Monday, May 2, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Millenials and What The?!
As I continue to crawl my way through my bout of reading ennui, it's time for another round of quickie novella reviews.

Working With Heat by Anne Calhoun is a quick read and there's nothing terribly "wrong" with it - it just didn't grab a hold of me like some of her other shorts have.

Milla Jackson is a 20-something American, living in London, making her way in the world as a travel vlogger/blogger/social media addict.  She turned a coping mechanism (she moved a lot as a kid) into a job and now she's turning the job into a matchmaking service.  She's not dating anyone and is letting her social media followers pick her dates for her via multiple choice options she provides.  Her latest date was such a disaster that she bails on him to meet her friends at the local pub and afterward she hooks up with one of her flat mates - hunky glass artist Charlie.  But Charlie's been burned (ha!) before and Milla's permanent attachment to her phone/social media ruffles his feathers.  No matter, they're just going to keep things light and breezy anyway.  Milla's in the process of planning a trip along the Orient Express and will be gone for several weeks....

So yeah, we all know where this is heading.  This was mostly a Meh It's OK story for me for a good while.  It's very light and breezy and I was pretty close to DNF'ing it out of boredom more than anything else (seriously, my reading mood is the pits right now).  But it did pick up for me about halfway through, about the time Charlie takes Milla to his studio and shows her his work.  Charlie does fly off the handle a bit at the end, but I like Milla's growth arc and I thought the ending was particularly well done.  It didn't light my world on fire, but it ended strong and works well in the shorter format.  If you're looking for a short hot contemporary, this one may fit the bill for you.

Final Grade = B-
I heard about A Bride's Journey by E.E. Burke at RT 2016 when the author handed me a card letting me know this "prequel" was free.  I was looking for another short read after wrapping up the Calhoun, a western sounded good and....wait, Amazon says the page count is only 11 pages.  That can't be right, can it?  It's probably wrong.  No matter, it's going to be short at least, so I'll read it.

Yeah.  Amazon isn't wrong.  This thing is literally 11-15 pages long.  It's not a "prequel" it's a bloody chapter!  I spent the whole time wondering what the point of this thing existing was.  Granted I'm sure the author is reaching more readers on Amazon - but this is the sort of preview you offer up to your newsletter subscribers.  As long as it stays free forever, Amazon will reach more readers - but I could see some readers getting ticked off by it - no matter that it's free.  Cranky readers gonna crank.

The story (such as it is)?  OK, basically it introduces some women on a train who are traveling west to become mail order brides.  One of them, Susannah (I think that's her name?) is a widow, traveling with a young son (and she had to do some fast talking because normally they don't take widows with kids....) and she's writing in her journal about the trip, her fears, and some of the women she's met.  That's it.  I'd call it a prologue, but the first full-length book in the series, Valentine's Rose, isn't about Susannah the Journal Writer.  It's about one of the women she writes about, Rose.  And looking ahead to the other book that's out in the series?  Also not about Susannah the Journal Writer - which just adds to my What Is The Point Of This Thing Existing confusion.

It does serve the purpose of introducing me to Burke's writing style, which I liked.  And I'm tempted by this series - so I guess that's the point of this thing existing.  I still can't help but feel this makes more sense as a web site or newsletter "freebie" - but you can't argue with Amazon's reach.  I get it from a business perspective but as a reader everything about this thing's existence annoys me.

Final Grade = Oh, who the heck knows?  How do you rate 11 pages?!?!?!?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

News You Can Use: Blog Tweakage, Romantic Librarians & Harvey Girls

A couple of minor updates here around the Bat Cave that I want to share with you all.  First, look up.  See that underneath the blog header?  I finally tackled the back end of my blog (phrasing!) and moved the links to the various pages to a more prominent location.  No more being buried on the side bar.


To coincide with that change, I've finally - at long last - provided title links on my Librarians in Romance Novels page.  A few things of note:
  • Yes, I linked to the Evil Empire that is Amazon.  And yes, these are affiliate links.  So if you buy titles through these links Wendy gets kicked back a few pennies.  Hey, it was a lot of work!  Still, if you don't want me to profit, you've now been warned. 
  • I linked to Kindle versions where I could.  I did this mostly to avoid out-of-print issues.  That said, instances where there's no Kindle version and the print is out-of-print - I linked to the OP print listing. 
  • If I didn't provide a link, I give an explanation.  The prominent example is Lynne Connolly's two titles - which were originally published by Ellora's Cave.  She has since gotten her rights back, but these two titles haven't been self-published or published by another publisher as of yet. 
  • I've also added a Library As Place category - for books where neither of the main characters is a librarian or library employee, but the library plays a semi-prominent role in the story.  For example: if Harry Potter were a romance?  Yeah, would totally be a Library As Place book.
I'm always (always!) looking for titles to add to this list.  Also, this list isn't an endorsement of any kind - so please tell me about librarian heroines (and heroes!) in books you loved and hated!  I'm taking them all!  My only requirement is that the books must be romances featuring a happy-ending or happy-for-now.  Dead librarians give us all a sad.

Also, I have a particular need for diverse librarians (POC, LGBTQ) and Inspirationals.  I'm also open to hearing opinions if you want me to highlight the books that feature diverse librarians.  Right now I'm leaning towards keeping them under their respective sub genre headings and adding a (POC) and/or (LGBTQ) at the end of the title (ex. Checking Out Love by R. Cooper (LGBTQ) listed under Contemporary).  Opinions welcome!

And finally, in the Pleasant Surprise Category, remember back in the Dark Ages (uh, 2009) when I curated three digital Blogger Bundles for Harlequin?  Well Heroes & Heartbreakers blogger, Kate Nagy, recently wrote a post about "my" Harlequin Historical bundle featuring Cheryl St. John's Harvey Girls series!

Once you're done reading the post and (naturally) downloading the bundle for yourself - you can spend more money after checking out my latest Unusual Historical column featuring April 2016 releases.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Rescue Fantasies Times Two

As the Reading Slump from Heck marches on, I decided to force the issue by tackling two novellas over the weekend.  Coincidentally, both novellas feature what is perhaps my least favorite theme in romance - Ye Olde Rescue Fantasy.  How well I tolerate the hero swooping in to save the heroine from certain doom, as always, boils down to execution.  One of the novellas was a success and the other one?  Not so much.
I meant to read Angel by Victoria Dahl ages ago, especially since I enjoyed the companion novella, Harlot, so very much.  Angel is a short prequel (as in 60 pages short...) that tells the story of prostitute Melisande Angelle and her regular customer, Bill Donnelly, who falls in love with her and how they end up leaving New Orleans to head west.

There's really not a whole lot to recap here (hello, 60 pages), but I wanted to point how well done certain aspects of this story are - namely the religious "stuff."  The story opens with Melisande leaving the brothel to attend Christmas morning services at church.  How Dahl tackles Melisande's faith and the religious themes in general, in this short novella that most definitely is not an "inspirational" is really very intriguing.
Still, Melisande thought maybe God still loved her.  She thought she could feel that when she sat beneath the paintings and the stained glass and the crucified savior.  The priests, however, would be a different story. 
The sex scenes are suitably erotic (read: vanilla) without kink and the romance itself is quite sweet and tender.  There's not a lot of substantial conflict here outside of Melisande being a prostitute and of mixed race to Bill's burly white Irish-ness.  At only 60 pages this conflict is addressed, but not unpacked in any deep sort of manner.  It's self-contained and works well in the short format, but given how intriguing I found the set-up and characters I couldn't help but want more.  Still, a solid read and if you liked Harlot you'll want to read this one too.

Final Grade = B
Desire Me Now by Tiffany Clare isn't a "bad" book, just one that tackles the Rescue Fantasy trope in a manner I personally find unappealing.  When I hit the 20% mark and found myself still not caring?  Yep, I gave myself permission to DNF.

Amelia Grant is gently born, hiding her true identity, and working as a governess under an assumed name.  By the 20% mark she had been:

1) Drugged and almost raped by her employer, fleeing the premises with her few meager possessions and what amounts to her life savings.

2) Her reticule, where she has stored said life savings, is snatched away in the streets by a crafty pickpocket.

3) She is almost trampled to death by horses in the street while running after the pickpocket only to be rescued by our hero, Nicholas Riley.

4) Nicholas takes one look at her, has lecherous thoughts, but wants to protect her, so tells her in no uncertain terms she is now his new secretary - never mind she has no clue how to be a secretary.  She's hung up about this, but he's a steam-rollin' Alpha hero so it's not like her protests are all that concerning....

5) And for added measure, she has to work because after Papa dies her wastrel brother gambled away what money was left and was getting ready to sell her off to marry a man whose reputation is worse than that of the employer who tried to rape her.


I get that the girl is having a bad day (OK, bad life) - but outside her constantly needing to be rescued and the hero having a White Knight Fetish, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to find the chit interesting enough to read about.  Which is ultimately the problem.  Even with Nicholas being a "self-made man" there's just nothing interesting about these people.  In fact, Nicholas is vaguely creepy, rescuing Amelia from certain doom, wanting to protect her, but still, of course, wanting to take her to bed for carnal delights.

None of it was working for me and my Kindle runneth over so....

Final Grade = DNF

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#TBRChallenge 2016: Everybody's Talkin' All This Stuff About Me
The Book: My Prerogative by Sasha White

The Particulars: Contemporary Erotic Romance, Book 4 in series, 2008, Berkley, Out of Print, No Digital Edition.  (Note: Series not listed in the Bookshelf section of author web site and all books in series are currently out of print with no digital editions - so possibly the author is working to get rights back from Berkley?)

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: No clue.  Seriously, no clue whatsoever.  I can tell that I didn't buy it new but there are no used bookstore stamps on it - so I might have picked this up at a SoCal Bloggers book swap?  I mean, look at that cover.  I kinda dig it.

The Review: I pretty much want to shrug my shoulders, say "Meh" and just be done with it.  But for you all I'll try to expound, stating up front this review might be contradictory at times.  Honestly, I probably should have DNF'ed it because I found it all so Meh, but I was at RT last week which meant it was either this book or no book at all (and the hostess not meeting her own challenge just seems sad), but I'll admit upfront I skimmed a good chunk of the final 1/3.

Kelsey Howard is a mid-30s bartender who is out there living life - which by her definition is to have lots of flings, lots of inconsequential hook-ups, plenty of booze, and a job that keeps her up all night and sleeping all day.  She does what she wants, with whomever she wants (although she keeps her hook-ups strictly hetero).  She's out there "living life."  So why does she feel so lost sometimes.

One night, instead of hooking up with a regular bar customer (a definite no-no in her book), she goes home to her supply of toys.  She has a good time...with the curtains open.  Watching her the whole time?  Hunky artist Harlan who lives across the street.

So we all know where this is going, right?  And I wanted to love this book.  I subscribe to the school of thought that women should be allowed to love sex and be unapologetic about it.  And for the most part that's Kelsey.  The downside to storytelling that is it's kind of boring.  I know erotic romance has been overrun with Angst-O-Rama-Jama lately, but there needs to be some sort of conflict to keep the proceedings interesting outside of the Boink-Fest and everything felt superficially on-the-surface here.  To make it more problematic?  The author hints that Kelsey has "issues" and baggage, but keeps it skin deep.  So on one hand I loved that this book lacks over the top angst, but on the other hand I'm disappointed when angst is hinted at but never really delivered on.  See?  Contradictory.

Harlan is basically an OK guy but firmly in the Too Good To Be True category.  A perfect example?  Kelsey finally agrees to go out with him, like normal dating people do, for a drink.  Before Harlan gets there she decides to have some fun since he likes to watch.  She propositions a guy, sits him down in a booth, and proceeds to get him off.  Right there.  In the bar.  Harlan shows up and there's the girl he's meeting for a drink pleasuring another dude.  Afterward he says this to Kelsey:
I'm not disappointed because of what you did.  I'm not that man.  I'm confident in myself and not threatened by watching a woman I find attractive with another man.  What I'm disappointed in is the fact that you'd rather play games than get to know each other.
I can read erotic romance as fantasy with the best of them (in fact a lot of erotic romance and erotica occupies the "fantasy reading" part of my brain) but this strained the seams considerably for me. You show up for a date with a girl and you arrive to find her doing Naughty Things with some strange dude.  In public? And he doesn't freak out?  Or get upset?  Or whatever?  Surely I can't be the only person to find this odd?

Characters from previous books in the series do show up (mostly in the second half) but this book stands alone reasonably well.  In the end Kelsey still hasn't explored any of her hinted at baggage or past behavior but seems so much "happier" to her family and friends which is attributed to her falling in lurve.  It's just so uninspired.  The whole never dives below the surface.  We skate along the edge, there are some hot encounters, but the characters remain strictly superficial.  It's not bad it's just....meh.  It's also the kind of story that I'll have trouble recalling anything about next week.

On the bright side?  That's one less print trade paperback off the TBR Mountain Range and that feels pretty awesome.

Final Grade = C-

Monday, April 18, 2016

Little Miss Crabby Pants Comes Clean

Well that didn't take long.  Back from RT for a grand total of 24 hours and already our first controversy.  I tend to avoid addressing most post-con controversies but in this instance Little Miss Crabby Pants feels like she has something to say.  Because...of course she does.

The brouhaha involves a publisher that attended this year called Clean Reads (and no I'm not linking).  They handed out "Clean Reads" buttons at the Giant Book Fair and attendees wearing one had the opportunity to win cool free stuff - I believe Kindle Fires were involved.  So, naturally, many folks started walking around sporting those buttons.

What makes this problematic?  The fact that the publisher has very definite ideas on what constitutes a "clean read."  I'll direct you to this blog post by author Rick R. Reed, but in a nutshell?  "Clean" does not apply to LGBTQ.

There's a lot going on here, so let's start with the obvious.  The implication that if you're LGBTQ you are somehow "not clean" or "dirty" is....really not cool.  Also fairly obvious and problematic is the implication that all media (this includes books) that feature LGBTQ characters is somehow pedal-to-the-metal erotica (this is a long-standing pet peeve of mine).  Which...hello, it's not.  For me it's the exact same thing as when people think romance novels are all about sex and that all romance novels have sex in them.  Which we all know...isn't true either.

LGBTQ does not = "dirty" or "unclean"
LGBTQ does not automatically = erotica or erotic romance
Sex does not = "unclean" or "bad" or "wrong."

Hey, if we're all created in God's image I'm pretty sure the big guy upstairs is pretty OK with sex.  I mean, she'd have to be...right?

What I fear will get lost in this discussion, and what I fear will happen, is that readers who like reads that are sweet, gentle, non-explicit, whatever-the-heck-you-want-to-call-them, will get lumped into the fray as being "a problem."  Also, and this could just be the Twitter vacuum I live in, that somehow people who like non-explicit reads think erotic romance or erotica is the devil.  Some of them do, but guess what?  Some of them don't.  It's always been too easy and tempting by some parties to lump romance readers into "one thing."  Oh, you like LGBTQ?  You must hate Inspirational romances.  Oh, you like hot erotic romance?  You must want sex in ALL your books. 

It's true, some readers do like to stay in their lane and not veer off on to unfamiliar dirt roads to explore the countryside.  But, in my experience, I find this to not be the norm in Romancelandia.  I can only truly speak for myself, but I love erotic romance and erotica.  Love it!  But I also love plenty of authors who keep the bedroom door firmly shut and whose characters never utter a curse word.  I've even been known to read books on both ends of the spectrum back-to-back (two authors I really dig? Charlotte Stein and Deeanne Gist. They both do great tension, but that's the only similarity between the me).

The problem continues to be discoverability.  Just as I don't want readers shamed for loving erotic romance or erotica, I don't want them shamed for wanting the author to keep that bedroom door shut.  However we live in a society that cannot seem to function without labels and the book world is consumed by themThe trick is how to identify those non-explicit reads for people who want them without resorting to a publishing model that endorses bigotry.  And I think if you asked people who liked non-explicit reads?  You'd find a great many of them aren't intolerant people.  They don't think LGBTQ somehow denotes "explicit" because, guess what?  It doesn't.  I also think you'd find many of them interested in non-explicit books that feature LGBTQ characters.  If nothing else, I'm interested! (hint, hint)

This, for me, is another example of a widening divide.  Non-explicit reads are getting lumped into inspirational by default which is a disservice for non-explicit readers who don't want Christian themes and for Christian readers actively looking for Christian themes.  But in a world where we're obsessed with labels?  Coming up with labels or various genre cues is tricky.  Words like "clean" and "wholesome" are judgmental.  "Sweet" can mean anything from "no sex" to "charming" to "cloyingly saccharine."  I like "gentle" but am really not in love with it.  "Non-Explicit" seems....awkward.  And yes, there is a difference between "chaste" and "closed door."

At this point I'm thinking authors writing non-explicit books need to resort to putting cats on their book covers.  Hey, it worked for cozy mysteries!  Even when the story in question doesn't have a cat in it!

This is an instance where I really don't have a good answer and it's a topic which, as a librarian, I struggle with constantly.  Just as there are folks who don't like action movies because they don't like to watch violence?  There are folks who like non-explicit reads - not because they are narrow-minded or bigoted - but because they don't want to read about sex, violence and/or curse words.  And you know what?  There's nothing wrong with that.  But there has to be a way to identify those books without excluding the LGBTQ community and implying that they, and sex in general, are "dirty" or "wrong."

Friday, April 15, 2016

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for April 2016

For those of you participating in the 2016 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, April 20.  This month's theme is Contemporary!  This one should be fairly easy, right?  Well, what if you're not in the mood for a contemporary right now or "I'm sorry Wendy, but you'll pry my historical romances out of my cold dead hands?" 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.

You can find more information about the challenge (and see the list of participants) on the Information Page

Monday, April 11, 2016

Viva Las Vegas!

Long story short: this blog has been a dead zone.

A more thorough excuse?  I haven't been reading (at all - it's been really sad) and my time online following whatever Outrage Du Jour (I'll admit it - I'm outraged-out) has been limited.  So yeah, not a lot to blog about.

But it's time for me to pop in and say, "Hey! I'm taking off for Las Vegas!"  That's right, I'll be hitting my first ever (Lord help us all) RT BookLover's Convention this week.  I'm already incredibly overwhelmed by the conference agenda because 1) there is so much to do...OMG! and 2) Wendy doesn't do "costumes."  So yeah.  I'll be dressed like a librarian (OK, my "these are the clothes I wear to work" wardrobe). 

I hope to meet / see a lot of you there.  Alas, I will not be blogging during the conference.  Right now my lone mobile computing device is my smart phone (and I don't like blogging enough to tackle it on a smart phone).  But I'm going to do my best to cross-post conference shenanigans (I promise - totally family friendly AND safe for work) on Twitter and my blog's Facebook page.

I'm also going to try not to drop my life savings at the blackjack table or run off and marry an Elvis impersonator.  Baby steps Wendy.  Baby steps.