Wednesday, July 1, 2015

RWA Bar Bash, Book Binge And Binging On Books

The reason the blog has been a dead zone is because I spent most of last week traveling.  First, visiting my sister, then spending time in San Francisco for the ALA conference (more on that in a bit).  It also kicked off what is promising to be a very busy summer for me.  Next up?  RWA.

This year's Romance Writers of America conference is heading back to New York City.  The first time since 2011, also affectionately known as Wendy's Librarian of the Year year (and no, I never get tired of pimping out that award even though it's been four years.  I earned it folks. I'll be tooting that horn until I'm dead.  And even then I might come back as a ghost and toot some more.)

I'm a terrible hostess, but do think it's nice to set aside a time for a bunch of us who kick around online together to meet up at the conference.  So if you've got nothing going on after the big Literacy Signing on Wednesday, July 22 - stop by the conference hotel bar to have some drinks and laughs. 

I'll be kicking around the entire conference, including speaking at Librarians Day (again) - so if you see me, come on up and say howdy.  I'll teach you the secret librarian handshake. 

Even if you can't attend the entire conference, if you're in the area please DO attend the Literacy Signing.  It's awesome, open to the general public, is free of charge, and the only cost to you is any books you buy at the event.

+++++

While I was away on my travels, I had a guest post go live over at Book Binge.  I'm featured in their awesome Five Books Everyone Should Read feature.  Go on over.  See me pimp out books.

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Speaking of books, by sheer dumb luck I seem to have had a couple of highly touted new releases fall in my lap.  You know, on top of the giant pile of ARCs already living on my Kindle.  Long-time readers of this blog already know that I don't read a ton of bestselling romance.  I lap up categories.  I devour midlist historicals.  I'm reading erotic romance written by people not named EL James.  But there are two releases coming up that even I, Wendy who ignores most bestsellers outside of work, am curious about.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0451475267/themisaofsupe-20
Lord help me, the first is The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward.  I read exactly one Black Dagger Brotherhood book (the second one) and while I saw the attraction for other readers, it wasn't for me.  Mostly because of the insipid dialogue (you feel me?) and heroines (all the complexity of wet dish rags).  Plus I'm not a huge paranormal reader, so it was easy for me to move on.  But this series?  It sounds like Dallas and Dynasty got together and had a baby.  I am, without a doubt, an unrepentant sucker for soap operas.  The trashier, the better.  I put myself on the waiting list at work, but shot for the moon asking for a copy via NetGalley - which Penguin actually approved for me. So I have to try this.  We'll see how far I get.  Will I DNF or finish it?  Will Ward's writing ticks drive me insane?  Only time will tell.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0062371819/themisaofsupe-20
Next up is Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas.  Now I'm not a huge squee'ing Kleypas fan girl.  I've liked some of her books. But she's been away from historicals for five years.  If you look at the genre in the past couple of decades (at least) - when a historical romance author goes contemporary, they rarely come back.  Kleypas is coming back (although yes, she's obviously still working on her contemporaries).  So naturally I cannot help but be curious, but figured that with all the anticipation that Avon would probably have a tighter rein on advanced copies.  So imagine my shock (literally, shock) when while wandering around ALA last weekend I saw a giant pile of Kleypas ARCs at the Harpercollins booth.

A giant pile.

And yes, I realize this is a horrible tease - but unlike some conference attendees, I try not to be an ass.  I took three.  And I felt like an ass taking the three.  One for a librarian at the conference stuck in a workshop, one for me, and one for KristieJ.  Because I could NOT not get one for Kristie.  Look up Squee'ing Kleypas FanGirl in the romance dictionary and there's Kristie.  It was my civic duty.  Plus, you know, she's my RWA roommate.  If I didn't get her an ARC she would have probably smothered me with a pillow.

So yeah.  Sorry to be a tease everybody else.  But thank you to Harpercollins for being nice to romance reading librarians.  Because really, it was a lovely surprise to see those ARCs.

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I'm slowly beginning to get my reading mojo back (thank you Charlotte Stein - review to follow), which is a good thing since I have a ton of books waiting for me.  Westerns, Harlequin Historicals, the above mentioned Ward and Kleypas.  Lots to read, little time to actually do it.  Story of my life.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Mini-Reviews: Middle School, Actors and Homicide

I'm going to be out of commission all of this week thanks to work and travel, but before I go dark, I thought I'd take the opportunity to post some mini-reviews. A hodge-podge of titles that aren't romance (for a change of pace).

From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess by Meg Cabot is the first in a new middle-grade series and takes place in the author's Princess Diaries world.  Events in this book run parallel to the events in Royal Wedding, which was the author's first adult book featuring Princess Mia Thermopolis.  Turns out Mia's Dad is a busy boy, and he has another daughter, 12-year-old Olivia Harrison, growing up in New Jersey, being raised by an aunt and uncle after her pilot mother dies.  Word has gotten out that she's a Real Life Princess and naturally you know what that means - a mean girl bully.

This was a really cute read, complete with illustrations (which Cabot drew!), that as an adult reader you can literally plow through in an hour (I whipped through it on a lunch break at work).  What I liked here is that while Cabot is staying in her series world, Olivia isn't a cookie cutter of Mia.  Olivia is more self-assured, but still pretty typical 12-year-old girl.  A nice diversion for fans of the series and something to consider if you know any young girls in your life who may enjoy this sort of read.

Final Grade = B

I don't read (or listen to in this case) a lot of celebrity bios, but So That Happened by Jon Cryer intrigued me.  OK, I was mostly in it for the Pretty In Pink "stuff" since I've never watched Two & a Half Men a day in my life.  This was a really fun listen on audio (Cryer narrates) and a great way to pass the time on my daily commute (which can be annoying).  Cryer comes off as a nice guy, and I enjoyed all the tid-bits about his theater background (which I knew nothing about).  He also dishes some dirt without going balls-out with the mud-slinging.  Are any of us shocked that Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy don't come off so well in Cryer's PiP recollections?  Although James Spader is apparently a pretty nice guy.  Or that even when it became sadly evident that Superman IV was going to be an epic debacle for the ages - that Christopher Reeve was still, as Cryer describes, "a good soldier?"

Most people will pick this book up for the Charlie Sheen meltdown "stuff" - and Cryer doesn't disappoint.  He pretty much lays it all out - right down to his disgust with the media and hangers-on who were feeding this frenzy (Cryer was preparing himself for the day when he would get the phone call informing him Charlie was dead).  I wouldn't say you need to drop your life and pick up this book right now - but as far as celebrity bios go this one was light and entertaining.  I'm not sorry I listened to.

Final Grade = B

 Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy was another audio listen and the sort of book I feel guilty about not liking more.  It's about South Los Angeles and the book is framed around the murder of a cop's son - that cop living in South LA with his family and working for the elite LAPD RHD (Robbery Homicide) division.  His son's case is assigned to a local homicide unit in South LA, and it taken up by one of the best detectives in that unit.

My disappointment in this book stems from my own expectations.  I wanted a more narrative style true crime story.  Where we really get to know all the players, and crawl around in their heads like they were "characters."  Leovy is a journalist and that's how this book is written.  When she starts rattling off statistics and gets into Let Me Educate The Reader mode, my eyes would glaze over.  Largely because a lot of the stuff she is "educating" the reader about is stuff I already knew.  She does do a good job with the homicide detectives and detailing how their work (and world) is different from that of uniformed cops who patrol the streets - but while she does introduce us to some players in those neighborhoods?  Not enough for my liking and her humanization of all the players (cops, criminals, innocent bystanders - all of them) wasn't as in depth as I wanted.

But.

It's an important book.  My gut tells me though that the people who should read it, and really think about it, will likely dismiss it out of hand because again - I don't think Leovy spends enough time on "humanizing" the players and having us "get to know them" outside of their "type."  It's too easy to still put everyone in their own little box (OK, you go in the cop box and you go in the gangster box and you go in the lawyer box).

So Wendy's grade would probably be a C.  But I feel guilty about that C because really that's a Wendy's Gut Reaction C.  It was kind of a slog at times, even on audio.  But the topic, the research?  It's probably more in the B range for a typical non-fiction reader.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Prepping For July's #TBRChallenge

A few years ago one of the regular TBR Challengers (I want to say it was Phyl), suggested I add a Romance Writers of America RITA theme - the RITA being to RWA what the Edgars are to the Mystery Writers of America.  It's their Big Fancy Award.  Since July is RWA conference month, it's where I've been housing this theme for the past couple of years.

I normally like to keep the themes pretty open-ended, so participants have some wiggle room.  But as much as I love this theme, it takes some planning ahead.  Most of us can't go to our TBRs, randomly pick up a book, and just so happen to grab a past RITA winner or nominee.  So for the sake of planning ahead, here are some lists to help guide you on your TBR Challenge Quest for July.

All past RITA winners can be found on the RWA web site.

Nominees are trickier.  How I wish RWA had a database!  Alas, no.  Thanks to bloggers I got back to 2007.  Older than that?  It's thin on the ground and I didn't feel like dumpster diving through the depths of Google.  So eight years worth of nominees is gonna have to do folks.  Here they are:

2015 Nominees
2014 Nominees
2013 Nominees
2012 Nominees
2011 Nominees
2010 Nominees
2009 Nominees
2008 Nominees
2007 Nominees

I'm thinking, surely, that would be enough to go on?  Even if you have some restraint and unlike me your TBR pile cannot be seen from space?  Lots to choose from.  Happy hunting! 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TBR Challenge 2015: The Last Woman He'd Ever Date

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B007UNC12A/themisaofsupe-20
The Book: The Last Woman He'd Ever Date by Liz Fielding

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance #4324, 2012, Out of Print, Available Digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I tend to impulse buy Liz Fielding books when I run up against them.  I find her writing style charming and her books tend to have that meet-cute rom/com vibe.  Basically?  She's kind of a comfort read.  When I want light and breezy, I can usually find that with a Fielding book.

The Review: This is going to be a dreaded review to write, mostly because I don't have a lot to say about this book.  It delivered exactly what I was looking for, and despite some minor quibbles, it kept me entertained throughout it's 200-some pages.  So that's good - I didn't hate it!  But it also didn't rock my world.  Which means in about a week I'm going to probably lack recall on what this story was about.  Hey, thank heavens for blogging, right?

Hal North is a bastard - both literally and figuratively.  His mother, a cook/housekeeper sort, had an affair with her employer, the owner of stately Cranbrook Park.  She passed Hal off as his drunken stepfather's child, but the players involved in the drama knew the truth.  When Hal, a rebellious teenager, rides his motorbike into the great hall, Sir Robert has his estate manager throw the boy out on his ear - banishing him from the property.  Since Hal is a romance hero, this has translated into him making something of himself and now he's a millionaire businessman.  Meanwhile, Sir Robert, in failing health, owes most of his internal organs and a fair amount of his hide to the tax man.  Before you can say, revenge plot, Hal is buying Cranbrook Park.

Claire Thackeray's father was the estate manager who did Sir Robert's dirty work all those years ago - which means, you guessed it, our hero has revenge plans for her since her Daddy is now conveniently dead.  Claire is now living on the estate, in Hal's childhood home of all places, works for the local newspaper, and is a single mother to 8-year-old Alice.  Claire's mother had big plans for her daughter.  She was going to get out of Cranbrook and make something of herself.  Naturally when that did not happen (and Claire wound up pregnant to boot) their relationship suffered.  But Claire is a make-lemonade-out-of-lemons sort, and likes her life.  Although she's naturally worried about her living situation now that Cranbrook has been sold to a mysterious buyer.  Imagine her shock when she finds out it's the prodigal bad boy returned.

Per Fielding's modus operandi, there's a meet-cute at the beginning of the book involving Claire, her bicycle, a runaway donkey (seriously) and a fishing pole.  There's lots of banter and embarrassment, and eventual sizzle when Claire rediscovers the fact that she has hormones.  Once the word gets out that Hal owns Cranbrook, he and Claire continue to be thrown together because 1) she lives on the property and 2) she's a reporter.  What exactly are his plans for the crumbling estate, the only claim to fame in their tiny English village?

Quite a few readers find revenge plots distasteful, but this one doesn't have the bite of say, a Harlequin Presents.  Certainly, Hal has plans - but those plans begin to lose their shine once Claire is back in his orbit.  They take jabs at each other, but I never felt like Hal was outright cruel to her.  Mostly the revenge idea is used towards the end of the story to spur our couple to their happy ending.

This was a nice pleasant read, but not without some quibbles.  Both Hal and Claire have a decent amount of parental baggage.  Claire's upwardly-mobile mother who has her dreams dashed when Claire gets knocked up.  Hal being the bastard son of a man who won't acknowledge him.  And yet?  Outside of Sir Robert being involved in the first couple of pages of Chapter 1, none of the parents play any sort of healthy role in this story.  They're off-page, as it were.  And given the baggage we can tie to them?  This seemed like an oversight to me.  I also felt, at times, that the pacing was a bit off.  That meet-cute in the beginning goes on for several chapters (four to be exact), which seemed a bit like overkill.  I also wanted a lot more "house stuff."  Claire starts poking around towards the end, going through Daddy's old journals, uncovering a secret in the stables etc. and I would have killed for more of that throughout the story.  But that's probably my love of "house books" showing through.

What we have here is going to seem very damning with faint praise, but what can I say?  I liked it.  It kept me entertained.  I didn't hate it, but I do think it could have been better.  So chalk this one up to a perfectly pleasant "comfort read" that entertained for the few hours I spent flipping through my print copy.  Charming, light, fluffy fun.

Final Grade = B-

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dissident

Dissident by Cecilia London is the sort of book that normally is not in my wheelhouse.  The easiest way to describe this first book in a series is that it's a genre-bender.  Part dystopian thriller, part contemporary romance.  If you're a long-time reader of this blog, you'll likely have guessed correctly that it was the "dystopian" label that gave me pause.  However, I'm friendly with the author on Twitter and she's a baseball fan (Brewers for her, Tigers for me), so I thought I'd give this a whirl.  The best way I can describe the experience?  Uneven.

Caroline Gerard is a widow with two young children and a representative in Congress.  Her husband, whom she loved very much, died in an accident the previous year.  It was a shock that Caroline didn't handle all that well, but she has carried on with her work.

Into her orbit enters John "Jack" McIntyre, newly elected on the Republican side of the aisle.  Caroline campaigned for his opponent and did a little mudslinging in the process - but yeah, Jack won the election anyway.  Caroline is of the moderate We-Need-To-Work-Together school of American politics that's an endangered species these days, so she's determined to clear the air between them.  It's a bumpy apology, but eventually they become friends and then?  Something more.

This story is essentially told in flashbacks.  It opens with Jack and Caroline on the run.  Bad Stuff has happened in the US.  California and Texas have seceded.  The military is chasing after them because they are "dangerous" - and when they find Caroline?  She ends up in a VA hospital in a medically-induced coma.  It's while Caroline is in this coma, and her doctors are trying to keep the military from taking custody of her before she's medically cleared, that the author takes us through the courtship of Jack and Caroline. 

 Here's the thing though: I don't really care.  Intellectually, I get what the author is shooting for here.  She's building a series, and to build said series she needs to take us through the "relationship stuff" between Jack and Caroline.  Of them falling in love.  But after a while my interest waned.  They have chemistry.  They have sex.  Jack screws up.  They fight (which is actually my favorite part of their courtship - the big ol' fight at the end of the book).  What I wanted more of, and got very little of, was the hospital staff trying to keep Caroline safe, and what exactly was going on in this dystopian US. It's teased to the reader and not fleshed out, at all - presumably saved for later books in the series.  So the part of this book that I thought I was going to struggle through (the dystopian stuff) - is actually what I wanted a lot more of.

Not helping the romance aspect was the political aspect which seemed - I don't know - like high school.  And Caroline is supposedly a Democrat but literally spends THE WHOLE BOOK being BFFs with Republicans (and in Jack's case - having sex with).  So yippee that she's a moderate all about compromise and working together to get stuff done - but every other Democrat she runs up against in this book is someone she literally cannot stand.  Caroline being BFF's with Republicans but a member of the Democratic party is actually addressed late in the book - but I don't know.  How about showing a member of Caroline's own party that she actually likes?

And then there's Jack who I found, some of the time, to be a monumental douchebag.  He has a playboy reputation.  Lots of money, lots of women, wouldn't know a committed relationship if it found a hammer and hit him upside the head.  Then he falls for Caroline and cue the love birds.  It's how he talks about his past though that really got my goat.  How he freely admits he treated the other women in his life (disposable play things), whom he and Caroline start calling "salad girls."  I've been reading romance a long time, and my roots are likely showing here - but anytime an author showcases how awesome the heroine is for the hero by taking jabs at "salad girls," my claws begin to come out. So yeah - Jack?  You're a douchebag.  Go sit in the corner.

So all this makes it sound like I hated this book - but no, I didn't.  I just found it uneven.  The dystopian angle is teasing all sorts of interesting possibilities and I loved the scenes in the hospital between Caroline's doctors and the military.  But the romance story line dragged on a bit too long and I was growing bored with it until the end when the author introduces that fight (great dialogue in that scene by the way). As expected (first book in series), the story ends on a cliffhanger - spurring us towards the second installment due out in August.  While I wasn't enamored with the lovey-dovey Caroline/Jack stuff, I'm intrigued by the dystopian world that the author teased me with during this first book.  So I'll be carrying on to see what happens next.

Final Grade = C

Note: At the time of this review posting, this book is free at most major retailers (I didn't check all of them folks).

Friday, June 12, 2015

Reminder: TBR Challenge for June

For those of you participating in the 2015 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, June 17.  This month's theme is More Than One (An author who has more than one book in your TBR).  Honestly, this should be one of the easier themes to stick with. Unless of course you're not a freak like me and can resist the urge to glom on to various and sundry backlists.  If you have more self-control than I do, remember - the themes are totally optional and are not required.  Hey, that's fine!  Remember, it's not about the themes but reading something (anything!) out of your TBR.

For more information, or just to follow along with all the participants - check out the 2015 TBR Challenge Information Page.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Winning Ruby Heart

Disclaimer: Jennifer Lohmann is a librarian, and was RWA's Librarian of the Year for 2010.  We are, what I consider, professional colleagues - routinely chat at conferences and have presented workshops together.  
Winning Ruby Heart by Jennifer Lohmann is a good book.  However it's possibly a great book for all the things that it's not.  Which, I know, makes no sense.  But let me see if I can try to explain it over the course of this review.

Once upon a time Ruby Heart was an elite middle-distance runner with an Olympic silver medal to her credit.  It's while training for that elusive gold that her life comes crashing down around her ears.  She's found out.  Our dear heroine has been blood doping.  She's a cheater.  Stripped of her silver medal, getting sued by her sponsors, banned from any Olympic sport, hounded by the public, the press, the paparazzi and forced into a life of seclusion in her parents upscale home.  Ruby is now a 29-year-old with, literally, no skills - other than running.  Which she is very slowly, and secretly, getting back into via ultra-marathons - as of yet, and unlikely, to become an Olympic sport.  So she figures she's in the clear so long as her disapproving parents don't find out.  She did not plan on Micah Blackwell being at the very first race she was brave enough to enter herself in.

Micah works for an ESPN-like station, was an elite college and NFL quarterback until a hard tackle left him in a wheelchair, a paraplegic for the rest of his days.  Micah got tougher, learned to live his life again, went back to school, and has been clawing his way up the ladder at work.  When he learns there's an anchor spot with his name potentially penciled in, he is willing to do just about anything to secure that promotion.  And then he sees Ruby Heart at an ultra-marathon where he's covering another runner.  Micah interviewed Ruby immediately after her cheating came to light and needless to say he raked her over the coals but good.  He sees this "new" Ruby - without the glam make-up, flashy clothes and sexpot image and immediately realizes that she can punch his ticket to that promotion.

This story basically starts out with the enemy-to-lovers trope.  Micah has very strong opinions about what Ruby did - and make no mistake....she did it.  With her eyes wide open.  Oh sure, she was led astray by those around her, but in the end Ruby made her bed - she's lying in it.  And frankly she's tired of lying in it.  She's tired of not living and being too scared to even try.  For her part, Ruby is not happy to see Micah at that race.  She remembers all too well how he made her feel during that interview five years ago.  The short answer?  Like shit. Micah made her see just how massively she screwed up - how she not only cheated and lied to the public, but how she cheated on herself and threw her talent away when she stuck out her arm for that needle.

We all know what happens eventually.  Micah and Ruby are attracted to each other, but with Micah covering Ruby for the network there's a whole lot of "conflict of interest" standing in their way.  Also Ruby's past baggage and the fact that both of them are more than a little selfish.

This is where the book really stood out for me.  Ruby was raised to eat, sleep and breathe running competitively.  Everyone around her was "Team Ruby" - working towards that gold medal.  Ruby was raised, was trained, to think about Ruby.  For his part, Micah is selfishly looking at what Ruby can do for him, which equals that job promotion.  A decent chunk of the climactic finish is spent on the fact that both of these people need to see past their own noses.

This is a good story.  A nice story.  But it's more notable for what's not on the page.  For one thing, Micah's disability isn't used as a cheap writer's shortcut.  Micah isn't disabled to provide ready made angst for the author to milk.  Micah just happens to be disabled.  He's not hung-up about it.  He's not crying himself to sleep and shaking his fists towards the heavens cursing at God.  Micah doesn't need a heroine to come along to "teach" him that life is still worth living and how he needs to comes to term with the accident.  Micah is, simply, Micah.  He's a guy.  He's living his life.  He's ambitious.  He's a bit of a workaholic.  He's like countless other men we see in real life or read about in novels - it's just that he happens to live his life in a wheelchair.

Ruby is a complicated heroine.  Oh, make no mistake - she cheated.  But the author doesn't explain it away by making her some dupe.  Some naive girl who was lured to the dark side by villains twirling their mustaches.  Sure, Ruby's coach played his part - but Ruby said yes.  Ruby could have said no.  Something that she acknowledges, something she has to keep acknowledging because she'll have to live with it for the rest of her days.  I loved that the author didn't try to wash away Ruby's sins.  This book is about Ruby learning to live with herself, and her mistakes.

The author also says very interesting things in this book - a lot of it revolving around female celebrity, how the public reacts to that celebrity, and what it's like when that female celebrity falls from grace.  Ruby received rape threats even before the doping scandal broke, and she's well aware that as a woman she'll never be redeemed in the public eye as easily as if she were a man.

Where this book stumbles a bit for me is with the pacing and the romance.  Micah and Ruby are both athletes so there is a lot of body-talk in this book and naturally, as they are both athletes, you would expect that their mutual athletic physiques are a source of attraction for both of them.  But after a while I found this a little tiresome and wanted more lovey-dovey-mushy emotional "stuff."  I also felt the ending was really rushed.  The climactic moments are good - but Ruby's final race (a 100-miler!) is glossed over considerably, and the author deploys a villain to spur the couple towards a happy ending - which seemed a little out of left field for me.  Yeah, the villain is a jack-ass, but his motivations at the end didn't entirely work for me.

Still, this is a very good read.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, and think the author did a really good job handling elements that, frankly, we don't always see handled well within the genre.  To be frank, this story could have been a disaster in a lot of ways, but Lohmann never allowed it to go there.

Final Grade = B