Sunday, November 29, 2015

Warrior of Ice
After detours with Vikings and Regency misses who design corsets, Michelle Willingham is back with a new medieval new duet.  I like the Vikings and the Regencies, but have to be honest - her Irish medievals are some of my favorites and Warrior of Ice is loosely tied to her long-running MacEgan Brothers series.  I settled in for what I expected to be a good, solid read, and that's exactly what I got.

Lady Taryn survived an attack as a child that left her with physical scars on her face and body.  This being medieval Ireland, many feel she is "marked" or "cursed" and needless to say suitors have not been plentiful.  This is just fine by her and her father hasn't pressed the issue.  She carries herself as a Lady should, but her self-esteem is essentially non-existent.  She has resigned herself to the fate that nobody will ever look past her scars or want her.  She is unworthy.  Then her father is accused of being a traitor and taken prisoner by the High King.  Her mother loathes the man, and has washed her hands of him.  But Taryn cannot just let him die.  She needs to find a way to gain an audience with the High King and beg for her father's life.  To this end she decides to throw herself at the mercy of the man's betrothed.

What Taryn doesn't know is that the High King's betrothed, Lady Carice, is basically on her deathbed.  However her time too, is running out.  The High King's men have shown up with orders to drag Carice to the wedding, by her hair if necessary.  Killian MacDubh cannot let that happen.  Born a bastard, it is rumored that the High King is his father.  Everyone knows the man's reputation, Carice is petrified, and Killian will not throw the one person who has ever been decent to him to the wolves.  So he promises her that he will help her escape.  Then, like manna from heaven, Taryn shows up and a plan is concocted.  Of course it all goes completely off the rails, but not before Taryn and Killian find themselves falling in love.

If this sounds a little convoluted that's because it kind of is.  To be honest it took me a few chapters to find my sea legs with this one.  But once Taryn and Killian meet, and once they begin their travels together (yippee - road romance!), the story settles in at a nice clip.  Carice sticks around long enough to set the stage for the follow-up book in this duet (Warrior of Fire), and then she's dispatched off-page and we're devoted to nothing but Taryn and Killian traveling together and trying very hard to not succumb to temptation.

This story is billed as a Beauty and the Beast tale.  Killian is the breathtakingly handsome "beauty," while Taryn's scars and low self-esteem make her the prickly "beast."  On a superficial level, at any rate.  What makes this romance work is that Taryn and Killian both think they are totally unworthy of the other one - albeit for completely different reasons.  Killian is a bastard - back in a time when being a bastard meant you might as well be Satan.  Sure he's hot and manly and is a great fighter.  But he's a bastard.  Taryn is a Lady.  Which makes her so far out of his league that she might as well be on the moon.  Taryn is a Lady, yes - but living with her scars has not been easy.  She has a certain amount of protection because of "who she is" - but this is a girl who actually had suitors turn away in disgust because certainly she'd pass those scars on to her demon off-spring.  I mean, of course!

The story moves along at a good clip, although the middle sags a wee bit and the ending, while exciting and fast-paced is a bit too fast-paced.  I also wasn't completely in love with how some of the secondary storylines wrapped up.  The whole business between Taryn, her father and her mother was too Rosy Mary Sunshine for me (I get it, this is a romance and the author was likely wanting to tie things up in a pretty bow - but would it have been so wrong for Taryn to have her moment in the sun and RAGE at her parents?).  Also Killian's relationship with the head of the clan that raised him.  I get it - Killian is a bastard.  He's going to get treated like horse dung.  But Carice's father treats Killian in a manner that smacks of "vendetta" - and none of that is really explained.  Yes, he's a bastard - but really, the man is pretty awful to him.

Willingham has tied this book into the MacEgan Brother series, but it's basically a stand-alone.  The MacEgan's play a role in this story, but they don't dominate it - and timeline-wise it probably falls somewhere around Her Irish Warrior (Connor and Trahern aren't married yet).  I've hop-scotched around Willingham's Irish medieval world, not reading books in order, and kept up just fine.  A good, solid, entertaining read that delivered what I've come to expect from this author.

Final Grade = B

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mini-Reviews: The Meh Strikes Back
I want to start off this latest round of mini-reviews with the disclaimer that my reading mood is all over the place right now.  Now, I know me.  I suspect if I was in the best of reading moods I'd likely still have had a similar reaction to both of these books - but given that I seem to be in the extreme minority with one (if not both) of them - well, I figure it's worth the disclaimer.

Mini-Review #1: The Truth About Him by Molly O'Keefe

The Meh: OK, so I really, really liked the first book in this duet (Everything I Left Unsaid) and given that it ended on a cliffhanger, it was pretty much a guarantee I was going to dive into this follow-up book immediately afterward.  I didn't dive so much as slog.  You know how sometimes you get hooked into a series and inevitably there's an entry where you find yourself feeling "full up" with the characters?  Yeah, that.  And this was only book two.

The stuff I loved in the first book just didn't carry over to this one (for me at any rate - every other review I'd seen for this has been SQUEEEE!).  Annie's innocence and naivety were totally understandable in book one, but in book two I was just over it.  Given the stuff that goes down at the end of book one and the beginning of book two?  I started thinking of this as Poor Little Innocent Good Girl Rescue Me Schtick.  Also, what I really loved about the first book was that it was a blend of erotic romance, suspense and women's fiction.  With this second book - way too much time spent on the erotic romance.  In fact I found every single sex scene in this book to essentially be filler.  As in, blah blah blah don't care get back to the good stuff.  What I wanted was much more of the "personal relationship stuff" between Annie, Dylan and all the secondary characters.  Dylan's father.  Dylan's brother.  The residents of the trailer park.  Joan.  DEAR GOD I WANT ALL JOAN ALL THE TIME!!!!

I finally found a reading groove in the final third of the book when the suspense kicks up and the author spends more time putting Annie and Dylan on page with the secondary characters - but the ending kinda ticked me off.  Yes, Dylan and Annie ride off into the sunset - but every other secondary character (save one) is left twisting in the breeze.  Also the epilogue takes place three years into the future, so some stuff was "told" to the reader after the fact, which I found very frustrating.  Especially given how invested I became in the secondary players.  I wanted to read that stuff in "real time, on page" and not have the author tell me what happened after the fact.  No idea if O'Keefe plans to revisit this world in future books, but frankly I'm glad to leave Annie and Dylan to their happy ending and move on.  But if she revisits the world?  Especially if she writes about Joan?!  Shut up and take my money.

Final Grade = C+
Mini-Review #2: Finders Keepers by Stephen King

The Meh: Earlier this year I listened to the first book in this trilogy, Mr. Mercedes, and enjoyed it tremendously.  I had some quibbles (mostly repetition and pacing issues) but by the end of the book I had bitten off all my fingernails and was thinking about taking up chain-smoking.  There were some minor twinges of horror, but essentially King had written a bang-up thriller and totally deserved his Edgar Award.  So it was inevitable I would listen to Finders Keepers, the second book and....meh.

The set-up here is pretty good.  In 1978 a whack-a-doodle breaks into the country home of a reclusive writer (think JD Salinger) with some compatriots.  His partners just want the rumored cash the old guy keeps on hand but our villain is after the rumored unpublished writings.  Bingo bango - author dead, compatriots dead, but before our villain can spend the money or read the stolen unpublished writings?  He's sent to prison for another crime entirely.  He buried his loot before he got nabbed however, and it's eventually found by a young teenage boy whose father was badly injured during the events of Mr. Mercedes.  He uses the money to help his family, but keeps (and reads) the notebooks for himself.  Everything is going along swimmingly until our bad, bad man gets paroled.

As good as the set-up is, the pacing is a real issue.  Remember those great characters we meet in Mr. Mercedes?  Bill, Jerome, and Holly?  Yeah, they don't even show up until halfway through this book.  Prior to that it's all set-up.  Then once we finally get to the "cat and mouse" portion of the story?  It lacks all the urgency of the previous book.  With Mr. Mercedes I couldn't wait to start my commute to and from work so I could listen to more.  With this book?  I pretty much listened because I had it in the car and wanted to return it to the library on time. 

The teaser for the third book also doesn't inspire much hope.  Half the fun of Mr. Mercedes and the concept of this trilogy in general is that King was writing suspense.  A crime novel.  A thriller.  In other words he was doing something a little different.  But the teaser for book three pretty much goes whole hog into supernatural territory and....meh.  Look, I'll likely listen to it because at this point I feel like I want to finish the trilogy - plus more Bill, Holly and Jerome.  But supernatural woo-woo?  Meh.

Final Grade = C

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sign-Up Now: #TBRChallenge 2016

Sign-up now for your chance to participate in the 2016 TBR Challenge! 

What is the TBR Challenge?  Once a month participants pulls a long-neglected book out of their TBR (To-Be-Read) piles, read it, and provide "commentary" on that book on the 3rd Wednesday of the month.

Commentary on your chosen read can happen anywhere online: your blog, Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads etc.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1) Dear Lord, you're going to make us do homework?  Yes.  Honestly, it's fun.  For participants of the challenge (and those who just follow along), the 3rd Wednesday of the month is a guarantee day of "book talk."  And, you know, older books - not the latest, greatest thing that's been promo'd half to death the past several weeks.

2) Dear Lord, you have themes?!  Yes.  I took over hosting this challenge in 2011 and the idea of themes came with it.  Some participants like the themes (which I try to keep broad) to help them focus when faced with the insurmountable crush of their TBRs.  However, the themes are optional!  The goal of this challenge is to read something (anything!) out of your TBR.  If you don't like the theme(s) - don't follow it.

3) So do I win anything if I complete the challenge?  Yes. Personal satisfaction.  I like to keep this challenge stress-free, so if you skip a month, post your commentary late (or early), go off theme etc. - the TBR Police will not be showing up at your door.

Great!  How do I sign up?

1) Leave a comment on this blog post, e-mail me or hit me up on Twitter.  I need whatever name you post under and a link to where you'll be posting your commentary.  So, for example: Wendy, The Misadventures of Super Librarian.  There will be a dedicated page on this blog (see sidebar) where I will post your links so interested observers can follow along.

Commentary "due dates" and themes for next year are below.

January 19 - We Love Short Shorts! (category romance, short stories, novella etc.)
February 16 - Series Catch-Up (a book from a series you are behind on)
March 16 - Recommended Read (a book that was recommended to you)
April 20 - Contemporary
May 18 - Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance etc.)
June 15 - Favorite Trope (a favorite theme - amnesia? secret baby? fairy tale? friends-to-lovers? etc.)
July 20 - Award Nominee or Winner (links to past RITA finalists and winners TBA)
August 17 - Kicking It Old School (publication date 10 years or older)
September 21 - Random Pick (a built-in off-theme month - go where your mood takes you!)
October 19 - Paranormal or Romantic Suspense
November 16 - Historical
December 21 - Holiday Themes

I hope to see a lot of returning folks for next year's challenge.  If you're a newbie and still contemplating, here's a link to all of my commentary from 2015 to help give you a general idea.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#TBRChallenge 2015: Glitterland
The Book: Glitterland by Alexis Hall

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, M/M, Riptide Publishing, 2013, In Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Sarah Lyons (Riptide's Editorial Director) pressed a print copy of this book into my hands at an RWA conference (um, Atlanta 2013?) and  said something along the lines of "I know you don't read a lot of m/m but you must read this."  Or something like that.  In true Wendy fashion I had every intention of reading it back then and....yeah.  Then the book came out, it got a TON of attention, the hype happened and then....the dissenting voices.  Being less than a newb to m/m (at that time) I just didn't have the energy to wade into the fray.  Plus - hype.  It freaks me out.

The Review: Ash Winters is a writer - something of a literary wunderkind, although his last book was a crime novel (it was well received by the by).  He's also clinically depressed, suffers from bipolar disorder, has spent time committed in a hospital, and has tried to kill himself.  So yeah.  Ash has issues.  He also has friends, although his relationships have been complicated by his mental illness.  To that end he has forced himself to attend a stag party at a local club for one of said friends when he meets Darian Taylor who is so far the opposite of Ash it's almost absurd.  Darian is from Essex, with his orange spray tan and aspirations to be a model.  Ash starts to think of him as a "glitter pirate."  Lots of flash, seemingly little substance, but holy hell - he wants him.  Just looking at him Ash wants him.  And for reasons that escape just about everybody - bubbly, positive Darian seems to want Ash.

What we have here is your basic opposites attract romance.  Ash is the guy who lives in his own head, consumed by his illness.  Just about everything in Ash's life is a struggle.  There's a scene where Darian shanghaies Ash into making a grocery store run and to watch Ash struggle with this, for what is for most of us totally mundane, task is heartbreaking and exhausting. 

As much as Ash is in his own head, Darian is the guy you want to be BFFs with.  It's not that he's stupid or simple or even superficial.  There's depth to Darian, he just doesn't wear it on his sleeve.  Darian is all about taking care of his beloved nan, his friends, fashion, fun; he's the model of positive living.  It's not that Darian never gets sad or upset or even angry - he just doesn't waste needless energy on letting those things weigh him down.

Parts of this story are quite funny, in a dorky book nerd sort of way.  Ash has a new book out that's doing well so he decides to call his agent, Amy.
I rang Amy, so she could congratulate me and I could congratulate her and to confirm my attendance at the proposed readings, signings, and interviews.  And possibly the Edinburgh International Book Festival next year, an occasion I thoroughly despised.  I always seemed to get stuck next to the new Martin Amis.  As if the old one wasn't bad enough.
Yeah, I'm a librarian - but seriously, I laughed until I fell out of my chair after reading that.

The most emotionally touching parts of this story, for me, came at the end.  Inevitably (because, like duh) Ash ends up stepping in it big time with Darian.  I mean rips his heart out, stomps on it for a while, and then shoves it back into his bare hands.  Which means we, dear readers, get a grovel scene.  A really, really good one.  Because after Ash screws up (and boy, does he screw up!), he has to admit some hard truths to himself and when he finally does?  Will he be too late to win back Darian?

But, alas, I did have some quibbles.  Like I mentioned, Ash is a writer, words are his life, and boy howdy does our guy get wordy (yep, first person point-of-view).  This story is very, very wordy in parts.  I started imagining the author gazing at a Post-It note stuck to his computer monitor that read: If 5 words are good, 20 words are better.  Sometimes this wordiness is great, lyrical even, and the prose melts your heart.  Other times?  It could have been dialed back a notch from exhausting.

Also there's the small matter of our Essex boy, Darian.  Vernacular folks, we haz it.  Darian has problems with the letter T and he hasn't met an H he couldn't drop.  For example, instead of "thanks," we're reading "fanks."  Instead of "think," we get "fink."  Honestly it takes a while to get used to and like all dialogue written in the vernacular (Scottish historical romance authors, I be lookin' at you...), it can be hard to pick up a flow or rhythm to reading those sections.  I liked the story and really liked the romance despite this writing choice - but I could easily understand some readers getting highly annoyed and throwing up their hands.

Quibbles aside, I really enjoyed this story quite a bit.  It didn't pass my OMG Must Reread This Someday test, but it's still a good solid read and I loved the romance.  As a character study it flipped most of my switches, and as a romance it hit most of my favorite sweet spots.  Sarah was right - I had to read this.  I'm kinda sorry now I didn't sooner.

Final Grade = B+

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for November

For those of you participating in the 2015 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, November 18.  This month's theme is It's All About the Hype.  That book you bought because everybody was talking about it.  That book that was inescapable for what seemed like weeks on end.  That book that you shoved into the dark corner of your TBR because the hype ended up freaking you out (OK, maybe that's just my hang-up).  But what if you're a lone wolf? You don't buy into any stinkin' hype!  You're your own person dagnabit! Hey, no problem!  Remember - the themes are totally optional and are not required.  It's not about the themes but reading something (anything!) out of your TBR.

For more information, or just to follow along with all the participants - check out the 2015 TBR Challenge Information Page.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, H&H, Bond, and Books

My knee-jerk reaction during times of great tragedy is to go dark on social media.  1) Because I never know what to say 2) Even if I thought I knew what to say there's always the chance I'll step in it and say the absolute wrong thing and 3) This is all assuming that any words I would say would be of any use to anybody dealing with a horrific tragedy like what has unfolded in the past couple of days in the cities of Beirut and Paris.

My solution is to stay positive, stay upbeat, and blog about something happy like love and romance novels.  And to leave you with these thoughts: positivity never hurt anybody.  Be good to each other Romancelandia peeps.  Hug your loved ones a little tighter, and don't let a wasted moment go by where you can kiss them, tell them how important they are to you, how life is a little better, a little easier, a little brighter, because you have each other. 


I have a new post up over at Heroes & Heartbreakers, and surprise, surprise - it's about historical romance.  What would I love to see more of in historical romances?  Head on over and read Please Madam, May I Have Some More? to find out.


You know how everyone on the Interwebs is losing their damn minds over the new Star Wars movie?  Yeah, that was me with Spectre, the latest James Bond / Daniel Craig offering, which I finally saw yesterday.

Final verdict: It wasn't terrible, but I was underwhelmed.  Probably a B- underwhelmed.  Here's my review in bullet points:

  • I miss Judi Dench. A lot. Craig / Fiennes just don't have the same chemistry.

  • Monica Belluci is criminally underutilized.

  • There needed to be buckets more Craig / Waltz on screen together. 

  • I never cared for the Moneypenny character in the old movies but love how they've rewritten her in the new movies.

  • The opening sequence. Mexico City during Día de Muertos = inspired.  Horrible blue screen during helicopter sequence = really, really not good.  They couldn't have thrown some more money at that to make the blue screen look less obvious?

  • I think I liked it better than Quantum of Solace, but nowhere near the caliber of Casino Royale or Skyfall.  QoS grew on me after I rewatched it - I'm hoping Spectre follows the same pattern.

We had repairmen in the Bat Cave this week that required me to move my book case.  This required taking books off said book case, which in turn led to me doing a massive sort and weed as I was putting things to right after the repairmen left.

Stating the obvious, good golly I have a ton of books.  Between an addiction to used bookstores, library sales, and the multitude of books I get at conferences - it's no wonder I have TBR anxiety.  I finally admitted some hard truths to myself and got rid of things I know I'd never read.  Yes, you may be one of my favorite authors but I'm just not going to read your paranormals.  I read so few single title contemporaries, why did I pick this one up again?  Cutesy sounding historicals - that ship has sailed.  And on and on I went.  I didn't count, but I think I easily ended up weeding out a couple of hundred (did I stutter?).  Now it's just a matter of stealing boxes from work, taking them in to work, and finding them new homes.  Hopefully somewhere they won't be neglected.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

This, That, The Other

As you can tell by the lack of activity, my life has been somewhat nutty of late.  The Too-Long-Didn't-Read Version = Work, Work, School, Work, Sleep, Exhausted, School, Work, Work.  Also my reading as slowed down to....what's slower than a snail?  A dead snail?  Yeah, that slow.  So, what's going on besides me whining?  Well, stuff.


Hey, did you know I still post a monthly Unusual Historicals column over at Heroes & Heartbreakers?  Here's the latest one featuring October titles.  Go forth!  Find something good to read!


Way back in May I was asked to do a webinar, geared towards librarians, on the romance genre - and now it's been posted online. So that explains why the "upcoming releases" section is kind of dated now.  Anyway, it's there.  Not sure it will be of much interest to romance readers as again - geared towards librarians - but if you want to know why I don't think LGBT or Multicultural are separate sub genres, it's kind of illuminating.  I guess.  Maybe.  OK, maybe not.

Also, yes - I use the dreaded BR word.  I know I just did a post railing against the adoption of the word "smut" by authors and readers, but I'm surprisingly cool with "bodice ripper" when it's used correctly (which it rarely is).  To me it describes a very specific moment in genre history and a very specific "type" of historical.  And since I whipped out the BR word when taking about genre history?  Yeah, well - that explains that.  But folks disagree with me on usage of the dreaded term in even this limited context and to each her own. 


This is old news that I didn't blog about at the time because, see opening paragraph - but Dear Author/Jane Litte and Ellora's Cave have settled the defamation suit that's been dragging on in the Ohio courts for the past year.  After my initial post I haven't blogged about this - mostly because I didn't feel comfortable enough with all the legal mumbo-jumbo to do so.  Others have blogged throughout however, and for a recap of the settlement (as much as there can be a recap) - I'll direct you to this post at Dierdre Saoirse Moen's blog.

So what does this mean?  We'll likely never know because - you know - settlement.  Here's the positive: I'm happy for Jane (and her family) that the suit is over and I hope she's happy with whatever terms the settlement laid out.

What I'm disappointed about?  That so many authors are still left twisting in the breeze.  It was probably unrealistic to think that this lawsuit would somehow generate satisfaction for them (also, I think it was unfair to expect Jane to fall on that particular sword), but that doesn't mean there wasn't some hope.  What does this mean for them?  Who knows at this point.  But I think it's going to get messier before it gets better and frankly that's no good for anybody (including readers).

I'm also disappointed that the settlement has reactivated troll activity (avoid at all costs people) and that my own feelings regarding the online romance community have taken a hit during this whole affair.  Little Miss Crabby Pants hasn't been this vocal well....ever.  And I don't know if that's because I've changed (is it possible - have I gotten THAT much older and crotchety-er?), my wee corner of the community has changed, or I was simply naïve before and had my tiny bubble of optimism popped?  Maybe all of the above.

What does this mean for me moving forward?  God, I don't know.  I'm going to do my best to focus on books, finding my reading mojo, talking about books, and trying not to get sucked into drama.  Which is hard - because typically I only wade in when I get pushed over the edge.  People, y'all need to stop pushing me over the edge. 

So for me it's head down, back to work, and trying to find some sort of reading mojo.  Oh where, oh where could it be?