Monday, March 30, 2015

The 3rd Annual Tigers Meet Harlequin Extravaganza!

This blog has been in existence for 12 years and by my count I've had two great ideas in that entire time.  1) Starting the blog in the first place and 2) Imagining players from my favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers, as heroes in category (specifically Harlequin) romance novels.  Long-time visitors of this blog acknowledge the existence of two universal truths:

1) Wendy is insufferable about baseball
2) Wendy is insufferable about Harlequin category romances

And Lord help us all, I seem to have developed a very loyal (Dare I say it? Slightly obsessive?) following to these posts.  Which means I guess I'll be stuck doing them every spring until people grow to hate them, I run out of ideas or players.  Whichever comes first.

For those of you who are new here, it's really quite simple.  I take a real life player on the current Detroit Tigers roster.  I look at him as a person, a player, co-op a bit of his real life story, and throw in a bunch of completely made-up stuff to concoct a category romance novel around him.  Yes, it's as twisted as it sounds.  No, I haven't gotten a cease and desist letter from anyone yet.

Dear Tigers: I do what I do out of love.

Here's a recap of the past two years:

Miguel Cabrera in The Venezuelan's Sexy Bodyguard (Harlequin Presents)
Justin Verlander in Bring the Heat (Harlequin Blaze)
Prince Fielder in Daddy Doesn't Love Me (Harlequin SuperRomance) - now with the Texas Rangers
Phil Coke in Good Time Phil (Harlequin Kiss) - currently with the Chicago Cubs
Austin Jackson in Action Jackson (Harlequin Desire) - now with the Seattle Mariners
Victor Martinez in The Single Dad's Home Run (Harlequin Special Edition)

Max Scherzer in His Brother's Keeper (Harlequin Romance) - now with Washington Nationals
Jose Iglesias in The Shortstop's Secret Baby (Harlequin Intrigue)
Alex Avila in Collision at Home (Cosmo Red Hot Read)
Rick Porcello in Angling Towards Danger (Harlequin Romantic Suspense) - now with the Boston Red Sox

This year I've got four new players, four new stories, and gird your loins girls - this year Wendy tackles an amnesia plot.  Relive the passion, relive the glory, the 2015 roster gets kicked off starting tomorrow.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Round-Up: RITAs, H&H and My Final Word (Uh, Maybe)

In a moment of genuine happy-happy-joy-joy in Romancelandia yesterday, RWA announced RITA and Golden Heart finalists for 2015.  The list is now complete and you can head on over to the RWA site to check it out.

I was one of the folks who voiced displeasure at last year's process which saw 300 nominees in some categories and, like, two in others.  Look, I'm not widely read in Inspirational romance, but I had a hard time believing only two books were worthy of finalling last year.  So it was nice to see RWA right the ship and color me impressed with this year's list of nominees.  I personally feel there is a nice mix here, with authors of color representing, m/m nominations, and a strong showing by self-publishing.  Is it all perfect and rosy?  No.  But I think this is a step in the right direction.

I have roughly five of the nominees in the TBR Pile of Doom.  I hope to reprioritize my reading and get some of these read before I head to conference in July.

+++++

My latest list of Unusual Historicals has gone live over at Heroes & Heartbreakers.  And on a similar note, in light of recent events, I've updated the disclosure page here at the Bat Cave.

+++++

I know we've hit saturation point on the latest Bombshell Du Jour here in Romancelandia, where Dear Author Jane has come out as New Adult Author Jen Frederick.  My original blog post on the matter came fairly quickly on the heels of the announcement and was my way to start wrapping my own mind around how I really felt - and as can be shown in the comments I eventually fell on the side of having very strong feelings on the subject.

Other discussions have naturally cropped up and I'm starting to see comments along the lines of "Dear People Not Thrilled By This, what do you expect Jane to do?  Shut down Dear Author?  Step away from it?  What do you think b*tching is going to do?  Get over yourself."

OK, paraphrasing wildly - but that's the gist.  Here's my answer.

Nothing.  I expect Jane to do nothing.  She's going to make the decision she feels is best for her, her writing career and blog.  And believe you me, I don't think she's going to be swayed by the fact that I feel the way I feel or someone else feels the way they feel.  Here's what I think should happen and will.

We'll all make our own choices.  If you loved DA before and still do - then nothing will change.  If you hated DA before and still do - then nothing will change.  If you were a casual DA visitor and depending on how you feel now - then you'll act accordingly.  I know how I will interact with DA from this moment forward and like how all things should be in life, that's my choice and bully for me.  You have choices and free will and bully for you.

What I am sorry for and continue to be sorry for are several things: 1) that people are hurt. Whether you think they have a "right" to be hurt or not is incidental.  They're hurt and that sucks.  2) Gah,  the tin-foil-hat-wearing DA-haters are in full froth and they make me so very tired.  Hence why I haven't waded too deeply into certain comment threads and 3) that some people were put in an impossible situation of knowing but couldn't truly say anything because Jane is their friend and it wasn't their secret to tell.  I get that.  And honestly?  It adds another layer to this for me - a layer that tastes rather bitter if I'm totally honest.

So yes, we'll all move on - but I'm sad.  I'm not sorry that I feel this way.  But after 12 years of blogging and over 15 years of being part of the online romance community, the past year has been the most trying time for me, personally.  I used to never think about packing up my cookies and going home, but beginning with the Katherine Hale stalking incident, coupled with the Ellora's Cave suit, and now this?  It's hard to not have those feelings now, on occasion.

But then I think about how much I like talking about books, and the friends I've made, and things like the TBR Challenge and I buck up a bit.  Yes, the wind has been getting knocked out of my sails with more frequency of late, but there's one thing you learn after 12 years of endless blathering: this too shall pass even as things begin to change.  I feel strongly about this blog, my "brand" (such as it is), and how I've carried myself with readers, industry folks and authors over the years.  I think the content of this blog stands on it's own merit (again, such as that is) and that my reviews and commentary speak for themselves.

No, I'm not leaving.  I'm here.  My wee lone voice in the wilderness, ironing my cape and polishing my tiara.  Nothing stays the same.  Things change.  And as we learned this week: change is hard.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Little Miss Crabby Pants Ruminates On Disclosure

Just as I thought things were simmering down in Romancelandia, news broke today of epic proportions.  Jane, of Dear Author fame, "came out" as New Adult author Jen Frederick.  I'm not a NA reader, but I know the author by name recognition (job hazard).  It also helped that I just had lunch with Rosie (who doesn't blog anymore because she hates me) this past weekend and she mentioned liking Frederick's books.  So the name had burrowed into my ear just recently.

Reaction to this news has, at the time of this blog posting, mostly been positive.  And here Little Miss Crabby Pants sits ruminating.  On one hand?  Fine.  Whatever.  On the other?

I'm calling shenanigans.

I've talked about disclosure and blogging before.  I defended Smart Bitch Sarah way back in 2011 on the subject.  The takeaway from my opinion then is pretty much my feelings on the subject now as it applies to "Jen Frederick."  I'm a grown-up and can make up my own mind.  But I'm not going to lie.  There are elements here I find squirky as heck.

Look, good on Jane for writing several books that have obviously been well-received and done well.  She's not the first reviewer/blogger who has published book(s), nor will she be the last.  I even understand why she opted to write under a pen name and keep this news secret.  Dear Author is a big platform.  Would her fiction sink or swim on it's own merits and not have the "baggage" attached to her blogging identity.  So yes, I get that.  I really, really get that.

My issues start when the perceived waters begin to get murky.  Like Kati naming a Jen Frederick's title in her Best of 2014 post.  Yes, she discloses that she has beta read for Frederick in the past.  She does not disclose that she writes for Jen Frederick's blog.  Was Kati's recommendation sincere?  Sure.  It probably was.

I'm just saying it looks squirky.

Also, when a Jen Frederick's book is highlighted on the Daily Deals feature.  Hey, it's a book!  It's on sale!  And for every book sold?  That money is going to Dear Author Jane with no disclosure prior to the fact.  Is this "wrong?"

I'm just saying it looks squirky.

Or the time a reader named Melissa did a post on military heroes and featured a Jen Frederick's title.  Sure.  Melissa could be a genuine reader who really did just submit a post for consideration to Dear Author that just happened to highlight that book by Jen Frederick.  That could be totally innocent and coincidental.

I'm just saying it looks squirky.

Anyway I slice this, I realize I'm going to come off as sour grapes here.  And, truly, I'm not.

I'm just saying it looks squirky.

I've been kicking around Romancelandia online for a long time.  I've made relationships with those in the publishing industry and with authors.  And when I think those relationships should be disclosed?  I disclose the heck out of them.  I love Harlequin, Avon, Michelle Willingham, and Portia Da Costa - and they've all gotten their fair share of DNFs and Squee's! from me over the years.  I've worked hard over the years to carry myself well and honestly?  The Librarian Thing doesn't hurt.

I've often stated that the early days of my online reviewing (starting in 1999) and blogging (starting in 2003) were a bit "Wild West."  However events in the past year have had me revising that statement.  Bloggers and reviewers are more suspect now than they were 10 years ago.  I don't believe that authors or bloggers are "required" to disclose their whole lives online.  I think anonymity is important and should be valued.

I'm just saying that when the waters get murky?  It looks squirky.

Jane had her reasons.  I *get* pretty much all of those reasons.  Truly, I do.  But stepping away and taking a look at the big picture?  I've got issues.  And no it's not because I'm jealous and no it's not because I want to pee on anyone's Cherrios.  Like I stated back in that 2011 post?  We're all grown-ups and we're all capable of making up our own minds.

I'm  just still trying to make up my own.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

TBR Challenge 2015: Sins of a Wicked Princess

The Book: Sins of a Wicked Princess by Anna Randol

The Particulars: Historical romance, Avon, 2013, Third book in a trilogy, In Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  I immensely enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, and got my hands on the next two books.  Plus, neither here nor there, this author is local for yours truly.

The Review:  As stated above, I really enjoyed the first book in this trilogy - it being a huge pleasant surprise what with 1) being by an unknown to me author 2) saddled with an insipid title and 3) equally insipid back cover blurb.  But close to full out love it I did so I read the second book - which despite being RITA nominated I found completely forgettable.  So forgettable in fact that all I could recall prior to rereading my review was that part of the story takes place in Russia.  Naturally my ardor cooled somewhat and languish this third and final book did - until now.

Warning: Thar Be Spoilers Ahoy!

Ian Maddox AKA Wraith was saved from the gallows and turned spy for the Crown.  Napoleon now vanquished, he and his two comrades have been sacked without much more than a by-your-leave.  The fly in the ointment?  While The Trio is now out of business, they've ticked off enough people that someone is trying to kill them.  But who?  The list of potential assassins is long.  Ian thinks Princess Juliana of Lenoria may be the culprit.  What with her living in exile, her parents murdered and The Trio being the ones responsible.

Of course it's not Juliana.  She's too busy trying to figure out how to 1) protect her people and 2) regain her kingdom.  No the real culprit is a criminal mastermind with his sticky fingers in a lot of pies who has managed, quite easily since the boy is a moron, to outwit her younger brother.  So now Juliana has to join forces with Ian to thwart the bad guy, save her idiot brother and save her kingdom.

Much like the last book the main issue I had was with the thin characterizations.  It takes a while for Juliana and Ian to get off the ground, so to speak, but eventually they do...somewhat.  However that never quite gels into romance for me.  I never quite could decipher the road map of how they go from bantering to falling in love - it just sort of happens.  The puzzle pieces are there, but it's like half of them have gone missing from the box.

What this leads to a pleasant, albeit forgettable read.  The secondary characters add some color (two of the servants, especially) and the dialogue is fun.  It's quick, breezy, the kind of light historical romance that Avon has built it's brand around for the last several years.  Nothing outright offensive, but nothing that makes it stand out either.

And then we get to the big reveal and it all slides way far south.  Like I said, The Trio is essentially responsible for Lenoria falling.  They were following orders.  Juliana's parents were going to throw their lot in with the French.  They had to go.  And while they didn't murder her parents directly?  They riled things up to the point of a coup and in the fervor her parents were murdered.  Juliana witnessing their deaths with her own adolescent eyes.

Got that?  Ian, while he did not pull the trigger, was responsible for events that led her parents being murdered.  And yet?  Juliana is remarkably OK with this.  There are no tears.  There is no wailing or hurled accusations.  There is no pulling a knife on the man and gutting him like a fish.  No.  He was "following orders."  Mumsy and Dada are cold in the ground but hey, it's OK.  Ian was just following orders!  What's to forgive?

I don't know.  Call me crazy.  Yes, hunky handsome spies for the Crown are all well and good.  Yes, I'm sure they kiss divinely.  But if I found out that the man I was making googly eyes at played a part in my parents' murder?  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that my ardent feelings would cool considerably.

But hey, maybe I'm just wacky.

It just doesn't work for me.  At all.  I could fly with the final chapters that take on a bit of a rushed mad-cap feel.  I could even fly with the fact that Ian makes some pretty incompetent decisions even though he's supposed to be a "master spy."  What I couldn't fly with was the fact that Juliana could just let the fact that Ian was responsible for the death of her beloved parents go.  Dude.  If she was living in the 21st century she'd probably write love letters to guys on death row. Seriously.

So yeah.  This was disappointing.  Loved the first book (about the female spy) and really did not care for the final two books (about male spies).  Which, once again, kind of showcases the fact that I'm an unrepentant heroine-centric reader.  The heroine spy?  I wanted to have babies with.  And her two male partners?  Meh.  So long fellas!

Final Grade = D+

Monday, March 16, 2015

Novella Round-Up: Australian Bust And Cookies

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00NAI37MC/themisaofsupe-20
I seem to be doing better with my reading slump and in an effort to build momentum I decided it was time to stop ignoring the small mountain of novellas in my ARC pile.  First up is Jazz Baby by Tea Cooper, which takes place in Sydney during the 1920s.  Plus, you know, look at that cover!  How could I not I want to try this?  Unfortunately I ended up DNF'ing it 30% in.

Dolly Bowman has left the country to make a life for herself in Sydney.  She lands a job at a "boardinghouse" and immediately runs into WWI flying ace, and childhood crush, Jack Dalton.  He's horrified to see Dolly and she's annoyed with him for interfering with her new job by talking to her boss.  Never mind that her new boss is a madam, the "boardinghouse" is a brothel and Jack just wants to make sure pretty lil' Dolly isn't asked to give up changing sheets and mopping floors in favor of working on her back.

Oh, where to begin?  The gaudy furnishings, red wallpaper, a house full of lavishly decorated bedrooms, and single women who work through the night were apparently not enough of a clue for ol' Dolly.  Seriously, it takes her more than 24 hours to realize she's working at a bawdy house and even then she's totally fine with it.  In fact she starts befriending some of the girls - sort of the bordello equivalent to the lady of the manor being BFFs with her housekeeper.  But whatever.  Dolly was also apparently physically abused by her father, but this revelation comes out of left-field and dropped like a bomb on the reader through Jack's internal musings.  It just didn't jibe with the wide-eyed innocent brain-dead picture of Dolly that was being painted for me.  Then there's the fact that Dolly has a brother who was in the service with Jack and was declared missing-in-action when his plane crashed.  Who does Jack see in a seedy bar one night?  The long lost brother of course!  In a town the size of Sydney.  What are the odds?  I was kind of over it at that point and there wasn't anything on the Kindle screen to make me want to keep reading so.....

Final Grade = DNF

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00J8X2SPA/themisaofsupe-20
Breaking All Her Rules by Maisey Yates was short, sexy, with just the right dollop of angst.  It didn't change my life, but for a Chocolate Chip Cookie Read (which is where quite a few novellas fall for me) it was just what the doctor ordered.

Grace Song has spent her entire life overcompensating for a screwed-up junkie sister.  Which means she's been the very model of over-achievement.  However, having just gotten reprimanded by her boss for being "rude" to a client who was sexually harassing her, and mixing up her phone with the sexy cowboy she shared a NYC cab with?  Her day is not going well.  Until she goes to the posh hotel where the cowboy is staying to retrieve her phone and she finds him half-dressed.  Ooooh, la la!

Zack Camden is an artist, which is why he's in New York - on business.  It was impulsive to share a cab with Grace but now that he has?  He wants more of her.  He hasn't felt this alive in a long time.  Because, naturally, Zack has a deep, dark, sad past.  A past that means he hasn't had sex (with anyone other than his hand) in six years.  And he didn't even miss it all that much until he's trading verbal zingers with wound-tight Grace.

So let me tell you how nice it was to read a romance about a guy who wasn't a Duke of Slut.  Also I liked that Grace's sense of over-achieving is there because she doesn't want to disappoint her parents who are already dealing with her junkie sister and all the heartache that brings.  That's probably cliche, but hey - it worked for me.  Also the dialogue here is really fun.  Lots of banter early on and the sexual chemistry really cooks.

The declaration of love that spurs us towards our Black Moment was a little abrupt for me - I suspect because we're talking novella and a two week time period on the story.  But the Emotional Stuff that follows?  Is really, really strong.  Rip your heart out in places strong.
It wasn't all about the end result.  It was about all the things that had happened on the way.  It was about the fact that she was happier with the person she was now, than the person she'd been the day they met.
And at the end of the day, that's why I read romance.

Final Grade = B

Friday, March 13, 2015

Reminder: TBR Challenge for March

For those of you participating in the 2015 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, March 18.  This month's theme is Series Catch-Up.  This means reading a book from a series that you are currently behind on.  It does not mean binge reading your way to the end of the series.  No, it just means getting one step closer to the finish line.  Although my TBR seems to be where all third-book-in-a-trilogy stories go to die.  So many to choose from!  However, remember - the themes are totally optional and are not required.  Maybe you have a unicorn non-series title calling your name from your TBR.  Hey, that's great!  Remember, it's not about the themes but reading something (anything!) out of your TBR.

Hey, it's not too late to sign up!  For more information, or just to follow along with all the participants - check out the 2015 TBR Challenge Information Page.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Under the Skin: Forbidden

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062365118/themisaofsupe-20
I just finished The Thorn Birds on audiobook.  18 CDs of epic Australian saga centered around an illicit affair between an older priest and a younger woman.  So what book do I pluck from the depths of my Kindle after finishing that?  Forbidden by Charlotte Stein, of course!  Another romance about a priest (well, sort of) and an exorcism (of all things).  Dude. That's so kooky for a romance novel, how could I not want to read it?  Plus I tend to love Stein's work and the last book in this sorta-kinda series flipped a major switch for me back in December.

Forbidden tells the story of Dorothy (Dot) who has been a prisoner to her mother's delusions for the past 20 years.  Dot is a "bad girl," evil, possessed, which leads her mother to tying her to a bed and summoning the help of the Church.   Dot is prepared to come face-to-face with a priest who will likely pat her mother on the head and condone all her superstitious nonsense.  Instead it is Killian who comes to her rescue.

Killian is almost done with seminary and is very close to taking his vows.  He convinces his old mentor/teacher to let him inquire about Dot.  Naturally when he arrives at her mother's house he is horrified and rescues the girl.  Then he decides he will take her back to Boston, to a home for girls run by the Church, so she can acclimate to having a life outside of horrifying abuse.  The fly in the ointment?  Killian and Dot are powerfully attracted to each other.  The naive sheltered young woman and the almost priest.

This story could have been a disaster, and yet somehow Stein makes it work.  It helps that Killian is kind, decent and one gets the impression he chose the priesthood out of his desire to help people.  An attraction to Dot is a complication for him, but not one he brushes aside to hide behind the priesthood.  What I really liked here is that once he develops feelings for her, recognizes them as more than just a passing attraction, taking his vows are immediately reconsidered.  And post-Thorn Birds?  Let me tell you how refreshing that was!

Reading about Dot is almost like reading about an adolescent.  I liked that she wasn't a eunuch and didn't think of her attraction to Killian as "dirty" or "shameful."  However she's just spent her entire life with a woman who preached nothing but evil and possession - so Dot learning that having sexual feelings will not automatically lead to punishment or condemnation is very new to her. 

The sticking point for me in stories with these sorts of themes is that I get squirked out by the hero being attracted to the naive heroine.  Like he's "turned on" by the fact that he has to teach her about a lot of things - not just sex.  Stein completely avoided this pitfall.  Killian struggles with the attraction because he fears Dot is projecting her feelings on the man who "rescued" her.  Would Dot still be attracted to him if he hadn't of saved her from her mother?  Likewise, while Dot is somewhat of an innocent, I never felt like she was child-like in her behavior.  She's more of a dried sponge, thirsty for knowledge and soaking up every scrap that comes her way.

Stein has a very unique voice and her narrative style is very stream of consciousness.  That style is reined in considerably in this novella.  I would say it's probably the most restrained thing I've ever read by her (although I'm still working through her backlist).  That said, it's very heavy on internal monologues and I would have loved more dialogue.  Even factoring in my giant dialogue-ho tendencies, this novella was really light in the pants on that score.  I wanted more.

This one didn't have the same gut-punch effect as the first novella in the series had on me, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit.  I liked how the author handled the religious elements, and skated around my usual reservations with naive, innocent heroines in contemporary romances.  Stein rarely disappoints (if ever!) for me and I'm looking forward to the final novella in this trilogy.

Final Grade = B