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 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

DNF Review: Hanover House

I wouldn't say I'm cheap, more like frugal.  Yes, audiobook sales are about the only corner of the publishing industry making money right now - but yeah...I don't buy audiobooks.  That's why Sweet Baby Jeebus gave us libraries.  The downside to getting all of your audiobooks from the library is that, you know, sometimes you have to wait.  My glom of Marcia Muller is temporarily on hold while I wait my turn for the next book in the series, so I thought I'd listen to Hanover House by Brenda Novak to pass the time.

Oh Wendy.  Foolish, foolish Wendy.

This is a prequel novella to the author's latest romantic suspense series.  Evelyn Talbott is a psychiatrist who specializes in psychopathy.  It's not the sort of thing you would think a gorgeous (because of course she is...) young woman would be interested in - but when she was a teenager her boyfriend murdered her friends and held her captive.  The kicker?  She coughed up her virginity to this guy.  Needless to say 30-something Evelyn doesn't date and doesn't have sex.  Instead she has convinced the government to build a high security prison/hospital/whatever to house and study psychopaths.  The lower 48 were, naturally, not receptive to this proposal, which is why Hanover House is being built in semi-isolated (there's a town nearby) Alaska.

I'll be honest, I wasn't madly in love with this story from the get-go but it was hovering somewhere in middling C territory and I still needed to pass the time before my next audiobook hold came in.  What moved this from Meh Territory into Hell No Territory was at about the halfway point when the heroine heads to Alaska.

The hunky local State Trooper, who was (naturally) against the proposal to house a bunch of psychopaths in his town's backyard, calls to report that the still-under-construction Hanover House has been vandalized.  He suggests that Evelyn may want to mingle with the townsfolk a bit more.  If she's less standoff-ish maybe they'll magically be OK with Hanover House being in the neighborhood.  So he takes her to the local bar where she proceeds to get drunk off her butt (because of course she does), dances with a bunch of the locals, and when she starts dancing with the cop, she starts rubbing up against him and sucking on his neck.

You know, the girl who doesn't date or have sex because she was victimized by a psychopath.  Dump a few drinks in her and she's like a co-ed at a frat party.  Anyway....

Our hero doesn't want to take advantage and hauls her drunk butt back to her house.  She confesses she had to leave her gun in the lower 48 because she didn't want to deal with the hassle of bringing it on the flight to Alaska.  He pours her into bed and then LEAVES HIS GUN ON THE NIGHTSTAND NEXT TO HER BED SO SHE'LL FEEL "SAFE."


She wakes up in the morning, notices the gun and the events of the night before (including puking in the hero's truck - seriously) slowly come back.  Then she sees the note taped to her bedroom door "Don't shoot, I'm one of the good guys."


And that's when I was done.  I don't know what I was expecting here, but at the very least, a heroine with a background like this I was maybe expecting someone cool, methodical, analytical, with some vulnerable emotional baggage.  I was not expecting her to morph into a idiot damsel the moment she lands in Alaska, gets an eyeful of the hunky hero and bellyful of booze.

On the bright side, I can now weed the first book in this series out of my TBR because nope.  Nope, nope, nope.  I don't want to see these people ever again.

Final Grade = DNF

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Mini-Reviews: Mystery Round-Up

I'm neck-deep in a slump at the moment and, unfortunately, it is rooted in a lot of factors feeding off of each other.  I'm super busy at The Day Job, current events are depressing me, and my habit of checking Twitter is making me increasingly passive aggressive (not a good look for me).  It's also sapped my blogging mojo to the point where, for the first (serious) time in 15 years of blogging I'm wondering why I bother (note to self: stop checking your stats).  But nobody wants to hear me whine and frankly I'm kind of sick of myself - so desperate times call for desperate measures.  Yep, it's comfort food of choice for Wendy: mysteries.  I fell in love with reading because of mysteries so it makes sense I turn back to them when I'm feeling a mite low.

I'm still completely swept up in my nostalgia trip with the Sharon McCone series by Marcia Muller.  I read the first 19 or so books in my teens/early 20s, then dropped off when I fell head over feet for romance.  I've been positively gorging on them in audio and it's been just what the doctor ordered.

I recently finished Book #7, Eye of the Storm, and it has been the highlight of the nostalgia gorge so far.  Why?  Because I didn't remember a lick about it, and frankly, that shocks me.  Why?  Because it's like Muller wrote this book specifically with Teenage Wendy in mind.  Imagine if a Gothic and a really good episode of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? had a baby - and that's Eye of the Storm.  Sharon heads to a tiny, nothing town in the Sacramento Delta area after her baby sister gets in over her head with a new beau (who fancies himself a chef) and a rundown old mansion she wants to turn into a B&B.  The locals are insular, the mansion is on an isolated island (you need to take a ferry to get to it), there's a creepy old legend (because of course there is) and someone is trying to scare them off.

I liked this story quite a bit, again for the nostalgia.  The rest of it doesn't work quite as well because other than Sharon, you pretty much end up disliking every other character in the story.  Even Sharon's nieces and nephew (still kids!) - which takes some doing.  Plus Sharon is operating outside of her usual San Francisco setting, which is half the charm of this series (if I'm being honest).  Still, I'm a Scooby Doo nerd and the "creepy old house" angle always (ALWAYS!) reels me in.

Loren Estleman writes what I call Macho Guy Books.  He's best known for his crime novels set in Detroit, despite the fact he's got a couple of different series (including westerns!) under his belt.  I read the Amos Walker (private detective) series where everyone talks like they've stepped out of a noir gangster film and there's not a single honest person in the entire city of Detroit.  Black and White Ball finds Amos working for Peter Macklin, a hitman featured in another series by Estelman.  So this is #27 in the Walker series and #7 in the Macklin series.  Technically speaking.

The story opens up with Amos looking for the wayward husband of a former flame.  The guy embezzled money from Chrysler, hooked up with a blonde half his age, and is suspected to be somewhere across the border.  However, just as Amos is ready to storm the motel near Toronto, his mark is found dead, a bullet to the head while the blonde was taking a shower.  It has professional job written all over it - which is how he comes into the orbit of Macklin.  Amos has no stomach for those that make their living off murder for hire, but through a series of circumstances, he takes a job to protect Macklin's soon to be ex-wife.  Someone is threatening to kill her, Macklin knows who it is, he just needs time to run the guy down (literally and figuratively).

I've hopscotched my way through about a dozen of the Amos Walker books, haven't read a single Macklin story, but didn't have a problem keeping up.  But this is a read that takes some getting used to.  The Walker stories are in first person, the Macklin's in third, and Estleman shifts between the two styles.  Luckily he does this during chapter breaks (and not mid-paragraph) but shifting between the two within the same book isn't always easy going, even though I didn't find it to be a completely terrible authorial decision (but I can totally see how it will drive some readers batty).

What I liked about this one is what I tend to like about all the Amos books.  The tough guy cliches, the femme fatales, the crooked cops, the noir-ish shroud Estleman spreads over the city of Detroit.  I also loved how this book started (the Canada scenes) and ended.  Given that this is the most recent book in two long-running series, newbies aren't going to find a ton of in-depth character development here - which is mainly where I'm going to ding this one.  But if you're already a fan of one, or both, of the series, this was time well spent.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Top 4 Unusual Historicals for May 2018

Is there anything worse than a reading slump? Because, that, my friends is exactly where I’m living these days. If it weren’t for revisiting some old favorites on audio I’d literally be getting nothing read. But one thing sure to cheer me up? Browsing for books. Even if, you know, I’m not reading them. May is kind of quiet when it comes to not-your-usual historicals, but there’s potential all the same.

Kept by the Viking by Gina Conkle 
Loyalty to the Brotherhood comes before all. Including women.  
Formidable Viking leader Rurik knows the law. His loyalty to the Forgotten Sons is his bond, and no woman will threaten what he’s built from the ground up. But the Sons are a roving band of Vikings, and Rurik is growing restless—so when Normandy’s chieftain offers land, the proposal intrigues him. And the sultry Parisian thrall he finds in his tent intrigues him even more…  
Safira is cunning and clever and full of secrets. Rurik’s men have no interest in securing her safe passage home, but, piqued with lust, Rurik views Safira’s wiles as a captivating challenge—one he’s determined to conquer, even if lying with her is as defiant as it is inevitable.  
Traveling with Safira has been a fantasy come true—what started as lust is quickly turning to the kind of partnership Rurik could never have dreamed. But their arrival in foreign lands marks a new chapter, one that demands a Viking wife. With impossible decisions to be made, Rurik’s alliances are fraying, and past promises may not be enough to save him from having to betray those he’s sworn loyalty to—including Safira. 
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a literal unicorn. A historical romance published by Carina Press. How momentous is this? Let me put it this way - if you go to the Carina website, click on the Historical Romance link, and sort by publication date? This is the first historical they’ve published since September 2016. Two years ago. I’m one-clicking this on principle.

Love’s Sweet Melody by Kianna Alexander 
Autumn, 1946

Warner Hughes returns home from war with the lingering effects of battle. Abandoned by his sweetheart and ostracized by his community, he feels he has no real home. 
Elizabeth “Betty” Daniels has one love: music. Betty’s family wants to see her married, busy with affairs of the home, leaving no time to pursue her art.

Warner’s only solace is in the sweet melody of Betty’s music. To Betty’s mind, marriage means giving up the freedom to pursue her art. Can Warner let love in, and can Betty make room for love? 
The latest in the Decades: A Journey of African American Romance series chugs along with Alexander’s entry set post-World War II. This sounds incredibly promising, with a returning veteran with, from the sounds of it, PTSD and a musically-inclined heroine. Alexander is no stranger to historicals, having written contributions for the Daughters of a Nation and The Brightest Day anthologies.

The Bashful Bride by Vanessa Riley 
A friend's newspaper advertisement for a groom nets the most famous actor in London, Arthur Bex. Shy heiress Ester Croome proposes to elope with the handsome man, who she's secretly loved for two years, in order to escape an impending engagement arranged by her overbearing family.
Trying to outlive the shadow of his villainous uncle, Bex needs to marry quickly—to a woman of good character. And smart, beautiful Ester fits the bill. But a harrowing trip to Gretna Green and dangerous abolition rallies prove to be a more treacherous stage than either imagined. Infatuation and a mutual love for Shakespeare might not be enough to bind a couple looking to outrun the chains and secrets of family and the past. 
The second, and final, book in the author’s Advertisements for Love duology, features that most tempting of reader catnip - a road romance! I also love that we’re getting an actor hero looking to outrun his family’s reputation and a heroine who has secretly been in love with him for years.

Bound for Eden by Tess LeSue
Alexandra Barratt has found the perfect man--it's a shame he thinks she's a boy... 
Fleeing from the murderous Grady brothers, Alexandra disguises herself as a boy and joins a frontier party heading West, with her brother and sister in tow. The wagon train is captained by the irresistible Luke Slater, who's never met a woman he couldn't charm. 
At first, Alex can't believe the way every woman in town falls at Luke's feet, including her suddenly flirtatious sister. But when she sees him naked in the bathtub, she finds herself swooning over him too. If only she could wash the muck of her face and show him who she really is. Unfortunately she has more pressing concerns... 
The Gradys aren't about to let Alex, nor the small fortune she stole from them, slip through their fingers. Only by maintaining her ruse does she have a chance of protecting her family. But fate, it seems, is conspiring against her. 
This debut has Old School written all over it - I mean, hello? We’ve got a chick-in-pants story, and she spies the hero naked in the bathtub. I’m...well, I’m reserving judgement on this one. But I love historical westerns, and we have a debut author. I’m going to put my money where my mouth is and give this one a whirl. Plus, you know, another road romance and a heroine on the run. I’m only human.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to this month?

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

#TBRChallenge 2018: The Courage To Say Yes

The Book: The Courage To Say Yes by Barbara Wallace

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Romance #4390, 2013, Available Digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Wallace is basically an autobuy in the Romance line.  But an added mystery with this book - I had both a print copy and a digital copy in my TBR.  Because apparently one copy wasn't enough?  My guess is I snagged the print at a conference without realizing I already owned it in e.

The Review: This is an interesting book and I'm still trying to wrap my brain around how "successful" I think it is.  But I enjoyed this, and I thought the author does a wonderful job of juxtaposing the emotional baggage between the romantic couple, so I'm counting this one largely as a win.

Hunter Smith is a photographer who travels the globe documenting political hot spots.  He's home in New York City, in between assignments, eating breakfast at the same greasy spoon diner every day and should be working to hire a new assistant.  Instead, this man who spends his entire life not inserting himself into "the story," who instead chooses to stand outside to document "the story," finds himself playing white knight to a damsel in distress.

Abby Gray left her abusive POS boyfriend 6 months ago.  She's living in a women's shelter and is working the only job she could find - as a waitress in a crappy diner.  And she's not a very good waitress.  She thought Warren was gone for good, but instead he turns up at the diner, grabs her wrist hard enough to leave bruises, and before she can diffuse the situation, her hunky regular customer intervenes.  Much to her horror. Abby doesn't need or want pity.  She got herself into her current mess, she's going to figure out a way to get out of it.

The trajectory that follows is pretty straight-forward.  Hunter can't leave well enough alone, feels guilty when Abby's asshole boss fires her, and offers her the vacant position of being his assistant.  His last assistant basically said that what Hunter really wanted was a housekeeper, and Abby, with no marketable skills (she hitched her wagon to the abusive ex at a young age) can't say no.  She needs the job - and cleaning house for Hunter, helping him organize his life, is something she is qualified to do.

The abusive ex angle is the conflict in the story that I'm not entirely sure the author pulls off to satisfaction, and a lot of this has to do with timing.  Gun violence and the domestic violence history of men who perpetuate gun violence are in the news a lot right now - it's hard to set that aside, especially since Warren is portrayed as "a bully."  Once Abby stands up to him, he basically slinks off into the sunset once he realizes she cannot be pushed around anymore.  This is a nice idea, but one that rarely plays out in real life.  I don't want to say Wallace writes this as "easy" - but the reality is that women escaping these types of situations aren't always so lucky.  I don't think the author minimizes the conflict, but I also think it's a conflict that's hard to do justice in the category format.

Now, that being said, where this book really shines is in the character growth and development.  You have a hero who has spent his life always on the outside, putting a barrier between himself and anything resembling feelings.  The camera serves as a wall between him and the outside world.  Getting close is not an option.  Then you have a heroine escaping an abusive relationship, who has been beat down and belittled her entire life - first by a stepfather, then by a boyfriend.  She, too, is closed off emotionally in many ways, distant and scared - and really?  Who could blame her?  But that's not even the best part - this isn't a traditional Rescue Fantasy.  Not really.  The heroine realizes fairly quickly she's "safe" with Hunter - so there's this great push-pull dynamic to their interactions, right from the get-go.

It's how these two characters bounce off each other that makes for interesting reading.  They're not really that different, have more in common than they first realize, and help each other grow over the course of the story.  Even better?  Wallace doesn't try to do too much with the ending.  It's a bit more than "happy for now" - but it's also not a "let's get married and start working on getting you pregnant with triplets" ending either.  Thank the sweet baby Jeebus.

I've read a number of books by Wallace and while this isn't a favorite, it's still pretty darn good.  There's some interesting things on the page here and it was time well spent on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Final Grade = B

Sunday, May 13, 2018

#RomBkLove: Day 13 Closed Door

#RomBkLove is a social media hashtag and brainchild of Ana Coqui.  Last year she hosted an entire month (all by herself!) of romance novel-related chatter on Twitter and I'm sure needed about a 2-month long nap afterward to recover.  So when she opted to host the month-long extravaganza again this year - she asked for help, with themes and with hosting.  So here were are, on Day #13 and my contribution: "closed door" romances.

People, I have a lot to say on this topic and will try not to slip into deep ranting mode, although it's going to be hard (ha!).  I truly believe that the only thing romance novels have to have, what they have to adhere to, is the happy-ever-after.  Our romantic couple needs to ride off into the sunset at the end.  This leaves a lot of shading in between for the author to write the story that they wanna tell.

This is paraphrased: There's a moment in the documentary, Love Between the Covers, where author Eloisa James asks an aspiring writer, "Are you selling this to the inspirational market?  Because if not, it has to have sex."

I'm beginning to think I'm the only one who was heavily annoyed by this "advice," because nobody else called it out (that I've seen anyway).  If anything, trolling through GoodReads only seems to enforce James' advice.  How many of us have seen the reviews: "This was a terrible book - it had NO sex scenes!"  So the book was "bad" because you didn't get to read a sex scene?  Really?!  Because this makes me question why you're reading romance.  If you're just "in it" for the sex - there's alternatives outside of the romance genre.  Just sayin'.

Now before anyone makes the erroneous assumption that I'm a prude who doesn't like the dirty words and smexy times - ha ha ha ha ha!  It is to laugh.  I'm one of what I'm beginning to think is a dying breed in romance readership.  The reader who will, literally, read across the entire sensuality spectrum.  Skanky hot sex scenes that would horrify my father?  Yep.  Sweet, just kisses that I'd be OK with my niece discovering on my bookshelf?  Yep.  I'll read it all.  I've loved it all - and Auntie Wendy is here to tell you why.

At the end of the day, it's about the story.  One thing romance readers and writers have been chaffing against since the dawn of time is this idea that romance is cookie-cutter.  It's one thing and one thing only.  Yes, it's the happy ending - but we're literally serving all sorts of cocktails (ha!) and I guarantee there's something on the menu for darn near every taste and preference.

Sex, like anything else in fiction writing, needs to be organic to the story.  Some stories need the hot and steamy sexy times - while in other stories such shenanigans would feel out of place.  There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than reading a very good story to only get to a love scene that feels shoe-horned in and "out of place" - like the author had to fill a quota.  Or the other side of the coin: a very good story that desperately needs a love scene that doesn't have one.  Yes, it can happen folks - I know this because I've read examples of both.

If you take nothing else away from Day 13, I hope it's this: Just because a book doesn't have sex scenes in it doesn't make it "bad."  Just because a book has wall-to-wall sexy shenanigans doesn't make it "bad."  At the end of the day, it's about the storyWhat best serves the story?

Now, to get this party started, I'm going to mention a few of my favorite "Closed Door" romances.  I hope you'll have time to stop by Twitter today to follow along with all the discussion - which you can do without an account.  Just check out the #RomBkLove hashtag.

Some of Wendy's Favorite Closed Door Romances:

  • Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist - set at the Biltmore mansion, a "downstairs" romance.
  • Janice Kay Johnson - check out any of her SuperRomances.  When she does write sex, it tends to be G-rated and she writes some of the best darn conflict in the genre.  She's criminally under-appreciated.
  • Someone more well-versed than I will have to pick up this mantle on Twitter - but seriously, SO MANY TRAD REGENCIES!