Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Mini-Review: Billionaire, Boss...Bridegroom?

I've spent the first quarter of 2020 doing what I call "obligation reading" and then hit a slump at the tail end thanks to work stress and COVID-19.  Well, I finally got past those obligation books and the first stop on Wendy's Going To Read What She Wants meant comfort read.  The Harlequin Romance line is my go-to for comfort reading. The books just feel like warm hugs to me.  So I went diving deep into my Kindle and pulled up Billionaire, Boss...Bridegroom? by Kate Hardy.

Bella Faraday was working as a freelance graphic designer until a traitorous boyfriend cleaned out her savings account and her biggest client went bankrupt. She's just landed a job with an independent music label in London when she gets a call from her sister. Her even-keeled, totally responsible sister who has just called off her engagement.  Bella is riding to the rescue when she hops in the nearest taxi only to discover it's already occupied. Um, by her new boss - Hugh Montcrieff. 

Hugh is the youngest of five and the only one not working for the family's brokerage firm.  He's set to head to the country house to celebrate one of his brothers' engagements - but he's not relishing more pressure to give up his record label "hobby" or to finally "settle down."  He's charmed and taken by Bella and thinks she could be the answer to his problem.  His proposal? Spend the weekend with his family and play the role of totally unsuitable new girlfriend.

Hugh suffers from an abundance of what I call Romance Hero Logic. He's not the progeny of Evil Romance Novel Family Genes, his family is legit lovely - so why he just doesn't, oh I don't know, TALK to his parents...but then we wouldn't have a plot contrivance.  Bella basically says as much to him but agrees to the charade.  The problem, of course, is that's she's bloody terrible at it. She may show up wearing outrageous clothes, but she can't hide her caring and charming temperament.

I liked Bella tremendously and it's the kind of warm hug atmosphere I'm a sucker for in Harlequin Romance.  But this hero y'all.  Besides the Romance Hero Logic, he gives the heroine a dreaded ultimatum at the end all because his last relationship flamed out when he mixed business with pleasure.  So one of THOSE heroes.  Bella, blessedly, doesn't cave to his stupid ultimatum even if she does love him and her heart is shattered.  He eventually realizes what an idiot he is and we get our happy ending. Although I'm left with the feeling that he doesn't deserve Bella or his lovely family for that matter. What a butthead.

But as a comfort read during a time when I desperately needed one, this fits the bill.  I just feel like Bella deserved better.

Final Grade = C+

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Retro Review: If This Bed Could Talk

Original Cover
This review of If This Bed Could Talk by Liz Maverick, Kimberly Dean and Lynn LaFleur was first published by The Romance Reader in 2006. Back then I rated it 4 Hearts (B grade) with a sensuality rating of NC-17. 


Yes, another erotica imprint. After catapulting to popularity thanks to smaller presses and electronic publishers, the latest major house to jump on the bandwagon is Avon. Despite being marketed as “hot, sexy fiction” romance readers will be happy to note that every story in this launch anthology features a happily-ever-after. They also feature some wicked sexual tension, effectively dispelling the myth that erotica is nothing more than mechanical sex with no emotion behind it.

Liz Maverick gets things started with Agent Provocateur, which features some unsavory plot devices that would sink this story in no time flat if not for the incredible chemistry between hero and heroine. Vienna James is a gunrunner who has just been arrested for the third time. Three strikes and you’re out in this futuristic world means one thing – slavery.

Vienna is on the auction block and the only thing that will save her from execution is if someone buys her. Michael Kingston buys Vienna because she’s the spitting image of his brother’s traitorous former fiancรฉ. He wants Vienna to seduce their enemy, and steal back something he took from his brother. However when he goes to “train” her, he finds himself falling under her spell. It makes handing her blithely over to the villain a bit more complicated.

A hero who buys the heroine and a revenge plot could have made this a disastrous story, but the sexual tension is enough to peel wallpaper. This is one hot, sexy read – well advertised and delivered. 

Next up is Kimberly Dean with Unrequited. Trista Christiansen is on a date. Her divorce from her professional baseball player ex has been final for eight months and her friends have been urging her to get back out there. Thanks to her date’s ineptitude, they end up eating dinner in a sports bar. The same sports bar where her ex-brother-in-law is enjoying a game of darts and a beer after a long day at work.

Ty cannot believe that Trista is on a date! Especially with such a weenie. He’s had a thing for her for a long time, but she was always Denny’s girl. Well Denny screwed up, and he’s ready to take a shot. Now to convince Trista that they belong together.

Unrequited love is such a great, bittersweet theme. Ty is a blue-collar guy who stayed away from Trista out of respect for his selfish baby brother. Trista is hesitant to get involved with Ty even though she’s wildly attracted to him. Plus, she always considered him a “friend.” That’s the last thing she wants to mess up. Like the Maverick story, the sexual tension leaps off the page, and the final moment when Trista realizes that Ty is the one for her is sweet, sexy and touching.

Last on the list is Lynn LaFleur’s Victim Of Deception, which features one of the more imaginative plots I’ve come across in a while.

Karessa Austin has just inherited a Victorian house from her Aunt Grace. She was thinking of selling, but once she sees the old girl she decides to renovate and move in. Maxwell Hennessey is a professional treasure hunter who is sure a very old, very valuable bearer bond is hidden in the Victorian. One small problem, he used to date Karessa and betrayed her over a “job” he was on. No matter, she’s renovating – he’ll use his connections to get on the job site.

LaFleur’s tale is actually a story within a story – with the Victorian being haunted by Karessa’s great-great grandparents who were murdered. Mary and Aaron have been stuck in limbo over the last 100 years, and feel the key to their freedom is through Karessa and Max reuniting. Luckily, they don’t interfere too much – as Max and Karessa have never truly gotten over each other. All they need a little nudge.

The sex in all of these stories is hot, hot stuff – with LaFleur pushing the envelope almost off the table. That said, all of these characters truly care about each other – giving all of the stories a depth of emotion, and ratcheting up the sexual tension into the stratosphere. With many jumping on the growing erotica bandwagon, I’ll admit I was skeptical. What a pleasant surprise to find three authors, all in the same anthology, getting it all so right. Sit back, enjoy the ride, and lose yourself in the fantasy.


Wendy Looks Back: The mid-2000s was when The Big Five decided to jump on the erotic romance bandwagon, and this included Harpercollins, who launched Avon Red in 2006.  In fact this anthology was one of the launch titles, hence the first sentence of the first paragraph in this review.  Also, remember 2006. I'm aware I called it "erotica" and that's misleading.  Remember we were still fumbling around in the dark and hadn't settled on labeling such books as "erotic romance" as of yet.

The anthology itself is hard to find, but all three stories are available to purchase as stand-alone novellas (thank you digital boom).  I have very little recall on any of these but something buried in the back of my lizard brain makes me think the Kimberly Dean story was my favorite of the bunch.  And not gonna lie, I'm half tempted to reread the LaFleur story to see if I still think she pushes the envelope off the table.  (Ghost sex? I'm wondering if it was ghost sex....)

Monday, March 30, 2020

#TBRChallenge 2020: Her Summer Crush

 Book Cover
The Book: Her Summer Crush by Linda Hope Lee

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, 2016, Harlequin Heartwarming #134, out of print, available in digital, Book #2 in Return to Willow Beach series

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I had a print copy and it was autographed which means I picked this up at an RWA conference. 

The Review: This is going to be a damning with faint praise review. To be perfectly blunt, it was exactly the right book to read in this moment of my life, with the world on fire and any semblance of work/life balance I normally have getting chucked out a 15th floor window. It bares little resemblance to reality, which was just what I needed even if the story and writing itself are flawed.

Luci Monroe has just graduated college and landed her dream job back in her hometown of Willow Beach (somewhere vaguely Pacific Northwest) doing PR for the Chamber of Commerce.  Tourist-y magazines, brochures, promoting the local businesses - that sort of thing. She's super close to her family so returning to her hometown has always been in the cards.  Not in the cards? Cody Jarvis - the man she's had a crush on since high school.  The man who is now a world-class photographer, travels the world, who doesn't want to settle down in his quiet hometown. Turns out he's in-between gigs and has agreed to take a temporary summer job at the Chamber of Commerce as their go-to photographer. Oh, and Luci is going to be his boss.  Worse yet, her crush is still there, Cody is still as handsome as ever, and still doesn't know she exists other than they're "good friends."

That's basically it.  Luci has an unrequited crush. Cody actually likes her more than as "just a friend" but he's such a GUY it takes him the whole book to realize it.  There's a whole bunch of small town shenanigans - including eleventy billion characters (really, in book 2?!),  Luci navigating her new job/boss, getting saddled with a teenage intern, her family ties fraying at the seams, a wedding, a 4th of July celebration, a sandcastle building contest etc. etc. 

The romance itself is very slow and leisurely, but lacks spark.  It's a low-heat novel, which is fine - but even low-heat novels need something, and this romance is lukewarm to tepid.  (Note: you can still write passion even if you don't have a sex scene and there's nothing like that to speak of here). The first kiss scene is pretty decent and there's some nice dancing scenes but other than that?  Meh. I've read worse, I've read better.

But I kept flipping the pages and once I started reading I didn't come up for air. Even though this book lacks all semblance of reality.  It felt like Mayberry. Like the small town that everybody thinks exists but rarely does in real life.  The clincher for me was a moment in the story when the heroine buys three newspapers (two local-ish, one out of Seattle) to, ready for this?, CHECK THE HELP WANTED ADS!  In a book published in 2016.  In a local small town rag? Sure, maybe (even that strains at the seams of credibility) but SEATTLE?!?!?!?!

So if you want some semblance of reality? Yeah, not this book. If you want an escapist, Hallmark Movie-style setting completely devoid of reality however (and hello, see current events) this is a decent small town romance if you go for that sort of thing.  I found it pleasant, but otherwise meh.

Final Grade = C

Monday, March 23, 2020

Unusual Historical Highlights for March 2020

Let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we? Our unwelcome guest COVID-19. The library system I work for is closed to the public and I oversee the division that is responsible for all the delightful items you find on the physical shelves and in our digital collections. So keeping that machine running, while reconfiguring staff schedules and work spaces has meant no time for reading or Romancelandia. And let me tell ya, I miss it y’all. So let’s take a collective break and enjoy looking at some new Unusual Historicals out this month. And lucky for us, it’s a bonanza!

Lady of SecretsLady of Secrets by G.S. Carr
Her secret mission. A country divided. His impossible love.  
Henrietta Wright is a Free Colored woman who teaches reading and writing to anyone who enters her classroom. At least she was, until a drunken night with friends catapults her down a path of intrigue, coded messages, and intelligence operations. All in service of the Union Army. She can’t tell anyone what she’s doing, including the handsome Irishman she knows she shouldn’t want, but can’t seem to resist.  
Since stepping on to American soil, Elijah Byrne’s only goal has been to survive another day. That is until Henrietta burst into his life and made him want more. She was never meant to be his - her fiancรฉ can attest to that - but she makes him long for things men like him aren’t lucky enough to have. When she asks for his help, he can’t resist tumbling with her into a clandestine expedition that could cost them everything—including their lives. 
I have Suzanne to thank for bringing this one to my attention! An accidental spy heroine, an Irish hero and all the intrigue that Civil War spying has to offer. Carr has three books under her belt already, so if I find this one to be a winner I’ve got a ready backlist to glom on to.

The Last Kiss by Sally Malcolm (Kindle Unlimited)

A tender and triumphant story of forbidden love in the aftermath of war  
When Captain Ashleigh Dalton went to war in 1914, he never expected to fall in love. Yet, over three long years at the front, his dashing batman, Private West, became his reason for fighting—and his reason for living.  
For Harry West, an ostler from London’s East End, it was love at first sight when he met complex, compassionate Captain Dalton. Harry knew their friendship wouldn’t survive in the class-bound world back home, but in the trenches there was no point in worrying about tomorrow…  
Now, gravely wounded, Ash has been evacuated home to Highcliffe House, his father’s Hampshire estate. Bereft of Harry, angry and alone, Ash struggles to fit into the unchanging world he left behind. Meanwhile, Harry, broken-hearted, doubts he’ll ever see his beloved captain again. But when the guns fall silent and Harry finds himself adrift in London, a desperate hope carries him to Highcliffe House in search of work—and of the officer he can’t forget… 
Facebook isn’t always a disaster (ok, just most of the time…). I have a Joanna Chambers post to thank for putting this one on my radar. I find that power dynamics in romance can be very interesting if done well, and this romance between a commissioned officer and his batman (basically a servant) as they navigate through the horrors of World War I and returning to post-War life has me practically bouncing up and down with excitement.

 Silent Sin
Silent Sin by E.J. Russell (Kindle Unlimited)
When tailor Marvin Gottschalk abandoned New York City for the brash boomtown of silent-film-era Hollywood, he never imagined he'd end up on screen as Martin Brentwood, one of the fledgling film industry's most popular actors. Five years later a cynical Martin despairs of finding anything genuine in a town where truth is defined by studio politics and publicity. Then he meets Robbie Goodman.

Robbie fled Idaho after a run-in with the law. A chance encounter leads him to the film studio where he lands a job as a chauffeur. But one look at Martin and he's convinced he's likely to run afoul of those same laws--laws that brand his desires indecent, deviant... sinful.  
Martin and Robbie embark on a cautious relationship, cocooned in Hollywood's clandestine gay fraternity, careful to hide from the studio boss, a rival actor, and reporters on the lookout for a juicy story. But when tragedy and scandal rock the town, igniting a morality-based witch hunt fueled by a remorseless press, the studio brass will sacrifice even the greatest careers to defend their endangered empire. Robbie and Martin stand no chance against the firestorm--unless they stand together. 
I love, love, love this era in California history and how am I expected to resist a romance between a jaded Hollywood star and his chauffeur? With all the complications and obstacles standing in the way of said romance? I just - give this to me now. Like seriously, right now.

 Stolen by the Viking

Stolen by the Viking by Michelle Willingham
Bought for his vengeance  
But claimed for his bed!  
Battle-scarred Viking Alarr is a broken warrior who expects to die carrying out his oath of blood vengeance. He saves maiden Breanne รฎ Callahan from slavery only with the intention of getting close enough to kill her foster father. Until their spark of passion ignites a desire to keep her close…and presents Alarr with a gut-wrenching choice—his revenge or his heart? 

Willingham is a fine purveyor of angst and I love when she’s working with Vikings and in the medieval time period in general. This one is the start of a new multi-author series for Harlequin Historical which will include future books by Harper St. George, Michelle Styles and Jenni Fletcher

Saved by Her Enemy Warrior by Greta Gilbert
Entombed with her enemy…  
Will her heart remain unscathed?  
Left to die in the tomb of her beloved Pharaoh Tausret, royal adviser Aya would be silenced forever by those who seek power. But she is not alone! Egyptian soldier Intef is there to steal her mistress’s gold. Now they must work together to escape. This handsome warrior is Aya’s enemy, yet it’s passion not hatred that burns between them. Can their desire withstand the revelations that await them outside? 

I can safely say I’ve never seen the forced proximity trope set in an Egyptian tomb before! Plus it’s got a little Enemy to Lovers thrown in for added spice!

Stay safe Romancelandia. Wash your hands, and practice good social distancing by staying home and reading a book. What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to reading next?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Delayed #TBRChallenge Post: Can't Sleep Clowns'll Eat Me

So COVID-19 has taken over my life in a big way at The Day Job. Long days. Many in a row. Working on days off.  Trying to get staff situated, reworking schedules, tweaking workflows to accommodate said reworkings.  Fun times!

So needless to say I'm not meeting my own #TBRChallenge deadline.  I do hope to get the book I picked out read, um eventually, and post a review later - and I'm hoping to land back into some work/life balance soon.  In the meantime, stay safe Romancelandia.  Be kind to each other.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day Is March 18!

A reminder that #TBRChallenge day is Wednesday, March 18.  This month's (always optional) theme is Seasons.

In a bid to shake some dust off the Challenge, I decided to toss in a few more "open-ended" themes this year.  "Seasons" can be whatever wish it to be. Take a look at your TBR and see how this theme could tie into some of the books lingering there.

However, if you're not in the mood, can't be bothered, whatever your reasons may be....no problem!  Remember, the themes are always optional.

You can learn more about the Challenge and see the list of participating folks on the Information Page.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Cover Reveal: Her Lady's Honor by Renee Dahlia

This blog has existed 17 years and in all that time, as incredible as this is going to sound, I have never once hosted a Cover Reveal. Not ever. The honor of the first Bat Cave Cover Reveal is going to be a book, that if you've read this blog for any stretch of time, will come as no surprise. What sort of book gets Wendy to finally hop on the Cover Reveal Bandwagon?  An usual historical set post-World War I. Because, of course!

The war might be over, but the battle for love has just begun.  
When Lady Eleanor “Nell” St. George arrives in Wales after serving as a veterinarian in the Great War, she doesn’t come alone. With her is her former captain’s beloved warhorse, which she promised to return to him—and a series of recurring nightmares that torment both her heart and her soul. She wants only to complete her task, then find refuge with her family, but when Nell meets the captain’s eldest daughter, all that changes. 
Beatrice Hughes is resigned to life as the dutiful daughter. Her mother grieves for the sons she lost to war; the care of the household and remaining siblings falls to Beatrice, and she manages it with a practical efficiency. But when a beautiful stranger shows up with her father’s horse, practicality is the last thing on her mind.  
Despite the differences in their social standing, Beatrice and Nell give in to their unlikely attraction, finding love where they least expect it. But not everything in the captain’s house is as it seems. When Beatrice’s mother disappears under mysterious circumstances, Nell must overcome her preconceptions to help Beatrice, however she’s able. Together they must find out what really happened that stormy night in the village, before everything Beatrice loves is lost—including Nell.
CW: Domestic violence, suicide, war-related deaths and injuries (humans and horses), death and disability caused by pre-vaccine era, race riots (not detailed on page but discussed by characters), slavery and Highland Clearances (discussion on where Nell's family made their money).

Her Lady's Honor will be published by Carina Press on June 22, 2020 and is available for preorder.

Places to find Renee: Website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, BookBub