Wednesday, January 16, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Wendy Goes On A Spice Briefs Bender

Work has been busy to start the new year which has resulted in lagging reading mojo.  How lagging?  Let's just say that sustaining my attention span for a category length romance for this month's challenge was too much for me.  No, I needed to go really short - and thanks to Harlequin for mucking up their ebook delivery system, I discovered a small pile of Spice Briefs languishing in my TBR.  This line no longer exists, in part because Harlequin's pricing on the shorts was terrible at the time (over $2 for stories that clocked in on the high end of 50 pages) and also because the line never was clearly defined.  In other words: sometimes you got erotica and sometimes you got erotic romance.  That's fine by me since I read both, but Harlequin largely caters to romance readers so...yeah.  No surprise Spice Briefs folded even though I did my best to single-handedly keep it going.  So it was on a lazy Saturday afternoon that I found myself inhaling four of them back-to-back-to-back-to-back and feeling more than slightly drunk from the fallout.

The Revolutionary Mistress by Leia Rice is all sorts of problematic, is definitely erotica, and I enjoyed every minute of it (don't judge).  With the French Revolution bubbling to full boil, Mariette is a tavern barmaid who has had to resort to prostituting herself to earn any sort of living. Then she meets Rene, and our girl falls hard and fast.  But danger lurks in the form a Sebastian, a regular customer who has her ensnared in his revolutionary activities.

For such a short story (around 50 pages), the author does an excellent job with developing her setting with all the tension you would expect for a story set during the French Revolution.  It ends happily in the respect that the heroine is safe and she's going to be on the receiving end of what will surely be months, if not years, of incredible sex - so while a stretch to consider this a romance, it's definitely what I would consider female-centered erotica.  My only real quibble is that Mariette is what I call a reactionary heroine.  Stuff happens, she reacts.  She never really takes matters into her own hands and for most of this story she's at the whims of men.  Could I understand that given the world she was living in?  Yes. But I can't help thinking what this story could have been had Mariette been a more wily sort of character.

Final Grade = B-

The Lady's Bargain by Leslie Dicken was less successful for me, largely because the heroine does something unbelievably stupid and because the hero is a cad.  Lady Christine Claybourne needs to stay unmarried until her next birthday, only one month away, in order to inherit the only home she's ever known. So when her uncle arranges her betrothal, she runs away and poses as a shy governess.  She's discovered by William Preston, Lord Kingston, her betrothed's younger brother.  Turns out she inadvertently accepted a governess post in her future father-in-law's home. She ran away from a guy she doesn't want to marry only to end up at his parents' house. Seriously.

Here's the thing, I get the girl doesn't want to marry - but she basically prostitutes herself to the "hero" to keep her secret and the brother she is engaged to?  Yes, he wants her dowry (because of course he does), but it's not like the guy is a horrible monster.  So you've got William cuckolding his brother, the heroine determined to go through with the marriage after one night of passion with William because she's in lurve and realizes either way she's destined to be alone forever so what does it all matter anyway, and the author tries to spin it all out as a great love match romance.  Nah, not buying.  On the bright side? The sex scenes are very well written.

Final Grade = D+

Tuscan Seduction by Amber Carlsbad was very well written but ultimately not very satisfying because of it's brevity.  Gina has come to the realization that she is wasting her youth, so she breaks up with her steady, older (read: boring) beau, quits her job that she won't miss, and takes off to Italy.  She meets Carlo on the train, sparks fly, and we get a hot sex with a hot stranger story.

This is very, very brief.  It's basically an interlude between two characters that morphs into them deciding to spend more time together once the train ride concludes.  It works as erotica, but not really as a separate stand-alone story.  Honestly?  This would have been right at home in a Cleis Press anthology, and was even written like it.  Not bad, not great, just sort of there.

Final Grade = C

I had originally planned to just read three shorts for this month's Challenge, but I was well and truly drunk at this point and just didn't know when to quit.  So that's how I came to read The Devilish Duke by Alice Gaines, which led me to sobering up quickly.

Miss Rosalind Weaver's father is a degenerate gambler who wants to sell his daughter into marriage to a man she cannot abide. So her answer is to arrive on the Duke of Fallon's doorstep (he had also asked for her hand, but was outbid by the odious guy) and propose they marry. She'll give him the heir he desperately wants (Fallon's got two dead wives under his belt...) and she doesn't have to marry the odious lecher.  He agrees, but wants to sample the goods first.

The author is shooting for romance here, but instead readers are regaled with Sex and Crazy.  The "Crazy" comes in the form Dead Wife #2's Evil Sister who the hero had a menage a trois with - and yes, of course the sisters were incestuous.  There's also the backhanded comment the hero makes about Dead Wife #1 being frigid, dying in childbirth, and the baby (a girl) dying a few days later.  He makes a snide comment about being happy "at the time" that the baby died so he could start over.  What. A. Prince.


And after that I'm supposed to believe he's a great guy and he's got this great love match, finally, with Rosalind and OF COURSE we get a childbirth epilogue where OF COURSE Rosalind squirts out a baby boy and WENDY MAD! WENDY SMASH!

Look, were girls devalued during historical times?  Heck, we're devalued now!  Doesn't mean I want to read about it and it doesn't mean I want the author to give the hero a free pass over it.

Final Grade = F

Not a good way to end my gorging at the Spice Briefs trough, but it did succeed in getting me to sober up.  Plus reading so many shorts in a row helped kick start the mojo.  Not a rousing success, but I'll take it.


Jill said...

Oof, that sounds like a rough landing.

I read two Christmasy novellas for the challenge. B/c I didn't have much time to read until after Christmas ;-) There was "A Dangerous Nativity" by Caroline Wakefield which was a sweet Regency, charming but not super memorable.

The one I really enjoyed was called "The Best Worst Holiday Party" by Olivia Waite. This was really just a distilled "meet cute." Very fast read with the promise of something at the more for the characters by the end. But I didn't feel like it was missing anything.

The heroine is training to be a sommemlier. The hero is a forensic accountant who is feeling a bit listless. The hero's boss accidentally spills wine on hero's tie at the Christmas party. Boom, time for a meet cute with someone who knows how to deal with wine stains.

I think what I really enjoyed about this is it was what I call "effortlessly contemporary." It's a term I made up to describe romance and romance adjacent books that feel like they really do exist in the modern everyday world I know. There's a feel of diversity among the characters. The heroines aren't 30 year old virgins (not without a really good reason). No one is a cupcake baker or Navy SEAL or Greek shipping magnate. Characters in their 20s aren't making jokes about 'Who Shot JR?' or Yoko Ono.
I think it's hard for writers to pull off sometimes, but it's easy to spot when it goes horribly wrong. And I don't mind "fantasy contemporary" sometimes, but I really love stories about ordinary folks too.

Rowena said...

Holy cow, I would have been drunk if I read through books 2 and 4 on this list of reviews. Yikes, both of those books sound like all kinds of yuck!

Vassiliki said...

OMG! That last book sounds horrid. I could bear reading it as historical fiction but as historical romance fiction - Yeahbutnah.

Wendy said...

Jill: Oooh, that Waite story sounds really good. Off to Amazon as soon as I finish typing this comment...

Rowena: Short erotic reads have that effect on me, I literally read these one after another on a Saturday morning. I just should have stopped after #3...

Vassiliki: Yeah, it wasn't good. I like to "feel good" at the end of romance and...I didn't feel good after this one. Frankly, I was annoyed. Oh well. Can't win 'em all!

Dorine said...

Yikes - that last one is a doozy. I'm with you on needing short this month. Thanks for suggesting The Valentine's Curse last month because I really didn't have much to choose from in my TBR. It worked out good. :)

S. said...

Wendy, think positive! A bunch less stories on the pile!

azteclady said...

Jill, I love the term "effortlessly contemporary" and boy, how I miss romances about regular folk. Yes, it's nice to read about people who don't spend half the night worrying about finances (like most of us), but there's only so much suspension of disbelief on behalf of wealthy people--most of the ones we see and hear about are total monsters, not romance material.

Wendy, as I said on twitter, what an enraging pile of steaming shit that last one was. Not only the hero--that's more than bad ENOUGH--but an epilogue with a bouncing baby boy? after KILLING OF A WIFE AND BABY DAUGHTER??? ::setting fire to everything::

Wendy said...

Dorine: Yeah, it wasn't the smoothest of landings. I saw your review for the Thomas story! Off to fully read it now. Tonight is for catching up on my blog reading.

S: I know, right? I knocked 4 stories off the digital TBR pile. So that's good.

AL: OMG SO MUCH RAGE!!! BECAUSE OF COURSE SHE HAS A G-D BABY BOY!!!!! UGH!!!!! I may have said "you've got to be effin' kidding me?!?" out loud when I read that bit.

lorene said...

I'm still angry at Harlequin'a ebook decision.

First -- they close the Carina Press site's book purchase option, then they change the Harlequin site.

I used to go on book-buying sprees, but that is over.

Wendy said...

Lorene: Seconded. I know it was likely "a money thing" - but it's unlikely I'm going to continue to go on Harlequin buying benders when the books are locked down in the BookShout app. It's cutting off their nose to spite their face - which, really, I guess I should be used to from the publishing industry by now but it's so infuriating.