This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by NoeRD. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Historical category.
A SHOCKING DECEPTION . . .
Josephine Carlisle, adopted daughter of a baron, is officially on the shelf. But the silly, marriage-minded misses in the ton can have their frilly dresses and their seasons in London, for all she cares. Josie has her freedom and her family . . . until an encounter with a dark, devilishly handsome stranger leaves her utterly breathless at a house party. His wicked charm intrigues her, but that’s where it ends. For Josie has a little secret . . .
. . . LEADS TO AN EXQUISITE SEDUCTION
Espionage was Thomas Matteson, Marquess of Chesney’s game-until a tragic accident cost him his career. Now to salvage his reputation and return to the life he loves, the marquess must find the criminal who’s been robbing London’s rich and powerful. He’s no fool-he knows Josie, with her wild chestnut hair and rapier-sharp wit, is hiding something and he won’t rest until he unravels her mysteries, one by one. But he never expected to be the one under arrest-body and soul . . .
Here is NoeRD's review:
If I had to sum up in a few words what I thought of this book, I would say: It’s the first too stupid to live heroine I like. No, no, cross that. Both main characters where pretty stupid or reckless in the course of the book.
The thing is I found them endearing most of the time and the banter between them was very entertaining too. So, let me begin again with this review.
The hero, Thomas Matteson, son of a duke and Marquess of Chesney, by himself is an ex-spy that wants to become a spy again. We are told that he was shot a year ago and this had something to do with him not being a spy now. He has something that I assume is post traumatic stress disorder and some anxiety issues because of this and he is desperate to go back to his old ways and not let this event define the rest of his life. So, because the War Office is not minding his requests, he feels he has to get a recommendation from a very powerful lord who has asked him to catch a highwayman who is robbing his guests in some country state.
Enter Josie Carlisle. She is the adopted daughter of a baron and because a lot of pompous asses won’t marry her for this reason, she is pretty much on the shelf. She is, most of the time, very smart and ballsy. She still takes care of the orphanage where she lived prior being adopted and is very independent by that time standard. She meets Thomas in the very powerful shady Lord’s house and the chemistry between them is off the charts. They can see right through each other and is a lot of fun to see how they try to outsmart the other.
Although I found the book very fun to read, the pace just perfect and the characters endearing (I like that word!), there were some flaws that could kill the book for you if you don’t get in its hype.
Firstly, I mentioned Thomas anxiety issues. As a partner of someone with anxiety issues I understand Thomas’s problems and motivations, but the book falls in the misdirection of pretending love cures them all. Thomas is first attracted to Josie because she “calms” something in him in their first meeting, and he decides to pursue her because he wants to know why. Then, his sleep anxiety disappears the first night they spent together. That’s not how anxiety works for most people and it could be harmful for your relationship to pretend that love is a magic cure. The only part when it’s done right is in a scene when Thomas and Josie are alone and a shot is heard in the distance and Thomas gets in full panic attack mode. Josie intuitively tries to appease him and does it by the way she speaks to him not through her mere presence.
Another thing that bothered me was that for all the admiration that Josie’s badassness causes in Thomas, he doesn’t trust her 100%. Sure, when he asked her not to do something she went and did it, almost getting herself killed. But near the end of the book, he locks her in a cell to stop her from meddling in his plans instead of telling her those plans and asking for her cooperation.
Then there is the issue of Thomas’s spy skills. He is like the worst spy ever. Thank God he chooses love above his country, because there would be no Queen alive otherwise.
Which brings us to the matter of “The secrets.” Josie has a secret that is very obvious from the start and is revealed around the 30% mark of the book. I had no problem with that. There also is a veil of secrecy around the details of Thomas’ shooting and it makes you wait for it and then is… meh. So I didn’t get why the secrecy in the first place.
All in all, beside its flaws I really enjoyed this and will look forward to reading more books from Anna Harrington.
How I Married a Marquess by Anna Harrignton received a B+ in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.
Well, thank heavens, because you know I was worried about it.
The WSJ article is behind a paywall, but the salient details are also on The Guardian:
Riley Sager is a debut author whose book, Final Girls, has received the ultimate endorsement. “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this,” Stephen King has said. But unlike Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girls, Luckiest Girl Alive and others, Final Girls is written by a man – Todd Ritter. This detail is missing from Riley Sager’s website which, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, refers to the author only by name and without any gender-disclosing pronouns or photographs. (His Twitter avatar is Jamie Lee Curtis.)
Ritter is not the first man to deploy a gender-neutral pen name. JP Delaney (real name Tony Strong) is author of The Girl Before, SK Tremayne (Sean Thomas) wrote The Ice Twins and next year, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (AKA Daniel Mallory) is published. Before all of these was SJ (AKA Steve) Watson, the author of 2011’s Before I Go to Sleep.
“Literally, every time I appear in print or public,” Watson says, someone asks about why he uses initials. It was his publisher’s decision to avoid an author photo and to render his biography non-gendered. He has never hidden, but when Before I Go to Sleep went on submission, editors emailed his agent and asked, “What is she like?” Watson found the mistake flattering.
Right, because with profit, they’re “okay” with you mistaking them for women.
Wow, did that entire reading experience leave me with side eye and a frown. There’s already plenty of barriers to entry within publishing if you’re not a white dude, so this was the news equivalent of rubbing a cat backwards from the tail to the shoulders.
This part of the WSJ article particularly rubbed Amanda the wrong way, as it did Kelly Faircloth. She wrote at Jezebel:
One of the authors featured has gone so far as to try on a bra so he didn’t make any obvious mistakes that might throw female readers out of the story. Wonder if he also gets the infuriating emails or the creepy DMs or the generally patronizing bullshit?
…Nevertheless, if only being a woman in, say, serious nonfiction or literary fiction were as straightforward as publishing under the name Steve.
Well, thank God the bra question was addressed.
Given that Elyse and Amanda both love thrillers, especially those that focus on women, they had a few things to say about this discovery.
Amanda: Since I just got Final Girls, I’m kind of bummed about this, Elyse.
Elyse: Dudes ruin everything.
Amanda: It’s weird how my excitement for the book just got sapped out of my body.
RedHeadedGirl: It’s one thing when women are exploring the things that make the world unsafe for us.
It a whole other thing when it’s men and since they are, you know, one of those things, it feels exploitative.
WHY ARE DUDES.
Sarah: Because Money.
Elyse: I guess I have two books to donate.
I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers written by men, and I have no issue with that. I think the reason this is squicky for me is that so many of the “Girl” mysteries deal with deep female POV, and that POV is often dealing with themes like toxic masculinity and gaslighting by men.
Sarah: The whole picking another name thing seems a lot like gaslighting.
Elyse: Yes. I have written about why I really love this new trend of female driven psychological thrillers. It’s reclaiming a genre that commodifies violence (often sexual) against women. It’s about female rage and about reclaiming our bodies. For me the genre works because it subverts the traditional narrative in a genre dominated by men.
Sarah: It’s a familiar feeling. An unpleasant one.
Amanda: Going back to RHG’s comment about women exploring things that make them feel unsafe, I’m skeptical of a man being able to accurately write a woman’s experience.
I’m not saying it can’t be done, but (as an example from the WSJ article) how is trying on a bra really going to get to the heart of the experience of living as a woman and having to factor in your own safety to your daily routine?
It all just feels like a gimmick to me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, given the amount of violence that often occurs against women at the hands of men.
Sarah: And…cue the sound of us all nodding and grimacing as one.
I’ve been pondering this for the better part of a day, wondering if my reaction is outsized or uneven. For example, JK Rowling adopted the Galbraith pseudonym to write without the expectation and pressure that came with the Rowling surname on the cover. I get it.
These individuals masking their gender to sell thrillers, as RHG pointed out, feels exploitative, not because of the pseudonym, but because of the pseudonym and the subject matter of the genre – not to mention the politics of gender identity – in the exploitation and insecurity inherent in identifying as female.
That said, it is entirely possible that I’m cranky and there are much better uses for my ire and snarly energy.
What about you? Are you a thriller fan? What do you think? What’s your reaction?
I was perusing the Cake Wrecks Facebook page the other day (where every follower gets a free invisible puppy!!) when I came across a rather unusual request:
Ahh, so you want to pop open the hood and take a gander inside the wrecks, is that it, Jennifer?
Well, I'm glad you asked.
Hey, Jennifer, you ever wonder how cupcake cakes (ptooie!) keep their icing from falling through all those big gaps?
NOW YOU KNOW.
We just saw last week how a gender reveal cake failed to actually reveal anything - other than plain yellow cake - but here's the opposite problem:
The cake was blue inside with pink icing.
Now I'm going to show you my absolute favorite cake cake wreck of all time, Jennifer, and which I've been hanging onto for just this moment.
First, though, let me explain what (we think) happened:
A bakery was unable to sell a Halloween cake in time, but they didn't want to throw it away or reduce the price. So instead, they simply flipped the entire cake over, icing side down, and re-decorated the other side to make it into a generic birthday design.
CW reader Shannon had no idea of the skullduggery at work until she cut the cake, and found this:
That's a whoooole lotta icing, right there.
(And think how fresh!!)
And finally, I know I posted the video of this over on FB a week or two back, but here's a quick .gif reminder of the importance of proper wedding cake support:
(Watch the original video here to see them both continue to laugh hysterically, which is just adorable. Cutest couple ever!)
Welp, I hope that satisfies some of your blood lust for caketastrophe, Jennifer!
And hey, for the rest of you, the request line... IS OPEN.
Their Finest is a British movie that had limited release in the USA. If, like me, you missed it in theaters, you can see it now on iTunes. This movie is slow and matter-of-fact but it snuck up on me and had me bawling my eyes out by the end. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but due to a plot development near the end and a significant amount of tragedy it’s better described as a drama. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but here’s one I know none of you will mind:
There are two dogs in the movie, and they both end up fine. One of them ends up adopted by a strict but fond Helen McCory. We should all be so lucky.
Their Finest is a movie about a woman who makes a movie. Catrin, played by Gemma Arterton, gets a job helping to write a propaganda film (The Nancy Starling) in London during the Blitz. She’s supposed to provide the women’s touch on a film that, by order of the government, is to broadcast a sense of “authenticity and optimism.” Her co-worker, Buckley, is cynical and sexist but also very good at making a coherent story out of almost anything.
Buckley is played by Sam Claflin. Sam is one of the prettiest men ever to live, and as an actor he has perfected the art of wordlessly broadcasting intense and unrequited longing. It’s a relief that he spends the movie under an unfortunate, though period appropriate, mustache, as otherwise I would have spent the entire movie staring at him in a trance. He’s sardonic and bitter and funny and horrible and has fantastic chemistry with Gemma Atherton.
Gemma plays Catrin, our heroine, and she is simply perfect. Whether she’s standing perfectly still or walking and talking very quickly across a set, she simultaneously broadcasts vulnerability and steeliness. In keeping with all opposites-attract type romances, Catrin and Buckley constantly look like they can’t decide whether to strangle one another or just start ripping off each other’s clothes in the middle of the office.
Back to the plot: Catrin meets middle-aged twin sisters, Rose and Lily, who took part in the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk. They stole their drunken father’s boat, but never made it to Dunkirk because the engine gave out. They got a tow home from a bigger ship and took some of the soldiers from that (overcrowded) ship. One had a dog in his kit bag, and another, who was French, tried to kiss Lily.
Catrin brings this story, minus a few details, to the movie people, who are thrilled. “It has authenticity, optimism, AND A DOG!” one of them crows. Soon she and Buckley are writing non-stop as the Rose and Lily of The Nancy Starling become pretty young women, their abusive drunk father becomes a funny drunk uncle, a fictional love triangle forms around the fictional Rose, and the dog has a stirring action scene.
There’s just so much to unpack in this movie, which is quiet and slow (at about two hours, it felt like more) and restrained in the most British way but which tackles sexism, the war, grief, friendship between women, the creative process, the art and business of making movies, and some very nice hats. Helen McCrory does what she always does, namely takes a small role and simply walks away with the movie entirely. Bill Nighy promises Catrin that “Between you and I, we’ll have them weeping in the aisles” and then delivers on that promise. The whole cast has a chemistry which manages to progress from mass antagonism to a sense of comfortable familiarity. The actors who play actors combine certain narcissism with real warmth. When Bill Nighy sings a song with the line, “Will ye go lassie, go/and we’ll all go together,” to the cast, they feel like a real family, truly at ease with one another, and truly comforted during dangerous times by each other’s company.
Throughout is presence of war. Although this film is very funny in a deadpan way, I was surprised to see how many people have described it as a romantic comedy. It doesn’t have a romantic comedy ending, and anything funny transpires against a terrifying background. At one point Catrin has to literally step over corpses to get to her flat. “I’ll be alright after a cup of tea,” she tells her husband, only to be informed that the water main is out, a development that even the stoic Catrin cannot tolerate with equanimity. The making of The Nancy Starling is serious business that might affect the course of the war, and the war takes such a toll that at one point they fear that they’ve run out of enough people to finish it.
Towards the end of the movie, something happens that could make the viewer feel cheated. I felt shocked and sad, but not cheated, and here’s why:
The movie takes the time to follow through the ramifications of the event.
An arc has, for all intents and purposes, been resolved.
The movie has been hinting all along that all kinds of unforeseen events can and do happen, whether they be the result of bombs, guns, or, in one character’s case, being hit by a tram while on leave. Death is sudden and arbitrary. This is a theme all throughout the movie so when it causes a sudden tonal and plot twist, it feel both shocking and inevitable.
This movie was marketed as a romantic comedy, and up to a point it has the structure of one – very attractive people, the unappreciative husband, the witty banter, the chemistry, opposites attracting, etc. However, one of the running themes of the movie is that the movie within the movie keeps having different agendas and themes tacked on to it. The Nancy Starling is an action movie and a war movie, it’s a love story, it has comedy and tragedy, it’s meant to inspire America to join the war, and it’s meant to motivate the British to keep fighting. That’s not even a complete list of all the jobs that the poor Nancy Starling is expected to do. Through the writing of this film, Catrin is insistent that the film is, at its core, the story of Lily and Rose.
Similarly, Their Finest is marketed as a romantic comedy, but at its core it’s not the story of one couple or another. It’s consistently Catrin’s story. This means that while many characters undergo significant arcs, Catrin’s arc is the only one that matters and…
THIS IS A MAJOR SPOILER BEWARE
it requires her being alone for a while. Buckley dies so that from a character arc perspective we can see Catrin face being alone and independent instead of bouncing from one relationship to a volatile man to another. Basically he’s fridged for feminism.
The movie is also an ode to the women who kept Britain running during the war. They are paid less than men, they are resented and feared by men, and yet they are expected to manage the impossible. When Catrin finally goes to a screening of The Nancy Starling, she sits by an older woman who weeps copiously through the movie and explains that she’s seen it five times. “It’s our picture isn’t it?” she says, patting Catrin on the hand, “They’re our girls.”
I almost titled this episode, “Same Library, Different Tastes.”While having dinner the other night, I was talking to Adam, my excellent spouse, about a series he was reading, and I realized we hardly ever talk about what he’s reading. I’ll go on for hours about what I’m reading (and I have!) but unless I’m asking him if he’d enjoy a book I just found, he doesn’t talk much about what he reads, and he reads a lot. So he made cocktails and I handed him a microphone, and we talked about it.
We don’t like any of the same things, but we both love reading. So I asked questions about his favorite series, books he’s enjoyed that I’ve successfully recommended (YES!), and what makes a narrative world appealing.Adam likes to read fantasy, and he loves never-ending world building and deep nerdy dives into back story, so he’s a very avid and engaged reader. But he keeps most of it in his head. So I ask him nosy questions about that. We also discuss series and trilogies he loves, including Game of Thrones, Libriomancer, The Inheritance Trilogy, and a lot more – expect a big list of books.
And! The RWA Signing! July 29, 2017, from 3:00 – 5:00pm!
Hundreds of romance authors in one place, and all proceeds of book sales go to literacy organizations. Some of your favorite authors are likely to be there, like Alyssa Cole, Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Julie James, Cecilia Tan, Beverly Jenkins, and Jill Shalvis. And, for the first time, I’ll be signing, too – yay!
The signing is at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Pacific Hall. Saturday, July 29th from 3-5pm. And if you come and find me (I’m in the Ws near the cashiers) and mention the podcast, I have a special sticker for you – if you’d like one.
What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at email@example.com or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.
Thanks for listening!
This Episode's Music
Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.
This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “La Caravane.”
You can find their two album set with Caravan Palace and Panic on Amazon and iTunes. And you can learn more about Caravan Palace on Facebook, and on their website.
This episode is brought to you by Too Scot to Handle by Grace Burrowes. This New York Times bestselling series with its “heartfelt emotions, humor and realistic, honest characters [is] a fan favorite,” raves RT Book Reviews.
In this second book of the Windham Brides series, Burrowes delights Regency romance readers once again with an irresistible rough-around-the-edges Scot who takes on saving an orphanage to win over the fiery, intelligent woman who captures his heart.
As a captain in the army, Colin MacHugh led men, fixed what was broken, and fought hard. Now that he’s a titled gentleman, he’s still fighting-this time to keep his bachelorhood safe from all the marriage-minded debutantes. Then he meets the intriguing Miss Anwen Windham, whose demure nature masks a bonfire waiting to roar to life. When she asks for his help to raise money for the local orphanage, he’s happy to oblige.
Anwen is amazed at how quickly Lord Colin takes in hand a pack of rambunctious orphan boys. Amazed at how he actually listens to her ideas. Amazed at the thrill she gets from the rumble of his Scottish burr and the heat of his touch. But not everyone enjoys the success of an upstart. And Colin has enemies who will stop at nothing to ruin him and anybody he holds dear.
As Tessa Dare puts it, “Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure.” Don’t miss Too Scot to Handle, on sale wherever books are sold this Tuesday, July 25th.
Our podcast transcript is being brought to you by When It’s Real by #1 New York Times bestselling author Erin Watt.
A pop star. A regular girl. The world’s watching…
Wealth, fame and a real-life romance she never expected—seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett lands it all when she agrees to become a pop star’s fake girlfriend in this smart, utterly addictive novel.
School Library Journal calls it “a fast-paced, ‘he said, she said’ page-turner.” Kirkus Reviews writes: When It’s Real is “undeniable fun” and “a quintessential beach read.” You’ll fall head-over-heels in love with this electrifying and addictive new romance.
Under ordinary circumstances, Oakley Ford and Vaughn Bennett would never even cross paths.
There’s nothing ordinary about Oakley. This bad-boy pop star’s got Grammy awards, millions of fangirls and a reputation as a restless, too-charming troublemaker. But with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley needs to show the world he’s settling down—and who better to help him than Vaughn, a part-time waitress trying to help her family get by? The very definition of ordinary.
Posing as his girlfriend, Vaughn will overhaul Oakley’s image from troublemaker to serious artist. In return for enough money to put her brothers through college, she can endure outlandish Hollywood parties and carefully orchestrated Twitter exchanges. She’ll fool the paparazzi and the groupies. She might even start fooling herself a little.
Because when ordinary rules no longer apply, there’s no telling what your heart will do…
You can find When It’s Real wherever books are sold.
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Middleclassmanhattan. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Historical category.
Biweekly marriage proposals from men who can’t see beyond her (admittedly breathtaking) looks are starting to get on Lady Clara Fairfax’s nerves. Desperate to be something more than ornamental, she escapes to her favorite charity. When a child is in trouble, she turns to tall, dark, and annoying barrister Oliver Radford.
Though he’s unexpectedly found himself in line to inherit a dukedom, Radford’s never been part of fashionable society, and the blonde beauty, though not entirely bereft of brains, isn’t part of his plans. But Clara overwhelms even his infallible logic, and when wedlock looms, all he can do is try not to lose his head over her . . .
It’s an inconvenient marriage by ordinary standards, but these two are far from ordinary. Can the ton’s most adored heiress and London’s most difficult bachelor fall victim to their own unruly desires?
Here is Middleclassmanhattan's review:
The hardest part of writing this review was trying to remember the actual name of the book. Dukes Prefer Blondes hints at nothing in this story, save for the fact our heroine is blonde. The title itself is unremarkable.
However, Ms. Chase delivers a book that is anything but! Filled with vibrant characters, witty dialogue, Dukes Prefer Blondes was a delight to read and a truly memorable love story. This was my first Loretta Chase book, and I understand why she has a great fan base, and why beloved author Julia Quinn is quoted on the cover.
To start with, the hero and heroine are equal parts intriguing, sexy, and quirky. You have your rich heroine, Lady Clara Fairfax, who wants to make a difference in society, and if she marries at all, Clara wants to marry someone who appreciates her intellect. And you have your genius Sherlock Holmes-like hero, Oliver Radford (known as Raven), who doesn’t have outrageous wealth (yet) but is building a standout career, and he doesn’t want anything to get in his way, most especially an illogical, emotional relationship. Our hero and heroine end up, after several adventures, with a heart-warming HEA. Perhaps that sounds as memorable as the title? Oh, but you would be wrong! Ms. Chase knows the magic formula for creating a HEA unique and memorable.
This review could be ten pages long explaining everything that appealed to me about Ms. Chase’s writing style and this particular book, but I’ve decided to limit my gushing and highlight three elements in particular, which for me, make it stand apart from other historical romances.
The first and most gratifying is the chemistry between the hero and heroine, which comes across through their amusing dialogue. Each Lady Clara and Raven scene is filled with quick-paced, charming banter. It reminds me of my favorite couple from the old TV detective series Remington Steele. The dialogue says that they find each other aggravating, but the subtext is altogether different. Here’s a typical example of the couple’s back-and-forth:
After a moment’s hesitation, he took the maid’s chair. “You must try to take nourishment,” he told his patient. “You must do exactly as I say, and get well, because I’ve promised you would and if you don’t, I shall be disgraced, and then—”
“I know. Your career will be ruined. You’re so charming.”
“Everybody says that,” he said.
“No, they don’t. Never. No one has ever said that about you in all your life, I’ll wager anything.”
“Perhaps they did not exactly say charming,” he said. “Perhaps… Yes, now I recollect, the phrase was ‘tolerable in very small doses’.”
“And yet I missed you,” she said. “Fancy that.”
She made it so difficult to stay detached. At this moment, it was impossible. He couldn’t stop his other self from getting a word in. “I missed you, too,” he said gruffly.
“Of course you did,” she said. “Because I’m so lovable.”
“You’re not lovable,” he said. “You are excessively annoying. And managing. But I’m accustomed to hardened criminals and half-witted judges, and being with you reminds me of home at the Old Bailey.”
Such a smile, then, more like her usual one.
How can you not look forward to reading more about this couple? Especially since Raven’s dialogue often had me thinking of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes.
In addition to the couple’s chemistry, I thoroughly enjoyed the well-thought-out subplots, which contribute to the rich character development. Ms. Chase certainly uses the subplots to push her characters together, but she also takes it a step further. She uses them to flesh out each main character so completely that you cheer for Clara as an individual, and you cheer for Raven as an individual, and then you cheer even more for them to become a couple.
For example, the subplot involving the bad guy and his attempts to kill Raven could be a stand-alone book as they add so much suspense, but while you’re wondering what’s going to happen next, you are also learning all about Raven’s law career. And like the master magician she clearly is, each of Ms. Chase’s subplots give the reader insight into Lady Clara and Raven’s characters while keeping the reader highly entertained (the mock courtroom scene involving Radford and Lady Clara’s parents is certainly a delightful highlight). There is no chapter, no moment in the story that isn’t making the reader fall in love with the main characters. Ms. Chase even makes the secondary characters and the scenes without Raven and Clara intriguing and fast-paced enough that I didn’t skip ahead to when the two main characters were back in the same scene. (And, yes, my iPhone-addled, lack-of-focus brain lacks patience for parts of a story that bore me after a page.)
The subplots are filled with period detail, which is the third standout element in this story that I wanted to mention. Ms. Chase injects the story with enough factual history to leave you with more than just a taste of the time period without pulling you out of your happy escapist-romance-novel-reading time. In addition to the imagery and attention to period detail evident throughout the book, each chapter begins with a quote or a short excerpt of a piece published from the period.
DUKE, in Latin Dux, à ducendo, signifying the leader of an army, noblemen being anciently either generals and commanders of armies in time of war, or wardens of marches, and governors of provinces in peace. This is now the first rank of the nobility. —Debrett’s Peerage, 1831
Ms. Chase draws you into the time period a little deeper with these excerpts, as if she were saying to you directly, “You know this is the type of thing Raven and Lady Clara would be familiar with, dealing with, etc.” I appreciated the added whisper of historical flavor. I even found myself Googling some of the books quoted.
The dialogue, the subplots, and the attention to period detail combined to make this a memorable story for me. But of course, no romance novel review would be complete without a comment on the sex scenes. I was half-way through the book before I realized there had been no sex yet, and even then it barely registered as the story is so engaging. Ms. Chase spends time creating sexual tension, so when you get to the sex scenes you won’t be disappointed.
I would give Dukes Prefer Blondes a solid A, and I look forward to reading the other books in the Dressmaker series.
And finally, my dear romancelandia readers, forgive me if this review reads like a fourth grader’s book report. After finishing such a rewarding, heart-warming, thoughtful, well-crafted story, all I really wanted to do was jump up and down, wave my arms, and shout, “Read it!” With that said, I’ll end with the most important part of the review: “Read it! Read it! Just read it!”
Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase received a B in a previous review by Carrie.
Joe left this morning for a business trip, leaving me all to my own devices for the weekend (so far I have really cut loose and vacuumed the bedroom) and as soon as he was gone, I remembered that I’d forgotten to get him to help me with sock pictures.
Undaunted, I decided to engage in another episode of a game I call “weird textile things I’ve done on my front steps that make my neighbours nervous.” (Previous entries have included direct warping a little loom because the neighbours fence was the right distance away, hanging skeins of yarn from the cherry tree for photographic purposes, and nestling various works in progress amongst the greenery to document their progress.)*
Today I decided that I’m a reasonably flexible person and there’s a timer on my camera, so I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to do it myself. I have tried this before and taking pictures of your own feet that don’t look weird and show off all the parts of a sock is really hard. This time though I thought that I had it figured out. I set the timer, ran over and stood in front of the camera and…
No good. (Don’t my coral bells look beautiful though? All that rain.) I looked at the picture, decided that I was standing in the wrong spot and just needed to move over, marked that spot with my mind, and then realized I’d screwed up by picking up the camera without noticing where it had been, and swore a little. I took a few other test shots, and finally worked out that what I had to do was stand in the right spot, then lean forward, sort of downward dog style, push the button for the timer, and then stand back up again without moving my feet. This is quite difficult, and means you’ve got to stick your arse way up in the air, and from the time that I push the button, I’ve got ten seconds to execute the manoeuvre, quickly walking my hands back and standing upright. My neighbour down the street walked by at this point, and said it looked like a good stretch. I think she thought it was the worlds most awkward attempt at yoga. On the stairs. In socks. Anyway, things improved then.
After that I got bold and attempted a bending-over-arm-extended-like-I-am-another-person shot. Less good.
But I improved.
*I have been doing this kinda thing on the porch, warping looms, photographing yarn, projects, hanging hats on trees, arranging hats on posts, draping blankets over fences, taking pictures of various family members and myself wearing knitted stuff year round for about 15 years now. I live in the city, and those steps are about 1m from the sidewalk. Tons of people walk by every day, and never, not once, ever (and I mean it) has any human being ever asked me why the %$^&*$ I have mittens in a tree.
READER RECOMMENDED: The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata is a 99c Kindle Daily Deal at Amazon! At a previous RT, SnarkyWench and I gushed about sports contemporaries over some wine for a good twenty minutes, and she highly recommended this book. I immediately added it to my TBR pile because it features a football player and a marriage of convenience plot. The hero (who is Canadian) wants to marry to keep his US residency. Readers loved the slow burn between the hero and heroine, but found it a little too slow. Any Zapata fans in the Bitchery?
Vanessa Mazur knows she’s doing the right thing. She shouldn’t feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.
But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she’s beyond shocked.
For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn’t find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He’s asking for the unthinkable.
What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?
Wait for It by Molly O’Keefe is $1.99! This is the fourth book in the Everything I Left Unsaid series, though it can be read as a standalone. Also, trigger warning as the heroine has an abusive ex. I also believe the hero is the ex’s brother. I’ve read previous books in the series and if you love angst, whooo boy, you’ll love the entire series. I can’t recommend O’Keefe’s books enough.
In a blistering novel of raw emotion and desire, a tormented woman teaches an alpha male that money can’t fix everything . . . but love can.
Tiffany: After fighting for a new life, I don’t want to play the victim anymore. However, with three kids to raise, I’m getting desperate enough to make a deal with the devil. My estranged brother-in-law, Blake, says he just wants to help, but he’s been trouble since I met him. I don’t know if I can believe this kinder, gentler Blake, and there’s a friction between us that has turned into the sweetest chemistry. He could be my salvation . . . or my downfall.
Blake: I haven’t always had Tiffany’s best interests at heart but I’m ready to make up for my sins. Besides, I can’t help admiring her: The girl’s a genuine survivor, tough and lean, with eyes of steel. But the more I get to know Tiffany, the more I want her. Every inch of her. Which means I’m about to make a bad situation a hell of a lot worse.
Five years after he’s lost off the coast of South America, presumed dead, Captain Robert Nash escapes cruel captivity, and returns to London and the bride he loves, but barely knows. When he stumbles back into the family home, he’s appalled to find himself gate-crashing the party celebrating his wife’s engagement to another man.
No red-blooded naval officer takes a challenge like this lying down; but five years is a long time, and beautiful, passionate Morwenna has clearly found a life without him. Can he win back the wife who gave him a reason to survive his ordeal? Or will the woman who haunts his every thought remain eternally out of reach?
Love lost and found? Or love lost forever?
Since hearing of her beloved husband’s death, Morwenna Nash has been mired in grief. After five grim years without him, she must summon every ounce of courage and determination to become a Dashing Widow and rejoin the social whirl. But she owes it to her young daughter to break free of old sorrow and find a new purpose in life, even if that means accepting a loveless marriage.
It’s like a miracle when Robert returns from the grave, and despite the awkward circumstances of his arrival, she’s overjoyed that her husband has come back to her at last. But after years of suffering, he’s not the handsome, laughing charmer she remembers. Instead he’s a grim shadow of his former dashing self. He can’t hide how much he still wants her—but does passion equal love?
Can Morwenna and Robert bridge the chasm of absence, suffering and mistrust, and find the way back to each other?
A Dangerous Deception by Maggi Andersen is 99c! This romance has a fake relationship, forced proximity, and a heroine dressed as a man. Hello! Readers loved the heroine and the blend of action in the romance. However, some felt the plot a bit messy at times. It has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.
London, 1816. A handsome baron. A faux betrothal. And Horatia’s plan to join the London literary set takes a dangerous turn.
Baron Guy Fortescue arrives in England to claim his inheritance, abandoned over thirty years ago when his father fled to France after killing a man in a duel. He is set upon by footpads in London, and on his way to his country estate, robbers attack him again. Guy escapes only to knock himself out on a tree branch.
Aspiring poet, Horatia Cavendish has taken to riding her father’s stallion, “The General,” around the countryside of Digswell dressed as a groom. When she discovers Guy lying unconscious on the road, the two are forced to take shelter for the night in a hunting lodge.
Someone wants Guy dead. Is it his relative, Eustace Fennimore? He has been ensconced in Rosecroft Hall during the family’s exile and will become the heir should Guy die. Guy proposes a faux betrothal to give him more time to discover the truth.
Horatia is determined to keep alive her handsome fiance, who has proven more than willing to play the part of her lover even as he resists her attempts to save him.
Aw, look at the sweet cake for Sarah-Maude's second birthday:
Although, those balloons look a little odd, don't they? Let's take a closer look...
[eyes bulging] Great Scott! Hide the children!!
And I KNOW you see what I see, people, so don't even try to accuse me of having my mind in the gutter. It's the Fireman cake all over again.
Eric N., thank goodness this was for a safely oblivious 2-year-old. Still, given how obvious those balloons are, I'm pretty sure I'd steer clear of this bakery in the future. Unless it was for a bachelorette party, of course.
The Red by Tiffany Reisz is an erotic journey though art history. It’s a book that pushes the envelope, and one that won’t be for all readers, but one that I found immensely enjoyable. In many ways it reads like an erotic fairytale, complete with an ending that felt a little too convenient.
Mona Lisa St. James promised her mother that she would do anything in her power to save the family art gallery, The Red. Unfortunately, the gallery is half a million dollars in debt.
In true fairytale fashion, a mysterious man named Malcolm appears and offers Mona a million dollars for twelve days of sex. They will have an assignation one day a month over the period of one year. In return he will pay her in art worth a million dollars. Malcolm is handsome, dominant, and almost supernaturally appealing. Mona agrees to his terms.
The rest of the book is set up almost in vignettes, scenes in which Mona and Malcolm play out one of his fantasies, one month at a time.
All of Malcolm’s desires are inspired by famous paintings, and the first one he and Mona reenact is Olympia by Manet.
Mona waits for Malcolm, nude and reclining in bed. The subject of the painting, Olympia, is a sex worker, defiantly staring at the viewer, unabashed by her profession. The Black woman holding the flowers does not feature into their fantasy.
Mona is clearly having sex with Malcolm for financial reasons, but she finds the idea of being his whore intriguing and titillating.
“You do like your whores, don’t you?” she asked.
“I have trouble respecting a woman who gives away what she could sell for good money. Whores are the only women who know their own worth. I mean that.”
“What about male prostitutes?”
“Their clients are generally men as well. I don’t fault anyone who takes a man to the bank before going to bed with him. I wouldn’t let a strange man put his finger in my mouth and whores take far more into their bodies every single night. It’s skilled, brave work. Bless those lasses, they’ve saved my life and damned my soul. What more could I ask for?”
Just like in her Original Sinners series, Reisz subverts the idea of sex work as degrading; instead she empowers the sex worker and applies a logic to it.
As the novel progresses Mona gets drawn deeper and deeper into Malcolm’s fantasies and develops feelings for him, and he for her.
Because this is erotica, much of the book is about Mona’s sexual journey. However, she is never a blushing innocent. She is occasionally shocked by what she enjoys, but she’s no Anastasia Steele tormented and conflicted about the kind of sex she craves. At no point do Mona or Malcolm attribute a desire for kinky sex to a moral failing or any kind of emotional damage.
After a particularly intense BDSM session, Malcolm articulates what Mona is feeling:
“You only love me tonight because of the beating. You understand that, don’t you?”
Before tonight, she would have said “no,” that made no sense, there was no logic to it. He’d done something to her mind as well as her body. By the end of her beating, she couldn’t tell the crop apart from kindness. They were one and the same to her so that every strike of the crop was tender as a kiss and every word of tenderness made her crave the crop.
“Now I understand,” she said, because now she did.
There’s a lot of kink in this book. There’s bondage, sadomasochism, penetration by objections, flogging, group sex, anal sex, and at one point Mona has sex with a minotaur (for realsies). As their scenes together become more vivid, Mona questions whether or not Malcolm is giving her hallucinogens to make these fantasies feel real.
As the book progresses, the mystery and supernatural elements associated with Malcolm become more clear. Weirdly, this was the part I didn’t like. When we finally got the explanation for who Malcolm was and why he sought out Mona, I was disappointed. The fantasy and intrigue surrounding him was so well constructed than any explanation felt disappointing. I just wanted him to be a mysterious, other-worldly fucking machine. I wanted him to stay an enigma who entered Mona’s life every month, even while I acknowledge that’s not great storytelling.
Fans of Reisz’s Original Sinners series will gobble this book up. For those looking for erotica without a ton of emotional angst, The Red is right up your alley. It’s a delightful, wicked fairytale and it’s a ton of fun.
NB: the links in this post are affiliate coded, which means if you choose to subscribe, I will receive a percentage at no extra cost to you. That said, I’d recommend MissingLettr even without an affiliate account.
MissingLettr is great for bloggers, reviewers, and pretty much anyone who posts frequent content on their blogs. It works by scanning your site for new content, then automatically creates a year-long drip campaign for Twitter, Facebook, and/or Google+ using images and quotes from your content. The feed is spread out, as I said, over a year, and each item is posted automatically to your choice of social media.
They have an intro video that explains it better than I could:
For me, Missinglettr is terrific because it resurfaces and promotes content throughout the coming year, allowing me to highlight reviews and cover snark long after they’ve been posted. While blogs do come with an expectation of timeliness and newest items are always first, well, some things don’t really get old – cover snark and book recommendations especially!
If you’re a reviewer or book blogger, this would resurface content from your archive for a year. If you’re an author, you could schedule posts about your books automatically for a year as well. There are a lot of possibilities!
You might have seen some of the MissingLettr posts on our Twitter or Facebook feeds (they also link to LinkedIn and Google+, and I hear rumors that Pinterest is next). Here’s an example:
MissingLettr auto-magically created the quote box image in blue, using quotes from inside the review. I can also upload alternate images and select from a bunch of different quotes from the content. I can also edit the text that’s part of the Tweet or FB post, too. The ability to customize is pretty substantial.
I’ve really enjoyed using MissingLettr and have had a great experience with their customer service after I accidentally changed my subscription and couldn’t switch back. I recommend them most enthusiastically. And this deal is pretty sweet, hence my posting about it!
There are three plans, and with this offer, which expires July 25th, you can get six months for the price of one. Then, if you decide to continue after six months, you’ll receive 20% off the subscription cost going forward.
The Personal plan is $15 per month, and you can link two sites with four campaigns a week. The automatically scheduled content from one post is a campaign. So if I had cover snark and two reviews, and had campaigns scheduled for all of them, that would be three total. You can link four social profiles and upload custom images.
This is a pretty spiffy offer, and since it’s saved me a bunch of time and boosted inbound traffic by resurfacing content, I didn’t want you to miss it. Again, this offer expires July 25th, so if you’re thinking about it, think quickly! Again again, the links in this post are affiliate coded, but this post is not being sponsored. This is my own overly-verbose opinion, as usual.
Any questions, please ask in the comments, or email me!
Thanks to our lovely Patreon supporters, we are so close to our goal to transcribe older episodes that I am starting with some of the very earliest (and shortest) podcast episodes from our archives! I hope you enjoy!
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Jillian Boyd. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.
Tara Sue Me’s New York Times bestselling Submissive series continues with a delicious new story that explores the thin line between pleasure and pain. . . .
She’s ready to try again. . . .
Sasha Blake is scarred from a BDSM session gone wrong, but she can’t deny how much a strong Master turns her on. Determined to overcome her fears and rejoin the Partners in Play community, she asks Abby and Nathaniel West to set her up with a Dom who can help her feel safe again as a sub. They know the very experienced Cole is exactly the kind of man who can push all of Sasha’s buttons—and she soon wants to go much faster than she had planned. . . .
Cole knows that Sasha is not the kind of submissive he needs. He wants someone who will serve him 24-7, not a part-time partner. Still, the further they go into their play, the more Cole begins to wish he could make Sasha his all the time. . . .
When forbidden desires turn into scorching action, Sasha and Cole come face-to-face with their demons—and realize their scorching relationship might be too dangerous to last. . . .
Here is Jillian Boyd's review:
Y’all, this book made me do something very, very bad indeed. 10 pm at night and I had promised myself one more chapter (I had a good chunk of the latter half to go before I finished – and work the next day) before I went to bed.
This was not what happened.
What happened was that by 2 am I had turned the page on the epilogue, eyes leaden with sleep but with zero regrets because this is That Kind Of Book.
The Master is part of Tara Sue Me’s Submissive series, but enough context is provided that you don’t need to read the other books if you’re not keen (I am *so* going to, though). For example, you don’t need to go and frantically look for what happened to Sasha to get her to the point where this book starts – it is explained.
And Sasha Blake, it’s safe to say, has had a lot happen to her. Several months prior to the events in this book, a BDSM play scene went horridly wrong for her, leaving her with scars both emotional and physical. She has spent some time away from the scene (and from the Partners in Play group, which is run by Abby and Nathaniel West, who are the lynchpin couple of this series), recovering, but wants to come back to the group and retrain as a submissive to overcome her fears.
She is assigned to experienced and stern Dominant Cole Johnson, who takes her on for retraining with the caveat that their relationship remain just that – a temporary training one.
This does not happen. What happens is that, slowly but surely, Sasha and Cole end up healing each other.
Cole’s previous partner, Kate, was in a long term 24/7 Master/slave relationship with him. Cole is still a bit adrift after having her walk out of a dynamic that has lasted for several years – he’s not sure what he wants, and even though the relationship between him and Sasha blossoms, he’s not convinced he’s the right Dominant for her. But is he really looking for another dynamic like the one he had with Kate?
Sasha’s journey of healing is wonderfully handled. It is clear from the start that she has an immense strength to her, evidenced by her coming back into a community after experiencing something terrifying and traumatizing. Even though she’s initially taken aback by Abby and Nathaniel assigning Cole to her retraining, the two grow to complement each other beautifully. Cole’s awe at seeing Sasha open up again, under his tutelage, is nothing short of adorably sweet.
And having that connection between the two characters makes any scene where they’re getting down and dirty spark all the more. Seriously, the play scenes are not only well-written, but also hot to the point that I would advocate not making the same mistake I did and reading them on a packed London Underground train.
Or, you know, other more local to you forms of public transport that might question why you’re blushing red like a traffic light (“Oh, you know, just reading a little anal sex, as you do…”)
Anyway. I loved this book, and I am definitely going to seek out the other books in the series. (Speaking of which, there’s some set up for the next book – The Exposure – in the series within both the latter half of the book and the epilogue. So if the brief glimpse of the dynamic between the two characters involved has you wanting more, that one’s available now.)
So I guess it’s officially summer (at least in the U.S.) and I’m not here for it at all. The boob sweat is eternal at this point and all I want is the sweet, chilly embrace of central A/C. Anyone else sharing in my heatwave woes?
In typical “the Smithsonian is awesome news,” they’ve created an interactive map for all of you Jane Austen fans:
A look at the houses and towns that shaped the life and writing of the famed author on the 200th anniversary of her death…
Beloved 19th-century author Jane Austen’s satire of Georgian Britain’s high teas and grand balls is so slyly entrancing, naïve readers might mistake that world for her own. Born in 1775 into the “pseudo-gentry,” an educated but landless lower class, Austen, whose literary oeuvre includes Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, Lady Susan and Emma, only peeped high society through better-off relatives and friends. “The experience of observing, rather than joining in, is what gave her insight into the lives of the rich,” says Lucy Worsley, chief curator of the conservation nonprofit Historic Royal Palaces, and the author of Jane Austen at Home. “A novelist needs a bit of detachment.”
I’m all for infographs or anything that blends interaction with learning!
The iGo is an itty bitty tool that unfolds to one USB connection, plus a USB and a USB Micro, so you can plug your phone into your laptop, or into a portable battery. Excellent for tiny emergency kits, too.
Going to RWA or in the Orlando area? On July 29th, come say hi to Sarah at the free and open to the public RWA Literacy Signing! Since proceeds benefit organizations that focus on literacy, books will be available to publish at the signing.
While the research is only in the beginning phases and no hard data is available yet, researchers are confident that knitting can be used to teach math concepts, and they are using the studies to figure out which concepts work best. They hope their findings will be used in the near future to convince schools that knitting a scarf or crocheting a sweater provides a unique opportunity for students to learn hands-on, problem-solving skills in a way that is fun and interesting. And they are hoping that bringing knitting into math class will alert girls to the career possibilities of STEM.
Heck yeah, I’d read that research so hard!
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!
The Fifth Season is also a relatively quick read. It opens with a cataclysmic disaster and doesn’t slow down its pace. Its characters travel widely. My only word of warning is that the book ends on a massive cliffhanger. Fortunately the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, will be released in August. After finishing this book I’m making desperate grabby hands for the next one.
If you like immersive, action-driven fantasy and if you want a fantasy world that’s not Euro-centric–or if you just love a really, really good story–I cannot recommend The Fifth Season enough.
This is the way the world ends. Again.
Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.
Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.
By Her Touch by Adriana Anders is 99c! This is the second book in the Blank Canvas series. The first one, Under Her Skin, ( A | BN | K | G | iB ) is also on sale and I can’t recommend it enough. Fair warning that these romances on the darker side and feature abusive backstories. I was halfway through Under Her Skin when I bought By Her Touch. If you like angsty characters trying to rebuild their lives, check out this series.
He Will Always Bear the Scars
Undercover cop Clay Navarro left the Sultans biker gang a changed man. Its ringleaders may be awaiting trial, but he wears the memory of every brutal act he was forced to commit tattooed across his skin. He doesn’t have space in his messed-up life for anything gentle–not now, maybe not ever.
Dr. Georgette Hadley is drawn to the damaged stranger’s pain, intimidated but intrigued by the warmth that lies beneath Clay’s frightening exterior. But when the Sultans return looking for revenge, she finds herself drawn into the dirty underbelly of a life forged in violence…that not even her touch may be able to heal.
Broken Open by Lauren Dane is $1.99! This is a small town romance with a musician/rancher hero. Readers say this is a sexy read (as are most of Dane’s books) and the main characters have a lot of chemistry. However, some found the slow burn a little too slow for their liking. It has a 4-star rating on Goodreads.
Beyond passion. And beyond their control…
Five years ago, Tuesday Eastwood’s life collapsed and left her devastated. After an empty, nomadic existence, she’s finally pieced her life back together in the small Oregon town of Hood River. Now Tuesday has everything sorted out. Just so long as men are kept for sex, and only sex…
Then she met him.
Musician and rancher Ezra Hurley isn’t the man of Tuesday’s dreams. He’s a verboten fantasy—a man tortured by past addictions, whose dark charisma and long, lean body promise delicious carnality. But this craving goes far beyond chemistry. It’s primal. It’s insatiable. And it won’t be satisfied until they’re both consumed, body and soul…
RECOMMENDED: Collision Course by Zoe Archer is 99c! This is a scifi romance and the subject of one of Carrie’s earlier guest reviews. She gave it a B grade:
If you are new to romance, or if you are new to science fiction, this probably won’t be the book to win you over to either genre. But, if you want to have a great time with some familiar tropes that are vividly and freshly drawn, then you will have a wonderful time reading Collision Course.
In a galaxy torn apart by war…
Mara Skiren is a scavenger, a black-market dealer. Blackmailed into helping Commander Kell Frayne infiltrate a treacherous corner of the galaxy, Mara learns that her biggest danger is from her sexy, by-the-book partner. She’s a loner with more than a few battle scars on her heart, but something about Commander Frayne stirs up her long-buried need for an intimate connection.
An ace pilot for the elite Black Wraith Squadron, Kell’s mission is to rescue a lost pilot and ship. Unable to deny his attraction to the beautiful, rebellious Mara, he decides bedding her would cool his ardor. But one taste is not nearly enough, and he finds himself sharing more of his real self with her than he has with anyone.
With deadly criminals on their heels and an increasingly dangerous assignment to complete, he’s starting to wonder…if they survived, could he let her go? And will Mara want to stay?
Monograms can add that perfect crowning touch of elegance to your wedding cake.
Or, they can look like this:
Proof that sometimes it's better to quit before letting your five-year-old write on the cake.
Still, it could be worse.
The monogram could match the rest of the cake:
Hey, it's not easy to make tinfoil look this good.
If you do find a mistake in your cake's monogram, don't panic. There are plenty of seamless ways for your baker to fix the error.
This isn't one of them.
Now, I'm all for sharing new words, broadening folks' horizons, furthering education, etc, but if you have to explain to the baker of your wedding cake what a monogram is - a "T, J, and H" put together, for example - then maybe, just maybe, a few alarm bells should go off.
Or I suppose you could just take your chances.
After all, what could go wrong?
At least the quotes add a little something "extra."
Thanks to today's wedding wreckporters Anony M., Hilary R., Cyndi P., & Cyndee M., who think all bakers should be required to ask, "Can I quote you on that?"
Welcome back to Stuff We Like, a regular column where we shop and share items we think you’ll love. By reader request, I’m building a Stuff We Like series on one-bag packing and tools to help you organize and travel light.
Today: toiletries! My goal here is to give enough of a sketch so that if you’re traveling this summer, either with your family or to a conference (like RWA, for example) you can downsize what you bring with you so you have one bag, perhaps even a carry-on sized bag, and travel lighter, faster, and with less stress.
In both the Calm Traveler Packing Lists for Business and Family Travel, I left the tab for toiletries blank. Now, they’re filled in, so if you click on either link above, you’ll be taken to the spreadsheets. You can copy and paste the “Toiletries” tab to your own packing list, or you can File -> Save a Copy to grab your own. Either way, let’s get started!
Toiletries operate on the same principles as the packing list templates: Identify your essentials, then streamline everything else.
I keep my toiletry bag 95% packed at all times so that when it’s time to pack for a trip, I don’t have to run all over the house gathering the things that I need. Plus, with different airports varying the attention paid to the “3-1-1” rule, it helps me out immensely to know Past Sarah has already assembled TSA-approved toiletries and smaller sized containers.
First, I’m going to share some links to different toiletry bags I’ve used, or that you’ve recommended. Then, I’m going to give you a tour of my toiletry kit. (Yup, I feel a little vulnerable about that part, but whatever!)
NB: Most of these links are affiliate coded, which means if you shop through them, the site receives a percentage of the purchase at no extra cost to you, which helps keep us in hot pink business. So if you use them, many, many thanks!
Also: if you find shopping for luggage, packing accessories, and the like to be very tempting, please be warned. (Also, Hi! We’re very alike!) Shopping is about to begin!
The Pack It Flat Toiletry Kitworks really well for me because it’s very thin – about 2″ or 5cm deep. But it holds a LOT – which you’ll see in a moment.
I’m a fan of toiletry bags that hang, so I can hook them over the door or on the towel rack – or that magnifying mirror that gives me the gibblies (I really don’t want to see my skin that close up. It’s a recipe for obsessive fixation, I think). For this one, I usually leave each pocket halfway unzipped so I can reach in for things I need.
This style is a little more bulky, and since I like to slide my toiletry case on top of or behind my clothing and packing cubes (more on those soon!), this wouldn’t work for me. That said, this style does sit upright on the counter or table, which means you can keep the items inside pretty organized. The slim one I use doesn’t stand up on its own.
For a long time, I used this toiletry bag from LL Bean:
The Personal Organizer Toiletry Bag (Medium) is $30, and is designed to hang off the back of a door or sit up on the counter. It has a bunch of pockets and different side zipper pockets, and works well as a sort of dispensary for all your personal items. I used it until I replaced it with the slimmer profile one above.
In my experience, the bigger the bag, even a toiletry bag, the more you’re tempted to stuff into it, even when you don’t need those specific items.
In previous installments of my Stuff We Like: Calm Traveler Edition, a few of you commented that insulated lunch boxes like the ones from LLBean work very well as toiletry cases since they’re water proof and lightweight. Good call! I personally love compartments, but as a family all-in-one or a pet med and supplies case, a lunchbox would work well!
Since my goal when I travel is to bring as little as possible and organize what I bring, the slimmer profile of the eBags Pack It Flat Toiletry Caseis ideal for me. Let me show you everything I can fit inside it.
Here’s my bag, mostly packed and zipped up, the way it is when it’s not traveling. But, it’s time to pack!
To make the amount it holds more clear, I took everything out. This was a pretty useful exercise, as I found I was carrying way more acetaminophen/paracetamol tablets than I needed.
Here’s everything that lives inside my toiletry case:
Ahoy, all my business, laid out on the counter. That’s pretty much everything, aside from my super-sexxy mouthguard, which I add before I leave, and any extras I may need for that specific trip. Let’s take a tour!
The far-left zipper pocket on this bag is lined with a thick clear plastic, so that’s where the wet, potentially leaky things go.
This stuff right here. These are also the items that have to come out when I go through TSA screening, so I keep it in a separate zip-top bag that I got at Gatwick airport when I went through security screening there. A Ziploc sandwich bag also works.
One key to toiletry packing that I recommend: decant or repackage everything.
Travel-size toiletries are often very expensive, but I’ve learned that you can buy them once then reuse the containers. The shampoo bottle, the black one, is filled with my regular shampoo from home. The Bumble & Bumble bottle isn’t hair product – that’s my evening face wash. The Boscia face oil is a sample I ordered on eBay, but I refilled it with my favorite face oil.
(Also, can I just say, as a person who went through two courses of Accutane in her 20s, the idea that I’m putting oil ON my face instead of desperately trying to get rid of it is HILARIOUS to me.)
The two little round tubes on the bottom are awesome. I loves those. One has my face scrub, and the other has hair product. They are from humangear, and they are the small size GoTubbs. You can see both sizes here:
I have an orange one in my toiletry case that I use for medication:
I know somewhere, a pharmacist is screaming, but I know which pills are which and can put a week’s worth inside one tub.
I’ve bought two sets of the GoTubbs in small and medium, and we use them for everything now. Allergy meds for the boys, medication for the dogs (labeled, obviously), some cooling gel in case we get sunburn. They’re ridiculously useful.
Note: There is also a GoToob with a soft silicone bottle meant to hold shampoo, conditioner, or other liquids or gels, but I had one set and really didn’t like them. The suction cup on the side did not hold, the lid cracked in my bag, and that made it leak. So it wasn’t as useful as repurposing a travel-size bottle and refilling it each time I go.
So, back to the leaky stuff. I put all the 3-1-1 TSA liquids in a separate zip top bag, and put that in the toiletry case on the far left side.
When I go through security, if I need to place liquids separate from my bag, I can grab the baggie and off I go.
The far right zipper pocket does expand if I need it to, but the most it holds is my toothbrush, paste, and floss. I keep a separate toothbrush in my bag so I don’t have to move my home toothbrush around. I get so many from the dentist, I have spares.
Now for the main compartment: this is where I keep my pills, my mouthguard, and a few larger items, plus some first aid items, too.
In the small zipper pocket in the middle, I keep bandages, Tylenol sinus, ear plugs, emery boards, tweezers, and a tiny pair of nail clippers.
In the main pockets of the middle section, I keep Tylenol in a small bottle, plus Q-tips, a deodorant (full size), and a comb.
I have very short hair, so I don’t need much in the way of travel hair product. A comb and a small tub of styling cream are plenty. But when my hair was longer, I had a small brush and a snack-sized zip top bag with hair ties, bobby pins, and the like in this section, too.
Now on to the makeup. This took a few trips for me to refine, especially because most of the time, when I travel, it’s for something business-related, and I want to look somewhat professional.
Usually I don’t wear a lot of makeup. My cats don’t care if my eyelashes are thick and full, and my skin dislikes it. Around the third day of a conference, my skin starts freaking out – what is this silliness? Stop it! So I carry very basic cosmetics that I know won’t make my skin irritated, and that are versatile for different occasions.
Again, all of these items are for travel only. I keep these items in my travel bag, and leave them there. They last longer and I don’t lose them.
Here is what I carry, starting with the largest item.
It’s housed in a metal container so it’s durable (it’s never been a problem in security, either).
The key here: INSTRUCTIONS IN THE LID. Seriously. I am not that skilled with eye makeup, and the instructions make sense and I don’t feel like a total idiot.
The tin doesn’t come with brushes, but after a few cosmetic “bonus with purchase” bags, I have an eyeshadow brush that came free with one bonus, and I bought a narrow, slant-edged brush for using the darker shades as eyeliner (which works really well for me).
I love the Too Faced eyeshadow collections, and this one is great for travel. There are two others in metal tins: the Natural Matte collection ($40) and the Natural Eye collection ($40). I have another collection, but it lives at home because the housing is paperboard. The Boudoir collection is the only eye color I have in my bag.
This is the rest of the makeup I carry:
Much like the idea that large items of clothing are worn twice on a trip, most of the items in my bag can be used in multiple ways. Here’s a list of what I carry:
The second tab, “Toiletries,” is filled in with the basic essentials I carry, but it’s a spreadsheet, so here’s literally thousands of cells for you to customize for yourself (but don’t carry thousands of thing! You’ll hurt your back).
The process is very similar to the Packing Template sequence:
Identify your essentials
Identify the things you need each morning and evening, when you shower or bathe, and when you get ready for a professional event
Streamline products when possible
Decant or distribute existing full-size products into smaller travel-friendly containers
Assemble the items and pack your kit!
Now, whenever you’re ready to travel, you won’t have to run everywhere gathering each item. It’ll be ready to go when you are.
If you’re enjoying this series, you can get this content early and exclusive extras on personal organization, both digital and actual, from the Organization Academy newsletter:
What are your toiletry essentials? Any products you swear by and never leave home without? What type of bag is your favorite?
The Bawdy Bookworms box is something we’ve reviewed before. Both Redheadedgirl and Elyse have give the romance novel & sex toy themed box a try. They both had favorable things to say and, judging from their reviews, I think it’s a box that just keeps getting better.
From their about page:
Each month, you’ll receive a specially curated package with a smokin’ hot book plus a few sexy surprises. And yes, sometimes batteries are included. All in discreet packaging, of course. That’s not all. Bawdy Bookworms is also a virtual book club that will offer our subscribers access to a private forum.
I can vouch for the discreet packing and that they have a really fun Facebook group. The fact that batteries are included with the box is an excellent touch, as there’s nothing more frustrating than having to scrounge around your apartment, playing battery Hunger Games as you decide which electronics can deal with on dead battery while you switch it out for a good one.
The box is also ships quarterly (every three months) and costs $34.95 per box.
To gauge whether a box successfully delivers (heh), I like to see if the items inside are equal to or more than the subscription price. Also, are the items inside decent quality and will I use them? Trust me, I do not need any more clutter in my small Boston apartment.
Here is a list of the items inside this box:
A copy of Breaking Clear by MJ Summers ( A | BN | K | iB )
Butterfly Kiss G-Spot Vibrator with an organza bag and set of batteries
Intimate Earth Discover G-Spot Stimulating Serum
Coochy Rash Free Shave Creme
Coochy After Shave Protection Mist
Noxema Bikini Shave & Trim Razor
The theme of this box is “lady garden love” and everything is cutely packaged. It game with delicate tissue paper and a teal ribbon. So A+ for presentation! While it may not matter to some people, I love opening a pretty arrangement of things.
There were two things I loved most. One was the item card that came with the box. It outlines the contents of the box, so you know whether or not you’re missing anything. It includes descriptions and tips.
The tip under the “sweet treats” item reads: Keep candies away from genital areas. Sugar may cause yeast infections. Yes, men can get yeast infections. Seriously.
I’m all for being adventurous during sexy times, but I appreciate the due diligence from Bawdy Bookworms.
The back of the card also has “play ideas” of how to pair the items inside during intimacy.
Take your new Butterfly Kiss into the shower or bath to relax (or stimulate). It’s better than Calgon!
The second thing I loved, and this is the most important, is the book selection. As someone who “works” in romance. (WHAT?! How lucky am I?), I know quite a bit about books coming out and most likely, already have a galley sitting in a stack. There have been other boxes I’ve tried where I receive a book I already own.
Breaking Clear by MJ Summers is a completely new to me author and I was surprised at my own surprise. Imagine that. For me, the draw to subscription boxes (and not just ones with books) is about trying new products. If you like something, you’re already probably buying it. To get a box where all the items are new to me is a slam dunk and it’s what I want from all the subscription boxes I try.
Now back to my earlier statement about boxes being worth the subscription cost. I tried to roughly estimate the total retail price (according to the items on Amazon) of the items inside, and the box is over $50, which is more than the $34.95 box price and free shipping.
Even if you’re in an area that charges for shipping, the items are still worth more. And sex toys can be freakin’ expensive, man. I know I’ll definitely be using the after shave mist. My skin gets so dry and irritated after shaving sometimes, especially in the winter months. Plus, there’s another vibrator to add to my (growing) (heh) collection and I love having variety.
So would I recommend this box to readers of romance, especially ones who like to experiment in the bedroom? Hell yes.
Big thanks to Kim from Bawdy Bookworms for sending us a box to review. Each month gets better and better. And right now, we have a special discount for SBTB readers! The last day to subscribe at the $34.95 rate is July 22, and you can get free shipping in the US, and $6 off shipping for international shoppers with coupon code smartb!
Thanks to our lovely Patreon supporters, we are so close to our goal to transcribe older episodes that I am starting with some of the very earliest (and shortest) podcast episodes from our archives! I hope you enjoy!
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by HeatherT. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.
From the Desk of Donna Edith:
My services are unconventional. My clients come to me with needs and I match them to other clients with needs of their own…
Promising young architect Killian Fitzroy: Driven, clever, eager to prove himself. Starved for sex, though he’s come to me for professional assistance, not personal. Needs: Someone unique, creative and fast. An artist with a feminine perspective to breathe life into a house he’s built.
Aspiring scenic designer Vessa Ratham: Sensuous, spontaneous, but secretive. Recently returned to Vermont armed with an art degree that qualifies her for little more than waiting tables. Needs: An opportunity to shine.
Yes, Killian and Vessa will satisfy each other nicely—in more ways than one.
Here is HeatherT's review:
Oh, hey. I agreed to review this book, but I don’t really remember much about it even though I finished it yesterday. I know that it mostly was about decorating a house, and that the heroine had a secret and that there was a LOT of not particularly interesting sex.
Let’s try this again. The book starts with Vessa, our heroine, visiting a woman named Donna (like a title) Edith. Donna Edith matches people with various needs – we know that from the frontispiece of the book, not the book itself. It appears that Donna Edith is meant to be a gimmick around which a series will be built. Vessa just moved back to Vermont, but for some reason needs to keep her presence in the state a secret. She is a scene painter and she needs a job. Donna Edith sets her up with Killian, a young architect who needs a model home decorated in a short time.
Vessa and Killian meet, immediately agree to work together and then they each spend a lot of time thinking about and having pants-feelings for the other, even though they have scarcely spoken. The story is mostly decoration porn. As the project goes along, each room is lavishly described, right down to each layer of glazing on the walls. No room is simply painted – there are stripes and chair rails and wainscoting and layers and layers of glazing. There are screens and plants and trompe d’oeil. For some reason, there is a garden chair crammed into a tiny powder room. It is all a bit much, and not to my taste, but that is really what the book is about — rugs and pillows and pictures and lampshades. Somewhere along the way, Vessa and Killian start having sex.
For a book that is billed as erotica, the sex was remarkably unimaginative. There is a lot of it, but it gets less interesting as the book goes along. There’s face-to-face vaginal sex and occasional oral sex or handjobs in every room. Sometimes she’s even on top! The sex seems to end quickly after penetration and is always from the male gaze. Seriously, it had all the excitement of seeing rabbits in spring — just a vague sense of “there they go again.”
The book was relatively well-written with good secondary characters (including a female plumber, yay!), excellent consent and a relatively interesting backstory for Vessa, involving her secret – which as secrets go was a pretty believable one that worked for present-day. I did enjoy that Vessa and Killian behaved like adults; that when there was a problem, they behaved like real people would (they used words!) and there was no sign of the magic peen or magic hoo hoo. But Killian was one-dimensional; he only existed as a foil for Vessa and his more interesting friends.
Also, the book had strange moments that continually took me out of the narrative. Among them:
Vessa, a set designer, shows up to measure a room with a tailor’s measuring tape (the kind some of us use to see how resplendent our butt has grown). Killian, the architect of the fucking house, doesn’t offer to give her the plans so that she’ll have the measurements handy.
A gardener is described as “his fingers and jeans were stained green.” Ummm, that’s not how gardening works.
This: “The subdivision lay in a sprawl below, streets meandering around a few huge maple trees, unbuilt lots marked with surveyor’s flags. . . She stepped to a window, ‘The view is fantastic.’”
The strangest moment, yes, even stranger than a gardener with literal green thumbs or an unfinished subdivision as a fantastic view, was the climactic scene. Vessa is specifically hiding her presence, even her existence, at the insistence of a Specific Person. However, when that Person discovers that Vessa is in town, that Person throws a very loud, very public fit in front of lots of people that draws everyone’s attention to Vessa and who she is. Huh, what? Wasn’t the whole idea to deny Vessa’s existence?
In the end, if you are fond of over-the-top decorating (okay, even I found the old apothecary bottles charming), this book might be for you. Read it for the decoration porn; God knows that the other kind isn’t going to be very satisfying.
A few days ago, before I rode my bike 120km in the pouring rain (I am not even kidding. I’ve never had to ride in conditions like that. At one point I was going up a hill with Jen and Ken, and it was raining so hard that the water was coursing down it, and we all looked down and burst out laughing – none of us had ever ridden “upriver” before. It was nothing short of epic. My riding shoes are still wet, a whole day later.) I hurt my finger. I was making dinner, and moving fast, and a tiny mistake with a knife put a tiny cut in my thumb. I cursed, cleaned it, whacked a little band-aid on it and thought no more about it until I sat down to knit about and hour later.
Every stitch I made hurt the cut and stuck to the band-aid, and I sat there, trying and trying, but the cut was in exactly the wrong place. The smallest little thing, bugging the snot out of me. I decided I could live with the annoyance and tried for a little longer, but then I had a pretty good idea. I went upstairs to the stash room, and came back down with this pretty bit of business.
It’s a 80/20 Merino/silk blend from Fiber Optic Yarns – an old colourway I think, called Cyprus. (That’s an old page I scrounged up on their site – might work!) I split the roving in two lengthwise, and started to spin. I’m aiming for a 2 ply lace/light fingering, and so far, so good.
A few days later, I’ve got the first half spun, and my finger is healed just fine (it really was a tiny cut) but I can’t seem to stop. It’s been a while since I was at my wheel, and I’d almost forgotten the peace of it.
Karmic Balancing Gifts? There’s a ton, so let’s bomb through a bunch! (If you’ve forgotten how this works, or you’re just tuning in now, this is a fundraiser for Team Knit – that’s Me, Cameron, Ken, Jen and Pato, and we’ll be riding our bikes to Montreal (that’s 660km) in just under two weeks – and we’re all working on fundraising goals. We’re raising funds for PWA, it’s the People With Aids Foundation, and it provides practical, essential support for people living with HIV/AIDs. What we’re doing here is simple. You help – either by donating to one of us, or by helping to spread the word, and then send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “I helped”. (That bit’s important. It sends it straight to the right folder.) Tell me if you’re a knitter or a spinner (or even if you’re a non-knitter) and add your address. Then I draw names and other people who are awesome just like you send you presents. We’re balancing out the karma and making the world the kinda place we want to knit in.)
First, five lucky knitters are getting a free pattern from Emily Wood Designs. Teresa Y, Nicola R, Dana G, Carol S and Maggie S, good luck choosing. There’s some beauties.
Next up, Ann has found it in her heart to part with 8 ounces alpaca silk roving from Gale’s Art in the Scarab and Peacock colorways – and they’ll be making their way to newbie spinner Doreen S’ house.
Ann’s also letting go of 8 ounces Wensleydale wool top by Hello Yarn in Smells of the Sea colorway… and she’ll be sending that to Scharleen O.
Carrie went into her stash and found three gifts she’d like to say thank you with.
Sundara Yarn – Sundara Lace in Chocolate over Salmon, 100% Silk, 1000 yards/100g for Catherine M.
Creatively Dyed Yarn -Voodoo2, DK, in Aim. 350yards/150g for Amy F.
Brooks Farm Yarn – Solo Silk, Sport weight, Colorway: Corals & Oranges, 50% Wool, 50% Silk, 400 yards/112 grams per skein – two skeins for Donna E.
Next, a big one! Handwork Hardware (I love these guys) are donating TEN gift packs, each pack has:
– one of thier needle sorters, designed to provide an integrated knitting needle gauge and sorter contained within a secure storage container for multiple sets of double pointed knitting needles. (And the device that once made it possible for me to mislay ALL of my DPNs at once.)
– one of their chatelaines, a pouch suspended from a belt loop or knitting bag handle that holds knitting accessories and other items for a knitting project.
They will be sending those out, with my thanks, to Jessie M, Nicole H, Karen K, Emily M, Lorraine M, Laura R, Mary Y, Lisa, Emily V and Mary G.
Julie’s stash is a place of wonders, let me tell you that, and Julie’s pretty alright herself. She’s got three beautiful gifts to mail out.
Four skeins of Berroco Seduce (I love this yarn) for Lisa W.
Beautiful silk/merino top from Hedgehog fibers for Kimberly F.
Three skeins of gorgeous Viola MCN sport for Kathlynn K.
Here’s a fun one – I wish I had it for myself, so lovely. Ana (Air Illustration and Design) is giving away two free six month memberships to her embroidery club. (No- you don’t need to know how to embroider, the instructions are really good.)
She’ll be working with Liz B and Sage G to get that set up, I hope they’re as enchanted as I am. (PS, take a look at Ana’s instagram while you’re poking around. I follow her, and it’s really nice.)
Naomi’s got two pretty things,290g natural and 242g heather gray pencil roving that she’ll be sending off to Susan C.
And 151g lace weight dark wool (black, grey, purple). Apparently her 2.5 year old saw the yarn cake and called it a tire (he’s obsessed with vehicles). I hope Carol T likes tires too.
Last, but certainly not least, Caitlin has a kit for her charming pattern Epaulet, that she’ll be sending off to Rita V.
I’m pretty wild about that pattern, the little fabric touches are adorable! Rita, if you don’t know any littles who would look cute in that, let me know. I’ve got loads of them over here.
Whew! That’s 28 gifts, and I don’t think I really made a dent. More tomorrow, when I’m pretty sure I’ll have finished socks.
Wanted and Wired by Vivien Jackson is $1.99! This is a scifi romance that was just mentioned in the comments of out latest Whatcha Reading. Reader Julia said, “Just started: Wanted and Wired by Vivien Jackson – the hero is the strong silent type and the heroine is a flirty assassin. Yes please.” This is the first book in the Tether series.
A rip-roarin’ new snarky, sexy sci-fi paranormal romance series with the perfect balance of humor, heat, and heart. Now that Texas has seceded and the world is spiraling into chaos, good guys come in unlikely packages and love sprouts in the most inconvenient places…
Rogue scientist • technologically enhanced • deliciously attractive
Heron Farad should be dead. But technology has made him the man he is today. Now he heads a crew of uniquely skilled outsiders who fight to salvage what’s left of humanity: art, artifacts, books, ideas-sometimes even people. People like Mari Vallejo.
Gun for hire • Texan rebel • always hits her mark
Mari has been lusting after her mysterious handler for months. But when a by-the-book hit goes horribly sideways, she and Heron land on the universal most wanted list. Someone set them up. Desperate and on the run, they must trust each other to survive, while hiding devastating secrets. As their explosive chemistry heats up, it’s the perfect storm..
Waterfall by Lisa T. Bergren is $1.99! This is a YA scifi/fantasy novel with time travel back to 14th century Italy! Some readers found some details to be unbelievable (aside from the time traveling), while others liked the blend of adventure and romance. This is the first book in the Rivers of Time series, and the other books are also at a discounted price.
What do you do when your knight in shining armor lives, literally, in a different world?
Most American teenagers want a vacation in Italy, but the Betarrini sisters have spent every summer of their lives among the romantic hills with their archaelogist parents. Stuck among the rubble of the medieval castles in rural Tuscany, on yet another hot, dusty archaeological site, Gabi and Lia are bored out of their minds…until Gabi places her hand atop a handprint in an ancient tomb and finds herself in fourteenth-century Italy. And worse yet, in the middle of a fierce battle between knights of two opposing forces.
Suddenly Gabi’s summer in Italy is much, much more interesting.
RECOMMENDED: Feed by Mira Grant is $2.99! This is one of my favorite books, and as someone with a younger brother, I had such a connection to the brother/sister main characters. I laughed. I cried like a baby. I was on the edge of my seat. If you like thrillers, zombies, dystopian stories, political intrigue or any of those combined, you’ll like this book. Feel free to comment below on why you loved (or maybe even hated) this book.
The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beat the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED.
Now, twenty years after the Rising, Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives-the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will out, even if it kills them.
FEED is the electrifying and critically acclaimed novel of a world a half-step from our own—a novel of geeks, zombies, politics and social media.
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie is $2.99! I know Carrie really loves this book (and the entire series, I believe). It’s also a Hugo Award winner! Readers really loved the scifi world building, though some admitted wanting more action in the first book of the Imperial Radch series. It has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.
Winner of the Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.
Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.
Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance.
This HaBO is from Jenna. It sounds like she’s looking for a contemporary romance, but I’m not 100% sure:
There’s this romance I read that I really want to read again about this famous playboy movie director and his assistant, I think her name was Megan.
They hate each other at first, but director guy can’t function without her – she’s his assistant, etc. She also sometimes helps with continuity in the movie they’re shooting. I think it’s set in Italy or France and the movie they’re making is in trouble financially or something.
What I remember more than the romance is the way this girl is superbly written, she came from poverty and she always works her ass off and is always saving money. They always bicker about how she’s so plain and low-maintenance and how he’s such a manwhore and is so wasteful with money. I remember that he first fell in love with her when he saw her with her hair down, because she always puts it up in a really tight ponytail.
I also remember that the house they’re renting to shoot the movie in belongs to this old guy who Megan is fond of and they always play cribbage. Anyway it’s a really great read and I hope someone out here has read it too.
It’s that time of the week again. Armed with Kraken rum, Coke Zero and very girdy loins, I watch The Bachelorette so you don’t have to.
I was going to do a sober recap tonight because I’m already pretty tired, but then I remembered it’s Hometowns and I can’t do watch that without liquid fortitude.
Last week Rachel narrowed the field down to Eric, Dean, Peter and Bryan. Now it’s time for Hometowns aka The Most Awkward Episode Ever where Rachel gets to meet the dudes’ families. That’s right, no one is safe from the wtfery.
This episode looks like it’s going to be too cringe-worthy for Dewey, who has crawled under the sofa to hide.
Take a drink everyone. It’s time for the show!
First up is Eric, showing Rachel around his hometown of Baltimore. He takes Rachel to the neighborhood basketball court where he played as a kid. He tells her that he grew up in a tough neighborhood where drugs and violence were common. He tried to stay away from negative influences and focused on school, but as a result he felt like the guy who took care of everyone else while no one took care of him.
Now remember, Eric has never brought a girl home before. He’s never been in love before, either. Rachel feels a lot of pressure being his “first.”
They go to Eric’s aunt’s house and meet a large group of his family members.
Eric’s Aunt Verna tells Rachel that she has no doubt that Eric is ready for marriage. “He’s not the type of person who’s afraid of commitment,” Verna says. She and Rachel also discuss the pressures Rachel faces as the first Black Bachelorette. Rachel says that she feels like she’s being judged differently by different racial groups, and that she doesn’t feel her journey (take a shot) should be any different than any of the previous Bachelorettes.
In an earlier episode Eric said that he didn’t feel his mom showed him love. They talk one-on-one and she tells him, “Growing up, there was probably a block there for you because you felt like I wasn’t extending the love. But, just like I told you, there’s a lot of great men in our family, but a lot of them didn’t reach their stars because they reached for what was next to them, which was their mother. That was my best way of showing you love, because I wanted you to become the man that you was designed to become.”
Nothing like unpacking a super complicated mother-son relationship on TV.
They have lunch with Eric’s family. Later Eric and Rachel go for a walk alone together and Eric says, “For the first time today it came to me, damn, I really love this girl.”
Cue some noisy kissing and I take a drink because misophonia.
Next up is Bryan who hails from Miami, FL. Rachel has repeatedly said that she thinks Bryan is too good to be true and “too charming.”
Bryan takes Rachel to Calle Ocho where they play dominoes, eat some amazing looking food, and go dancing. He reminds Rachel that he’s an only child and that his mom is very protective. Remember, Bryan said his last relationship failed because his girlfriend and mom didn’t get along.
Boy, that sounds promising.
Olga, Bryan’s mom, starts setting off huge red flags right away by saying, “We really have such a wonderful relationship that for me, a woman who would separate him from me, that would terrible.”
Olga immediately throws down and tells Bryan that he’s dated a lot of women, and she finds it unrealistic and convenient that he falls in the love with the one he met on TV.
Next Olga talks privately with Rachel. “Bryan is my life,” she says. “I just want to give you a warning. You’re marrying the family too. If he’s happy, I’m happy. If not, I’ll kill you.”
HOLY SHIT LADY.
Then Olga cries and says she’s so happy to meet Rachel.
At this point I’m looking at my drink. I just had one right? It’s still mostly full, right?
I hope the contestants on the show get vouchers for therapy.
Bryan and Rachel talk alone, do some noisy kissing (SERIOUSLY WE NEED TO STOP WITH THE SLURPING), and Bryan tells her, “Rachel, I’m in love with you.”
Next up we’re in my home state of Wisconsin to meet Peter’s parents. Rachel runs up to Peter and fucking launches herself at him, adding more weight to my theory that she’s already chosen him.
They go to Madison’s farmer’s market and eat honey sticks and homemade pickles. They meet some of Peter’s friends at a restaurant. “I consider my friends an extension of my family,” Peter says. Privately, he tells his friends that he’s afraid that he won’t be ready to propose.
Next she meets Peter’s family. His family has the most Wisconsin couch ever – the kind with built in drink holders. He tells his mom, Lynn, that he’s afraid he’ll be too reserved when the time comes, won’t propose to Rachel, and will miss out.
So that’s the second time on his Hometown that he’s expressed his anxiety around commitment. Yikes.
Rachel asks Lynn if she thinks Peter is ready for marriage. Lynn basically says that she thinks Peter is ready for commitment but not necessarily marriage. Rachel isn’t super happy with that answer.
Unlike Eric and Bryan, Peter doesn’t tell Rachel he loves her.
After a commercial / pee break, Rachel meets Dean in his hometown of Aspen, CO. They ride ATVs and have a picnic with the mountains in the background.
Now Dean’s mom died when he was fifteen and her death broke up the family unit. His family will all be under the same roof for the first time in eight years in order to film this episode.
That’s probably not great.
Dean hasn’t spoken with his dad in two years. Rachel asks him why.
“My follow-up question to that is, is it my responsibility to talk to my dad? Is it my responsibility to reach out to him and make sure there’s a relationship there? If he wasn’t there for all of those years [after Dean’s mom died], then I don’t really see the point in putting in the effort.”
I agree with Dean 100% and I don’t understand why Rachel has to meet his dad when they are clearly estranged. According to Dean, he got no parental support after his mother’s death. It’s not his job to make sure things are okay with his dad now. If their relationship felt toxic or one-sided to Dean, it’s totally fine for him to walk away.
I mean, you know what sounds like a FANTASTIC IDEA? Putting an estranged family together for the sake of reality TV. I bet no one cries at all!
As they walk up to his dad’s house, Dean starts to have a panic attack.
“I’m going to be right here,” Rachel tells him.
Yup, her and all of those cameras.
Dean tells Rachel that his dad converted to “a Sikh of some kind,” six years ago. I’m not sure how to unpack that, and I’m not sober enough to try.
His dad, who changed his name to Paramroop S. Khahsa, is a yoga instructor. He starts off the visit by playing the gong, then giving Dean and Rachel feathers that he says are a symbol of his late wife’s love for her children.
Paramroop asks to speak to Dean privately. He acknowledges that he barely talks to any of his children.
Dean tells his dad that when his mother passed away, everyone fractured and went their separate ways rather than unifying.
Dean tells his dad that he felt abandoned. Paramroop says that he had a lot of anger surrounding his wife’s death, and that he didn’t know how to be the parent he should have been.
Dean clearly wants to discuss the point further, but Paramroop shuts him down.
“You’ve still got one fucking foot stuck in the past,” Paramroop shouts.
“I love you regardless,” Dean says.
“Whatever,” Paramroop replies and storms outside.
Dean breaks down crying.
Rachel asks Paramroop if she can talk to him, but he tells her that he’s done. He says that she’s welcome back, but it’s clear he wants to get the fuck off camera.
So. That was intense. I need an otter. Anyone else need an otter?
Even amid all of this, Dean tells Rachel that he’s falling in love with her.
Next we cut to Dallas, TX. Rachel is struggling with the fact that she has to send one of the guys home. Luckily Chris Harrison is there to talk things through with her, and to tell her which soul he’d most like to devour.
“I’m falling in love with all of them,” Rachel says.
“THE ROSE GOD MUST BE SATISFIED,” Chris replies.
A preview for Bachelor in Paradise comes on.
“What’s the point of Bachelor in Paradise?” my husband asks.
“What’s the point of any of this?” I counter, despairingly, and slam my drink.
Chris escorts each of the men, individually, to The Dreaded Rose Ceremony. They’re less likely to escape that way.
About two seconds into the ceremony Rachel starts crying.
The first rose goes to Bryan.
The second rose goes to Eric.
Then Chris shows up to tell us we’re down to the final rose.
I’m pretty sure that string music that used to be in every Zales commercial comes on.
The final rose goes to…Peter.
Rachel and Dean both cry as they say goodbye. “I hope you find what you’re looking for,” Dean tells her.
Once he gets in The Limo of Sadness, Dean turns bitter. He feels like Rachel lied to him about how seriously she felt for him.
Maybe he’s just really pissed off that he dragged his family through a painful and public reunion.
And that’s where this episode ends. If you like watching families slowly being destroyed by grief and a lack of communication, then I guess it was great. Me? I’m going to watch Game of Thrones because I need something to chill me out.
Next week the remaining three dudes meet Rachel’s family.
Are you still watching? Who do you think the winner will be?
Many, many thanks to our lovely Patreon supporters, because we are so close to our goal to transcribe older episodes that I am starting with some of the very earliest (and shortest) podcast episodes from our archives. I hope you enjoy this trip down podcast memory lane!
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Isabelle. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.
It will take a Christmas miracle for two very different souls to find each other in this perfectly festive fairy tale of New York!
Hopeless romantic Eva Jordan loves everything about Christmas. She might be spending the holidays alone this year, but when she’s given an opportunity to house-sit a spectacular penthouse on Fifth Avenue, she leaps at the chance. What better place to celebrate than in snow-kissed Manhattan? What she didn’t expect was to find the penthouse still occupied by its gorgeous—and mysterious—owner.
Bestselling crime writer Lucas Blade is having the nightmare before Christmas. With a deadline and the anniversary of his wife’s death looming, he’s isolated himself in his penthouse with only his grief for company. He wants no interruptions, no decorations and he certainly doesn’t appreciate being distracted by his beautiful, bubbly new housekeeper. But when the blizzard of the century leaves Eva snowbound in his apartment, Lucas starts to open up to the magic she brings…This Christmas, is Lucas finally ready to trust that happily-ever-afters do exist?
Here is Isabelle's review:
It’s simple to know whether you’d enjoy Miracle on 5th Avenue. Do you like Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, but wish they had slightly explicit sex scenes? If yes, Merry Christmas to you! This book is an eminently capable version of that. The elements are all there, and it satisfies, hitting all the beats just as you anticipate them. It feels like reading the tumblr Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things.
Miracle on 5th Avenue features an incandescently sunny heroine named Eva. She’s a hopeless romantic with a vaguely implausible job at the cringe-inducingly named Urban Genie, something that’s kind of a cross between an event planning company and Taskrabbit. The hero, Lucas, is a grumpy crime writer who hates Christmas. Places in New York that are especially magical during the holidays are visited: Rockefeller Center, Central Park, Tiffany’s, the Plaza hotel. The conflicts are mild but realistic: she understands his point of view, he understands hers, neither of them really has to make a change, and they earn their happily ever after. I enjoyed it in precisely the same way I enjoy a Hallmark movie or tomato soup in the winter. It’s warm and comforting and goes down easy.
One can easily envision the filmed version of this book. There are plenty of set pieces that could elicit swooning, like a Snowflake Ball at the Plaza. (I confess I’m a sucker for historical romance elements cropping up in contemporaries.) Add to that an Upper East Side apartment with a view of the city blanketed by snow, strolls down Fifth Avenue, and snowman building in Central Park, and you can see how the book strives to capture the particular sparkle of New York at Christmas time. Truthfully I might prefer the movie, since those Hallmark gems allow for seasonal multitasking, like baking cookies or napping.
When I finished the book, I felt unmoved by the characters and their stories. My dominant thoughts were twofold. One, that was pretty cheesy. Two, the New York of this book was circumscribed to a fraction of its actual sprawl. That pushed me to interrogate what I mean when I say something’s cheesy, and what I expect when writers set a book in New York.
I certainly don’t mean to say cheesy is automatically bad. Earnestness and happy endings are perhaps trademarks of Cheese, but I don’t think romance as a genre is automatically cheesy because it frequently features the former and contains the latter definitionally. So I reflected on things I love that I also consider cheesy, the movie Speed for example, to tease out a more refined definition of Cheese.
Ultimately I think there are a couple of narrative elements, in use in Miracle on 5th Avenue, that contribute to the cheese factor. One is characters who cleave closely to stereotypes. Eva is a creative professional in New York who loves romance, shoe shopping, and animals. She’s surrounded by a great group of supportive women. She’s cheerful and optimistic but not a pushover. Perhaps the only way she varies from a well trodden female archetype is her vegetarianism, which I find curious because she a) happily cooks meat for others and b) doesn’t appear to ever incorporate vegan proteins in her cooking. Nary a chickpea, not the tiniest cube of tofu. That has to be the most milquetoast portrayal of vegetarianism I’ve ever come across. She’s a vegetarian, but don’t worry, she doesn’t eat anything weird and she won’t force it on you; she’ll even make you bacon! No judgment if that’s how you practice vegetarianism– you’re not a fictitious person whose traits are shorthand for bigger themes, so do whatever works– but her character seems almost engineered so as to never ruffle a feather.
All that said, I don’t dislike her! I bet she’s be a fun person to be around and a good friend, even if when asked about her time spent in Paris she says banal, obvious things about bread. Plus a huge point in her favor: she’s an unapologetic sexual being. She cracks a dick joke with her pals, she’s not shy about enjoying sex, and although I certainly think of that as normal and healthy, indeed that may ruffle some people’s feathers.
Lucas, on the other hand, is a Male Writer, with all that might imply. He writes about murders, not happy endings. His apartment has that “just moved in” look because why would a man decorate his dwelling? His pantry is basically tumbleweeds because he subsists on whiskey. He quotes Hemingway to justify his drinking (I’m not even kidding). He’s got a bad case of man pain stemming from the tragic, sudden death of his wife. And you’d better believe he has no use for Christmas. I bet your brain is abuzz filling in more details about this guy–does he use beard oil? Is the soundtrack to his writing Miles Davis on vinyl? Dear reader, we can only assume: yes to both. Lucas is not exactly Mark from the McSweeney’s spoof Early Draft Of Hallmark Movie Screenplay: Christmas For Christmas (that guy’s too corporate), and Eva’s not exactly Jennifer (though not too far off), but there’s a reason that article does so much with so little.
Where Eva is a pleasant but innocuous heroine, Lucas has more potential to irk me. I mean, obviously. To his mild, mild credit, he declines to mock Eva when she rhapsodizes about the shoe floor of Saks Fifth Avenue, but I recoiled at the ultimate conclusion he draws when opening his heart to love again. He decides complicated women (like his deceased wife) are complicated to love and he’s better off sticking to a simple, sweet woman like our heroine, who makes love simple. It’s a little hard to tell whether the author is really positing that thesis, because if so: yiiiiiiikes. One can be charitable and hope he’s not generalizing from this meager sample size of women. One can also hope that perhaps it’s an example of bad reasoning that somehow still produces a correct conclusion. Finally, one can choose not to think about it too hard and just say, aw, the curmudgeon finally learned to love again.
Apart from broad characterizations, another cheese factor can be found in the plotting. Specifically, the choices characters make to drive the plot seem meaningful at first blush but don’t really reveal much about the characters’ nature upon deeper reflection. An example in Miracle on 5th Avenue comes during the first crisis, when Lucas writes a version of Eva into his manuscript, but she’s a baddie, and it makes Eva mad. (I would be honored? Clearly Eva and I are different.) Lucas scores some points with Eva by being helpful when they are confronted with a helpless injured puppy in Central Park. He’s not such a bad guy after all, she concludes; he cooperated so I could prevent a suffering animal from dying needlessly! Don’t trip over that low bar Eva set for you, Lucas. The whole plot is a like that. It doesn’t really take opportunities to surprise or challenge the reader’s notions about what Lucas and Eva are like deep down. And if you’re in the mood for that kind of cheese, I would never stop you, go ahead and eat it up.
Onto my second question: what do we talk about when we talk about New York? I picked this book to review because it has a bit of a snowed-in trope, which I love in general and wish this book had leaned into harder. Also because it’s set in New York, a city I hold dear as it was my home for over five years. I went into this book telling myself not to be snobby about verisimilitude, even though the book was taunting me right out of the gates by using 5th Avenue instead of Fifth Avenue in the title. After all, New York is not a monolith, and New York experiences are unique. Please read Colson Whitehead’s stunning essay for the New York Times about just that concept in post-9/11 New York for a better telling of this truth than I could ever give you.
I suspect the New York in Miracle on 5th Avenue will feel familiar to nearly anyone who’s spent any time there, because it’s so firmly grounded in the well-trod stretch of Fifth Avenue from the Upper East Side to Bryant Park. The landmarks are indeed iconic, if you’ve ever been there you’ve probably seen at least one of them, and between Thanksgiving and New Years, it really is quite a spectacle.
But what if I told you I once went on a date to a little mom and pop store in Queens where the pop repairs and sells vintage typewriters and the mom makes the most delicious baklava? Or another time, I went to a tiny museum just north of Central Park, in Harry Houdini’s boyhood home, where you can see chains he broke and tanks he escaped, and watch his silent films. Now those were some memorable dates, intimate, the kind that feel like a shared secret.
Except I never went to those places. I made both of them up. That’s what’s amazing about writing New York! It already contains everything, so virtually anything seems plausible; it’s like the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts. New York is pure potential energy, ready to be converted into something wild, kinetic, and exciting. When there are so many marvelous examples of New York in literature, it’s honestly a bit of a let down to trot over to Tiffany’s and St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I’m not asking for fabulism, maybe just a little more imagination. It would, perhaps, make the book a little less cheesy.
But then again, maybe some cheese sounds really good to you right about now. Maybe, like Holly Golightly, you’re just crazy about Tiffany’s. Maybe a romance where the indefatigable dog wins over the standoffish cat really works for you. Nothin’ wrong with that. Just save it for the day you’re in need of precisely what it has to offer. When you don’t want surprising flavors, just a nice tomato soup.
RECOMMENDED: Graceling by Kristin Cashore is $1.99 at select vendors! This is also a Kindle Daily Deal. This is a YA fantasy novel with romantic elements and I LOVED it. The entire series is pretty great, to be honest. The heroine is strong and all sorts of badass, but she’s also trying to cope with being a hired killer for the king. Also check out the other KDDs for today, which include more romance and Wolf Hall.
Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight – she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.
She never expects to become Po’s friend.
She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away.
Lady Bridget’s Diaryby Maya Rodale is 99c at Amazon! I’m not sure if this is a sale that’s on it’s way out or not, so grab it while you can. This is the first book in the Keeping Up with the Cavendishes series, and Carrie gave it a B-:
Lady Bridget’s Diary is, structurally speaking, a total mess, and I didn’t believe a single thing that happened in it. However, the characters are delightful. I read this when I was down with the same cold that was afflicting everyone in America that particular week, and it was great for my humble purposes at the time: it was solidly entertaining and enjoyable, and I didn’t have to think a lot.
In the first novel of Maya Rodale’s stunning new series, an American heiress must learn to navigate London society and an infuriatingly irresistible rake . . .
Lord Darcy is the quintessential Englishman: wealthy, titled, impossibly proper, and horrified that a pack of Americans has inherited one of England’s most respected dukedoms. But his manners, his infamous self-restraint, and his better judgment fly out the window when he finds himself with the maddening American girl next door.
Lady Bridget Cavendish has grand—but thwarted—plans to become a Perfect Lady and take the haute ton by storm. In her diary, Bridget records her disastrous attempts to assimilate into London high society, her adoration of the handsome rogue next door, her disdain for the Dreadful Lord Darcy, and some truly scandalous secrets that could ruin them all.
It was loathing at first sight for Lady Bridget and Lord Darcy. But their paths keep crossing . . . and somehow involve kissing. When Lady Bridget’s diary goes missing, both Darcy and Bridget must decide what matters most of all—a sterling reputation or a perfectly imperfect love.
Nova by Rebecca Yarros is 99c! This (seems) like a second chance romance with a snowboarder hero. It’s also the second book in The Renegades series and can be read as a standalone. Some readers said it’s a bit slow to start, but others described it more of a slow burn that’s worth the wait.
The only heart he wants is the one he already broke…
He’s Landon Rhodes.
The Renegade they call Nova.
Sinfully gorgeous, broody, tatted-up, professional snowboarder.
Four-time X Games medalist—
They say a girl broke him once—
That’s why he’s so reckless, so driven, so careless with his conquests.
But I’m that girl.
They can call me his curse all they want.
He and I both know the truth—
He’s the one who destroyed me,
And I’m not the sucker who will let that happen again.
The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey is $2.99! This horror, science fiction novel comes highly recommended, though I believe trigger warnings need to be issued. I can’t find the comment previously on the site, but I know a reader mentioned there’s animal abuse within the book. Have you read this one? Did you love it or hate it?
Melanie is a very special girl. Dr. Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”
Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
Melanie loves school. She loves learning about spelling and sums and the world outside the classroom and the children’s cells. She tells her favorite teacher all the things she’ll do when she grows up. Melanie doesn’t know why this makes Miss Justineau look sad.
The Girl with All the Gifts is a sensational thriller, perfect for fans of Stephen King, Justin Cronin, and Neil Gaiman.
Squee from the Keeper Shelf is a feature wherein we share why we love the books we love, specifically the stories which are permanent residents of our Keeper shelves. Despite flaws, despite changes in age and perspective, despite the passage of time, we love particular books beyond reason, and the only thing better than re-reading them is telling other people about them. At length.
If you’d like to submit your reasons for loving and keeping a particular book for Squee from the Keeper Shelf, please email Sarah!
Before I encountered the first two books in Allison Goodman’s Dark Days Club trilogy, I would have said I was growing tired of Regency-set novels, that I’d encountered too many with virginal heroines, brooding heroes with Dark Secrets, and multiple descriptions of pelisses. But occasionally a book comes along that can invigorate historical romance in ways that make it feel so new and exciting that I want to jump up and dance a reel (which are described in engagingly vivid detail in this book). I have what I realize is a deeply solipsistic feeling that this series was made for me, and I’m not sure how I’m going to wait for the third and final book.
For the sake of full disclosure, Goodman’s series is somewhat sparing in the romance category, although she seems to be setting the stage for potentially swoon-worthy events in the last book (unless she’s planning to rip my heart out instead). While the aristocratic world in which its heroine Lady Helen moves is more of the Georgette Heyer variety, the Dark Days Club is pretty much what would happen if Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Pride and Prejudice had a beautiful baby together—as others have also noted, albeit in less gestational terms.
Now I know what you might be thinking: haven’t we already had a spate of fiction that makes explicit the (mostly) latent violence of Jane Austen’s world? From the spoof trailer Jane Austen Fight Club to the lazy, disappointing mashup book/movie versions of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to the somewhat endearing Immortal Jane Austen books, it has been done. But what is new for me is someone doing it so damn well. And with a refreshing lack of irony.
That’s not to say that Goodman’s books don’t have a sense of humor. They certainly do, primarily focalized through the sly wit of Lady Helen. We get a sense of this in the first few pages, when Helen—forced by her aunt to pick out a new riding habit— leafs through images of the “overdone” styles:
“Is it too much to ask for a dress that won’t scare the horse?”
Aunt Lenore gave her loud cackle—the one that earned her the title Lady Laugh amongst her friends and Lady Hee-Haw amongst her enemies. “Not this Season, my dear. It is all military flimflam.”
“Bonaparte has a lot to answer for,” Helen said. “First Europe and now our fashion.”
But Goodman also takes her characters seriously, and brings them to life with an earnest level of care and detail that made me as a reader genuinely invested in their well being.
But at this point perhaps a brief summary is in order: the books begin in 1812, as Lady Helen Wrexhall is preparing for her debut. As the daughter of a scandalous mother who—along with her husband, the Earl of Hayden—died a decade previously under mysterious and possibly treasonous circumstances, Helen is keenly aware that the more pessimistic part of society is fully expecting her to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Although she has been raised as a dutiful aristocratic woman of her day, Helen worries that her mother’s scandals will come back to haunt her. Which they do, albeit not in a way she could have expected. It turns out that, like her mother, Helen is gifted with Reclaimer powers, which enable her to fight Deceivers, demons inhabiting human bodies.
Under the tutelage of the brooding Lord Carlston, a fellow Reclaimer, Helen learns to develop her powers and wrestles with abandoning her expectations of a domestic life. Not only is she a Reclaimer, but she’s also a direct inheritor. In other words, she’s inherited her power from her mother, which is rare and unusual because Reclaimers usually spring up randomly, not from the same bloodline. The birth of a direct inheritor is said to be a sign that there’s a Grand Deceiver (ie: some serious Big Bad) on its way. By the end of the second book, the threat of an as yet unrevealed Grand Deceiver is looming, and Helen is caught in a love triangle, torn between Carlston and a family friend, the eligible but far less Byronic Duke of Selburn.
But these are the large story arcs, which might sound relatively familiar—a summary doesn’t do justice to the rich world building. Not only is there a complex and persuasive mythology with the world of Reclaimers and Deceivers, but the by-now overly familiar Regency-era setting felt new again with the attention to urban geographies (London in the first novel, and Brighton in the second) and historical detail. I’ve always had a perverse fascination with how most fiction elides human necessities, so I was delighted to read about Helen wryly pondering the “bourdaloue—shaped, amusingly, like a lady’s slipper,” which would be slipped…
…up under the hoop of her Court gown in case she needed to relieve herself during the long wait to be called. Now that was a difficult maneuver, Helen thought, her unruly sense of humor rising into a smile. Especially in a screened corner of a Royal stateroom. What if someone dropped one? Her imagination conjured the sound of smashing porcelain and the stink of warm spreading piss.
While historical romances and YA novels can often fashion heroines who are improbably modern, Helen is more believably of her time. She isn’t opposed to marriage, and she enjoys clothes, balls, and spending time with her female friends. Although she’s intelligent, lively, better educated, and somewhat more transgressive than the average titled woman of her day, she’s not a glaring anachronism. As she declares to Lord Carlston when he informs her of her powers and what he sees as her destiny:
“All you have shown me is a world of danger and threat, and yet you expect me to step into it without even asking me if I wish to do so.” He opened his mouth as if to argue, but she held up her hand, forestalling him. “I am no warrior sir, nor do I aspire to be. I have been taught to sew and sing and dance, and my duty is to marry, not fight demons. Look at me: I am an Earl’s daughter, not a man versed in swords and fisticuffs.”
The books depict Helen seriously grappling with the paranormal world into which she’s been thrust, and not immediately embracing the powers and responsibilities thrust upon her. As her maid, confidant, and woman-in-arms Darby observes to Helen as she comes to terms with her new role: “You must live the kind of woman’s life that has never been lived before. As must I.”
Rather than eagerly assuming a mantle of modern feminism, Helen struggles convincingly to make it fit in ways that resonate with current debates, but don’t feel out of place. For example, in depicting Carlston teaching Helen to pass as male in order to carry out some of her Reclaimer duties, the conversation calls to mind more recent feminist discussions of how much space women are allowed to take up, now situated within Helen’s world, context, and fashion:
“You must take up more space when you walk and move with greater purpose.”
Space and purpose. Helen took an experimental step alongside the flimsy fence that safeguarded the sheer drop to the beach. The hem of her promenade gown brought her up short…She had no difficulty with the idea of more purpose. Surely that was just a matter of taking a longer stride–something that would be far more achievable when she was clad in breeches…Her manner, however, was not so easily stitched into masculinity. According to his lordship, she still needed to deepen her voice, be less careful with the placement of her arms and legs, and now also take up more space. No easy task, since she had spent most of her life learning to control any excess gesture or movement.
And speaking of Lord Carlston… Do you want a tortured earl with all the trappings of an alpha hero who also manages to be a beta? You’ve got your man! Carlston might not reach William Godwin levels of enlightened Romantic-era male when it comes to views about women and women’s rights. But we get to see him learning to genuinely respect, admire, and even to defer to Helen as the story progresses. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the way their relationship unfolds, if light on fulfillment, is so heavy on the smolder (their sexual tension practically makes peak Mulder and Scully look platonic) that it manages to tide you over.
As an English PhD student, I’ve been trained to strive for critical distance. But one of the joys of reading romance and romance-adjacent novels is that you can relinquish that Enlightenment legacy/myth of “neutrality.” Of course, another less detached legacy of the Enlightenment era is the beginning of mass literacy, and the explosion in popularity of the novel. Re-reading another Austen novel, Northanger Abbey, reminds us that we’ve been having roughly the same conversations about the joys and sorrows of novel reading for over two centuries. As Jane Austen puts it: “Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried.”
More than many books I’ve read in the last few years, the Dark Days Club series has helped remind me of the joy I can derive from reading a novel. With a few exceptions (the first 3 or 4 books in the Outlander series, Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy, and perhaps Amanda Bouchet’s Kingmaker Chronicles), I haven’t been a big fan of the historical fantasy that I’ve encountered. I can’t quite seem to get on board with steampunk, and I couldn’t make it through any of the recent spate of mostly Victorian-set series about magic. I truly hope that Goodman’s series is a sign of more exciting things to come from publishers of female-centric historical fantasy-romance (I also hope it’s a sign that more places will start publishing these kinds of books). At the same time, she’s set a pretty a high bar.
The Dark Days Club comes from Cailey’s Keeper Shelf! Cailey came late to reading romance but has been making up for lost time, quite possibly to the detriment of her dissertation. Because she’s specializing in Romantic-era British literature, she feels like reading Regencies counts as research…right? And when a Regency comes with amazing historic detail, detailed mythology, and an ass-kicking heroine reminiscent of her beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer she’s a goner, which is why The Dark Days Club has a special spot on her keeper shelf.
I read Keeping it Hot with the expectation that I would get a friends-to-lovers romance set somewhere warm and beachy. Instead what I got was a whole lot of “what the fuck did I just read?”
Here’s what you need to know: Zoe Hart runs a coffee shop inside the Oceanix resort in Florida. The resort is owned and run by her best friend (and secret crush) Dylan Jackson. Zoe has just turned twenty-nine and is still a virgin. She’d like to lose her virginity by thirty, preferably to Dylan, but realizes that he sees her as “one of the guys.”
So Zoe and her best friend Dana hatch a plan to get Dylan to see Zoe as a potential romantic partner.
All sounds good so far, right?
That’s what I thought, too.
I was wrong.
First of all, once Zoe changes out of the coffee-stained polos and khaki shorts she wears to work and into a dress, Dylan suddenly realizes he wants to put his penis in her. Because apparently polo shirts are actually cloaks of invisibility. But despite being irksome that part wasn’t even that bad. No. We get so much worse.
Like, I didn’t even know which among the awful quotes to share, worse.
Here’s Dylan talking to his brother about how suddenly his penis has noticed Zoe:
“I mean, I didn’t know it was possible for her to look like that. There’s a woman’s body under that usual coffee shop uniform she wears.”
Asher laughed hysterically before he finally got it together enough to say, “You both work at a hotel right on the beach. Don’t tell me you’ve never seen her in a swimsuit before. This shouldn’t have been a total shock to you.”
“Well, of course I have, but it was some kind of one-piece number with a skirt on it.”
He could almost hear Ash wincing as he said, “Fuck, I hate those things. I don’t care what size a woman is, she should just own it. Don’t go out there wearing a damn sheet tied around your waist. If you have a big butt, put that sucker out there. Lots of men like some extra junk in the trunk. What they don’t like is seeing you wear your gown on the beach. You should have staged an intervention with her long ago. Friends don’t let friends dress like that.”
WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST READ?
First of all the assumption that women dress for men, or give a shit about what men think of how they dress, is some sexist bullshit. You wanna wear a sheet on the beach? Go for it. Wanna wear a giant parrot costume? Make sure you drink some water cuz it’s gonna be hot in that thing.
We don’t have to “own it” for anyone. I don’t give a flying fuck if some men like “junk in the trunk.” I am not buying a swimsuit so I can be viewed through their boner-lens. I’m buying it because I like it.
So fuck BOTH of these guys.
Then we get:
Wow, it was official, her old wardrobe was a man repellant. No wonder she’d easily been able to remain a virgin until the ripe old age of twenty-nine. She couldn’t help thinking that the new padded bra was a big help as well. Wait, was that false advertising? Some poor guy thought you had big boobs, then discovered under that miracle bra, you were a tad on the small side?
SOME POOR GUY THOUGHT YOU HAD BIG BOOBS.
Yes, yes, let us pity the man who was “misled” by your bra choice, Zoe, because once again women dress only for a man’s sexual gratification.
WHAT THE FUCK DID I JUST READ?
But wait, we’re not done. Dylan and Zoe are at lunch, discussing Dylan’s meeting with a potential investor:
“Handsy Holder?” Zoe started laughing, remembering the fifty-something-year-old cougar that never missed an opportunity to hit on Dylan. She had hair like Dolly Parton and a body that seemed at odds with her age. Zoe was certain there had been some surgical enhancements there. And those fingernails? They were so long that she had no idea how the woman was able to function with them from day to day.
“I’m glad you found it so amusing,” he smirked, “because she’s supposed to be here at seven.”
Making a walking motion with her hands, Zoe said, “Well you better run along and get prepared. Don’t forget protection. Wait, she might be in menopause, so that could be an added bonus, right?”
I repeat: WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK DID I JUST READ?
So… sexually aggressive women are to be mocked, but women should dress to attract a man and then hope for the best?
Menopause with all the vaginal dryness and hot flashes is hilarious?
Women over the age of fifty should not expect sex and should be made fun of?
You know what, these two fucking belong together.
But that wasn’t even the worst part. This is the worst part. The worst part was when Zoe and her friend Dana show up at Dylan’s place, completely shitfaced.
When [Zoe] stopped mid-sentence, he looked down just as a soft snore sounded from her mouth. Don’t think about how adorable she looks in your arms, she’s your best friend–that’s all.
He was jerked from his musings as someone banged on the door. No doubt it was Paul [Dana’s boyfriend who was called to pick her up] who couldn’t be bothered to use the buzzer.
“That’s my baby.” Dana ran through the apartment. Dylan was pretty sure that she’d nodded off to sleep as well since she hadn’t been in his face in at least two minutes. He thought of warning her to check the peephole first, then decided that he didn’t really care as long as whoever was on the other side took her with them. But a few seconds later, he could tell it was Paul by the amount of groping and tonsil sucking going on the hallway.
Let’s just repeat this: THEN DECIDED THAT HE DIDN’T REALLY CARE AS LONG AS WHOEVER IT WAS TOOK HER WITH THEM.
This woman is very drunk. Falling asleep drunk. The responsible, HUMAN thing to do would be to ensure that she’s safe. That means making sure it is indeed her boyfriend picking her up.
For all Dylan knows it could be a lost pizza guy behind the door. It could serial killer behind that door. It could be a werewolf. It could be four French bulldogs in a trench coat. BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT DANA COULD BE PLACED IN A POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS SITUATION BECAUSE SHE ANNOYS HIM.
WHAT. THE. EVERLOVING. FUCK.
So there’s some romance in this book. There are sexy times. And I didn’t care at all about any of it because the main characters were such garbage people.
Unless you need to raise your blood-pressure through the roof, I strongly suggest staying away from Keeping it Hot.
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Shana. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romantic Suspense category.
Beth Yarnall’s sexy and emotional Recovered Innocence series continues as two broken souls discover that keeping their hands off each other is even harder than facing their demons.
Beau:Six years. That’s how long I spent behind bars for a crime I didn’t commit—the murder of the woman I loved. Now I’m free, but life on the outside is a different kind of prison. I don’t know who I am or who I want to be. At least I have my sister, Cora. She never stopped believing in me. She even got me a job at the private investigation agency that cleared my name. And then Vera Swain walks into Nash Security and Investigations and kicks my world on its ass.
Vera:There’s only one thing that would make me come out of hiding after two years on the run: finding my sister. I made the mistake of telling a monster about her, the same monster who beat me and broke me. Now I’m forced to confide in Beau Hollis of Nash Security and Investigations. He looks at me like he knows me—the real me. He sees too much, makes me feel too much. The pleasure he offers is exciting and addictive. But I can’t fall for him . . . because my love could get us both killed.
Here is Shana's review:
If you are looking for sunshine and soothing fuzzy animals, this is not the book for you. Rape and murder are mentioned on the very first page of Atone and it just gets darker from there. I read a lot of gory mysteries and am not generally a squeamish person but this book got to me, and not in a good way.
Trigger warnings: child rape, sexual assault, sex trafficking, child abuse, forced sterilization.
The book opens with Beau Hollis being released from prison and struggling to adjust to life outside. He was wrongly convicted of raping and killing his girlfriend, and his baby sister Cora and her boyfriend fought hard to prove his innocence. This all seems to have happened in the first book of the series, but is recapped here. Beau missed out on his late teens and early twenties and feels isolated and out of step with the world around him. He hasn’t just lost 6 years; he’s lost his sense of safety in the world, his friends, his home, and his entire family buckled under the weight of believing his guilt. I really appreciated having a character who’d come out of prison with their vulnerable emotional core intact. Wounded heroes are my jam.
Cora gets Beau a job at the PI firm that helped get him released, where his loneliness is challenged by his first client, Vera. Vera is on the run from her painful past as a foster kid who was forced into years of sex work by people she trusted. The only reason she’s come out of hiding is because of her desperation to find her sister, Marie. Marie’s gone missing and Vera’s worried that the same criminal who trafficked Vera is after her sister too. Cora and Beau spend most of the story courting and sleuthing together across hotel rooms, diners, and offices.
The story is told in alternating first person. I enjoyed each of their distinct voices and found Vera and Beau to be likable and relatable. Vera’s reasonable skepticism of Beau’s motives initially wars with her curiosity about his backstory. They’re people who’ve been broken and have learned to put themselves back together again. Both feel like no one can understand them, and are shocked to discover this unexpected sense of affinity with one another. I really appreciated that their initial spark was not a sexual one. Their connection starts with seeing through one another’s masks and a respect for the strength is takes to survive trauma. The sexual tension between them builds in a way that seemed to surprise them both.
Still, these are two messed up people with serious trust issues. Beau is in love with his dead girlfriend and is overwhelmed with guilt, grief, and anger. Vera doesn’t see a future for them since she’s living in hiding, and she refuses to tell Beau some of the most painful details of her past life until they’re forced out of her. Their conflicts sometimes seemed impossible to overcome. It was easy for me to forget their urgent quest to rescue Vera’s sister before she’s sold to the highest bidder in favor of a much more urgent issue—How on earth will these two get/stay together? Creating more tension around what might happen with the relationship than the trafficking storyline—that’s an impressive writing feat. I did have a flash of annoyance when Beau and Vera get drunk to move their intimacy forward. There’s drunken arguing. And magic peen that is the “single greatest thing ever to happen” to Vera, leaving her sexually empowered. The book doesn’t delve into Vera’s healing process beyond a brief mention of past therapy. I was relieved to focus more on her powerful present even if it required the pretense that Vera could easily go from never having had consensual sex in her life, to banging Beau multiple times a day in a variety of positions.
On a scale from Ye Olde Whiteville to Hey, Look, It’s Reality, I thought Atone did a reasonable job of including racial diversity. There are a couple of secondary characters of color, and other people of color are mentioned in passing. I liked the direct way a character’s race was acknowledged and discussed in this book. When race was relevant to the storyline, it was brought up. For example, Vera’s sister has brown skin and dreadlocks. When shown a picture of her, Cora is surprised. Vera notices her reaction and identifies it as based on their differing appearance. I thought this moment was handled well and realistically. We don’t pretend it doesn’t matter, nor does her race become the sole driver of Marie’s character. It wasn’t until after I finished the book that I realized how infrequently I was pulled out of the story to mentally critique the presentation or absence of people of color.
However, the way the trafficking storyline was handled was a concern for me. The author clearly did her research; this seemed like a fairly accurate description of how children are targeted and groomed. Yet, the majority of sex trafficking victims in the US are actually people of color. I felt like their experiences were minimized in this book in favor of telling a story about a high-end brothel trafficking solely in young white teens. Much of imagery echoes the “white slavery” trope where beautiful white women are exploited by “exotic” men. It’s clearly stated early on in the book that Marie is not the villain’s “type” because of her race, and that he is merely targeting her to get to Vera. The more Vera’s past is explored in great detail, the more I was reminded of the racist history of this trope, including how it’s been used to villainize and terrorize men of color. It’s use here made me uncomfortable and I ultimately found it a distraction, especially since the ethnicity of the villain is unclear though he has a Spanish name.
The first part of the book unpeels the layers of Vera and Beau’s personal histories and present pain. Each clue about Marie’s whereabouts reminds Vera of the torture she’s overcome. There’s a lot of angst and a lot of sex. I pulled out the fancy tea and stayed up too late reading. Since we know who took Marie from early on in the book, the suspense picks up in the second half as the situation becomes more dangerous. Vera and Beau are looking for Marie, but Vera’s former pimp is looking for them. Despite Marie being more of a plot device than a person, I became stomach-clenchingly invested in her.
And then, four-fifths into the book, just when I was looking forward to a HEA, bad things happen.
Very bad things.
Please be aware this spoiler is full of potentially triggering topics. Please read with caution.
Marie is abruptly raped and killed.
I instantly moved from pleasantly swimming in luv-angst, to being very angry and frustrated at Marie’s disposability, especially as one of the few characters of color. Since the whole plot is structured around rescuing Marie, there weren’t enough pages between this “twist” and the end of the book for the HEA to feel satisfying to me. How can there be a HEA when you just killed the heroine’s reason for living?
I also found it strange that Marie’s death didn’t impact Vera as much as I would have expected. Beau and Vera mostly respond by having sex all day every day, out of boredom. It felt like I was grieving more for this fictional character than her fellow characters were.
It’s hard to give this book a rating. Even through my annoyance, there were many things I enjoyed about Atone. There’s some lovely writing, with characters I came to care about and an engaging and unpredictable plot. I’m picky about contemporaries as my patience for sexist historical heroes evaporates in a modern context. If every contemporary romance had Beau, I’d have no problem. His angst never tipped into whiny-woe and he was always more focused on being a caring champion for the women around him than he was on avenging his own wrongs.
Before the plot twist I was ready to give Atone a B+, but the last 20% of the book was a (WT) F. I was totally sucked into the story even as I was increasingly annoyed by the trafficking plot. But honestly, I wish I could go back in my time machine and DNF this book, because the last part was so unpleasant that it tainted my whole experience. I think part of why it’s hard to give Atone a grade is because it mostly succeeds (until the end) as literature generally, but it fails as a romance.
I know I was hard on Atone, and it’s tough for me to give it a D, even though I probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone and am still angry at it. Honestly, many of the romances I read contain covert or unconscious racism, if only in their total absence of people of color. I love romances, so I read them anyway. I’m torn.
Rogue Desire is available to preorder for 99c! This is an anthology being released July 20th, featuring resistance/protest themed romances. It includes stories from Amy Jo Cousins, Tamsen Parker, Adriana Anders, and more! I’m really excited about this and I know Redheadedgirl is as well.
When all else fails, find love.
Eight brand new romances for fans of the West Wing, fired-up #resistance fighters, and everyone who ever had a crush on that guy at a protest…
by Adriana Anders
Veronica Cruz is in the fight of her life for a seat on the city council. Meeting reclusive finance genius Zach Hubler should be a stroke of good luck—he has the power to sway public opinion. But when Election Day comes around and things don’t go as expected, Veronica has to know: just how shady is the man of her dreams?
by Dakota Gray
He’s an escort, but that’s not his biggest secret. She’s a maid at the hotel he uses “for business.” When their worlds collide, everything is put on the line. But indulging every secret desire comes at a cost, and the sins of the past won’t be forgotten.
by Amy Jo Cousins
All Kaz Shamsi wanted to do was get his college students to and from the DC protest without losing any of them. Getting caught up in the fringes of anarchist violence was not on the agenda. Neither was a motorcycle escape, messing around with a bandanna-masked antifa protestor, or figuring out that guy was one of the students he was supposed to be chaperoning. Now he’s got a ten-hour bus ride back to campus ahead of him, with a stupidly cute student who makes terrible decisions trying to talk Kaz into making one more.
KISSING AND OTHER FORMS OF SEDITION
by Emma Barry
When a global crisis threatens to go nuclear, the world tips upside down and spills out Graham Wilcox’s unspoken feelings for Cadence Martel. Cadence is equal parts shocked and delighted by his confession, but one night of passion isn’t enough. So the new lovers set out on a road trip to save the world.
TRUTH, LOVE AND SUSHI
by Stacey Agdern
When First Daughter Caroline Crosby finds herself in possession of the one document that can bring her father and his administration down, she turns to a real life social justice warrior for help. Max Wilcox isn’t sure what to make of Caroline: is this an elaborate hookup or a political conspiracy? But he has to make up his mind fast because the information and their chemistry could change the world—or break their hearts.
MY DELIGHT IS IN HER
by Jane Lee Blair
When Leonard West chose the pastorate, his college girlfriend chose a life without him. But not wanting to be a pastor’s wife didn’t mean Kim Jones didn’t want to work for the greater good. Now, her resistance work has led her back to Leonard, and they must grapple with their old pain. Can they trust God and each other enough to try again?
by Ainsley Booth
Marcus Dane left the tech world and joined the National Park Service a decade ago. Now an intrepid reporter has tracked down the park ranger-who-could-have-been-a-billionaire and, even worse, she has a theory that could blow his quiet life to smithereens. He needs to send her packing. But he’s already tumbled head-over-heels in insta-lust with her flippy ponytail and smart mouth, and he just can’t seem to let her go.
LIFE, LIBERTY, AND WORSHIP
by Tamsen Parker
Paige Robinson has been working out her angst about the new administration in spin class, until a handsome stranger with maddening politics harshes her mellow. Now she’s determined to get even…in the bedroom. Always awkward Carter Cox is shocked when his crush propositions him, but there’s no way he’s turning her down.
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley is $1.99! This book was published in 2011, and has a 4-star average on GoodReads.
The heroine returns to her childhood summer home in Cornwall to scatter her sister’s ashes and finds a portal to the 18th century in the rose garden, and there’s a pretty hot dude back there, too. In time, I mean, and also in the rose garden.
“Whatever time we have,” he said, “it will be time enough.”
Eva Ward returns to the only place she truly belongs, the old house on the Cornish coast, seeking happiness in memories of childhood summers. There she finds mysterious voices and hidden pathways that sweep her not only into the past, but also into the arms of a man who is not of her time.
But Eva must confront her own ghosts, as well as those of long ago. As she begins to question her place in the present, she comes to realize that she too must decide where she really belongs.
From Susanna Kearsley, author of the New York Times bestseller The Winter Sea and a voice acclaimed by fans of Gabaldon, du Maurier, and Niffenegger alike, The Rose Garden is a haunting exploration of love, family, the true meaning of home, and the ties that bind us together.
Tangled in Texas by Kari Lynn Dell is 99c! I mentioned this in February 2017’s Hide Your Wallet because it was recommended to me by a fellow romance reader. Readers enjoyed this emotional second chance romance, but others found the writing a bit dense.
It took 32 seconds to end his career.
But it only took 1 to change his life.
Thirty-two seconds. That’s how long it took for Delon Sanchez’s life to end. One minute he was the best bronc rider in the Panhandle and the next he was nothing. Knee shattered, future in question, all he can do is pull together the pieces…and wonder what cruel trick of fate has thrown him into the path of his ex, the oh-so-perfect Tori Patterson.
Tori’s come home after her husband’s death, intent on escaping the public eye. It’s just her luck that Delon limps into her physical therapy office, desperate for help. All hard-packed muscle and dark-eyed temptation, he’s never been anything but a bad idea. And yet, seeing him again, Tori can’t remember what made her choose foolish pride over love…or why, with this second, final chance to right old wrongs, the smartest choice would be to run from this gorgeous rodeo boy as fast as her boots can take her.
“After a week of thinking on it and writing down all the things that frustrated me, I realized that what bugged me was precisely what made the book good. And not ‘good’ in the sense of, ‘Oh, it wasn’t so bad in comparison to some things I’ve read.’ It was good in the sense that the author took risks and made real characters so that instead of villains that were cardboard and easily dismissed, I had secondary characters, fully-developed foils for the protagonists, and actions that were disruptive to the progress towards a happy ending, but that were driven by understandable motivation, not simple evil. It was so good, in fact, that the grade was elevated after rumination to a B+.”
A SINFULLY APPEALING RAKE
Lord Lucien Escher is a renowed London rake who believes there is not a woman in the world who cannot be seduced–he is determined to prove it, come what may.
AN INTELLIGENT AND DETERMINED WOMAN
Madeline is determined to save her treasured ancestral home and has no use for love or the tricks of an unredeemable scoundrel. Against her better judgment, however, she is powerfully drawn to the elusive and dangerous Lucien, whose hard-hearted façade hides a tragedy that is slowly devouring him from within.
As Lucien and Madeline circle each other in a magnetic play of desire and denial, their passion will rise to a crescendo of longing and sacrifice that will change their fates forever.
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Roo. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romantic Suspense category.
Beth Yarnall’s sexy and emotional Recovered Innocence series continues as two broken souls discover that keeping their hands off each other is even harder than facing their demons.
Beau:Six years. That’s how long I spent behind bars for a crime I didn’t commit—the murder of the woman I loved. Now I’m free, but life on the outside is a different kind of prison. I don’t know who I am or who I want to be. At least I have my sister, Cora. She never stopped believing in me. She even got me a job at the private investigation agency that cleared my name. And then Vera Swain walks into Nash Security and Investigations and kicks my world on its ass.
Vera:There’s only one thing that would make me come out of hiding after two years on the run: finding my sister. I made the mistake of telling a monster about her, the same monster who beat me and broke me. Now I’m forced to confide in Beau Hollis of Nash Security and Investigations. He looks at me like he knows me—the real me. He sees too much, makes me feel too much. The pleasure he offers is exciting and addictive. But I can’t fall for him . . . because my love could get us both killed.
Here is Roo's review:
So I need to start this review with a whole host of content warnings.
Rape mentions including: sexual abuse/rape of children and teens, sexual slavery of children and teens, and prison/revenge rape (i.e. the Heroine “hopes” one of the antagonists is repeatedly assaulted in prison as a punishment for him taking part in the enslavement/abuse)
Alcoholism (with some emotional abuse attached to it)
Dubious/lack of consent between the Hero and Heroine (their first sex scene occurs when drunk)
Now you don’t see the rape or sexual abuse as it is happening. However, it’s all very central to the plot and it’s talked about frequently. This includes some brief descriptions of what acts took place.
Atone begins with Beau Hollis summarizing the events of the first book in Yarnell’s Reclaimed Innocence series. He had been wrongly convicted of his girlfriend’s rape and murder and, after six years in prison, his sister has proven his innocence. Now a free man, Beau joins the private investigation firm his sister works for and quickly takes up Vera Swain’s case. Vera is looking for her younger half-sister, Marie, before she ages out of the foster care system.
Vera’s simple story, however, quickly falls apart as Beau discovers that Vera Swain is an assumed identity. She assures Beau that she is legitimately concerned for Marie, who really is her half-sister. It’s only the name Vera Swain that is false, and Beau believes her (because insta-lust=insta-trust).
Over the course of the novel, the rest of the truth comes out in pieces, until we know that Vera was manipulated into sexual slavery at age 14 and the man who did it, Javier Abano (because of course the White/Euro-American protagonists’ antagonist is Hispanic), is doing the same thing to Marie.
Originally, I planned on giving this something like a C+. Not a story I will return to, but also not a story I hated. Average, maybe a step above. There were some tropes and little details that I liked. You’ve got a burly, angsty Alpha-Hero. You’ve got a competent Heroine who knows how to protect herself. Both have lost significant portions of their youth/innocence and there are little scenes of them reclaiming it (e.g. holding hands/swinging their hands back and forth as they walk or having a shared first-hangover experience with each other). There were also big issues that I think Yarnell worked well with (e.g. Beau’s struggles with going back to a ‘normal’ life after prison and the ways Beau and his sister respond to their father’s alcoholism).
But, to be completely honest, writing this summary and review just made me kinda mad at Atone.
First of all, for Romantic Suspense, it wasn’t all that suspenseful. There was crime, the Hero and Heroine’s lives were threatened, but Yarnell definitely failed to make me wonder what would happen next. Part of this had to do with the alternating first person point of view. You know exactly what Beau and Vera are thinking at all times. Considering the degree to which the ‘mystery’ of the plot relies on Vera being secretive, the suspense falls flat when she tells the reader what’s going on. But even the plot was pretty predictable. I get that avoiding this is a bit difficult in a genre known for mostly-guaranteed happy endings, but the combination of a predictable plot line and the protagonists explaining their thoughts/feelings/secrets left little, if anything, to the imagination.
Yarnell also skipped over a lot of the actual investigation part of the plot. Every few chapters there would be a reveal – either someone would admit to something or there would be some expository dialogue – that felt more like an info dump to move the plot along in between bouts of Vera and Beau opining about their pasts and their feelings for each other.
This – combined with sheer volume and the use of often crass/demeaning language – led to a lot of the discussions of sexual abuse seeming gratuitous. Yes, the plot involves the Beau and Vera trying to save Marie from the same sex slavery operation that Vera endured. You wouldn’t be able to tell that story without at least mentioning that sexual abuse takes place, but it sometimes seems like that’s all there is to this book. This is only made worse by Beau’s backstory and character development including rape as well. He has to work on his feelings toward his murdered girlfriend in order to begin a relationship with Vera. But this girlfriend wasn’t just murdered, she was raped and murdered, which just makes the mentions of sexual abuse/assault all that more frequent. It would be one thing if it felt like all of it contributed to the story or any significant character development. Instead, it just feels like adding terrible things to make the story feel ‘gritty’ and ‘dark’ for the sake of being ‘gritty’ and ‘dark.’
There’s also the issue of insta-lust and, as mentioned earlier, the resulting insta-trust. Vera, a survivor of sexual slavery who mentions multiple times how much she distrusts men, knows from the moment that they meet that Beau is Different and Not-Like-Other-Men. Beau figures out that Vera is lying about her identity and is constantly blindsided by relevant information that she doesn’t tell him, but he knows he can trust her because he has “a pretty accurate bullshit detector.” Vera carries a gun on her because she’s afraid of her past catching up to her and Beau’s response is: “This isn’t the life she chose, it was forced on her, but by whom or what? I remind myself that the answers to those questions don’t matter.” What? Beau, you’ve met her once for maybe an hour, tops. How is that a reasonable response for someone who you are not just working for, but also romantically interested in? One’s past might not define who they are, but I wouldn’t recommend getting into a relationship where your partner thinks their life is in danger without figuring out what’s going on.
In the end, the ridiculousness of the insta-lust plot line makes for a strange combination with the repetitive dark imagery. Having characters tell their stories and describe how screwed up they are – and they both do this multiple times – only goes so far. When that doesn’t translate into how they actually act, when their insta-lust completely overrides their supposed self-preservation instincts, it tends to negate any impact the horrible backstory could have.
Overall, the more I think about the novel the more frustrated I am with it. Generally, one of the best compliments I give media of any stripe is that I wish I could forget it entirely, so that I can experience it for the first time again. When it comes to Atone, I wish I could forget it entirely and then never pick it up.
Hold on to your seats, as this visual thrill-ride takes you beyond the average world of poorly-piped productions, and into a snowy scene where silvery footprints lead you through a filigree-framed trompe l'oeil forest:
It’s time for Romance Wanderlust, the column in which I find yet more reasons to leave my everyday cares behind and visit romantic locales instead. I haven’t been to any of these locations, so this is neither an endorsement nor a review – just daydreaming with the help of the Internet.
For those of us who love Victorian literature, there’s a new reason to head to England. Norton Conyers is finally re-opened to the public (for tours, not to stay in, alas). Its bookish claim to fame is that Charlotte Bronte based Thornfield Hall on this building. The claim was significantly bolstered when homeowners found a blocked staircase leading to a sparsely furnished room in the attic, which was not suspicious at all, no, sirree.
The first recorded owner of Norton Conyers was Richard Norton. He and his family supported Mary Queen of Scots and took part in a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. The Rebellion failed, and Norton’s fate appears uncertain. According to tudorplace.com he fled to Flanders and died in exile. According to genuki.org.uk, he was executed.
In any case, the house passed on to the Musgraves and then, in 1624, to the Graham family. It has remained with the Graham family almost continuously since then.
When the current baronet and his wife, Sir James and Lady Graham took ownership of the house, they decided to renovate and restore it. They had to fight a horrible infestation of deathwatch beetles, which certainly sounds as gothic as possible. They had to replace all the roofs and deal with centuries of garbage that builders had thrown under the house. The found crisp, unfaded wallpaper behind layers of plaster, and in 2004 they found the staircase that led to the secret room. Lady Graham was not, initially thrilled, since this meant she’d have to clean out a whole new room!
Charlotte Bronte visited Norton Conyers in 1839. At that time, it was already a historic site. During her visit, she was told that once upon a time, there was a madwoman who lived in the attic of the house. She loved the house, and used it as a model for Thornfield, including the plot device of a madwoman in the attic.
Today, guests can tour the house and see the secret stairs, although they are still too rickety to go up. The library has been decorated to look like Mr. Rochester’s study. You can have a wedding and/or reception in the 18th Century gardens, although preventing exposure of secret past and current marriages is completely up to you and your significant other.
To be honest, even though I adore Jane Eyre to the extent of slight fanaticism, I’m not sure this house is romantic so much as it’s beautiful and fascinating. Jane doesn’t have a happy ending at Thornfield. For her, Thornfield is a home, but also a place of mystery, a place where she has a broken heart, and a place of nightmares, blood, and fire. For Rochester, it’s a place where he’s tormented by fear, and for Bertha, it’s a place of imprisonment. By the time Thornfield burns down, it’s a relief.
Of course, if there’s an oak tree, which I can neither confirm nor deny, and I can talk my husband into making Rochester’s proposal speech, my feelings about the romantic elements of this house will alter dramatically. In the meantime, I’d love to see the gardens, the study, and the secret stairs, not to mention the rest of the house. It’s about a ninety-minute drive from the Bronte Museum and Parsonage, and would fit so very well with the trip of my dreams (a Bronte/Austen England trip, followed by Scotland). Since that trip isn’t coming any time soon, I’ll just look at more photos of the house while I wait.
Note: The opening times are limited (only a few weekends per year), payment is cash-only due to the unreliable rural internet, and only flat shoes (to protect the floors) are allowed. For more info, check out the house’s website.
You can also read more about the house at Telegraphe UK here and here.
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by JahnaviS. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.
Chloe Carmichael’s life feels pretty sweet—she’s both maid of honor and florist for her best friend’s A-list wedding, things are getting serious with her boyfriend, and her flower shop is about to get a spread in a national magazine. But it all quickly turns sour whenever the best man, Bad Habit drummer A.J. Edwards, shows his face…his handsome, unforgettable face. A.J. is everything Chloe doesn’t want: tattooed, selfish, and all-around bad news. So why can’t she stop thinking about him?
Goody two-shoes Chloe isn’t exactly A.J.’s type, either, but the chemistry between them is undeniable. A.J. will be the first to say he isn’t a saint, but there’s something he’s not saying—something that would devastate Chloe. The only way he can protect her is to push her away, but the drummer finds he needs her now more than ever. When a wedding-day confrontation reveals secrets they’re both hiding, will Chloe and A.J. ever find their rhythm again?
Here is JahnaviS's review:
I started 2017 with the purpose of experiencing new things, places and even authors thus chose this book from RITA review list.
While reading this book I was in major dilemma about my personal two beliefs.
“Don’t quit just as the going gets tough” and “Life is too short to read depressing books.”
Okay, so this one is verbatim Susan Elizabeth Philip (SEP) quote which I wholeheartedly agree. This book just didn’t do anything for me, hence all hail to SEP’s guidance chucked this shitty book aside. If anyone is interested in reading the brief version of what the hell to expect in this book, do refer to what SBTB has posted. I won’t be repeating all that [and] instead will be giving you my rant on hero, heroine, and heavy handed manipulation with the reader.
Let’s begin …Heroine would get teary eyed at any and mostly everything the hero would say or not say. She looks into his eyes and sees some storms, pain and what not and here I am, 27 years old who has yet to experience this kind of soul-sucking eye gazing. This girl was all kinds of stupid whom but the book tried vehemently to portray [her] as an independent thinking girl. She clearly wasn’t thinking north of her vagina otherwise wouldn’t have entertained the stalkerish crap the guy pulled with her. Just realised writing this that I have completely forgotten what her name was… let me check and get back to you gals and guys.
Chloe Carmichael – believe me I had to check it on Goodreads as I can’t make myself look at one word of this book ever again. How this girl could walk upright with no spine is a mystery to me which sadly will remain that only. He would hurt her, be closed off and she would go right after him lapping up any crumbs thrown her way. Ugghhh this is the worst kind of heroine in my opinion.
Hero is A.J. Edwards (courtesy Goodreads) who is in some band which [the] reader is to believe is famous but they haven’t practiced or did any band related activities whatsoever till 59% of the book. This guy was a piece of work, total kindergarten “I like you so I am gonna pretend hating you at every time we meet.” He basically stalked her every night for straight up a week, kept [having] penetrative sex with the girl as hostage – just some garden variety of mind fucks. Reason for his assholery is explained later in the book which I have gleamed from the spoilers community.
I will be giving spoilers below but all I can say is the book used every dirty trick in the book with this one. Chloe had a boyfriend initially in the book that went from nice to domestic abuser just so that A.J.’s desires to cohabitate with her can be justified. On this point I’d like to say when this said domestic abuse happened with Chloe her father was all too ok with leaving her in the care of a random stranger whom his doped up daughter said was all right. Her father also turns out to be some low key gangster back in his hey days, makes me question his motives further for leaving own banged up kid in A.J.’s hands. There are so many WTF is happening instances in this book that I lost track of them.
Spoilers galore ahead… TURN AWAY!
A.J. has brain tumour so all his anti hero behaviour and general asshole-ness is justified as he is trying to protect Chloe while basically mindfucking the emotional crap out of her. His mother was a sex worker back in Russia hence his affinity towards them in early pages of book. Apparently he killed two boys and one of his friends who was sex worker (she convinced him to kill her then burn her body and the brothel so that the madame wouldn’t force her dead body to be used by paying men), eventually found his way to the U.S. where a preacher and his wife found him and took him in.
This guy [had] every damn sorrow filled storyline possible making it just too much. Chloe also becomes pregnant which may or may not be the reason why they end up together after all the drama lama at the end.
I will not be recommending this book to anyone ever, [and] my experience with this new author has been horrible. If I could afford to hurl my kindle at a wall I would have done it [but] alas [I] had to be satisfied by deleting it from my library. If you are brave enough to feel emotionally exhausted and take in all the bad telenovela drama then this book might be for you.
Thanks to SBTB for hosting guest reviews, this was fun and painful experience all tied together.
P. S. I had chocolate pastries just to feel good after deciding to quit reading.
Make Me Sin by J. T. Geissinger received a B+ in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by PamG. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.
Can the fully paid-up pansy make things right with the pink-tipped hipster?
A Spires Story
Alfie Bell is . . . fine. He’s got a six-figure salary, a penthouse in Canary Wharf, the car he swore he’d buy when he was eighteen, and a bunch of fancy London friends.
It’s rough, though, going back to South Shields now that they all know he’s a fully paid-up pansy. It’s the last place he’s expecting to pull. But Fen’s gorgeous, with his pink-tipped hair and hipster glasses, full of the sort of courage Alfie’s never had. It should be a one-night thing, but Alfie hasn’t met anyone like Fen before.
Except he has. At school, when Alfie was everything he was supposed to be, and Fen was the stubborn little gay boy who wouldn’t keep his head down. And now it’s a proper mess: Fen might have slept with Alfie, but he’ll probably never forgive him, and Fen’s got all this other stuff going on anyway, with his mam and her flower shop and the life he left down south.
Alfie just wants to make it right. But how can he, when all they’ve got in common is the nowhere town they both ran away from.
Here is PamG.'s review:
This year, I was early enough to choose a couple of my favorite authors for the RITA Reader Challenge (yay!), but I also wanted at least one new-to-me author to read and review. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I chose Pansies solely because I thought the title was pretty and different. I’d never heard of the author or The Spires series, and I had no idea that it was a m/m romance. Not even the title pun—uh—penetrated. I’ve only read a couple of m/m romances; I enjoyed them, but it’s not a subgenre that I gravitate to. The blurb sounded pretty interesting though, so I figured it was time to venture into unfamiliar waters. Also, I do love pansies.
The first thing that struck me about Pansies was the sheer beauty of the prose. The novel opens with a prologue that at first seems only peripherally related to the developing plot. The language is lovely, evocative and extremely visual. This tiny vignette is so delicately drawn, that the opening of Chapter One seems almost crude by contrast yet the author never loses control of his language. Pansies is set in England, and it is steeped in a powerful sense of place. One of the things that really worked for me is that Hall’s England is not limited to London or to cottages and manors in quaint rural villages. Instead most of the novel is set in the industrial north-east. The people who populate this countryside are solid working class souls. Descriptions are both earthy and vivid without being the least bit purple. Every once in a while a line would simply blew me away.
It was too overcast for stars, so the world was a strip of artificial light, squashed between two shifting darks
You can taste the ocean salt in the air and see the light on dark water. You can also see the down-at-heel structures of a less than luxurious community. However, dialect is also one of the tools used to establish that sense of place, and I found it kind of heavy handed. I understand why it was used, and I suppose it worked, but it’s not my cup of tea. In spite of that, Hall is a helluva writer, and that is not the last time you will hear that from me.
Pansies is the story of Alfie Bell who’s only been out of the closet for a couple of years and who is having trouble reconciling his fondness for men with the regular guy he expects himself to be. Alfie is home for his best mate’s wedding where he manages to accidentally come out to the entire wedding party in extremely explicit language. This episode is funny though not as cringingly awful as it could have been. Awkward and rather painful though the revelation is, it’s not really that big a surprise to anyone present. Alfie eventually wanders away from the wedding, climbs into his extremely esoteric and expensive sports car (TVR Sagaris—according to Wikipedia, “The car’s name comes from the sagaris, the Greek name of a battle-axe used by the Scythians, which was feared for its ability to penetrate the armor of their enemies.”). Alfie feels alienated on his home ground not only by his sexuality, but also by his “southern-ness” and his economic status. Once ensconced in the peen-mobile, Alfie takes his moody self for a drive and then to a local bar. He is described as kind of a bruiser, big and fit under his elegant clothes, and, once in the bar, he finds himself attracted to a slender stranger with longish, pink tipped hair and glasses. Initially, his uncomfortable overtures are fiercely rejected, but the stranger, who introduces himself as Fen, goes back to Alfie’s hotel room and they have an intense one night stand. The following spoiler happens fairly early in the story so I don’t know if it’s such a big reveal.
Unfortunately, Fen is not truly a stranger, but rather the gay kid that Alfie spent six years bullying when they were at school. More on this later.
The main narrative is told in conventional third person, past tense, from Alfie’s point of view, and Alfie, as he repeatedly tries to establish, is a regular guy. Still the descriptions of his hometown vary from affectionately awkward to simply moving. Alfie first reveals his personality through his observations and his conversations with family and friends. Even his tentative approach to Fen and Fen’s furious response are seamlessly integrated with the narrative. As they negotiate the terms of their one night stand, Alphie admits that he’s unprepared, but willing to correct the situation. (Rough language, ahoy!)
“I can go out?” he offered hopelessly. “The big Asda is 24/7, right?”
God, what would he look like? Running in there half-dressed at eight o’clock at night to buy extra strong condoms and a tub of lube.
That was Daily Mail gay.
But if he had to do it, he had to do it. He wanted that tight, angry note out of Fen’s voice.
Wanted his secrets. The softness in him. Everything his body gave.
Fen took his hands away from his face, blinking slightly owlishly, his eyes flat and green through a haze of glass and gold. “You’re going to drive to the nearest superstore for condoms? All because I want you to fuck me?”
Alfie grinned. “I’ll pick you up a box of Milk Tray while I’m there.”
And that, right there, is why I kind of adore Alfie. He screws up over and over again, but he just keeps soldiering on, trying to get it right, trying to make amends for the past and find his place in the future. Somehow, he’s funny as hell without being either a complete fool or reverting to his adolescent nastiness. Whether he’s kneeling in Fen’s grotty bathroom offering his head for a swirly, hanging out with both his ex-girlfriend and his ex-boyfriend in a London bar, or trying to explain himself to a mother who loves him but can’t wrap her head around his sexuality, Alfie is a wonderfully complex and engaging character. Hall handles humor with the same delicate and effective touch that he applies to ambiance and character building, and his mastery of both clever and touching dialogue is just sterling
The author uses an interesting but limited technique to convey Fen’s point of view. The chapters are interspersed with occasional letters from Fen to his mother, an invisible presence whose whereabouts are an unknown at the beginning of the novel. In these letters, he pours his heart out to this person who may not even exist. The letters provide a fascinating counterpoint to Alfie’s more rough and ready point of view as well as an insight into Fen’s deeper feelings. Not that the portrait of Fen is truly incomplete; he speaks for himself very effectively indeed.
In spite of the letters, I had a hard time empathizing with Fen. He had absolutely legitimate reasons to hate Alfie’s guts, and he had a backstory drenched in grief, but his personality seems far less nuanced than bluff Alfie’s. Fen is supposed to be feisty and fearless, but he’s too heavily into the drama for my taste. He sometimes comes across as rather stereotyped. The latter may be due to the fact that we see him through Alfie’s eyes and Alfie does tend to stereotype to the point where Fen accuses him, quite fairly, of being homophobic.
One of the things I found particularly interesting about this novel is how conventional the romance is. Alfie is big and imposing yet rough around the edges, and he’s been an absolute douche-nozzle to Fen. Fen is delicate yet strong, defiant in the face of Alfie’s past brutality and his present cluelessness. At the outset, they appear to be natural enemies, but of course the attraction is off the charts. Alfie has all the material things and all the financial success; Fen struggles economically–rich guy and failing shop owner. There is this whole King Cophetua element so common to the billionaire trope. Alfie is solid and kind of stolid; Fen, fiery and emotional. There is the meet (not so) cute, the instalust, the one night stand, the unrequited childhood crush—all stuff we’ve seen before. I’ve even read romance that deals explicitly with a former bully hero and his past victim heroine. One thing both books absolutely have in common is that bully and victim do not remember the same past. This is fascinating to me, because that completely jibes with my own experience. I find bullying a painful topic but with his mad writing skills, Hall paints an accurate but not simplistic picture. He takes familiar tropes and sculpts them into something original and kind of wonderful.
I have mixed feelings about the sexual content in romance novels. I don’t mind crudity and I don’t care about “hotness,” because that’s subjective anyway. The one thing I do loathe is being bored. Purple prose doesn’t bother me because it’s purple; it bothers me because it’s usually code and that’s lazy. Same goes with vulgar language or special vocabulary or recognizable patterns for the various sexual encounters in a story. Insert routine sex scenes according to some mysterious formula, and I’ll be skipping around the text a lot. To me, the ideal sex scene is unique and totally derived from character. Make it integral to the lovers and their surroundings, and you’ll have my attention. Convince me that these two characters are experiencing an intensely emotional encounter that no other character, ever, has experienced, and I’m yours for life. In my opinion, Courtney Milan does this very well, as does Ruthie Knox, among others. Alexis Hall also has this gift. Alfie and Fen’s first encounter is incendiary as well as highly angsty, but you couldn’t switch them out for any other lovers anywhere and as a result their interaction feels incredibly real. There is a LOT of very explicit sex in this book—hate sex, make-up sex, irresistible sex, tender sex—much more than I’m generally comfortable with. In this case I thought too much of it was used as an instant fix to difficult situations. There was a point in mid-book where I was going “Not again! Will this never end?” Alfie would stick his foot in his mouth. Fen would give Alfie what for. And shazam! Sex! (Too often where words might have been better.)
There is no doubt that the conflict in Pansies is way bigger than the typical Big Mis. Alfie was entirely horrible, and there were no secret tragedies to justify it. Alfie not only doesn’t recognize Fen (formerly known as James) when he meets him. He is actually unaware of how thoroughly he and his posse wrecked Fen’s adolescence. Once he does realize how much at fault he is, he doesn’t make excuses and he does try to apologize and pay for his past sins. Fen, on the other hand, hated, admired, envied, and lusted after Alfie in equal measure when they were kids. Only as an adult can he possibly find the clarity to recognize what Alfie could be to him.
One major theme that I absolutely love is the recognition that “I’m sorry” can never erase the ugly past. Whatever injustice or unkindness you commit are yours forever. Even restitution cannot undo the heinous deed. Understanding this simple fact and making it clear catalyzes character growth amazingly. Groveling is practically demanded by this plot line, but I kind of hate groveling because I think it’s counterproductive. All the offender can do is acknowledge the fault, make what restitution is possible, and focus on becoming his or her best self. There is no guarantee of forgiveness; power is transferred to the victim. Romances that refuse to deal with this complexity irritate me almost as much as the ones that make the “L” word the ultimate test of (usually) a man’s devotion. Anybody can say “I love you” or “I’m sorry.” Don’t make it true.
On the other side of this conundrum is recognizing that forgiveness is for the forgiver far more than the forgiven. We hear “Blah blah blah closure. Blah blah blah peace with the past.” all the time, but it’s often reduced to some sort of revenge fantasy. Fact is, there is no peace without forgiveness, especially if one must remain in close proximity to the offender. You can kick the clown to the curb and stomp on his/her small bones and hate him/her forevah, but you can’t have a healthy relationship with someone who is hanging on the hook of your fury all the time you’re together.
I apologize for all the above philosophizing, but it does have a bearing on how I graded this book. By most standards, Pansies rates a solid A, but I have to make it an A-, because I couldn’t quite believe in the HEA. The passion between Alfie and Fen is utterly convincing as are the ways in which they learn to support each other. Throughout most of the book Fen comes across as a pretty volatile guy. Though I believed in his love for Alfie, I couldn’t quite believe in his fundamental kindness or trust him not to trot out the You Bullied Me card in order to win some future argument. And there’s that hook. . . So, HFN, sure. HEA, not so much. Therefore, A-. (I know, big deal, right?)
Pansies by Alexis Hall received a B- in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.
Uh oh, it’s Whatcha Reading time! This is the post where we talk about what we’ve been reading and try desperately not to send our TBR piles into epic proportions. We also get to kvetch a little bit about our reading struggles. Gird your loins, or rather book budget, accordingly!
Sarah: I’m in a new place reading -wise. I’ve read 5 books on vacation and am now reading the same book as Adam, at the same time. I bought him Midnight Riot ( A | BN | K | G | iB ) and now we are both reading it. Plus we have long flights so we will probably have to buy book 2 before we get on the plane.
Amanda: I’m going through an unexpected personal clusterfuck. Usually, at the end of the day, I have just enough time for an hour of cross stitching & crying (sounds like a new YouTube channel I should start). I’m torn between wanting to read something fluffy or something that’ll give me an outlet for my anger. But, I am so pleased to see that Book of the Month club (I’m a member) had Final Girls as one of this month’s selections. I’ve been anticipating it for months and I mentioned it on July’s Hide Your Wallet.
Redheadedgirl: I just finished Simona Ahrnstedt’s Falling (I’m so annoyed with the English titles of her books, a straight translation of the Swedish titles would have been fine!) and loved it and now desperately need the next one.
I’m sort of flitting around but my life was pretty bonkers for a while up until today, so I’m going to start the book I mentioned in Hide Your Wallet about ballet dancers in Paris, Under the Parisian Sky ( A | BN | K | G | iB ).
ALSO I just got the ARC for The Half-Drowned King by Linnea Hartsuyker ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), which I have been waiting very patiently for for MONTHS. It’s about Viking-era Norway, so you know. Relevant to my interests.
Elyse: I just started The Red by Tiffany Reisz. It’s an erotic novel that ties into art history
Amanda: How is it so far? Or too early to tell, Elyse?
Elyse: Super good but not for all readers. Reisz pushes the envelope
Redheadedgirl: Oh good, I was meaning to grab that one, too.
Sarah: I finished the first Aaronovich and started the second, Moon Over Soho ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). In this one, I’m a little unimpressed with Peter’s lack of self awareness and am a little frustrated with the portrayal of some of the women in the series. But I’m still charmed I’m going to keep going through this one, for sure.
But I am still going.
Amanda: Well that’s a bit of a bummer.
Sarah: It’s still incredibly engaging and very funny. I do want to smack Peter in this one though.
Carrie: I just finished Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren ( A | BN | K | iB ) and I am about to start Lethal Lies by Rebecca Zanetti ( A | BN | K | G | iB ).
What have you been reading this month? Anything good? We sure hope so! But, if not, let us know your frustrations in the comments.
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!
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by HeatherMac. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.
A broken truck, a broken career, and a breakup heard around the world land superstar John Tennessee McCord in Hellcat Canyon. Legend has it that hearts come in two colors there: gold or black. And that you can find whatever you’re looking for, whether it’s love . . . or trouble. JT may have found both in waitress Britt Langley.
His looks might cause whiplash and weak knees, but Britt sees past JT’s rough edge and sexy drawl to a person a lot like her: in need of the kind of comfort best given hot and quick, with clothes off and the lights out.
Her wit is sharp but her eyes and heart—not to mention the rest of her—are soft, and JT is falling hard. But Britt has a secret as dark as the hills, and JT’s past is poised to invade their present. It’s up to the people of Hellcat Canyon to help make sure their future includes a happily ever after.
Here is HeatherMac's review:
This book was so charming.
Hamster wrapped in a blanket eating a carrot charming.
Smart and funny with adorable visual descriptions, intense chemistry, and fizzy sparkling prose. It should be at the tippy top of your summer reading pile.
The main characters are drawn to each other first through their clever vocabularies. It is a book about smart people who think about things and enjoy witty banter, my ultimate catnip. Naturally, they are also your standard pretty people: perky blonde former cheerleader and tall dark and movie star handsome, blah blah blah, but I can’t hold it against them. The prose and the inner dialogues for the characters were so delightful, it seemed to want to be read it out loud. Not that I would do that. I’m an introvert covertly reading romance on a Kindle, hoping my blush doesn’t give me away. I laughed out loud often enough that it would have been embarrassing on a bus or airplane, but it was refreshing and enjoyable, and I would have braved it if necessary.
I devoured Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series last summer like courses in one enormous gluttonous feast, back to back to back. Is there a better place to be than three books in to a funny, clever, and romantic eleven book series?
Anyway, the details of the individual books are hazy, but I remembered being charmed and absorbed enough to ignore my family for a couple weeks of summer vacation (grunting and feed yourself motions in their general direction), so I jumped at the chance to review her first foray into contemporary fiction. Also, I had read the preview for Hot in Hellcat Canyon at the back of one of the Pennyroyal Green series before realizing it hadn’t been published yet. Patience is not my best virtue, so I try to avoid the “here’s a taste, now wait a year” previews. Maddening. It was worth the wait, though, and the perfect romance for me- light, and funny with swoon worthy chemistry.
Britt is healing from some stuff (trigger warning for descriptions of abuse, though all in the past with no active peril) in the small town of Hellcat Canyon in California hill country. This town and its inhabitants are a delightful character all their own. She is cobbling together a living by waitressing at the Misty Cat Cavern (adorable name story, btw) and working for a property management company, but she seems content. Skypes often with her sister and nephew, has a lovely friendship with her next-door neighbor, and good set of bosses and co-workers at the bar where she works, and a fat cat named Phillip. She is just starting to get back to drawing again, which seems to be the biggest sign she is recovering from her situation. She is a bargain hunter, furniture refinisher, a crafter, and a healer of discarded and failing house plants. She isn’t well off, but she seems comfortable in her own skin and the life she has built for herself.
John Tennessee McCord is a famous television actor dabbling in movies, and scouting the location for an upcoming series on the gold rush in the area when his beloved and oft repaired pickup truck starts making funny noises right outside Hellcat Canyon. He stops into the Misty Cat, and hilarity and romance ensue. The secondary characters are all great, and I feel like there was something to laugh at on almost every page. There is Googling (as you do with celebrities showing up in your town), reading, and house renovation, and what starts for Britt as a decided fling, morphs into something much more without it ever being discussed.
This was my only real problem with this book: for such a well-spoken pair, they were crap at communicating about their relationship, (also the wonder at their fabulous vocabularies read a teeny tiny bit condescending the second time I read it…) but we had to have a conflict, right? JT’s ex happens to be wildly successful (decorating bus benches and billboards in town) but also insecure and needy, and when she shows up in town (thanks to paparazzi photos of JT and Britt on a date and sunbathing), Britt’s skittishness and emotional damage makes an inconvenient appearance.
Britt’s stubborn refusal to speak to JT about anything once his (very famous) ex-girlfriend arrives in town is both confusing and maddening, but I do love that her friends and sister call her on her stubborn pride interfering with her happiness. Also, the ex is a stone-cold bitch; vicious and villainous. There are prideful hurt feelings on both sides preventing honest communications, and so Britt and JT part ways before coming to their own separate realizations about the value and gravity their fling has come to have for them both. There is some adorable vandalism, a heartfelt wedding toast, and some hot sexytimes (often in creative places).
There is also no birth control or discussion of birth control in this book, which only struck me as odd because it seems to be the norm these days. There is also a super fun Susan Elizabeth Phillips shout out that has JT reading a bit of one of her books when he switches e-readers with Britt so she can read some Malcom Gladwell. JT is an autodidact, and I loved that he was so dedicated to learning new and different things. By far as sexy as floppy hair and ripped abs.
I also love that both of them are so dedicated to repair and rescue. It is super refreshing to read about a heroine’s pride in a great deal at Walmart in the face of a fancy person like JT’s ex. There’s even a second book in the series already published, which I shall buy directly after finishing this review.
Go forth read, it is the perfect sparkling light summer book, adorable and sweet.
Hot in Hellcat Canyon by Julie Anne Long received a B+ in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.