Sunday, April 19, 2015

Wendy Blathering At Other Places

I was out of commission last week thanks to the yearly visit from The Parents - but that doesn't mean I've been entirely quiet.
  • Next up, Kim over at the SOS Aloha blog dug up this "lost interview" I did with her way back in 2010 in honor of National Library Week.  Kim is super-duper nice, does a lot of great work with military families (being a military spouse herself!) and is hosting a giveaway in conjunction with this interview - so head on over and leave a comment for your chance to win some goodies.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TBR Challenge 2015: What Happens In Vegas....

The Book: Double Down by Katie Porter

The Particulars: Contemporary Erotic Romance, Samhain, 2012, Book #1 in series, Available in both digital and print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Katie Porter is the writing team of Carrie Lofty and Lorelie Brown.  I'd never read Brown before, but I generally really enjoy Lofty's work - so I picked this one up at an RWA conference (uh, 2013?).  Plus I was intrigued behind the idea of the series, and that the authors were willing to explore a big bag of kinky tricks (in other words, not all BDSM all the time - praise Jeebus!)

The Review: I love erotic romance, but dude - it's got issues.  No genre fiction is immune to what I call trend chasing (see: The Da Vinci Code, Harry Potter, Twilight....), but erotic romance seems to fall really fast and hard into that particular pit.  The minute Fifty Shades became "a thing" we've been subjected to an endless stream of BDSM.  And sex clubs.  And red rooms of pain.  And a mountain of Angst-O-Rama-Jama that not even Sir Edmund Hillary could climb.  Now long time readers of this blog will be all like, "Seriously Wendy?  You of all people are poo-poo'ing angst?!"  I know, right?  I love me some angst.  But it has literally been running amok, totally unchecked, in erotic romance.  So it's kind of nice to read one that, by and large, falls into the "fun" category.  Sometimes the fun gets in the way of, oh, conflict - but hey.  There's promise here.

Major Ryan "Fang" Haverty is an honest-to-goodness fighter pilot.  Stationed at Nellis, he flies like the enemy in order to train Allied pilots.  He's kind of a big deal.  But Ryan has a deep, dark, naughty secret and all it takes to unlock it is a pair hot legs in seamed stockings.  Our boy Ryan?  Loves to role-play in the bedroom.  You know, naughty patient and authoritative nurse, out-of-town businessman and high priced call girl, yada yada yada.

The hot legs in seamed stockings belong to Cassandra Whitman, part-time waitress, part-time art gallery worker, and part-time tour guide at her parents' business.  She made the mistake of dipping her pen in the company ink, and her boss at the restaurant is her ex.  Ryan is eating dinner there when stuff happens, sparks fly, and they run out into the night to have some fun Sin City style.

What follows is Ryan and Cass getting to know each other, having fun, and having a grand ol' naughty time getting naked together.  It's....nice.  And to be honest?  Kind of boring.  Because while it is fun and sexy - there's not a whole lot in the way of conflict.  What is keeping these two from riding off into the sunset together?  Mostly Ryan's Poor White Trailer Trash Meets I Must Be A Pervert baggage.  See, Ryan is pretty hung up on the whole getting his rocks off by role-playing thing.  Which - I don't know - doesn't seem that big a deal to me.  Especially since Cass is a willing and enthusiastic participant.  There is no hesitation with this girl.  She's, like, all in.

It's pleasant, but to be frank - I never got that reader sense of urgency of OMG I Must Quit My Job So I Can Spend All Day Reading This Book!  It needed....something.  Which seems a bit two-faced of me since I just complained about all the angst floating around in erotic romance of late.  But this story went a little too far in the opposite direction.

That is, until the ending.  The ending is great.  Because by that point Ryan admits his deep dark secret fear that he's a sicko pervert and Cass ends up blasting him with both barrels.  The Black Moment in our story is really very well done.  It just takes a couple hundred pages for us to get to it - hence, my issues with the story.

I'm left feeling a bit lukewarm.  I loved that the authors explored a kink outside of the usual bag of erotic romance tricks, I liked the characters, I loved the set-up to the series.  It just was missing a decent shot of adrenaline.  But it was sexy and fun and I thought it ended on a really positive note.  So probably a good thing I have the next two books in the series waiting for me.  I'm up for a return visit.

Final Grade = C+

Friday, April 10, 2015

Reminder: TBR Challenge For April

For those of you participating in the 2015 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, April 15.  This month's theme is Contemporary.  So, contemporary romance.  That should give most of us a wide open playing field.  However, remember - the themes are totally optional and are not required.  Maybe you spurn contemporaries and will let go of your historicals when they're pried from your cold, dead hands.  Hey, that's fine!  Remember, 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.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Audiobook Round-Up: Getting My History Groove Thang On
One thing I've been trying to get better about is audiobooks: listening to them, keeping track of what I "read," and rating them.  I seem to have this mental block against romance audiobooks (I just can't deal with someone reading me a sex scene out loud), so it's also a good way for me to keep up with books published outside my usual genre of choice.

Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye is the second book in her historical mystery series featuring New York City police officer Timothy Wilde.  I listened to the first book last year and enjoyed it enough to include it in my Best of 2014 round-up.  But this book?  This book was ahhhh-mazing.  The premise is essentially 12 Years a Slave-ish.  Free blacks in the city are being accused of being runaway slaves, are kidnapped, and then shipped back south.  Timothy gets roped in when a beautiful (and married) free black woman, Lucy Adams, comes home from her job at a flower shop to discover her young son and her sister have been taken.  Complicating issues?  Timothy's brother, Valentine, and his various Democratic party, Tammany Hall political connections, and Lucy's very white husband.

This is one of those series that I think I would enjoy in print, but dude - the audio productions?  Words cannot express how amazing the first two audiobooks have been for me.  Steven Boyer narrates and he's Jim Dale/Harry Potter good.  Seriously.  That good.  So that's probably colored my enjoyment of the series somewhat.  The story by itself?  Is very good.  I did have one quibble - in that Timothy was sometimes unnecessarily dense (for what I felt) as a way for the author to educate the reader on the lack of civil rights among the free black population in the 1840s.  But, quibble.  Brother Valentine continues to be a reprobate with one foot hovering over his own grave (drugs, booze, women.....and men), but Lord help me - I loved him.  I loved the twisted brotherly relationship, Timothy's relationship with his landlady, the reappearance of many players from the first book (so yeah, book two doesn't stand alone entirely well), and all the political shenanigans. 

These are dark, dark books, so probably not for everybody.  But the historical detail, the immersion in the world that the author has created, the dynamite audio narration?  The third (and final?) book can't get here quick enough.

PS: Dear Hollywood, someone buy the rights to this series.  It would make a killer TV series, like on HBO or something.  Surely Martin Scorsese isn't too busy?

Grade = A
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a book that her publisher was promoting fairly heavy to librarians at last year's ALA conference.  I took an ARC, and of course, neglected it - but decided it was the kind of thing I'd like to try on audio.  This was totally a second half book for me, and I'm glad I stuck with it.

Opening in 1939, it tells the story of two sisters - steady, quiet Vianne and impulsive, rash Isabelle.  The girls have baggage (a dead mother, a neglectful father haunted by WWI) and their relationship is strained.  Then the Nazis show up, occupy the majority of France, and everything changes.  Vianne's husband goes to the front, and she is left to care for her daughter, Sophie, by herself - all while having to billet a Nazi officer in her home.  Isabelle, ever rash and impulsive, throws her lot in with the French Resistance.

It took me a while to warm up to these characters.  Isabelle comes off as a little girl playing dress up for a long time (Look at me! I'm serious! I want to be remembered! LOVE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) while Vianne is trusting to a fault (to be fair to her, I had the benefit of hindsight).  Sometimes the language got a bit flowery (and repetitive) for me, and there's a huge, whopping amount of Insta-Love going on between Isabelle and a fellow Resistance fighter, Gaetan. I just had to get to the turning point - which is Isabelle growing up, Vianne quietly fighting her own war, and the ending.  I was a crying, sobbing mess while driving my car down the freeway during the last couple of CDs.

It's a war book, so basically it's one huge trigger warning.  But it's women's fiction written in a way that I find intriguing.  There's a line at the end of the book, spoken by one of the characters many years later that is essentially, "Men tell stories, women get on with it."  And that's what happens to Isabelle and Vianne.  They fought the war in ways that only women could fight it, and changed the course of history - their own, and the world's.  If you're part of a book club?  This is one to consider.

Oh, and the film rights have already been optioned.

Final Grade = B+

Friday, April 3, 2015

Tigers Meet Harlequin: Someone To Come Home To

The Hero: J.D. Martinez

What You Need To Know: Julio Daniel Martinez grew up a Florida Marlins fan and was a two-time All-Sunshine State Conference player during his three years of college ball at Nova Southeastern University.  He was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 20th round of the 2009 draft and in 2012 he was the first player ever to hit a homerun in the garish nightmare that is the Marlin's new ballpark.  After a mediocre career in Houston, they released him outright.  So long, farewell.  On the recommendation of new Detroit Tiger's third base coach Dave Clark, formerly of the Astro's coaching staff, the Tigers signed J.D. to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training.  He didn't see a ton of playing time and was optioned to Triple AAA Toledo and that's when things got interesting.

In 17 games for the Toledo Mud Hens, J.D. posted 10 homeruns, with 22 runs-batted-in (RBIs). When a guy is hitting like that in AAA?  Your hand is forced.  J.D. was called up to Detroit and played his first game with the big club on April 21.  He's been a mainstay in the outfield ever since. He finished the season with a .315 batting average, 23 homeruns, and 76 RBIs.  Meanwhile, Houston went 70-92 finishing fourth place in their division.

His Baggage: J.D.'s story isn't all that uncommon.  Guy breaks into majors.  Guy is mediocre and gets shuffled back and forth between minors and big club.  Guy gets cut in favor of shiny new prospects.  Except what the smart guys do is that they take their "change of scenery" and do something with it.  J.D. knew that if he wanted to keep playing baseball he was going to have to change....everything.  And the first step was his swing, which he completely altered.  He worked out with a friend in California, he fine-tuned the swing while playing winter ball in Venezuela, and once he was in Toledo, seeing regular playing time, he didn't miss "his pitch."  For his part, Martinez holds no ill will towards Houston and is thankful they cut him outright.  In his words, "they could have buried me in AAA."

Proposed Category Romance Plot: Houston is over.  Houston is dead to him.  The veterans had always told him, baseball is a business and only the superstars get to feel settled in one place for any stretch of time.  He didn't listen, had started to build a life for himself and now?  That life is over.  He's not ready to give up baseball and that means he's going to have to go chasing that dream far away from the home, the life, he was starting to make for himself in Houston.  A hard pill to swallow when he looks into the eyes of a certain pretty woman and her 6-year-old son.

The Heroine: She knew it was stupid to fall in love with a baseball player, but she couldn't seem to help herself.  In the sort of outing they can rarely afford, she took her son to his first baseball game last year and after he ran the bases after the game, he wanted to wait in the parking lot and try to meet some of the players.  When he met J.D. he was awe-struck and she found herself dazzled by the handsome ballplayer.  It has been a slow, steady courtship.  He travels a lot, she's worried about protecting her son's heart, even as she's beginning to lose hers.  And now he's leaving.  Off to chase his baseball dream and that means leaving her behind.  He says it won't change anything.  That he loves her, and wants to be with her.  But after years of regret, of being badly burned by her ex, she's not sure she can take the risk of believing every word this man says to her - no matter how much she wants to.

What Category Romance Line?: Home, family, love?  We've got another Tigers Meet Harlequin first time appearance folks - Harlequin Heartwarming!  J.D. has his work cut out for him.  I sure hope his heroine will be willing to take that leap of faith....

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Tigers Meet Harlequin: The Texan's Redemption

The Hero: Ian Kinsler

What You Need To Know: Ian Kinsler might be the most determined (or most stubborn) hero to land on the Tigers Meet Harlequin squad.  Drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school, Kinsler declined his 29th pick status feeling he wasn't ready for big-time baseball. The problem was that no Division I schools recruited him.

After a year at Central Arizona College, he was recruited by Arizona State, he transferred and then found himself thrown over for Dustin Pedroia.  Frustrated, he caught the eye of the coach at the University of Missouri, where he posted a .335 batting average and 16 steals on 17 attempts.  In the 2003 draft Kinsler fell all the way to the 17th round where, after being convinced by their area scout, he was drafted by the Texas Rangers.  That scout knew something a lot of other scouts didn't - which was Kinsler had been playing on a stress fracture in his foot the previous season at Missouri.  Kinsler proceeded to make his presence known to Rangers fans, a three time American League All-Star at second base, he hit for the cycle (single, double, triple, homerun in the same game) and joined the 30-30 club (30 stolen bases, 30 homeruns) twice (2009 and 2011) and he currently holds the record for the Ranger's in stolen bases (172).

In 2014, in a trade that rocked, well, everybody - Detroit sent Tigers Meet Harlequin fan favorite, Prince Fielder and a boat load of cash to Texas in exchange for Kinsler.

The Baggage: Let's just say that Kinsler wasn't all that pleased with Texas in the end.  Things seem to have started to go south after they traded Michael Young (a rock star for the team) to the Phillies in 2012.  Then they requested that Kinsler move to first base to open up second base for hot prospect Jurickson Profar, which Kinsler declined.  Not thrilled with the changing dynamic in the clubhouse or the front office, the straw broke the camel's back when Kinsler found out he'd been traded to Detroit not by the team GM....but by a Dallas sports radio personality.  Ouch.

Prior to the start of Kinsler's first season in Detroit, he gave an interview in ESPN The Magazine and got his money's worth, calling the Rangers GM "a sleazeball" and saying he hoped the Rangers went 0-162 that season.  There was also a whole lot of talk on who "won" in the blockbuster deal with Detroit.  In the end?  Detroit.  So far at least, as poor Prince had to have season ending surgery on a herniated disk in his neck and ravaged by a slew of other injuries the Rangers went 67-95 in 2014.  Kinsler was once again an All-Star, although Detroit got their butts handed to them by the Baltimore Orioles in the postseason.

Proposed Category Romance Plot:  They say you can't go home again, and in his case they just might be right.  Upset and frustrated with the way he left the state of Texas and the former team he gave a lot of great years too, he's back.  The boos that rained down on him when his new team visited Texas last season were a pretty good indication that he'd burned a few bridges on his way out of town.  But after many years of remission, his mother's cancer is back.  Which means more chemo for a woman who isn't a spring chicken anymore.  So he's coming home to help take care of her, and will just learn to ignore everybody in town giving him dirty looks.  What he didn't plan on was the fact that his high school sweetheart is also back in town.  Oh dear Lord, please don't let her hate him.

The Heroine: They dated in high school, were homecoming king and queen, and if this were a storybook he would have opened a feed store in town and she would be teaching kindergarten.  But that's not what happened.  He left to chase dreams of baseball and not eager to stay in a town where she'd constantly be seeing his ghost, she left for New York to chase dreams of dancing on a Broadway stage.  She chased those dreams, did her best to avoid Yankee Stadium when Ian's teams were in town playing, and had some minor successes.  If you count appearing in a few off-off-Broadway productions and getting a gig in a chorus line for a major show that closed after one week "successful."  Burnt out, and with no desire to resort to doing soft-porn, she heads home to Texas.  Mom and Dad aren't getting any younger and they need help scraping by on what's left of the family farm.  It won't be so bad.  She's been over Ian for years now.  She's moved on.  And then she ends up literally running into him in the meat department at Thompson's Market.  Saints deliver her!

What Category Romance Line?:  That's right folks!  Making it's first appearance in the Tigers Meet Harlequin universe, I give you......Harlequin American Romance! OK, so Kinsler is from Arizona and not Texas, but hey - he played for the Rangers for a long time.  I say close enough!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tigers Meet Harlequin: The Woman He Couldn't Forget

The Hero: Yoenis Cespedes

What You Need To Know: In 2011, after some serious bidding for his five-tool services, to the shock of everybody (OK, maybe just me?) Cespedes landed with the Oakland Athletics.  Billy Beane obviously found some extra coin under the sofa cushions and Cespedes' career in Oakland, which began in 2012, was highlighted by winning back-to-back Home Run Derbys and a slew of sick outfield assists.

Then in 2014 Billy Beane decided to push all of his chips in and, in a blockbuster deal to land pitcher Jon Lester, Cespedes was sent back to Boston.  In the off-season, in need of pitching help and frankly with a crowded outfield, Boston sent Cespedes packing to Detroit for former Tigers Meet Harlequin All-Star, Rick Porcello.

His Baggage: He's Cuban and defected with ten of his family members in the summer of 2011.  Getting out of Cuba is never a picnic, but after establishing residency in the Dominican Republic, he was able to declare himself a "free agent," that's when the Oakland contract came through, and the trouble began.  Now signed with Oakland, Cespedes was able to secure a visa but his family members were on their own with theirs.  Complicating matters, Cespedes and his agent got in a wee tiff over how much money said agent should be receiving from the Oakland contract. Fearing the agent would use them as leverage, the family took off - afraid of being deported back to Cuba.  You can read all about their struggle to get to the US in this San Francisco Chronicle article.  12 months later, the family was finally reunited in the United States.

Proposed Category Romance Plot:  He's in the United States, he's playing baseball, he just cannot remember how he got there.  He remembers leaving Cuba.  He remembers making a shady deal with equally shady characters.  What he doesn't remember is the journey to Arizona or what happened to his family.  The team doctors have declared him physically healthy and ready to go, but fear that his mind will crack under the pressure.  So they send him to a specialist who deals in post-traumatic stress and repressed memories.  Hoping she's as smart as she is pretty, his fears are soon realized.  Because the smart doctor has started to unlock some answers to the questions he's been asking himself for months - and now some very bad men are looking to silence them both.....permanently.

The Heroine: She's spent her whole life trying to convince people that the pretty package contains actual brains.  After her father came home from the Gulf War, a changed man, she was determined to help people just like him - people who had suffered from trauma that left them mentally, although possibly not physically, scarred.  She's worked with countless crime victims, veterans, and first responders.  A baseball player is a new one for her, and even though she finds him attractive and interesting, her ethics keep her firmly at arm's length - until they're thrown together when dangerous men storm into her office one quiet, sunny afternoon.  Running for their lives, sharing close quarters, and trying to unlock the secrets of his mind finds her succumbing to an attraction she knows she needs to deny.

What Category Romance Line?:  Amnesia! Wendy finally cooked up an amnesia plot!  So for that reason I'm skipping the Intrigue line and going with the longer word count in the Harlequin Romantic Suspense universe.  Oh Cespedes - bad men, hired goons, a missing family, and a sexy doctor?  Baseball is so much easier.