Wednesday, July 18, 2018

#TBRChallenge 2018: Cinderella's Wedding Wish
The Book: Cinderella's Wedding Wish by Jessica Hart

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance #4084, 2009, Out of Print, Available Digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  Hart is probably my most favorite author in the Harlequin Romance universe.  She's an autobuy.  This was one of her backlist titles I picked up when I "discovered" her with a later 2009 release.

The Review:  I like category romance for a lot of reasons, but it's hard to deny that it's a format that is laden with tropes.  So for this month's Favorite Trope theme, I decided to go into my Harlequin TBR and read the first book that caught my eye.  Lo and behold, this Jessica Hart was right on top and it's a Boss/Secretary book!  Yes, yes - I'm part of the problem.  I love Boss/Secretary books.  I know, I know!  Don't hate the player, hate the game.  Turns out though this really isn't a Boss/Secretary romance - it's more general office romance with some Cinderella and Fake Relationship tossed into the blender.

Miranda Fairchild is the plain middle child, while her two sisters are raving beauties.  Miranda left college to try to save the family business (a department store) but it was too late.  The damage was done, her father having ignored the signs of impending doom for far too long.  Her younger sister's answer to this little problem is to try to bag a rich husband (older sister is already married), while ever practical Miranda goes the old fashioned route.  Yeah, she finds a job.  The problem is her resume isn't all that impressive (the stored died on her watch after all), so she's working as a temp at the Knighton group and working evenings at a friend's catering business.

Rafe Knighton is an only child, a reformed bad boy that still managed to inherit the family business even though his father disapproved of him (ultimately though Daddy did leave him the company).  The problem is that even though he's "grown up," Rafe cannot shake his reputation.  It's while walking the halls of his company that he meets Miranda accosting an uncooperative copy machine (girl, I'm been there...) and he's taken with her.  Her temp assignment is almost up, and Rafe knows she's just the woman he help him find a wife.  He asks her to organize a charity gala to help him look for a potential spouse.  Someone intelligent, accomplished, and beautiful certainly wouldn't hurt.  He's ready to settle down and certainly a wife will convince everyone (the press, his own board of directors etc.) that he's no longer a "bad boy."

Eventually Rafe's plan to land a wife has him turning to Miranda to pose as a temporary/fake fiancee, but there's tap-dancing to get through first.  We all know what happens next, they soon learn there is more to the other one than meets the eye.

This is pretty much standard issue, right down to Miranda hiding behind an ill-fitting, less-than-flattering wardrobe.  While Miranda certainly stacks up with her sisters in the looks department, she never saw herself that way so...why even bother?  Rafe is drop-dead gorgeous but has never been given much credit in the brains department because of his reputation. 

This is a very pleasant, straight-forward and sweet romance.  There's one off-page sex scene and there's some nice chemistry between the main characters.  But this all sounds like damning with faint praise, doesn't it?  That's because it kind of is.  I hate to judge an author by previous (and future) work, but this one doesn't have the emotional gut-punch I've experienced with other books by Hart.  Don't get me wrong, it's nice.  It's a good, solid, romantic read.  But it didn't leave me swooning or weepy like a lot of her other books have.

But there's nothing wrong with straight-forward and honestly, this is not "bad."  It's a good, pleasant read that I tore through in a couple of sittings.  It's just nowhere near the best of what Hart can showcase in the Harlequin Romance format.  Good, but not a favorite and not the first book I would recommend to a newbie by this author.

Final Grade = B-

Friday, July 13, 2018

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for July

Hey, hey, hey!  For those of you participating in the 2018 #TBRChallenge, a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, July 18.  The theme this month is Favorite Trope.

Friends to Lovers? Mail Order Bride? Marriage of Convenience? Reunited Lovers? Marriage in Trouble?  Amnesia? Secret Baby?  This month is all about picking your poison and reading a book with one of your favorite tropes.

But what if you've read every book ever published with your favorite trope?  Hey, that's OK.  The themes are optional and really, you can read whatever you want.  The whole point of the TBR Challenge is to read something that has been languishing in your TBR.


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, July 2, 2018

Review: The Soldier Prince

I'll be honest, I don't naturally gravitate to what I call "fake royalty" romances.  I tend to read them by authors that are already known commodities to me and even then it's somewhat grudgingly.  Never mind that I've enjoyed several such books in the past.  Royalty romances featuring made-up countries is a mental block that I'm unlikely to ever fully shake.  So reading such a book by an completely unknown to me author is - well, let's just say it's out of character.  But something about The Soldier Prince by Aarti V Raman hit me in just the right way that weekend I finally decided to clean out my in-box.  And you know what?  I liked this.  Quite a bit.  Like enough that I want the next two books in the, by tomorrow would be great.

Sasha Ray is a perfectly ordinary Indian-American girl from New Jersey working as a waitress in New York City while struggling to pay for college.  In fact the only semi-exciting thing to happen to her is the mystery hunk who sits in her station every day, always orders the chicken parm salad with two cups of espresso, pays cash, and leaves her a 40% tip.  Then, as he pays for his meal, he forks over a wade of cash and tells the staff to feed whomever comes into the deli for free until his money runs out.  How was Sasha to know he was not only royalty but a former special ops soldier?

Alexander Heinrickson is "the spare" and witnessed his mother's murder while he was accompanying her on a humanitarian mission.  It broke him.  In his grief he left everything behind, the girl he loved, his family, and joined the Marines.  Then, after his tour, he joined a private special ops firm because...well, romance hero.  Anyway, he finally walked away from all of that eight months ago but has not been able to haul himself back home to Stellangard.  But it looks like someone is there to change his mind.  He's being followed.  By a small band of mercenaries who are determined to do him harm (turns out they want to kidnap him).  Nothing he's not capable of handling, well that is until Sasha shows up to warn him.  Now she's in danger and he has to protect her while he tries to figure out who is out to get him.  That means he cannot avoid home any longer and oh, she's going to have to come to Stellangard until he unravels the mess.

This book is basically a Harlequin on steroids with all sorts of delicious tropey-ness that sucked me right in.  Yes, the plot is slightly absurd - sort of like if a Harlequin Presents and a Harlequin Romantic Suspense had a baby - but it's all in good fun with the author laying down a thick frosting of fairy tale.  If you recently watched the Prince Harry / Meghan Markle royal wedding for the 12th time (you know who you are...) this is the book for you.

Sasha is a nice American girl with a nice American life.  She's strong and brave without being a cliche and will acknowledge when she makes a muck of things, even though she always has good intentions.  Alexander (AKA Xander) is all Alpha still grieving over his mother's death when he was a teenager.  Oh, and the girl he left behind?  Turns out she married his brother - the Crown Prince - and there are still "feelings" there.  So yeah, all the delicious tropes, all the angsty baggage, gorge at the trough my greedy category romance fans!

There are, however, a few slight bumps in the road.  Raman is not an American - which, in and of itself, is not a problem.  But the early chapters of this book take place in New York City and it all feels a little "off."  The turns of phrase, the edges around the setting - it's nothing that an American beta reader couldn't have helped smooth out a bit.  Also, there's some head-hopping.  Not a ton, but occasionally the author will leave the third person point-of-view of Sasha or Xander and briefly move it to a secondary character.  Again, nothing intrinsically wrong with this (I'm not a vehement head-hopping hater) but the transitions aren't always smooth and I found myself backtracking to previous paragraphs because I missed the "hop."

But I really enjoyed this - slightly absurd fairy tale plot and all.  The author has created an interesting and sympathetic cast of characters, has laid the foundation for a good on-going suspense thread, and hits all the buttons that light up the part of my brain addicted to category romance.  I need another series like a hole in the head, and in fact am a little burnt out on them, but damn if I don't want more of this world.  Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got an author newsletter to sign up for.

Final Grade = B

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Top 5 Unusual Historicals for June 2018

Summer time! Sum-sum-summertime! The weather is warming up (for some of you it’s positively boiling…), my favorite sporting pastime time is in full swing (baseball!), and what better way to unwind during the busiest months at my day job than with some new historical romances. Here is what is catching my eye in June:
Pride and Passion by Carla Buchanan
Behind the soft smile, perfect manners, and helpful air, Constance Ray is a woman struggling to make it through the day. After her husband is killed in the Korean war, his death leaves her lost, knowing she can never be the woman she was before. Although, when a handsome navy officer shows up with a final word from the grave, Constance can’t ignore the message. She also can’t continue to be indifferent to the man who brought it, or his involvement in the war – the one for everyone’s right to be treated equally.

Nathaniel Kelly never means for it to happen, especially not with Constance. He is supposed to fulfill the final wish of the man he owed his life to, but he can’t help it when he instantly falls for the soften-spoken, bereaved preacher’s daughter. But as much as he wishes to court her, to love her, his loyalty to his friend and his obligation to make up for sins of the father, stand in the way. Remaining true to his friendship, and his mission, is hard when pride for the movement unites Nathaniel with Constance and his passion for her finally sets her free.
I know I have been featuring the latest Decades of African American romance book nearly every month, but seriously, how can I not?! These are settings you just don’t see every day in Romancelandia. A Korean War veteran? Seriously, tell me the last time (if ever!) you saw that in a romance novel. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
A Touch of Flame by Jo Goodman
 Dr. E. Ridley Woodhouse is like no physician Ben Madison has ever met--she's a woman. As the newly elected sheriff of Frost Falls, Colorado, Ben is tasked with welcoming Ridley to the community. But while Ben might be tempted by the new doc's charms, getting the town to accept a big-city, female doctor is no easy feat. To earn their trust she'll have to prove herself and Ben determines to help her...even if she's the most stubborn woman he's ever met.

When the husband of one of Ridley's patients threatens her, forbidding Ridley from treating his wife or children, all of Ben's protective instincts kick in. Ridley has come to rely on Ben's steady presence and the delicious tension that simmers just below the surface of their easy friendship--but as much as she trusts that his warnings to steer clear of Jeremiah Salt are sincere, she's never been one to back down from a challenge and she refuses to abandon her patient.

But sticking to your guns can earn you trouble in the rough terrain of the Wild West and danger threatens Ridley from unexpected places, forcing Ben to confront his deepest fear in order to save the woman he loves.
Goodman is a standard bearer in historical western romance, crafting well-developed historical worlds and creating meaty stories you can sink your teeth into. You’re not going to get a fluffy bit of brain candy with a Goodman western. She’s not an ideal candidate for me when it comes to pool lounging or beach reading - more like I want to shut myself in my bedroom one Sunday afternoon and not come up for air until I finish the last page.
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The Gunslinger’s Vow by Amy Sandas
Three runaway brides
Determined to escape their fates
Flee West to find freedom that can only be had in a cowboy's arms...

Alexandra Brighton spent the last five years in Boston, erasing all evidence of the wild frontier girl she used to be. Before she settles, she's determined to visit her childhood home one final time. But when she finds herself stranded far from civilization, she has no choice but to trust her safety to the tall, dark and decidedly dangerous bounty hunter, Malcolm Kincaid.

Now that Malcolm finally has the location of his brother's killer, he has no intention of wasting time protecting a pampered Eastern lady. But something about Alexandra speaks to the heart he long thought frozen—and her slow transformation from proper miss to wild-eyed beauty leaves him shaken. By the time they reach Montana, Malcolm must decide if seeking justice for past wrongs is worth losing a future with the woman he never expected to need…
A debut, of sorts. Sandas’ first three books for Sourcebooks were Regency England and she’s making the switch to the American West with this first book in a new trilogy. I’m a western fan from way back. I saw the mass exodus of western writers fleeing for English-set historicals in the early 2000s. Trust me, to have it happen the other way around is still not terribly common. I’m intrigued by the road romance premise of this one.
Secrets of a Wallflower by Amanda McCabe
A secret shared… But can she trust him?

In this Debutantes in Paris story, Diana Martin is thrilled to be a writer covering the Parisian Exposition. But her new role must be kept quiet—her parents would never allow it! When enigmatic Sir William Blakely discovers her ruse, he knows it could lead her into danger. With the sparks igniting between them, William realizes the only way to protect Diana is by staying as close to her as possible! 

Ah, Paris. Who doesn’t love Paris in the springtime? McCabe has a varied historical backlist, having written everything from mysteries, to Regencies, to Elizabethan. I’m looking forward to this one, a start of a new series for Harlequin Historical.
Beguiled by the Forbidden Knight by Elisabeth Hobbes
He’s her enemy…
…and she must not fall for him!

When her mistress is claimed as an enemy knight’s betrothed, handmaiden Aelfhild knows it would be too dangerous for her lady; she must go in her place. But there’s more to the scarred knight than she first thought—she isn’t expecting to fall for him! As the line between friend and enemy blurs, Aelfhild realizes she might be protecting her mistress, but not her heart…
I’ve hopscotched around her backlist, but so far Hobbes’ has been a very consistent writer for me and I’ve enjoyed all the medievals I’ve read by her. I love the high stakes often found in this era (where a matter of loyalty could get one killed) and enemies-to-lovers works really well within that framework. I can’t wait to dive into this one.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to this month?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

#TBRChallenge 2018: A Dime Novel Hero

The Book: A Dime Novel Hero by Maureen McKade

The Details: Historical western romance, Avon, 1998, Out of print, Available digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  It's a western and it's Maureen McKade.  I won't tell you how long it's been in my TBR though.  Years.  I'm not exaggerating...YEARS!

The Review:  For those of you keeping score at home, my reading of late has been the pits.  I mean, the literal pits.  So this month's Comfort Read theme for the TBR Challenge was just what the doctor ordered.  I opted for a historical western (a sub genre I love) and Maureen McKade - who has written some amazing books and some ho-hum meh books, but who has never delivered an outright stinker.  And boy howdy, I've read some steaming piles of you-know-what lately.  A Dime Novel Hero was her second published book and no, it's not perfect.  But it's competently, and compellingly, written and I sunk right into the story.  I read this in two sittings, practically gulping it down like a man near death from thirst.

Kit Thornton was a motherless pudgy little girl with spectacles whose father didn't have time for her and worse still, didn't "get" her.  She loves to read books, take care of injured stray animals, and needless to say is a favorite target for bullies.  Then one day wild Jake Cordell comes to her rescue and hero worship quickly turns to puppy love. 

Years later, Jake is working as a law clerk in Boston when he gets word his father, a prominent judge, is gunned down by an outlaw.  Never close with his father, his mother having abandoned him at a young age, Jake is determined to exact his revenge.  He saddles up as a bounty hunter and six years later has finally brought the killer to justice.  Now he's back home to claim the family ranch.  Except the family ranch is now owned by Kit Thornton.

Thanks to a stipulation in Jake's father's will, Kit was able to buy the ranch and she lives there with her two hired men (both of them "not white" - so that goes over just about as well as you'd expect with the "good townsfolk") and her adopted 5-year-old son.  The boy, Johnny, is Jake's.  A product of a relationship he had with a saloon girl who Kit nursed in her dying days.  But Johnny doesn't know that and neither does Jake.  And now he's back in town.  Further complicating Kit's life?  She borrowed money against the ranch to buy some horses, that loan is nearly due, and Kit doesn't have the money.  Oh, and did I mention she's the secret writer of dime novels starring Jake Cordell?  Yeah, those books have expounded on his reputation and needless to say Jake's not terribly pleased.

We all know where this is going.  Jake has done what he set out to do, which is find his father's killer.  However his relationship with his father was complicated and Jake has a lot of unresolved baggage.  Kit's books (which nobody knows Kit is the writer) have elevated Jake to this mythic-like hero, when he's really a flawed man.  A man that Kit has to pick up off a saloon floor and bail out of jail in the early chapters.  But Kit, bless her heart, can't help herself.  She's still rescuing strays and her feelings for Jake are complicated.  Now he wants to buy back his family ranch, doesn't know she wrote those novels about him, doesn't know he has a son, and doesn't know about her current financial straits.

There's a Sword of Damocles hanging over most of this story because both Jake and Kit are lying to each other by omission.  Kit's reasons are fairly easy to understand.  I don't necessarily like that she doesn't come clean about little Johnny straight away, but she has her reasons - most of them wrapped up around the mother's wishes and Jake's footloose track record.  Jake is one of those complicated romance heroes that runs hot and cold.  He's a good guy underneath everything, which is what Kit sees in him.  But man, there are times you want to slap him into next Tuesday.  Kit is so good, and so giving, and frankly he does her wrong (by omission - but still done wrong) in more than one instance in this story.

This is a romance, so naturally it all works out in the end and there are some really heady emotional scenes during The Black Moment that I actually felt a few tears leak out.  That said, this ain't perfect.  Kit is the sort who claims she doesn't care what people think of her, but the cruelty hurts her all the same.  She's the sort that if she were pregnant out of wedlock she wouldn't hide away for 9 months, and yet everyone in town just assumes Johnny is biologically hers. This is a plot hole the author never explains. The conflict hinges on several Big Secrets and in the end the fact that Kit is the author of the dime novels is dashed off as an afterthought, which is a sign (in my opinion) that there were too many elements being juggled at once.

There's also a few elements that some readers may find upsetting that I feel like need to be mentioned in a minor spoiler sort of way.  One of Kit's hired men is black, and the n-word is dropped during one scene by a villainous character who just got done beating up Kit's other hired man, who is half-Pawnee.  There's a near rape of the heroine (because of course there is - this is a 20-year-old historical after all) and over the course of the story a horse has to be put down. 

But in the end, even with the faults and nit-picks, I really fell right into the story.  It's well-written (nit-picks aside), I was invested in the characters, and easily kept swiping left to read the next page.  It's nowhere near my favorites by McKade, but it was a pleasant, memorable read that found me in the nick of time.  As my reading of late has showcased, I definitely could have done worse.

Final Grade = B-

Friday, June 15, 2018

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for June 2018

Hey, hey, hey!  For those of you participating in the 2018 #TBRChallenge, a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, June 20.  The theme this month is Comfort Read.

However you define comfort read.  For me it's a book and/or author almost guaranteed to make me happy.  A story I can fall right into, a story that brings me that happy glow.  Or in the case of my reading trends right now?  I'd be happy with something that doesn't suck.

But what if the concept of comfort reading is foreign to you?  What if you're like, "Whatever are you talking about Wendy? Comfort read?!" Hey, that's OK.  The themes are optional and really, you can read whatever you want.  The whole point of the TBR Challenge is to read something that has been languishing in your TBR.


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, June 11, 2018

Review: Transcendence
Folks, this is going to be one of my more challenging reviews to date.  Why?  Because Transcendence by Shay Savage took parts of Romancelandia by storm a few years ago, including captivating my good buddy, and RWA roomie, KristieJ.  Kristie told me I had to read it.  So I bought this when it was 99 cents and it sat on my Kindle until finally Kristie said I had to promise to read it before RWA in July.  So, I did.  My experience with this book can be wrapped up in one simple, inelegant, response:

WT-Actual-F did I just read?!?!

Seriously.  I want to drown myself in a vat of brain bleach.

The story opens with some half-baked science-y explanation on why our hero can't talk or understand language. Blah, blah, blah SCIENCE!  Once past the prologue we meet our caveman (seriously) hero, Ehd, trying to stay alive after the death of his tribe (wiped out by a fire).  He digs a pit, manages to catch an antelope (or whatever) and in his state of hunger accidentally leaves his spear behind.  When he goes back he notices his pit has captured something else.  A young woman wearing strange clothing and making a lot of weird mouth noises.

The young women, Beh, is from "the future."  But Ehd doesn't know that because he can't communicate or understand what she's saying and damn she makes all these weird mouth noises that hurt his head.  She basically cries a lot and is generally the most annoying thing on the planet Earth, which takes some doing since the reader isn't given her point of view.  That's right kids!  This story is told in first person, present tense, from the hero's point of view.  Yes, the hero who can't talk or understand language.  How he can tell a story to the reader then defies logic - but whatever.  Ours is not to reason why.  Ehd takes one look at our idiot heroine, immediately starts thinking of her as his "mate" and spends the rest of the novel desperately wanting to get her pregnant.

Yes, it's all just as insulting as I'm making it sound.  Don't believe me?  Let's look at the notes I highlighted while reading last night:

At 9%:
However, she seems so frightened of me now, I don’t think she would readily position herself on her hands and knees so I can fill her.  Still, I am much stronger, and if I want inside of her, I can just hold her while I enter her body.  Joining with her in such a way would still feel very good, I imagine, but I don’t like it when she yells and cries, and I think she would probably do that if I have to hold her down to mate with her. These thoughts are making my penis lengthen and become stiff.  I consider stroking myself, but I am afraid it will wake her.  I sigh as I look down on her sleeping face and wonder how long it will be before I can properly mate with her.  I touch her cheek softly again, and I know when I decide to lie with her, I want her to enjoy it.  So how do I get that to happen? Finally, after thinking about it a long time, I decide I need to make her like me.
Wendy's Notes: WT-Actual-F am I reading?!  And wait, how does a caveman hero who cannot understand language know the word "penis?"

At 16%:
As much as I need water and food and shelter, I need to be inside of her—I need to give her a baby.
Wendy's Notes: Sure, why not? Let's roll feminism back 100 years.

At 22%:
I hope if I am patient, she will let me put a baby inside of her soon.
Wendy's Notes: Kill. Me. Now.

At 36%:
We have to mate now before it’s too late. I have to put a baby in her.
Wendy's Notes: Seriously dude. WE GET IT ALREADY!

At 41%:
I can feel the heat in my groin and the hardness of my flesh under my furs, and I know my body is straining to put a baby inside of her as soon as possible.  Before long, the weather will be cold, and Beh will have to have a baby in her soon so it will be big enough to survive the next winter.
Wendy's Notes: Barf and kill me.

At 43%:
I mean—if she touched me there, then surely she’ll let me put a baby in her now, right?
Wendy's Notes: You know, sometimes I'm a little slow but I think I'm beginning to notice a pattern here.../end sarcasm.

At 69%:
My mate likes everything to be clean and dry, and putting my penis in her while she is bleeding is clearly not an option.
Wendy's Notes: What sweet hell is this?! 

At 71%:
We eat; I put my penis inside of her for a while, and then I fall back to sleep.
Wendy's Notes: Proof that some 21st century men haven't evolved all that much from their cavemen ancestors.  Booya!  

And really, that's just the tip of the iceberg.  You've got a time traveling heroine whose point of view you don't get, who cries All. The. Time and doesn't do a damn thing THE ENTIRE STORY to figure out how she got there, how to get back to her own time etc.  Color me wacky, but I think I'd make that my priority over giving it up to a caveman who can't talk.  But the piece de resistance?  When the heroine gets her period the caveman hero fashions up some maxi-pads for her using antelope hide and dried grass.  

People, I can't even. 

Harlequin kills SuperRomance for, presumably, low sales  and THIS!  This is the sort of story that earns glowing 5-star reviews out the ying-yang.  A heroine (yes, she's an idiot - but still...) reduced to broodmare, a story concept that defies logic (How does he know the word penis? How can this story be told from his point of view when HE DOESN'T UNDERSTAND LANGUAGE?!), and a time travel element/explanation that makes even less sense than your typical time travel romance - which, long time romance readers will attest to, takes some serious doing.

I'm done.  I'm out.  I want wine.  Send wine.  Lots and lots of wine.

Final Grade = F