Saturday, March 17, 2018

Review: All the Beautiful Girls

I think I first heard about All the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church from the All About Romance review, which was glowing.  After a string of lackluster audio listens, I downloaded this from work hoping for the best and found a book that puts the P in Problematic.  This will likely be a review where some of you will think I'm making mountains out of mole hills, which leaves me no recourse.  Yep, brace yourselves kiddies, it's full steam ahead on Spoiler-Rama-Jama.


When Lily Decker is 8-years-old her parents and big sister are killed in a car accident.  Lily, asleep in the back seat, survives.  She goes to live with her Mom's sister and her husband.  Her Aunt Tate is stern and cold, her Uncle Miles is a child molester.  It doesn't take him long to start coming into Lily's room at night.  Naturally, this doesn't have a positive effect on Lily who starts cutting herself.  While none of these scenes are written in what I would classify as a graphic manner, there's enough on the page here to be upsetting.

Lily develops a love of dance and thanks to a benefactor begins taking dance lessons in her tiny Kansas town where her beauty stands out in a crowd.  Big fish, little pond.  This benefactor is a man she calls The Aviator, the guy who was driving the other car involved in the accident that killed her parents and sister.  Lily worships this guy for the whole book.

Let's recap so far.  Lily's parents and sister are killed in an accident, she goes to live with a cold fish aunt and an uncle who molests her and the man who was also part of the same accident gets off scot-free in her mind to the point of hero worship.  I'm calling BS on this folks.  I'm sorry, I just am.  The accident completely and irrevocably changes the trajectory of Lily's life, not for the better, and she never feels one iota of anger at the man who walked away from the accident that left her entire family dead and her at the mercy of a damn child molester.  Yeah, no. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200.

Anyway, time marches on, Lily graduates high school and heads to Las Vegas to become a dancer - which is when she's met with another cold, hard dose of reality.  But a fellow traveler on the same Greyhound bus introduces Lily (now going by the name Ruby Wilde) to his daughter who works at one of the casinos.  Eventually, and after much reluctance, Ruby takes her magnificent body and becomes a showgirl.  Silver pasties and all.

This is Vegas in the mid-to-late 1960s, a fairy tale playground of glitz and glamour far away from Vietnam, smelly hippies and the Civil Rights Movement.  This middle portion of the book was actually really interesting, as Lily makes her way up the ranks, meets some of her idols (Sammy Davis Jr.! Tom Jones!) and is well compensated in her work.

But then, it all hits a major speed bump with the introduction of an abusive boyfriend.  Here's the thing: this book is Very White.  Not entirely shocking.  Lily/Ruby is from small town Kansas and showgirls in Vegas during this period couldn't exactly be confused with the Rainbow Coalition.  So it's a huge slap in the face when the abusive boyfriend turns out to be a Spaniard named Javier, complete with heavy accent and broken English.  And of course Ruby is attracted to him immediately because he's SO different from everyone else she's ever known (forgive me, I honestly can't recall if the word "exotic" was used or not) and his accent is a turn on.

So, if you're keeping track, there's two brown people in this book.  One, is Sammy Davis Jr. - who basically has a walk-on role.  The other?  A guy who swoops in like a Latin lover and starts abusing our heroine.  In Vegas.  In a town that is literally floating in mobsters during this era the author decides to import someone brown (I'm sorry, making him European doesn't make this any less appalling) to fill out our villainous role.  I found it jarring folks.  Really, really jarring.

Eventually Javier is dispatched with, Ruby reconnects with The Aviator and then the whole thing descends into idealistic happy sunshine territory.  Oh, Javier?  Once he's off the page, he's literally off the page.  There's no closure there.  At all.  Well Lily gets closure because The Aviator gives her a psychology book to read and suddenly it all makes so much sense to her (because OF COURSE it does).  Insert eyeroll here.  But that's it.  She reads a book.  Whether Javier gets his comeuppance or not is left to be a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

Oh, and I'm going to spoil it because I was super worried about this - no, Lily/Ruby never hooks up with The Aviator.  Given what has to be an over 20-year age difference, I was super worried about this going into the story.  Oddly enough, it turns out that was the least of my worries.  Because in the epilogue-like chapter?  We find out Lily has entered into a relationship with a nice man named Simon with curly blonde hair who treats her right.  Oh, and there was the astronaut she has an affair with in Vegas who treats her well.  So the men who treat Lily well in this book?  White dudes.  The abusive a-hole?  The brown guy who speaks broken English.  Seriously the more I think about it the more I get annoyed.

I'm not going to give this an F.  Why?  Because other than the narrator reading Javier's character with a horrible accent, I found the audio version engaging and I liked the relationship depicted between Lily/Ruby and her girlfriends.  It kept me listening.  Which, given my recent string of listening/reads feels like an achievement.  But yeah.  Problematic.  This is really, really problematic.

Final Grade = D

Friday, March 16, 2018

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for March

Hey, hey, hey!  For those of you participating in the 2018 #TBRChallenge, a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, March 21.  The theme this month is Sugar or Spice (closed door romance or spicy romance)

This is a theme all about options - and so very me (another theme to suffer through because Wendy likes it!).  I like my romance on both ends of the spectrum - from the super steamy to the closed door variety. 

So follow your muse this month and go where your mood takes you!


1) If you're participating via social media, remember to use the #TBRChallenge hashtag


2) It is not too late to sign-up!  You can get further details and links to all the blogs participating on the 2018 TBR Challenge Information Page.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Auntie Wendy's Unsolicited Advice To Romancelandia

Wow.  So it's been an interesting few days in Romancelandia, as those of you on Twitter and other social media platforms are most likely aware.  For those of you who aren't, here's what's been going on the past few days:

1) Accusations of catfishing by author Santino Hassell.  I'll be honest and say I'm still (at least) 85% confused by this entire story.  And the more I try to unravel it?  The more confused I get.  What I do know?  Even the scratching of the surface I've done, the whole thing is really skeevy - and that's all I feel comfortable saying without doing a major deep dive into the details.  This Goodreads thread is the least confusing of the accounts I've encountered.  I'm hesitant to hash it out in any more detail than that because see above.  I haven't done a deep dive into all the various threads, accusations and accounts.

2) Accusations have been made against Sarah Lyons and Riptide Publishing.  Lyons has resigned and Riptide has issued a statement.  I'm still processing this.  I've known Sarah for many years, we follow each other on Facebook and Twitter, and I routinely interact with her when I see her at conferences.  I have friends who have published with Riptide.  This one hits closer to home for me than the SH stuff and I'll be frank: I'm still processing.

Which leads me to this blog post.  Don't worry.  I'm not going to vomit my feelings all over this blog, but I have some things to say and I think maybe some of you may want to hear them.  If not?  No harm, no foul.

Even when fandoms support giant industries (romance publishing, comic/graphic novel publishing etc.), they're still insular.  Why?  Because fandoms, by their very nature, imply an Us Against The World mentality.  It's the Ride Or Die Philosophy.  The "normals" don't "get" me so I'm going to find a tribe of people who do "get" me and hang on by my fingernails.  Because of this, we expect to feel safe in our fandoms.  We don't want to believe that people within our fandoms could possibly suck.  And that's the rub...

Fandoms are full of people and people can suck.  And when you're blind-sided by sucky people within your tribe that you considered your safe space?  The betrayal cuts that much deeper.  It just does.

This blog post isn't about me taking sides.  What it is about is to say to everyone hurting right now, I hear you.  Romancelandia hears you.  So I want to give something back to my wee corner of the community.  That corner of the community that I glommed on to back when I started this blog back in 2003: the reviewers, readers and fellow bloggers.

Handling news like this is never easy.  However I want to share one thing I've learned in the 19 years I've been reviewing romance novels and the 15 years I've been blogging - and this is me, so yes, you know I'm going to phrase it in cliches:

What hill do you want to die on?

I've been around a long time folks.  I've seen all manner of kerfuffles.  From the minor, quaint ones  to the major, people are really hurt, this is really skeevy ones.  At the end of the day, you need to live with you.  No matter what you decide, some will think you're making the right decision and some will think you're beyond the pale.  And over the years?  I've had to make those choices for myself and how I decide to conduct the business of this blog.  I haven't always publicized these choices.  I read the stories, I saw the news, I made my decision(s) that best fit me and this blog.  Admittedly easier to do since this is my blog and I'm a one woman operation.

Is this blacklisting?  No.  Let's be brutally honest, my tiny blog is not going to bankrupt anybody just because I don't promo a certain author or book on it.  This blog also isn't much of a money-making venture.  I make some pennies on Amazon affiliate links but trust me when I say it barely fills up the gas tank in my car a few times a year.  No, these are choices I make so I can sleep at night.  Because I, personally, think it's the right thing to do.  And that, as a blogger, reader or reviewer, is what you need to do.  Find your line in the sand.

Now, the unpleasant reality: once you find your hill realize that some people will think you're not taking a hard enough stance and others will think you're making mountains out of mole-hills.  There will be those that will agree with your hill and those that will think your hill is garbage.  You may lose people you consider friends.  They'll stop reading your blog, following you on Twitter etc.  You may have to accept the fact that that author whose books you once loved?  Well, it's time to break up with them because you know things now that you didn't know then and OMG this is like the literal worst.  

It blows and it's not easy.  Which is why you find your line in the sand.  Take comfort in it and know you're making the right decision for you.  I've been lucky.  There's only been a few dust-ups in Romancelandia over the years that I felt compelled to look at my line in the sand and take stock.  There are authors I choose to not promote anymore.  Publishers I couldn't cough up free publicity for (no matter how minuscule my blog audience) because of business practices I found troublesome.  Blogs and bloggers I stopped following because a bridge crossed was one too far for me, personally.  Nobody is immune to this - yes, even me.  I'm sure there are folks out there that have muted, unfollowed me and think I'm full of more manure than a pig farm.  Of course I am sorry for that - but I was a hill they didn't want to die on.  And Romancelandia, for all the good and ill, needs to be a space where people can find their joy.  I've always hesitated to offer a unilateral explanation of WHY people love romance, but I think we can all agree that one very big reason is because they're deriving some sort of joy from it.  I mean, otherwise, why bother?

When upsetting news and revelations hit our community it's OK to take your time and process.  It's OK to process these things in your own way, on your own timeline and quietly make choices that are right for you, personally.  Some will abide them and some won't.  Not all decisions are easy (mores the pity).  As a reviewer, reader and/or blogger - you make the decision that you can live with.  You decide if this is a hill you want to die on.  And if it is?  Own it.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Retro Review: Call Down The Night

This review for Call Down the Night by Sandy Moffett was first posted at The Romance Reader in 2002.  Back then, I gave it 4-Hearts (B Grade) and a MPAA sensuality rating of PG-13.  Please note: the book has been reprinted under a new title: The Seer.


Alexandra Gables came to Salem, Massachusetts, to help a friend of her father’s catalog his flower collection. When her father is unexpectedly delayed in England, Alexandra travels from their Boston home to take on the project alone. When she arrives at the docks, she comes face to face with dashing shipwright, Pierce Williams.

Pierce has taken over the family ship building business after his father decides that he would rather spend more time on his scientific hobbies. Pierce sees this as an impractical waste of time; and having to alter his busy schedule to deliver the intern to their home is just another inconvenience. Imagine his surprise when the young man he is expecting to meet turns out to be a young woman.

 Alexandra and Pierce soon find themselves engaging in a battle of wits. Pierce is sure this is another of his father’s attempts to marry him off, but can’t deny that he is attracted to Alexandra’s intelligence, spunk and beauty. In turn, Alexandra is drawn to Pierce, but soon finds life in Salem unsettling. Upon her arrival, she is plagued by strange visions - visions that may be linked to a curse rooted in the witch trials 100 years prior - visions that foretell Pierce’s death.

 Alexandra is an interesting character, as while she is “ahead of time,” she doesn’t suffer from the same pitfalls that befall other modern heroines in historical romances. Alexandra is an educated woman, thanks to a scholarly father who instilled a love of learning to his only child. She isn’t out to necessarily change the world, and realistically knows the obstacles she faces in her quest for acceptance. She just wants to be taken seriously, and not have her ideas dismissed simply because she is female.

Pierce holds the same ideals that society does - that woman should marry, have kids and maintain a household. However, he quickly finds himself enchanted with Alexandra - and comes to cherish the time they spend together, especially in discussion. Sure, she is a beautiful woman, but our hero is also attracted to her mind.

The paranormal element to the story has a light touch, and Moffett doesn’t bog the story down with otherworldly happenings. In fact, Alexandra’s visions, her search for the truth, and the mysterious happenings had me easily turning the pages. The author also includes some interesting tidbits of history about Salem, smallpox inoculation, ship building and sailing.

Sandy Moffett’s debut happens to be book 2 in The MacInness Legacy trilogy - with books 1 and 3 written by sister, Julie Moffett. While Call Down The Night does stand alone quite well, all of the conflicts are not neatly resolved in the end - leaving plenty of conflict for all the romantic couples in book 3.

Readers hungry for a gothic revival should find Call Down The Night an interesting spin on an old favorite. Be warned though - after the close of the last chapter, you may see a bookstore in your future.


Wendy Looks Back: Seriously, like zero recall on this one.  None whatsoever.  Of course it's been 16 years since I read it, so that may have something to do with it....

Monday, March 5, 2018

Retro Review: Stay With Me

This review of Stay With Me by Beverly Long was first posted at The Romance Reader in 2005.  Back then, I rated this 3-Hearts (C Grade) with an MPAA sensuality content rating of PG-13.


Here’s something you don’t see everyday – a new time travel western. While not flawless, Stay With Me will certainly be of interest to time travel and western romances fans alike.

Sarah Jane Tremont is a burnt-out social worker living in Los Angeles. She’s just plain tired. For every child she helps, there are a dozen more waiting in line. She made it through her last day of work and is walking along the beach when a storm kicks up. The next thing Sarah knows she’s in John Beckett’s cabin in 1888 Wyoming Territory.

John is flabbergasted to see Sarah on his doorstep. After his brother was killed in a silver mine collapse, the grieving widow hightailed it out of town with the family’s savings. He wants to slam the door in her face, but she’s bleeding and obviously confused. Plus there’s the ultimate question – what the heck is she doing back in town?

Sarah is a bright girl and soon realizes that 1) she’s traveled back in time and 2) she’s the spitting image of John’s witchy sister-in-law. She also realizes that crazy people who go spouting off about time travel in 1888 might not be well received. So lacking options she assumes the role of Sarah Beckett until she can figure out how to get back to present day L.A.

Our Sarah is obviously nothing like Sarah One, so her shift in personality has John confused. Sarah is soon helping his widowed best friend, Fred, by babysitting his three children. She also takes to playing piano in church and even rescues a local saloon girl when a customer attacks her. The Sarah that was married to his brother would certainly never behave in such a fashion.

Stay With Me is one of those books where the secondary romance works better than the primary one. John spends so much time avoiding Sarah and thinking ill of her that it’s hard to believe it when he realizes he’s in love. It’s his animosity towards Sarah One that leads our Sarah to move to town, hence triggering off the more interesting aspects of the story – Sarah’s interaction with the townspeople who knew Sarah One and the secondary romance.

Original Berkley Cover
That secondary romance features John’s widowed friend, Fred, and a local saloon girl, Suzanne. There are obvious complications however. Respectable men don’t marry saloon girls – especially when that respectable man has three children and a preacher father-in-law to worry about. Also, Fred was in love with his dead wife, he doesn’t want to be disrespectful to her memory by falling in love again.

While the primary romance is a little lackluster things roll along pretty well until the end when some unpleasantness appears. Sarah has an unfortunate too-stupid-to-live moment and the sex scene finally happens. The too-stupid-to-live moment was likely the author’s way to get John to finally admit that he loves Sarah, so while annoying, it can be understood. The sex scene though was hard to overlook since it landed firmly in Purple Prose Territory. Gems like “you taste rich and sweet and I am a greedy man,” and “your womanly scent fills my bed making me want with an urgency I cannot describe” only reinforce the opinion that heroes should never talk during love scenes.

All that said I found Stay With Me a largely entertaining read. The author writes nice characters, and I especially enjoyed the interaction Sarah had with the wide cast of secondary players. While the road isn’t always entirely smooth, it’s still a nice journey.


Wendy Looks Back: I'm admittedly not much for time travel but, yes you guessed it, the historical western angle is what reeled me in here.  Long is still writing, although these days it's romantic suspense for both Harlequin Intrigue and Harlequin Romantic Suspense.  I actually read one of her Harlequin Intrigues for the 2016 TBR Challenge and didn't make the connection.  For those of you curious about this book - at the time of this posting, it was a very reasonably priced 99 cents over at Amazon.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Mini-Reviews: Any Day Now and No Limits

I know readers who have completely sworn off small town contemporaries - they're literally that sick of them.  I'm getting to that point - sort of.  I will read small town contemporaries all day long and twice on Sunday - when in the category universe.  Give me a Harlequin SuperRomance or Special Edition set in a small town and I'm there.  But I'm getting to the point where I need to swear off the single titles.  Why?  Dear Lord, the filler.  The endless, mindless, pointless filler that serves no purpose other than the author to sequel-bait the heck out of the story.  Which brings us to Any Day Now by Robyn Carr, the second book in her Sullivan's Crossing series.

Sierra Jones is nine months sober and at loose ends, so she decides to temporarily settle in Sullivan's Crossing to be near her favorite brother, Cal, and his new (and pregnant) wife, Maggie (see the first book in this series, What We Find).  Sierra works on her sobriety by attending AA meetings, gets a part-time job as a waitress, and moves into one of the cabins at Sullivan's Crossing (Maggie's father's campground) where she meets hunky firefighter, Conrad "Connie" Boyle.

Conflict?  What conflict?  Nothing happens in this book for the longest time.  It's all Small Town Series Cutesy.  But, you know, we have to fill up 300+ pages somehow - so Carr starts with boring, moves to repetition and then decides to throw in a suspense thread about Sierra being stalked (that feels totally out of left field compared to the tone/feel of the majority of this story).  Zzzzzzzz.

I weeded out a huge chunk of the single title contemporaries from my TBR within the past year or so.  It's a decision I'm not regretting in the slightest.  The older I get the more brutal I am with my mental red ink pen (Cut it! Cut IT ALL!!!!).

Final Grade = D

Blaze is one of the Harlequin lines I've always been a little indifferent about.  There have been a few over the years I've really liked, but the ones that "stick with me" tend to be few and far between.  But that has never stopped me from picking one up when the blurb intrigues, which brings us to No Limits by Katherine Garbera, the first book in her Space Cowboys series.

Astronaut Jason "Ace" McCoy has been temporarily (he hopes!) grounded by NASA.  After spending a year on the International Space Station, he's suffering from osteopenia.  He's working with doctors, following a special diet and exercise regimen, but his bone density is still cause for concern.  His superior tells him to head back to Cole's Hill, Texas - back to the ranch where Ace spent his teen years after his mother died.  The closest thing to a father figure he had, Mick Tanner, has died unexpectedly and left half of his ranch to Ace.  The other half?  Yeah, went to Mick's daughter, Molly.  The girl he's never been able to forget.

Molly, of course, has had a thing for Jason since she was a girl - but this is a man whose future would not be deterred.  He focused on space travel with a single-minded determination to the point where it's become his whole life.  Now she has to figure out how to save the only home she's ever known (the ranch is in trouble) and not lose her heart to a man who will surely leave the moment he's medically cleared.

There's a deeper theme of grief that runs through this story that belies the Blaze reputation (Fun! Sexy! Lots o' Naughty Times!).  Molly adored her father and his sudden death has left her reeling.  Jason is coming to terms (rather poorly) that he may be permanently grounded - unwelcome news since his dream is to be part of a new project involving manned missions to Mars.  Naturally, their attraction is too strong to ignore and sexy shenanigans ensue.  But Jason belongs to the stars and Molly's place is on the ranch.  It will never work, will it?

I liked this, but didn't love it.  I spent the whole time wishing this were a Special Edition or a SuperRomance - a line where the author could have really sunk her teeth into the larger themes and emotional angst.  As it is, this is a Blaze so there are a number sex scenes that, while well-written, felt a little too "surface" to me.  I wanted the deep dive and got the wading pool.  Also, the conflict peters out at the end and it all feels a bit too pat.  On one hand I appreciate the author for realizing there was a simple solution to be had, but on the other?  I was left with a "that's it?" feeling.

If you're a space nerd or a big Blaze fan, I think this is worth reading.  Garbera sets up her series really well and I'm interested in reading the next book.  It didn't send me into orbit, but it was a nice way to kill a few hours.

Final Grade = B-

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

#TBRChallenge 2018: Sweet Lullaby

The Book: Sweet Lullaby by Lorraine Heath

The Particulars: Historical western romance, Berkley Diamond Books Homespun, 1994, Out of print.  Available in digital edition, Harpercollins Avon, 2010

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  It's a Lorraine Heath western and a beloved book for many in Romancelandia.  I tracked down a print copy pre-ebook days and paid the exorbitant price of $6.50 for a pristine used copy.  Because that's what us old farts had to do back in the pre-ebook days.

The Review: It's been a long time since Wendy hated on a classic romance beloved by Romancelandia - yet, here we are.  Although "hate" is probably too strong a word.  To get this party started let me just say that this was Lorraine Heath's debut novel and it finalled for a RITA.  That bit about this being her debut?  That's important.  I'm come back to it in a moment.

Rebecca Anderson is the only child of a prosperous Kentucky rancher and Daddy has been grooming her to take over the family business.  Then the fool girl makes the mistake of falling in love with one of the men and getting pregnant.  This is how naive our girl is - when she tells her father about the baby she's blindsided by his less-than-thrilled reaction.  Anyway, the Baby Daddy has taken off for parts unknown before Rebecca even knows she's pregnant and he made no promises or gave any indications when or if he would return for her.  Daddy sees only one option.  She's going to have to marry someone else and Jake Burnett is the man for the job.

Jake has loved Rebecca since he first laid eyes on her and while they are friends, this love is totally unrequited.  But given her limited options and with Jake having land in Texas that they can settle on, a shotgun wedding is planned and over with before we even hit page 50.

After I finished the first two chapters I immediately went to check the author's web site.  This is the same author who wrote the Texas trilogy and Always to Remember?  Yes it is - and that's how I verified that this was her debut.  Guys, it totally reads like a debut.  You know what else it reads like?  Like the author wanted this to be a saga.  A 600-800 page historical saga with a long-winding romance arc but she ended up selling it to Berkley who told her to chop out half the word count.  The character development is flat.  We're TOLD Jake has unrequited feelings for Rebecca.  We're TOLD they're friends.  But there's no foundation laid.  Other than Jake being the Beta-iest Hero to Ever Beta, I'm not sure WHY he loved Rebecca so fiercely.  The pacing also felt "off."  There's too much time spent on secondary characters for a book that's less than 300 pages (in my opinion) and there's a mad dash to the finish line that felt positively frantic.

Things do get better the further along in the story we go, but these characters never feel fully realized until towards the very end of the book, and that's when more problems come into play.  Namely, Rebecca.  Man, is this girl a problem.

I liked her at first, I really did.  She has gumption.  She knows her own mind.  She sticks up for herself and for Jake.  But, as you can probably guess, her past comes back to haunt her towards the final third of the book and that was when she was dead to me.  You know how we like to talk about romance heroes who need to grovel?  The kind of heroes you want to have to crawl over broken glass to atone for how dismally they treat the heroine?  Well, never let it be said that I'm not equal opportunity because Rebecca's actions during this portion of the book had me shaking my head in disgust. 

Original cover. Isn't it horrid?
Now, Jake?  He's one of your standard Too Good To Be True heroes.  The only thing (and I mean ONLY) thing saving this guy from being a hopeless Gary Stu is that the author gives him a back story to explain his lack of backbone.  Frankly, given Rebecca's actions in the latter half of this story I was left firmly believing that he was WAY too good for her and was hoping against hope he'd fall in love with a woman who truly deserves him (for those of you who have read this - I had my eye on Velvet The Prostitute for that role).

I was all set to slap this with a C grade, mostly because of the flat writing and lack of character development.  But then the conflict that spurs the reader towards The Black Moment comes into play and it left a sour taste in my mouth.  I'll be honest - this final grade is probably a little harsh.  I've read way worse and maybe if I had read this book earlier in my romance reading life I would have loved it.  But I didn't and I didn't and here's where we're at. 

Final Grade = D+