim, a beacon of light in his life . . . and the one woman he can’t have. But Forte’s success means he’s made enemies in high places. Enemies who are now after Sophie . . .

When Forte enlisted and left without saying goodbye, Sophie did her best to move on. But with her first love back in town, looking sexier than ever, she’s constantly reminded of what they could have had. Then after he risks himself for her, Sophie realizes she’ll have to put her life in the hands of the man who broke her heart, knowing the danger -and the sparks between them- could consume them both.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

Walk Through Fire

Walk Through Fire by Kristen Ashley is $2.99! This is the fourth book in her Chaos series, which focuses on a motorcycle club. The couple of this book is also a little older than your typical romance pairing. If I can math this morning, the main characters are in their late thirties. Like most Ashley books, people either love them or hate them because they are filled to the brim with angst and melodrama.

Millie Cross knows what it’s like to burn for someone. She was young and wild and he was fierce and even wilder-a Chaos biker who made her heart pound. They fell in love at first sight and life was good, until she learned she couldn’t be the woman he needed and made it so he had no choice but to walk away. Twenty years later, Millie’s chance run-in with her old flame sparks a desire she just can’t ignore. And this time, she won’t let him ride off . . .

Bad boy Logan “High” Judd has seen his share of troubles with the law. Yet it was a beautiful woman who broke him. After ending a loveless marriage, High is shocked when his true love walks back into his life. Millie is still gorgeous, but she’s just a ghost of her former self. High’s intrigued at the change, but her betrayal cut him deep-and he doesn’t want to get burned again. As High sinks into meting out vengeance for Millie’s betrayal, he’ll break all over again when he realizes just how Millie walked through fire for her man. . .

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

The Fifth Lesson

The Fifth Lesson by Emilia Winters is 99c on Amazon! This is the second book in The Bay Boys series and the first is currently FREE! Speaking as a reader, I love the cover and the fact that it has a virgin hero. However, the mention of being “friend-zoned” gets my hackles up. It has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.

A nerdy virgin. A flirt. Four sizzling lessons of seduction.

Computer whiz Adam Thornton can program the most complex software. Give him source code or static analysis, but the moment a woman enters into the equation, he’s hopelessly lost. Especially if that woman is Christie Allaway, the alluring femme fatale of his most wicked fantasies, who can render him mute with a single smile. The same woman who very publicly friend-zones him, much to his humiliation.

But then she comes knocking on his door in the middle of the night.

After sending a disastrous drunk email to her boss, flirty Christie Allaway, fearing the worst for her career, turns to the one man who may be able to delete it in time: Adam Thornton. Successful software developer. Reserved and aloof. Downright sexy with his golden eyes and lickable glasses. But when Christie seeks his help, much to her surprise, Adam makes her a naughty proposition in return for his services. One she can’t help but accept.

But neither expected their hearts to get tangled up in the process. Neither expected boundaries to be crossed, or rules broken. When their agreement comes to an end, they’ll need to decide if they’re willing to walk away…or take the biggest risk of all.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

amazon

 

 

 

John's Final Straw

Sep. 13th, 2017 01:00 pm
[syndicated profile] cakewrecks_feed

Posted by john (the hubby of Jen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Natalia R., Anony M., Sandra B., Lisa S., and Vicky G. for sparking the idea.

*****

Do you shop Amazon? Then how about clicking through my affiliate link to shop? Visiting Amazon through that link will help support the site, and costs you nothing. Thanks, guys!

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

A

Party Favors

by Jaime Clevenger
April 10, 2017 · Bella Books
HumorMystery/Thriller

NB: Looking for an erotic lesbian romance to pick up? This review is from Reader Tara Scott! If you want to read her previous guest reviews (and we highly recommend that you do), you can see them all here.

Tara reads a lot of lesbian romances. You can catch her regularly reviewing at The Lesbian Review and Curve Magazine and hear her talk about lesbian fiction (including romance) on her podcast Les Do Books. You can also hit her up for recommendations on Twitter (@taramdscott).

As a child of the 80’s and a voracious reader, I spent a lot of time with my favourite series like The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High. Every so often I’d take a break from them to pick up a Choose Your Own Adventure book, intrigued by the idea that there were so many possibilities all in one binding. You can imagine my surprise and delight to find a lesbian erotic CYOA-style book and, even better, that I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Party Favors opens with: “You’ve made a mistake. Not the typographical their-versus-there in an email to a boss sort of mistake, but the life-changing kind of mistake that results in a sixty-dollar Batman costume rental.” And it just gets more fun from there.

Like the old CYOA books, Party Favors is written in the second person so that the reader is the main character. After a week-long break to get some space and perspective, you’re meeting your girlfriend, Janine, at what she told you is a “fancy dress party.” Because she’s German, you think she meant a costume party. Except it’s not. You’ve shown up as Batman to a black-tie event. So what do you do? Your first choice is:

A) Face up to Janine and stay because you need a glass of champagne and your night can’t get any worse

B) Leave the party with a wave of your cape and an ounce of dignity

No matter what you choose, you’re almost certainly going to get laid. If you do stay, Janine gives you a hall pass for the night and you agree to meet up the next morning to decide if you’re going to stay together and be exclusive.

I’m not sure what I expected when I started this book, but it ended up being way more fun and hot than I’d imagined. All paths head towards some kind of sexual encounter, and no two encounters are the same. Knowing this, each time I met a new person, I wondered if I was going to sleep with them, whether it was the party host, a local actress, a member of the wait staff, my best friend, an executive from my workplace who I run into at a sex shop, or my neighbour. There’s anything from sweet, slow sex with feelings, to banging someone I’ve just met and am about to get onstage with at a drag show. Some characters I have sex with in more than one scene, so that sometimes I’m topping them, and sometimes they’re topping me. There are threesomes, strap-ons, and even a little voyeurism. If there’s something you like to read in a lesbian sex scene, you’ll find it in this book, plus a Batman costume. And boy does that costume ever get put to good use, whether in roleplay scenes, or even just jokes like this:

“Who are you looking for?” Katherine, suddenly standing next to you, gives you a sly smile.

“I was looking for you,” you admit. “But so much for my Batman senses. I didn’t hear you come up behind me.”

“I was channeling Cat Woman,” Katherine says.

So how did I read it? On my Kindle, for starters, which was the perfect reading experience for me. At each decision point, the reader has a choice to keep reading or click to another section. At first I did exactly what the author suggests in her note to readers and followed my first impulse after considering each option. That led me to always click rather than keep reading and to a fantastic first story that may or may not have included Wonder Woman.

Along the way, however, I figured out that if I always clicked, using the “back” function on my Kindle would always return me to the decision point, where I could then just read ahead. I’m not suggesting anyone read it like that, but I did like that it turned reading the book into a “what if” exercise and let me skip my least favourite part of CYOA physical books—the dreaded going back to the beginning and flipping, flipping, flipping to find new decision points, never satisfied that I covered all the content.

Also, although there are some romantic moments in Party Favors, I would never call it a romance and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who only likes their sex scenes accompanied by a HEA. If cheating is absolutely a no-go for you in your fiction, you may want to give this book a pass. Not only do you have your hall pass from Janine, which each of you take advantage of in different scenarios, but sometimes your partners for the evening are cheating on their boyfriends or girlfriends.

However! If you like erotica and books that are seriously fun, definitely check this one out, and even better—read it with a friend. I read it at the same time as a couple of my good friends and had so much fun talking about it with them.

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

Sep. 13th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by SB Sarah

B+

The Four Tendencies

by Gretchen Rubin
September 12, 2017 · Harmony
GLBTRomanceErotica/Erotic Romance

I’m a semi-regular listener to the Happier podcast, hosted by Gretchen Rubin and her sister, Elizabeth Craft, so I’ve known for awhile this book was coming. I also, over this past summer, read Better Than Before ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), Rubin’s previous book which introduced the Four Tendencies. That book focused on habit building and reasons why it’s sometimes easy to stick to new habits, and other times so difficult to keep or restart a habit.

The Four Tendencies are Rubin’s rubric to outline how individuals respond to internal and external expectations:

  • Upholders respond to inner and outer expectations equally, and have no trouble, to use Rubin’s most common example, keeping New Year’s resolutions. They also feel anxiety when the schedule is interrupted, or there is no schedule, or if expectations are not clear.
  • Questioners respond to inner expectations once they have a satisfactory reason why that expectation should be met. They react poorly to being told that the reason is “because I said so,” or “we always do it this way.”
  • Obligers respond to external expectations easily, but do not meet inner expectations nearly as well. Self motivation without external deadlines and accountability frustrate obligers: New Year’s resolutions without external accountability are very difficult, for example.
  • Rebels do not respond to inner or external expectations, and value freedom of choice and absence of expectations. They can refuse to do something that they want to do, once it becomes expected of them.

Or, to use the phrases in the book from each section:

  • Upholder: “Discipline is my freedom”
  • Questioner: “I’ll comply – if you convince me why.”
  • Obliger: “You can count on me, and I’m counting on you to count on me.”
  • Rebel: “You can’t make me, and neither can I.”

After one episode of the Happier podcast referenced the Four Tendencies quiz, I took it, and…mind blown. I had my husband take the Tendencies quiz, which then caused us to discuss for several long dog walks how and why we fit our respective tendencies (I’m a Questioner, and Adam is an Upholder). We also wonder which the tendencies of our two sons might be – they’re too young to take the quiz as they are minors, but the quiz also has questions that don’t translate well to children. The quiz and the accompanying materials changed the way I understand myself and how I can best motivate myself – and gave me insights on how to be a more understanding spouse, and a better parent.

The book The Four Tendencies is an expansion on the quiz and the work in Better Than Before, and features a deeper look at each tendency, the ways in which the tendencies work well (or don’t work well) together, and methods to best motivate people once their tendency is clear. I could not stop talking about this book once I read it (and I made a rather unholy noise when I opened the package, as I was not expecting to receive an ARC). I’ve recommended it several times, especially at RWA, and people to whom I’ve given the quiz link have been as curious as I was.

There are sections that help you identify which is your Tendency, and then sections that take a closer look at each one, with one chapter focused on “Understanding” and the next examining how to “deal with” that Tendency. It was fascinating to not only identify my spouse’s habits and anxieties alongside my own, but also to figure out better ways to communicate (which is key because we are both over-communicators). I also found the section on Rebels very helpful, as it’s the Tendency that most baffles me.

That said, the chapters are not as balanced as I would like – I wanted more variations on strategy for living and working with Rebel personalities, for example. In terms of helping me motivate myself – and my kids based on my potential identification of their tendency – it’s been invaluable. I also recommend reading one section, then taking a break to absorb it. I read the whole thing cover to cover on a plane ride, and have gone back to re-read sections so they made more of an impression on my (terrible) memory. By far the most helpful chapter has been, Speaking Effectively to Each Tendency. I’ve been better able to explain and encourage people by switching how I talk, and I’ve been able to ask others questions about what accountability works best for them without feeling like I’m prying or being intrusive and rude.

A side note: I’ve also come to notice my own Questioner tendency in my reaction to different books, and in how I review them. For example, if characters act in opposition to their values, and the answer to my question of, ‘Why the hell did you do that?” isn’t obvious beyond “because the plot requires it,” I lose interest. This may be why insta-love doesn’t work for me. WHY do you feel that way all of a sudden? “Because…we do?” Nope. Nope. Nope. If the book can make me believe in the “why” of the HEA, I’m much more likely to enjoy it.

I recommend reading Better Than Before and this book – both of which should be available in your local library. Self-motivation is difficult, but this framework along with the two books, helped me identify a number of methods that work really well for me. Moreover, I think I’m better able to adapt how I communicate with different people, and what methods I use to motivate and create accountability with my children, too.

If you’re curious about your own habit formation, what motivates you, and how to work with your own tendency, you should definitely take the quiz and check out the book. It would likely be an insightful read. Identifying your Tendency can give you a lot of freedom and reduce your stress levels in how you deal with yourself. If you read it, or you take the quiz, please let me know which Tendency you are – and if you agree!

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO request is from Michelle. She’s after an American historical romance series:

The books were set in New York at the turn of the century. The mansions were just going up on 5th Ave.

The heroine was from a very wealthy, high society family and they built a mansion there. The heroine was always sneaking out of the mansion day and night. Her family had several siblings and the brother had a bad boy vibe also. Automobiles were just starting to come in vogue. There was a love triangle.

The hero I liked was a rich, experienced, slightly older man with a bad reputation. He was slightly accepted due to his wealth and he was hot. His name might have been Hart.

There seemed to be mysteries in the books that the heroine helped in solving. The romance was built up over several books. In one of the books the heroine and Hart got engaged. However, they seemed to go back and forth due to the 3rd person in the love triangle. I believe he was a cop.

There seemed to be 3 or 4 books, spaced apart by 9 months to a year between books. I think the 1st book was about 20 years ago. I bought the books in paperback. The writer wrote other books besides this series and I used to wait and wait for these books to release. I waited for the final book to come out because I don’t know how the series ended and who the heroine picked. I don’t know if the author finished the series. It’s been driving me crazy for freaking ever.

Can we help Michelle out?

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Posted by Amanda

Zazzle is having another sale! Use code: ZAZZLEDEAL30 to get 30% (site wide!) and the sale ends 9/14/2017 11:59 PM PST.

Included in the sale is our Slayer of Words Collection and our Disrupt the Patriarchy Collection!

Suddenly One Summer

Suddenly One Summer by Julie James is $1.99! James is a contemporary romance favorite around here and A Lot Like Love is also on sale. Readers warn that though they loved the ending, they warn it’s not your typical romantic way to end a story (no clue what this means, but saw several people commenting on it). Many also loved the heroine. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads.

Divorce lawyer Victoria Slade has seen enough unhappy endings to swear off marriage forever. That doesn’t mean she’s opposed to casual dating—just not with her cocky new neighbor, who is as gorgeous and tempting as he is off-limits. But once she agrees to take on his sister’s case, she’s as determined to win as ever—even if that means teaming up with Ford…

Investigative journalist Ford Dixon is bent on finding the man who got his sister pregnant and left her high and dry. He’s willing to partner with Victoria, despite the fact that the beautiful brunette gets under his skin like no other woman. He might not be looking to settle down, but there’s no denying the scorching attraction between them. Still, the more time he spends with Victoria, the more he realizes that the one woman as skeptical about love as he is might be the only woman he could really fall for…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

You’re the Earl That I Want

You’re the Earl That I Want by Kelly Bowen is $1.99! This is the third book in the Lords of Worth series, but it can be read as a standalone. Readers seemed to be divided on the heroine. Some loved how confident and intelligent she was, while others felt her personality overshadowed the hero.

THE EARL DOTH PROTEST . . .

For businessman Heath Hextall, inheriting an earldom has been a damnable nuisance. The answer: find a well-bred, biddable woman to keep his life in order and observe the required social niceties. But it’s always been clear that Lady Josephine Somerhall is not that woman. Once a shy slip of a girl, Joss is now brilliant, beautiful chaos in a ball gown.

. . . BUT THE LADY KNOWS BEST

In her heart, Joss has always loved Heath, the one person she’s always been able to count on. That doesn’t mean she wants to marry him though. Without a husband, Joss can do as she pleases—and now, it pleases her to solve the mystery of an encoded file given to Heath by a dying man. It’s put Heath in peril once, and Joss won’t let that happen again. She’ll do what she must to ensure the earl’s safety. And to remind him that what she lacks in convention, she makes up for in passion.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

An Improper Arrangement

An Improper Arrangement by Kasey Michaels is $1.99! This is the first book in The Little Season series and features a romance between an American heiress and her chaperone in London. Readers warn that the book starts slowly, but many loved the banter between the hero and heroine.

Experience the drama of the Little Season in the first of a new series by USA TODAY bestselling author Kasey Michaels, in which three dashing war heroes have finally met their matches… 

Gabriel Sinclair has returned from battle as reluctant heir to a dukedom. As if his new responsibilities weren’t enough, Gabriel’s aunt enlists him to sponsor a young heiress through London’s Little Season. Yet Miss Thea Neville is hardly the tedious obligation he expected. She’s exotic and enchanting—and utterly unaware of the secret poised to destroy her family’s reputation.

After ten years in America, Thea is ready to do her duty and marry well. Deportment lessons, modistes, balls—the ton is a minefield she could scarcely navigate without Gabriel’s help. By rights, she should accept the first bachelor who offers for her. Instead, she’s succumbing to a dangerous attraction to her wickedly handsome chaperone—one that could unhinge her plans in the most delicious way.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

Tall, Dark and Deadly Boxed Set

Tall, Dark and Deadly by Lisa Renee Jones is 99c at Amazon! This is a set of three romantic suspense stories, plus a little bonus novella. Readers enjoy the headstrong heroines nearly as much as the sexy heroes, who all happen to be brothers. A few found a couple of the heroes to be on the verge of alpha-hole territory, but the series seems to be well-enjoyed overall. It has a 4.1-star rating on GoodReads.

HOT SECRETS: Book 1 Royce Walker

Royce Walker, a former FBI Agent, who’s opened a private security firm with his brothers, has always had the hots for the prim, proper Assistant District Attorney, but considered her hand’s off because of a family connection. However, when danger threatens Lauren, he isn’t willing to stand by and watch her get hurt. Now the passion for survival is only rivaled by the passion burning between them. And that passion, might just be the death of them both.

DANGEROUS SECRETS: Book 2 Luke Walker

Being a divorce attorney for the rich and famous isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Julie Harrison has learned that love doesn’t last, and she’s sworn never to make the same mistakes as her mother, or her clients. She uses the games men play to keep them at a distance. The only man who managed to break down her walls was Luke Walker, a Navy SEAL who loved her and left her, and changed her forever.

When Luke arrives back in New York, running Walker Security with his brothers and having left his Navy SEAL days behind, he sets his sights on Julie, the woman he’s always wanted and couldn’t have. Except, she runs from him every time he gets close.

But now, one of Julie’s clients, a powerful judge, gets involved with a dangerous cartel, and his soon-to-be-ex wife ends up dead. Julie’s next on the list, and she finds herself on the run from those who believe she knows too much, and counting on Luke to keep her alive. In the deepest, darkest moments of the night, passion will bring them together while danger threatens to tear them apart. Can Julie and Luke trust each other and find their happy ending before they find … the end?

BENEATH THE SECRETS: Book 3 Blake Walker

Two will paths collide. Two people who will do anything, including sleeping with the enemy, to avenge or save someone they love. But what if everything isn’t as it seems and the enemy isn’t the enemy at all? Can these two broken people drawn together by their sizzling hot attraction see beyond their pain and their need for vengeance Undoubtedly, they will face the ghosts of their pasts, but will those ghost destroy them or forever bind them?

SECRETS EXPOSED: A bonus story lightly connected

Attorney Lindsey Paxton is about to have a brutal case from her past come back to haunt her in the most dangerous of ways. To survive she will end up in the arms of a man she considers her enemy, but might just be her only salvation.

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This book is on sale at:

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO is from Ally, who is looking for a historical romance with a renovation theme:

I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to remember a book a read in the past 1-4 years.

Hero and Heroine have a marriage of convenience. Soon after their wedding (I can’t remember if the marriage was consummated on the wedding night or not) they arrive at a run-down estate that will be their new home.

I believe their first night there, there is only one bed, so they share it, and this becomes a pattern though–since it’s a marriage of convenience–they don’t have sex. They just keep sleeping together.

The hero meets/befriends a neighbor or tenant who loans him some farm equipment so the hero can start putting in a crop. The neighbor’s wife makes some kind of tea or non-alcoholic drink that the hero really likes. It’s possible the hero has a drinking problem, because he starts drinking this stuff instead of alcohol and, eventually, the heroine talks to the wife about bottling/selling the stuff.

The hero and heroine continue to share a bed, and they want each other, but they both think they’re the only one.

The hero spends a lot of time repairing the stone fences/walls around the estate and gets super hot (the heroine, of course, notices.) But still no sex.

Then, finally, the neighbor lady convinces the heroine that the hero wants her.

I can’t remember more of the overall plot, whether or not he was titled, was it his estate or hers–nothing.

I had it in my head that the neighbor lady/non-alcoholic drink stuff happened in Mary Jo Putney’s THE RAKE, but I just re-read THE RAKE, and it’s not in there. That’s when I started driving myself crazy trying to remember what book that did happen in.

Any renovation romance lovers recognize this one?

Stick A Pick In It

Sep. 12th, 2017 01:00 pm
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Posted by Jen

"...and to avoid any possible mistakes, instead of any writing on the cake I'd like you to just use one of those plastic 'Happy Birthday' picks, please."

 

"No, no, I don't want you to write it, I want you to use one. You know, the 'Happy Birthday' sticks? Yes. One of those."

 

"Maybe I'm using the wrong word. Um... do you have a decorative plaque you put on cakes? One that says 'Happy Birthday'? Because that's all I want. Really. Just that!"

[massaging temples]

 

"See, now you just wrote 'pick' again."

 

"Aha! Well, you DID use some birthday plaques this time. But see, that's all I want! No writing, just one plain 'Happy Birthday' plaque."

 

"I feel like we're going in circles here.

 

"Tell you what, forget the sticks, picks, and plaques, k? Go ahead and write happy birthday. JUST HAPPY BIRTHDAY. That's it. Got it?"

 

Thanks to Emily H., Garret E., Dan N., Savannah W., Shelly F., Melissa W., & Evan H. for today's just desserts.

*****

Thank you for using our Amazon links to shop! USA, UK, Canada.

Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade

Sep. 12th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by SB Sarah

D

Broken Resolutions

by Olivia Dade
December 8, 2015 · Lyrical Shine
Nonfiction

I mentioned in a recent Whatcha Reading? post that I “struggled with the rapid pace of the emotional development” in this novella, and that I had a hard time buying the HEA between the characters. All true. I don’t like insta-love, and in a novella it is so difficult to convince me as a reader that two characters who have never met before have enough time together to create a believable ending wherein they’re together and all is well. Alas, when I went back to read my notes to write this review, the circumstances surrounding how the heroine convinces the hero to stay the night with her really bothered me, and once I started writing, well, it got a little involved and ranty.

Here’s the plot summary: Penny Callahan is coerced* into hosting a library New Year’s Eve singles night** by Angie, her boss*** and ends up staying in the library overnight**** with Jack, a man who was forced into attending the singles night festivities by his mother. They have a fight, triangle wins – no, that’s a different story. They have a fight when she finds out his true identity***** which he’s been keeping from her******.

So there are some asterisks. Please note that from here onward, spoilers abound, ok?

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Not kidding about the spoilers.

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I really can’t talk about what didn’t work unless I explain the resolution (no pun intended).

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Ok, here we go.

Asterisk 1, Problem 1: Penny’s boss.

Angie, said boss, pleads with Penny to cover the New Year’s Eve event at the library because Angie’s sister might be in labor. On the surface this seems ok, except for how Angie talks to Penny, who is allegedly her “dearest friend:”

“…Right now I’m sitting on my couch at home, wearing my pajamas. I’m eating my burger and fries in front of the television. This is basically a dream come true for me. Please don’t ruin it.”

“That’s the most pathetic dream I’ve ever heard,” Angie muttered.

“You’re not helping your cause. Plus, this event violates my New Year’s resolution before the New Year even begins.”

“I know. You want to avoid men for a year. So you can wallow in your loneliness.”

“No. So I can get my head on straight and stop picking men who lie to me.”

So, getting right to the conflict: Penny is swearing off men for the new year because she’s not confident in her choices in the past. I’m on board for that, because there’s a reason for her decision: she needs to focus on herself and her pattern of behavior in electing to spend her time with men who are deceitful.

But “most pathetic dream I’ve ever heard?” Not cool, especially because Penny’s current situation sounds like a pretty great evening to me. Perhaps a year of selecting better friends would be good for Penny, too?

Anyway, Penny eventually capitulates, and gets dressed.  Meanwhile, Jack arrives with his mother, who without his knowledge has signed them both up for the library New Year’s Eve singles party.

Asterisk 2, Problem 2, and Asterisk 3, Problem 3: The event, and more of Penny’s boss. 

The New Year’s Eve singles night was planned by Angie, not Penny. Despite knowing that Penny has social anxieties and is very introverted — because Penny Used Her Words and Told Her Several Times — Angie hands over the agenda without much warning as to what it says, and skips out the door.

I know that library programming is a big deal, and can be very difficult. I follow my library system’s social media accounts and their programming attempts to serve so many different communities at the same time (their summer science program, btw, was really cool, with local scientists and researchers doing somewhat messy experiments at different branches). So, I get it. I get that programming is tough.

But the secondhand embarrassment and cringe factor in the agenda for their New Year’s Eve singles night is so high, y’all. SO HIGH. Angie had designed an evening for single folks to mingle bookishly, but it’s Penny, who had no say in the festivities, who ends up leading the activities, which include:

  • Reading love scenes from different books to one another in pairs in front of everyone
  • Speed dating with a provided Q&A about favorite books and “the most unusual place they’d made love”
  • Completing a scavenger hunt in the library
  • Posing for pictures dressed up with props to mimic book covers

And then a champagne toast and they’ll be done, and I can finally pass out from effects of too much secondhand embarrassment.

No, wait, there’s more:

By the way, you might want to pay special attention to Brenda’s son. He seems . . .” She hesitated in the entrance. “. . . like he might need you.”

“Huh?” Penny asked, confused. “What does that mean?”

Her friend opened the door, calling over her shoulder, “You’ll see. And you might have to fill in for the missing woman. Bye!”

“What the—” Penny began, but the door slammed behind Angie.

She ran to the door and opened it. “What do you mean, I might have to fill in for the missing woman?” she yelled.

Angie had already started her engine, and merely gave her a jaunty wave before driving off through the snow.

So, yay, Penny has to participate in all the events Angie designed to keep the numbers even.

This was the first sign of the imminent collapse of my ability to suspend disbelief. I didn’t like that Penny had to participate in activities she hadn’t designed, I found the idea of reading love scenes aloud to a stranger in front of other people (also all strangers) really abhorrent, and I wanted to punch Angie in the nose:

She glanced down at Angie’s notes. Read this next sentence exactly as written, her friend had ordered, underlining the demand twice.

“You should listen closely to the scene each person has chosen, because it will illustrate something about what he or she is looking for in love and . . . lust.”

I am going to fucking kill Angie, good friend or not.

Ma’am, you might have to get in line.  Angie set Penny up to be uncomfortable and, as the only library employee running the after-hours event, really flipping vulnerable in a number of ways. I wasn’t curious or entertained; I was repulsed and worried. I didn’t think the set up was entertaining or funny or charming. I thought Penny was unsafe and in a potentially dangerous position, and I didn’t think she would have agreed to do any of the activities Angie planned had she been asked, either.

Then there are the other women at the event, who are also placed in situations that made me deeply, cringingly uncomfortable. One piratically-obsessed man at the event chose a pirate romance love scene, but instead of reading it aloud himself, his partner, a woman he doesn’t know, has to read the other half of the dialogue:

The man had almost finished reading his love scene with his partner, whose eyes had grown almost as wide as Penelope’s over the past few minutes….

“—beneath him, her legs limp with ecstasy. The dread pirate Rafael took Chastity’s chin firmly in his hand, asking, ‘Do you now admit that you are completely mine, forever?’ ”

The man next to Jack read with commendable, if misguided, enthusiasm.

His partner in the game, a middle-aged woman dressed in a conservative black dress, appeared to take a moment to gather herself before reading her part.

“‘Yes, my virile pirate master,’ she replied, her voice hushed and filled with awe at his prowess. She could smell his enticing scent: sandalwood, musk, and man. It was a scent she couldn’t resist. A scent that made her loins throb even now, after having been satisfied so thoroughly. So powerfully. ‘I will belong to you forever, body and soul. Let us make beautiful pirate babies.’ ”

By the end of her section, the poor woman could barely speak. She trailed into silence, her shoulders hunched.

“That’s the end of the scene,” the skinny man announced. A look of profound relief crossed his partner’s face, and she slumped in her chair.

“So, Clarence,” Penelope ventured, “why . . . why did you pick this scene?” It was the same question she’d asked after each team finished. This time, though, it seemed to stick in her throat, reluctant to emerge.

“Well, I may not have a peg leg, but I own a pirate costume, including an eye patch.” Clarence waggled his brows. “And when I have a woman over, I like to put it on and shiver her timb—”

“Okay, I think we’ve got it,” the librarian interrupted.

“Have her walk my wooden plank, if you know what—”

“Thank you, Clarence,” she said firmly. “Now we need to move on to the next pair.”

I just…what did I just read?

I want to go find that woman and get her out of there, and punch Clarence, too. Her vulnerability and embarrassment isn’t really funny for me. It was painful.

Asterisk 4, Problem 4: Penny and Jack

As I mentioned, Jack was tricked into attending by his mother, Brenda, who is there to meet a good looking gentleman and have a good time, possibly all night. Jack doesn’t want to be there. He’s grumpy and surly and glaring at everyone, until he decides he wants Penny, and then he has to compete with two other guys for her attention.

The narration alternates in third person point of view between Jack and Penny, and from Jack’s pov there’s a good bit of of judging the other women for what they wear, a brief summary of where his daughter is, and the amicable arrangement he has with his ex-wife, and then his rapidly changing thoughts about Penny.

Even if she’d engineered this entire train wreck of a gathering, the little librarian was clearly the prize in the room.

“Prize?” “Little librarian?” Ew.

Due to some (also sexist) complaints from another of the attendees, Penny and Jack end up reading love scenes to one another, and, uh-oh, Penny selects a book that…Jack wrote. Jack, it turns out, is a bestselling author under the name “John,” and rather reclusive. The intrusiveness of his fame is a plot point later in the book, so hold that thought.

Penny doesn’t get to read her scene, though Jack reads a scene from Jane Eyre, which is Penny’s favorite book – and there are a number of Eyre references in the novella, which were fun to discover. That part I liked very much.

Jack notices Penny, and then notices her some more, noticing, of course, that she’s noticeably Not Like Other Women:

Her intellect turned him on. Made him hungry.

So did the rest of her. He wanted to sift her soft brown wisps of hair through his fingers. He could stare at her pretty face for hours, admiring her pale skin, enormous brown eyes, and pink lips. And her body . . . Christ. She was sexy in a subtle, appealing way. He’d found his gaze traveling below her face more and more as the evening continued. Her green dress clung to her slim body in the right places. It emphasized her small, high breasts, the subtle curve of her hips. It stopped just above her knees, revealing killer legs.

She wasn’t flaunting herself. She didn’t move like a woman aware of her body and how it could entice men. He’d seen no posing. No affectation. Nothing but innocent beauty and sensuality. And it was arousing him more than he could have ever imagined. More than was comfortable.

For the past hour, Jack had found himself shifting in his chair, fighting an insistent throb in his cock. And that’s why there was no fucking way Cologne Guy was going to be her partner for the next game, despite the other man’s protests.

“That’s not fair, Brenda,” Cologne Guy whined.

My Suspension of Disbelief is collapsing further under the weight of Sexist Male Gaze.

I’m beginning to think contemporary romance and I need to take a break, because I’m very tired of feeling bad after I read descriptions of the heroines like that one: “slim,” “not aware of her body,” “innocent beauty and sensuality,” “not flaunting herself” (unlike one of the other women, who Jack mentally names “Skintight Dress”). I’m tired of sexist misogyny being reinforced in descriptions from the person who is supposedly the hero, especially if I’m required to spend a lot of time in his head for the narration from his point of view.

I’m weary of the “she doesn’t know she’s beautiful” trope, especially when combined with infantilization of the heroine (e.g. “little librarian”) and the treatment of said heroine as a possession.

Because of course, when Jack’s mom orchestrates that Penny and Jack will be a pair for the next game, her actions prompt a protest from Cologne Guy:

“I’m going to go talk to Penelope about this,” Cologne Guy said. “I know she’ll—”

Jack came up beside him and spoke quietly. “Don’t bother. She’s mine.”

His mother gave him a startled look. Then she smiled at him, as brightly as he’d seen in years. Her gaze searched for Carl, and when she found the older man, she headed in his direction.

Cologne Guy shook his head. “You didn’t even know her before tonight. You spent the first hour of the event glaring at her. She’s been avoiding you for the second hour. And now you’re saying she’s yours? Come on, buddy. Get serious.”

Jack raised his eyebrows in surprise.

Me, I raised my middle finger at Jack. “She’s mine?” 

Does ANYONE have any CONCEPT of CONSENT and NORMAL CONVERSATION and WHERE are the ACTUAL ADULTS and WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW.

If the collection of characters had been something other than an assembly of Nice Guys® and Women Trying Too Hard® (plus two lesbians who were set up by Angie who are perfectly matched, like All Lesbians Go Together or something) I might not have been as angry about the Pompous Male Posturing® but I’m already tired of these people, and the event still has hours to go.

And it’s the bulk of the book, too, the one night on New Year’s Eve. One night to true love.

So anyway, Jack and Penny end up paired for the next activity, and the other activities happen after that, including the “Pose like a book cover” one where there’s a camera with a remote control and props set up, so Penny and Jack do this BDSM-style cover with a rope and noose around his neck or something, but at that point I was reading faster because I couldn’t figure out how they were going to get from “just met” to “HEA” when the story was still at the library.

Asterisk 5, Problem 5: Jack’s Identity

Jack hides from Penny that he’s really John, author of the book she chose in one activity (but didn’t read from) because his ex-wife gave an interview that really upset him and created too much publicity around him and his daughter, whom he wants to protect.

I spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out how famous this guy is that he worries about being recognized, but doesn’t seem to seriously worry for more than a few minutes about being recognized in a library. Moreover, his mother would probably know about his desire to remain out of the public eye, so wouldn’t an event at a library among avid readers dramatically increase the likelihood of recognition? Penny doesn’t recognize him, there aren’t that many pictures of him in the world to begin with, so why is this a big, important secret?

Meanwhile, Penny is trying to avoid dating for a year because she believes she’s in the habit of selecting men who are deceitful and who lie to her a lot:

“The problem isn’t that two random guys turned out to be cheating assholes. The problem is that I picked those men in the first place. My judgment is suspect, Jack. I clearly don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I don’t value myself enough. Maybe I don’t read other people well enough. But until I get my head straight and can tell a good man from a bad one, I shouldn’t be dating.”

“Thus the New Year’s resolution?”

“Thus the New Year’s resolution,” she affirmed.

She’s identified what she thinks is a pattern in her behavior and she’s decided to do something about it.

GO PENNY, because that is hard, hard work to do on yourself, so well done. (And to heck with you, Angie, for interfering with and mocking that work).

Jack/John doesn’t take her all that seriously, either:

Penny waited for him to get up, but he didn’t move. He seemed lost in thought. “You don’t trust yourself anymore,” he murmured, as if to himself. “I don’t trust other people, but you don’t trust yourself.”

At that, she sat up straight. “What do you mean, you don’t trust—”

“I have a proposal to make,” he said, interrupting her. “Give me the rest of the night. Talk to me. Let us get to know each other. Before we leave here, I’m going to try to convince you of two things. First, that what happened to you last year wasn’t because you have bad judgment. It’s because two jerks saw a woman with an open, honest heart and took advantage of it. Of you. And that’s their problem, not yours. You didn’t do anything wrong. You just need to find a man who appreciates that heart and wants to take care of it.”

He took her hand in his, brushing his thumb over the backs of her fingers. “Which brings me to the second thing. By the end of the night, I mean to convince you I’m that man. I’m the man for you.”

Hold up. Let’s recap a second.

  1. Jack/John is lying about what he does for a living and who he really is.
  2. He knows that he is withholding this information from Penny, and continues to do so.
  3. So effectively he is also taking advantage of her by continuing a deception when she’s told him how she feels about being lied to.

And when Penny figures it out, they’ve already had sex on top of the giant stuffed animals in the children’s section (EW) and this is where I had another REALLY BIG problem.

Asterisk 6, Problem 6: Deception for Everybody! 

Penny is livid that Jack/John kept his profession and public identity a secret – which…you just met in an artificially intimate and cringe-filled environment so it kind of makes sense that he’s not telling you everything about himself…but ok, fine, she’s mad. She asks him to leave the library – where they’ve been stuck all night.

Except, not really.

“You told me you were the man who’d take care of my heart. You told me I could trust myself. You told me I could trust you. Instead, you fucked me, using a false name and a false life history. If that’s love, I want none of it. Not an atom. Not a second.”

“Everything I’ve told you is true,” he said. “Everything except what I do for a living. My legal name is John, but I’ve always gone by Jack. I told you about my daughter. I told you about my mother. And I was going to tell you about my writing.”

“I don’t believe you. You had plenty of opportunities to say who you were, and you didn’t.” Her brown eyes were swollen, and the look in them sliced through him. The sense of betrayal written on her face made him frantic, grasping for an argument that might make her understand what he’d done. That might make her forgive him.

He bent down, grasped the keys she’d dumped in his lap, and dangled them in the air. “You lied to me too. Unless you just found these in the last few minutes, you’ve known where they were the whole time.”

“I wanted you!” she cried, slapping the tears from her cheeks. “I hid the keys because I wanted you, and I didn’t want to wait to be with you.”

“And your car?”

She bowed her head. “The battery is fine.”

“That’s my point. When you find someone you want, someone you could love, you do whatever it takes to get that person. Sometimes you even lie. Especially if that lie won’t hurt anyone. Not in the long run.”

Ok, how about All Of The No.

So Penny hid Jack’s keys so he’d think he had lost them. Then she went out to her car and came back with the lie that “it wouldn’t start” and that roadside assistance wouldn’t be there at any time in the future, so they’re both stuck at the library, where they can conveniently bang on stuffed animals in the kids’ section (AGAIN WITH THE EW).

If a hero had done that to a heroine, hidden her keys and lied about his transportation so they’d be stuck in a place where they could conveniently have wild sexxytimes atop stuffed animals (shudder), that would be wildly unacceptable to me. But she does it, and it’s supposed to be ok? It’s still arranging consent under false circumstances.

And Jack/John concealing his authorial identity is a much bigger deal?

HOW. HOW IS THAT.

His not telling her about his identity is a much bigger deal than her hiding his keys and pretending her car was broken so they could get busy in the children’s area (AGAIN WHY)? Lying is ok when it is in pursuit of a person who gives your potentially meaningful pants feelings (TM Captain Awkward)?

ALL THE NO.

Jack/John’s exit from the library took me to 76% of the story, and the next and final chapter is two months later, in February.

Brenda comes in to thank Penny for the New Year’s Eve event, where she met her new boyfriend Carl, and to give Penny a new copy of Jack/John’s latest book, which is dedicated to Penny under the initials “PC.” He quotes Jane Eyre and she goes to find him and they go make out happily ever after.

The majority of their time together is New Year’s Eve in the library, and they declare themselves in love for ever and ever in February without really talking about what Penny did, or why he has concerns for his privacy, and why giant stuffed animals had to be involved in any of this.

That sound you hear is the final collapse of my disbelief, followed by the sonic mayhem of What the Fuck did I Just Read?

I really didn’t like the high amount of vulnerability, both physical and emotional, expected of the main and ancillary characters, all under the guise of “loving books.” They’re at a library event for singles because they all love to read – this makes sense. But the activities themselves are so awful and intrusive, I couldn’t get past the embarrassment.

Penny has to lead borderline inappropriate games in her workplace, and is the only staff member there (HOW IS THIS SAFE). Some of the other women who attend are placed in embarrassing situations reading aloud explicit sex scenes out of context – picked by a grossly behaving guy, which adds to the secondhand cringe feeling. Again, no one beside Penny is there to keep people from being additionally awful. HOW IS THIS OKAY.

Then Penny lies about her car and hides John/Jack’s keys, but she’s the injured party because despite his telling her about the things that matter most to him (his mother, his daughter, his ex-wife and co-parent) she’s butthurt because he didn’t tell her he’s a famous author.

Then he dedicates a book to her, and it’s all okay now.

I liked the Jane Eyre references, and I liked Brenda a good bit. I liked that the women who worked together under Angie seemed to have a good relationship, and aside from Angie’s awfulness, seemed to have kind friendships with one another. I have heard enough positive praise about this series from several readers that I have Hidden Hearts, which is book six, in my TBR.

But Penny being upset about John/Jack’s deception seemed completely unreasonable in light of her own actions, nor was I convinced by the one night insta-love. The more I thought about Penny’s actions, the more angry I got.

So, yeah. This novella didn’t work for me.

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August 2006

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