Amazon has discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom will break all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs use this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images starting in 2024 until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Lemon Drop, Cartoon Covers and Smexy Surprises

Long time blog readers know of the existence of my youngest niece, Lemon Drop. Back in the day she was a regular fixture on this blog, appearing in my, now defunct, monthly reading round-up posts. As my Day Job got more demanding, and more importantly, Lemon Drop hit school age, I felt it was best to retire her from blog appearances.  She is now, Lord help us all, 13 years old. I know!  And much to my delight, she's a romance reader.

Here's the thing - she likes romance, kissing and sex off page is fine but graphic descriptions are not her thing. She still, quite frankly, finds the thought of the actual act a bit disgusting.  I mean, she's 13 - and also I have to admit I find this refreshing given the fact that kids grow up too darn fast these days anyway.  So I say, shine on Lemon Drop.

Well, here's the problem. The genre seems to love the idea of slapping illustrated covers on every blessed adult romance being published these days, regardless of tone and/or content. I will preach this with my last dying breathe - cartoon covers convey fun, light, frothy - they do NOT signal angst or hot, graphic smexy times.  They just DON'T.  So for that reason part of this exchange with my sister enrages me, but I also find it pretty funny because, hello, this is my niece we're talking about.  Here's how it went down:

Book Cover: A Very Merry Meet Cute

Wendy's Sister
: I'm in Lemon Drop's room. I see A Very Merry Meet Cute on her dresser. I read the back cover and see ADULT FILM STAR in the first line of the summary.  Um, Lemon Drop, did you start reading this book?

Lemon Drop: No but I think I should sell it. I went to put a bookmark in it so I could start reading and saw a bit that maybe isn't for me.

WS: (opening to the page where the bookmark is and seeing the word COCK). Um, well, yeah, the summary mentioned an adult film star. Didn't you notice that? It means porn, so like there will be sex in this. Probably a bit more graphic than you want.

LD: I thought that just meant a film star in regular movies. Not kids movies!

WS: 😂

Aside from my sister: I reminded her that I'm fine with her reading whatever but maybe I should at least check since she's not really wanting full graphic sex in her books. Gotta love her sweet naïve mind.

Insert Wendy grumbling about cartoon cover trend then "Bless her heart though."

(Wendy aside - Sierra Simone writes HAWT which my sister didn't know but Julie Murphy wrote frickin' Dumplin' for cripes sake which my sister did know and well, here we are)

WS: I just skimmed a page and read "warm hot cunt."  I started laughing and Lemon Drop said "Can you stop laughing at my failure?!?" 😂  Seriously, blog fodder. Lemon Drop and smut...

Lemon Drop: Are you gonna let this go? Can't we get past my humiliation for this holy holiday? 😂

WS: Seriously, I'm dying. My kid cracks me up.

Wendy: This is going on the blog for sure.

WS: She's so sweet. Cracks me up. But yes very naïve. Nobody should mess that up or I'll kill them. LOL.  I mean, she knows everything but knowing and REALLY knowing are two different things.

Wendy: My Man says enjoy it while it lasts 😂

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Review: Fall

Book Cover = Fall
Fall by Tracy Clark is the second book in her Detective Harriet Foster series for Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint. I'm still a bit put-out that Clark's Cass Raines private detective series for Kensington seems to be put on ice, but the Foster books have been an enjoyable consolation prize and once I found the spoons to start reading I zipped through this in 24 hours.

Marin Shaw is getting out of prison after 3 long years. A former city alderman she was locked up for corruption, managed to get sober behind bars (she's an alcoholic) and she didn't take anyone down with her - which she most certainly could have. Marin knows where some bodies are buried.  Needless to say her getting out is big news - to the press who smell blood in the water and to her fellow aldermen who are worried she's out for her pound of flesh. However all Marin really cares about is repairing her relationship with her young daughter and divorcing her sack of crap husband.  Then, well, the bodies start dropping. 

The first alderman is found shot to death in a parking garage. The second one, stabbed to death in his office. Found with the bodies are baggies filled with 30 dimes. Harriet Foster has caught the case and while both dead aldermen were connected to Marin it feels too neat. There's also the minor problem that they don't have a ton of hard evidence to make an arrest stick to her.  The powers that be are at full froth and the pressure is on to make an arrest - but are the dead bodies tied to Marin's case or is it something else entirely the police aren't seeing?

Half the joy in Clark's books is that they're set in the city of Chicago, and she writes about the city well. However, rather unbelievably, this is the first of her books to really mine political corruption - which is about as Chicago as Irish cops, Chicago dogs, and Wrigley Field. Needless to say, I fell into the plot pretty hard and there was just enough political sleaze on the page to keep me invested. Normally I'm not a huge fan of politics in my entertainment because, hello, real life - but when political bodies are dropping, well I'm only human after all.

The mystery hums along well and while Marin is the obvious suspect the author takes the narrative on a few twists.  That said, I did have a pretty good idea from the jump who our murderer was and it spins out to a climactic, albeit slightly unhinged, finish.

What didn't work so well for me was the introduction to a secondary plot thread planted, I suspect, for the third book in the series. Harriet's former partner committed suicide, leaving behind a husband and two sons. Harriet and her partner's widower start receiving threats, and whoever it is wants to leverage Harriet to do his dirty bidding (presumably fix cases, make evidence disappear etc.) in exchange for the safety of Glynnis' children. It doesn't go much of anywhere in this book and honestly takes focus away from the main storyline.  Also, if I'm being honest, I'm still butt-hurt that this tactic was employed in the fourth book of the Cass Raines series and a fifth book has yet to appear - and likely won't for a long while (if ever).  The Raines series was published by Kensington, and Clark now seems wrapped up in this Foster series for Amazon.  So yes, I have baggage.  On the bright side, as of the time of this posting, Amazon does have a listing for the third book in this series, slated for next December. Hopefully that release date will stick.

I didn't like this one as much as the first book in the series, but I still enjoyed it. The story was strong, the sense of place was dynamite, and Harriet is capable, smart, with underlying vulnerabilities that make her interesting.  I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Final Grade = B-

Friday, December 1, 2023

All Aboard! Sign-Up for the 2024 #TBRChallenge!

#TBRChallenge 2024

I want to thank everyone who took the time to fill out my poll soliciting theme suggestions for the 2024 TBR Challenge. There were a bunch of really great suggestions and this year every single theme came from the poll!

For those of you stumbling across my blog for the first time, you're probably wondering - what is the #TBRChallenge?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: once a month pull a dormant book out of your TBR pile and read it.  On the 3rd Wednesday of the month, talk about that book.

Participation is as easy as being on social media!
  • If you're on social media all you need to do is use the #TBRChallenge hashtag - there's no need to sign-up and your participation can vary throughout the year.
  • You can use this hashtag on any day, at any time - but we're still going to concentrate on the 3rd Wednesday of every month to kick our commentary into high gear.  
  • The idea is to have at least one day a month where we can always count on there being book chatter.
Want to let your blogging freak flag fly?  If you have a blog and want to post TBR commentary there, drop me a comment on this post with a link to your blog or hit me up on Twitter, Bluesky or Mastodon.  I like to post links to the various blogs on my TBR Challenge page so those who follow along can start following you.

Sound good?  Of course it does!  So what are the themes for 2024?  So glad you asked!

January 17 - Once More With Feeling
February 21 - Furry Friends
March 20 - Not in Kansas Anymore
April 17 - No Place Like Home
May 15 - With a Little Help From My Friends
June 19 - Bananapants!
July 17 - What a Wonderful World
August 21 - Everyday Heroes
September 18 - Drama!
October 16 - Spooky (Gothic)
November 20 - It Came From the 1990s!
December 18 - It's a Party!

I know some of these are going to require a bit of planning on my part, but remember - if it all seems like too much bother - the themes are always optional. The goal of this challenge isn't so much what you read, so long as you're reading something (anything!) out of your TBR.

My hope is always for this Challenge to be low-key, stress-free and fun!  So I hope you'll consider joining this year. Be like me - use this Challenge to delude yourself into thinking you're actually making some progress on your book hoarding 😉.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Horn of Plenty: Unusual Historicals for November 2023

For those playing along at home, Amazon's search algorithm seems to be back to it's normal mess as opposed to the epic hot mess of the past several months. That said, I still found myself looking at entirely too much porn for my own good (seriously, some of the covers and titles - my eyes may never recover).  This month though I had a lot of help from AztecLady who sent me a wide swath of upcoming releases. I combed through that list, then did some of my own searching, which means this month we have a bonanza of 11 titles! 

The Lady's Scandalous Proposition by Paulia Belgado
A proposition to shock the ton

And delight her rogue

Lady Persephone MacGregor is a genius with machines but hopeless as a debutante! After a lackluster first season, this one will be her last—and her best chance to experience sensual pleasure if she’s going to be a spinster for the rest of her life… So when she meets unconventional Ransom, the charismatic yet elusive owner of a gambling den, she decides to shock him with a daring proposition!


Belgado is a relatively new author in the Harlequin Historical universe, and this, her third book, is her first to land within the parameters of "unusual historical." Oh sure, a heroine who knows she's bound to die a spinster but who wants to experience passion - it's been done. But said heroine is also  mechanically inclined (ahem, machines) and our hero owns a gambling den. It's also a Victorian and I can typically count on Harlequin Historical authors to write actual Victorians - not also-ran Regencies claiming to be Victorians. 

Silver Lady by Mary Jo Putney
Together they faced the past . . .
A sense of duty sends Bran Tremayne to Cornwall to confront his heritage of British nobility. Abandoned at birth, Bran wants nothing to do with the embittered remains of his family. But as a special agent for the Home Office, he senses trouble brewing along the coast. And he can’t turn away from the vulnerable woman he encounters in the Cornish countryside. Merryn’s amnesia makes her past a mystery to them both, but with her life in danger, the only thing Bran knows for sure is that the beautiful stranger needs his protection . . .
But would they share a future?
Leaning into Bran is difficult enough, but can Merryn trust the strong bond—and the powerful passion—she feels for her rugged rescuer? She has no choice once Bran uncovers that she is at the center of a plot between French agents and Cornish smugglers. From misty woodlands to stormy shores, the two join forces with a band of loyal Cornishmen to bring down a common enemy. Yet will their growing love survive the coming peril?
Cornwall! Smugglers! An amnesiac heroine in danger! Icing on the cake of Putney's latest is that it's also set during the Georgian era.

Courting Miss Emma by Linda Broday
Texas, 1868. Emma Taggart has finally found a place to belong – setting up Heaven's Door orphanage with her sister Maura was a new beginning for her – and one she will do anything to protect.

When guarded ex-army man Stone Landry buys the neighboring land and moves in - camels and all - Emma's world changes forever. He is an infuriating man who instantly gets under her skin - in ways she never dreamed possible, and despite herself, Emma starts to wonder if, just maybe, he is man enough to take on a Hangman's daughter . . . But their newfound connection is quickly tested by violent night raids, kidnappings, and underhand tricks by powerful rancher Zeke Parker, who is intent on running them out of town and taking the land he deems to be his. Can Emma find enough courage to trust in Stone and help him give her the life she's always dreamed of?

Book 2 in a series centered around sisters whose father was a hangman. Also our hero buys the land next door and moves in with some...camels? In Texas? I've read Broday in the past and she tends to infuse some humor in some of her books and I'm not a Funny Ha Ha Western fan (dark, gritty, death lurking around every corner Western fan here). This blurb certainly doesn't read Funny Ha Ha, but this is one I'll be sampling from the Day Job to see if it sticks.

Warriors in Winter by Michelle Willingham (Reprint)
Enjoy a collection of three holiday stories featuring second-generation characters from the MacEgan Brothers series!

After Brianna MacEgan’s husband was killed by a Viking, she will stop at nothing to avenge his death—even if she must wield the sword herself. But when the handsome Arturo de Manzano offers to train her to fight, the Spaniard slowly begins to melt the ice around her heart …

After being caught in a snowstorm, Rhiannon MacEgan seeks shelter with a fierce Viking. She’s intrigued by the handsome warrior Kaall, but he’s holding a terrible secret. Not only is Kaall blind, he’s also her cousin’s greatest enemy…

Adriana de Manzano is betrothed to Liam MacEgan, a man who rescued her from captivity, but she’s hiding the darkness of her past. To save Liam’s life, she was forced to betray him. If she tells this proud Irish warrior the truth, will he ever forgive her?
Originally published by Harlequin Historical in 2012, Willingham wraps up her MacEgan Brothers self-published re-releases with this holiday themed anthology featuring members of the second generation. All three stories are interconnected and you can read my review of the original edition over at The Good, The Bad and the Unread. 

The Cruel Dark by Bea Northwick
Millicent Foxboro is haunted.

Not by ghosts, but by the anguish of her past and the uncertainty of her future. After all, even in the progressive year of 1928, most people would balk at hiring a woman who’d spent two months in a mental ward for traumatic amnesia. So when an uncommon assistantship to a reclusive Professor of mythology falls into her lap with an ungodly salary attached, her desperation for stability overrides her cautious nature.

To Millie’s dismay, the widowed Professor Callum Hughes and his estate, Willowfield, are more than she bargained for. The once magnificent home, known for its sprawling gardens and dazzling parties, is falling to pieces after the death of the professor’s fragile wife. What’s more, the staff has been reduced to the only three people not frightened away by rumors of ghosts, leaving the halls empty and languishing in bitter memories.

The professor himself is a grim, intense man with unclear expectations, unpredictable moods, and hungry eyes that ignite Millie’s own dormant passions. The closer she finds herself drawn to Professor Hughes and his strange world of flowers and folklore, the more the house closes in, threatening to reveal her secrets. But the professor is keeping secrets of his own and the most dangerous of all is hers to discover.

A Gothic! A heroine recovering from traumatic amnesia, a mysterious professor of mythology and a creepy house. Just inject this straight into my eyeballs.

Where There's a Duke There's a Way by Emily EK Murdoch
Arthur Hebblethwaite, Duke of Fitzpaine is in rather a pinch. Firstly, he’s not actually a Duke.

It was such a clever idea. Pretend to be a duke, go to France, and live on the scraping and bowing of those desperate to impress a nobleman. All well and good, until someone recognizes him. Until he grabs a woman and uses her as a hostage to escape a French encampment. Until he looks at the woman and…oh, hell.

Joanna Bettencourt doesn’t know what’s worse: being a shy heiress with a father desperate to marry her off, being captured by the French and held prisoner, or being dragged onto a horse by a maniac by the name of the Duke of Fitzpaine. Pretending to have a husband ready to protect her seemed the obvious option.

But as the “Duke of Fitzpaine” and the “penniless Mrs. Epwin” arrive at the coast, desperate to return to England, they are faced with a problem: there’s only one cabin. Cue a little pretense that this time they both share. A fake marriage.

They’re both lying to each other, and they both don’t know it—but they can’t lie for long about the heat searing between them, the affection growing as they slowly open up to each other.
A hero pretending to be a Duke and a heroine pretending to have a husband. Oh, and they're on the run in France, only to take refuge in the only cabin available to them - so now they're fake married. This sounds positively delightful!

The Countess Caper by Alyxandra Harvey
Lady Tessa Kilkenny’s ramshackle manor house is filled with mice and snakes and peeling wallpaper—as well as women with nowhere else to go. And Tessa will do anything to keep them safe.

Even steal a carriage from Roarke Noble, the Earl of Dartmoor.

As her first foray into being a highwaywoman, it has mixed results. She gets her cousin to the midwife just in time. But she also gets a marriage proposal.

Because Roarke needs a wife.

And with Tessa he gets more than he bargained for. She won’t tell him why she is fighting off housebreakers and stealing from earls and viscounts. Or why her disaster of a house is rigged with traps to discourage unwanted visitors.

But when those secrets put her life in danger, Roarke discovers he will do anything to save her.
A heroine with a scandalous past who essentially opens a battered women's shelter in Regency England, finds herself swept up by the hero - who needs a wife. The second book in a series, go forth and read AztecLady's recent review, who describes it as delightful with serious underpinnings.

One Night in Hartswood by Emma Denny
Oxford 1360

When his sister’s betrothed vanishes the night before her politically arranged marriage, Raff Barden must track and return the elusive groom to restore his family’s honour.

William de Foucart — known to his friends as Penn — had no choice but to abandon his fiancé, and with it his own earldom, when he fled the night before his enforced marriage. But ill-equipped to survive on the run he must trust the kindness of a stranger, Raff, to help him escape.

Unaware their fates are already entwined, their unexpected bond deepens into a far more precious relationship, one that will test all that they hold dear. And when secrets are finally revealed, both men must decide what they will risk for the one they love…
A medieval featuring a double-deception plot - neither hero is being honest with the other by pretending to not be who they truly are.  Reviews for this one have been a bit all over the map. Of the folks I follow I've seen emotional swooning messes, meh it's OK I guess and this book got on my last hot nerve. I am curious but what this adds up to is me leveraging one of my library cards.

Her Warrior's Surprise Return by Ella Matthews
A surprise reunion

With the warrior from her past…

It’s been years since Ruaidhri abandoned Sorcha, and she’s no longer the woman she once was. Now leader of the Suibhne Clan, she must unite her people against invading forces. When rumors of Ruaidhri’s return to Ireland prove true, she’s unsettled at seeing him again. He offers to help her, but his past betrayal still burns, even if desire is as strong as ever. Should Sorcha trust her head…or her heart? 


First book in a new multi-author series (Brothers and Rivals) this one features some of my favorite medieval catnip. A heroine in need of a warrior and the only one who shows up is the hero who betrayed her in the past. 

Western Blue by Suzie Clarke
In 1868, Caroline Bluebonnet Hutching is forced to leave her Texas home and make a new life in Nevada. But the townsmen are against her, and she can’t get the help she needs. Undaunted, she advertises for female workers, only to find that each woman who answers her ad is as desperate as she is. And she’s entirely unprepared for the one who steals her heart.

When raiders attack Isabel Segura’s horse ranch and slaughter her family, she’s left with nothing—no home, no future, no hope. When she sees Blue’s ad, a new dream sparks to life. Determined to begin again, she sets out on a journey she never could have imagined.

Heroism, loyalty, friendship, and love. The odds are against this unlikely group—but never underestimate women who have nothing to lose.
Lesbian cowgirls battle Evil Rancher in 19th century Nevada. Reviews I've seen so far mention plenty of grit, well-done action scenes, yet a hopeful tone. They also mention a slow burn romance that never fully catches fire.  I adore gritty westerns and these heroines sound like my jam but this is another one going on the library lending list to try out.

A Gilded Age Christmas by Amanda McCabe & Lauri Robinson
Two festive romances set in the glamorous Gilded Age

Two short romances

Celebrate a Gilded Age Christmas!

In Amanda McCabe’s A Convenient Winter Wedding: marrying Connor O’Neill is about survival for penniless heiress May Van Der Berg. The distant self-made millionaire is far from the passionate husband she’d once dreamed of…except for that scorching kiss! In Lauri Robinson’s The Railroad Baron's Mistletoe Bride: after years of estrangement, romance blooms when Kurt invites store clerk Harper and their shared niece to spend Christmas at his mansion. But are they just a family for the holidays? 

The holiday season can be hard. You're busy, your attention span is close to snapping, but you still want to unwind with some reading. Harlequin is usually there to help me out this time of year with their holiday-themed anthologies and this one is set during the Gilded Age! 

Whew! Enjoy this bountiful harvest now folks because December tends to be traditionally fairly thin.  Also, for those who celebrate Thanksgiving here in the States - stay safe and stay healthy.  What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to?

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Library Loot Mini-Reviews: Antique Bookshop Cozy Mysteries


Last month I read the first book in Laura Gail Black's Antique Bookshop Mystery series and not only liked it, but felt it was the best cozy mystery I'd read in a very long time. There were immediate high stakes, a strong focus on the mystery, and not an overabundance of small town cutesy crap.  Because I'm a mystery reader from way back (and rather nostalgic about the genre since I've been reading it since my teen years) and I'm a typical reader who can't say no to a series, I made the not terribly bright decision to glom my way through the remaining (to date) three books.

Murder by the Bookend is a solid book two. Having helped crack the case of her uncle's murder, Jenna has settled into her inheritance, renaming his former antique bookstore Twice Upon a Time. She's holding a champagne reception / grand opening event - and combed through her uncle's client files to send invitations and invite a few local dignitaries.  However the event takes a turn with the arrival of the local library's Director of Antique Books. He has words with a few of the guests, wins a pair of antique bookends in Jenna's prize drawing, and then proceeds to get his brains bashed in with one of those bookends in the parking lot. Another murder connected to her store, which is the last thing Jenna needs.  She also finds herself the new guardian to the murdered man's traumatized dog, Eddie, who witnessed the whole thing.

Once again the mystery was solid and the stakes were high.  Unfortunately, just like the first book, the whole thing hinges on a mentally unstable and unhinged bad guy.  The antagonist is "crazy" ergo of course they committed murder.  

Final Grade = B-

Bound by Murder is book three and honestly the best in the series because the author mines Jenna's past. When she was living in Charlotte Jenna was accused of embezzlement and murder. She was eventually exonerated, but her life was in ashes - including a broken engagement to a fiancé' who kicked her to curb and handed her a key to a storage unit to pick up her stuff when she tried to come back to their home. The local historical inn in Hokes Folly has started booking weddings and who should waltz into Jenna's bookshop?  Her ex-fiancé', Blake, and his odious Mean Girl bride-to-be, Missy. Naturally Missy ends up dead (seriously, she is TERRIBLE!) and Blake is Suspect #1.  But as much as Jenna was hurt by Blake, even given his behavior towards her over the course of this book (he's stalking her trying to win her back), she doesn't see him as a murderer. It just doesn't pass the smell test.  This, of course, rocks the boat a bit in her relationship with hunky local cop, Keith.

Even though I pegged the bad guy from the jump, the motive in this book is strong, credible, and the author doesn't trot out the mental illness "crazy" killer card. I also loved that while Jenna doesn't think Blake is a killer, she sticks up for herself and defends herself rather spectacularly when he accosts her with unwanted groping and kissing. She fights back - which is not something you see in a cozy mystery heroines every day. All this being said, the story did lag in spots as more small town cutesy crap gets introduced, including, Lord help us all, another new friend for Jenna that is somehow supporting herself by opening a candle shop.  Just candles. That's it.  In a small town.

Final Grade = B

Caught on the Book is where I really should have known better. Quit while you're ahead Wendy. Don't jump right into book four, maybe cleanse the palate with something different first.  But of course I didn't do that, and here we are.

Hokes Folly's annual fishing tournament and festival is underway and Jenna decides to have a booth, thinking to off-load some fishing-themed books collecting dust in her store. Then a local author at the festival is found murdered in his booth, and all hell breaks loose.  The prime suspect is Frank Sutter, a local retired police detective, her boyfriend Keith's former partner, and the guy who tried to pin murders on Jenna in the first two books of the series. Seriously, the guy is The. Worst. Frank's motive is that the victim was dating Frank's estranged wife and, of course, because Frank is terrible, he had a couple of very public altercations with the man at the festival.  Now he's dead and Frank is playing the "I don't remember" card.

Keith is on ice. The department doesn't want him anywhere near the investigation because they want to avoid any semblance of impropriety or a cover-up.  So Keith practically begs Jenna to investigate. Yes, a civilian. And on top of that, a civilian who has been in Frank's crosshairs more than once as he tried to pin a crime, just about any crime, on her. Jenna, of course, agrees and then Keith gets subsequently butt-hurt when Jenna runs off half-cocked swiping evidence from people's houses and sh*t.

This is the book where it all runs off the rails. Besides the last paragraph, the small town cutesy crap hits a fever pitch in this book.  Also, Jenna - a grown-ass woman - says ridiculous crap like "Oh snap," "Hot pickles on a popsicle stick," "Hot pickles on a pancake" or some other stupid variation to exclaim surprise.  Look, I'll say things like "cheesy crackers" or "Oh shoot!" but only when little ears are around or, in my day job, I'm around subordinate employees or working with the public.  I don't think those things in my own head.

After reading these last 3 books in a row, the writing ticks and foibles got exponentially more annoying, the jump in small town cutesy crap hit a raw nerve, and while there were plenty of credible suspects and motives this time out - the final denouement read like a balloon slowly being deflated. Also everybody, including Frank Sutter, who really is a terrible person, are all singing Kumbaya at the end.  This book was just released back in October, so if there will be a book 5 it's probably going to be a little ways out. We'll see if my crankiness has faded by that point to potentially pick it up.

Final Grade = C-

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Library Loot Mini-Reviews: Celebrity Memoirs

Down the Drain
Don't ask me why I decided to read Down the Drain by Julia Fox - because I couldn't tell you. Before starting the audiobook I was operating under the assumption that she was famous for dating Kanye West. I'd never heard of her, she hitches her wagon to him, they break up, suddenly she's everywhere. I walked away from this book learning a few things: 1) Fox is what I call "New York City Famous" and 2) She can write her face off (I'm taking her at her word that a ghostwriter wasn't employed). Kayne doesn't actually show up until you're 90% of the way through, and honestly he's the least memorable (or interesting) part of this story.

What we have here is one of those seedy-underbelly memoirs.  There was a movie in the 1990s called Kids that a lot of people thought was edgy, raw and therefore, good.  It was not. It was Rosario Dawson's big break however - which I think is why people remember it. Anyway, this memoir is like Kids times 1000, with some acid thrown on top for good measure.  Shuttled between Italy and New York, the book details Fox's relationship with her parents (who had a volatile marriage, to put it mildly), her growing up much too fast, running the streets of New York, an abusive relationship with a drug dealer, her own drug habit, her partying, her work as a dominatrix, her relationship with a sugar daddy, her own trips to jail and psychiatric hospitals, and finally her modelling and acting careers.  If you want some rubber-necking sleaze, this is it.  But it's also well-written with an impeccable sense of place. I can't say I'm now a Julia Fox fan per se, but she can write - and I hope she continues to do so.

Final Grade = B+

When I first heard that Britney Spears was writing a memoir I knew it was going to be a BIG - which doesn't make me particularly smart, just not totally dense. I put myself on a stupid long library wait list and scored a "skip the line" copy on Friday. By Saturday I was finished.

I highly recommend consuming The Woman In Me via audiobook.  Much hay has been made over Michelle Williams' impersonations of Justin Timberlake and Mariah Carey, but it's her ability to convey the emotional vulnerability and rage of Britney's story that steal the show. Getting her to read this was not only genius, but a triumph.

I'll be frank, this isn't a particularly well-written memoir. The early portion, detailing Britney's childhood and rise to fame, feels very paint by numbers (I did this, then this happened, so on and so forth).  The main course doesn't arrive until the Timberlake break-up and her marriage to Kevin Federline.  Look, a lot has been made about Timberlake being a douche (which really - people are surprised by this?) and on the outside looking in I think most of us knew Federline's game early on - but I walked away truly understanding why Britney allowed herself to get sucked in by these two leeches.  Bless her heart, she's a people-pleasing nice Southern girl who had terrible examples at home.  The kind of girl who wanted to perform and make people happy.  The kind of girl who wrote thank-you notes and called adults (regardless of their age) "sir" and "ma'am." The kind of girl who took all those good Southern manner lessons to heart.  

She didn't stand a chance.

On top of all that, throw in the rise of the paparazzi, the Internet gossip machine and having 2 babies in 2 years? Maybe if she'd been more of an ice queen like Madonna - then maybe things would have spun out differently. But here was a young woman drowning and instead of throwing her a life preserver, a safe haven, the people around her were tossing chum into the water for the sharks.

Her account of the conservatorship is jaw-dropping and horrifying. Her words show a vulnerability and rage in these chapters that is breathtaking.  Again, is it well written? Not really. Quite frankly, I've read better (see Fox's memoir above). But there's a viscerally raw honesty in Britney's words, coupled with Williams' reading, that is impossible to ignore or dismiss.  

It's a slim book (only 6 hours on audio), but it packs a wallop.  I hope it's the first step in many of Britney taking her life back and making no apologies, to or for anyone, ever again.  Live your best damn life girl.

Final Grade = A

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

#TBRChallenge 2023: The Sheikh's Virgin Princess

The Book: The Sheikh's Virgin Princess by Sarah Morgan

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Presents Extra #37, Book 3 in Trope-Based, Multi-Author Series (His Virgin Mistress), 2009, Out of print, available digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: When I discovered Sarah Morgan (through her Presents), I went on a glom to snag the rest of her backlist.  This was one of them, picked up at a used bookstore.

The Review: For this month's Once Upon a Time... theme I hit the trifecta: 1) Royalty, 2) Princess in the Tower theme and 3) an arranged marriage. Me also pointing out that the heroine is a virgin would just be showing off at this point.

Here's the thing about Morgan, she could flat-out write Presents. She knew the beats, she respected the tropes, and was smart enough throw in the occasional curveball to liven up the proceedings. Which means even when I'm not in love with one of her Presents, I still tend to inhale them, which is what happened here.  The heroine was a nice surprise, but the hero was such a paternalistic jackass it was hard to get swept up in the romance.

Karim, Sultan of Zangrar, is just getting to the point where he's cleaned up the mess left behind by his father and Evil Stepmother - so when he finds out Dear Old Dad arranged a marriage between his only son and a woman known as "The Rebel Princess," he's decidedly unthrilled. He understands he has to marry, but he needs an obedient, compliant wife. One who won't make waves. One who is nothing like his Evil Stepmother.  He decides his only option is to go to Rovina and convince Princess Alexandra to call the whole thing off.  By nature of the arrangement, she can call it off - but he cannot.

Except Alexa has no intention of calling off the marriage - she's more than ready to marry the Sultan. Why? Because with her parents killed in a terrible accident when she was eight, her Evil Uncle became Regent. Said Evil Uncle has spent years working to discredit her and she firmly believes (with cause) that her life is in danger. Marrying the Sultan, trading one locked tower for another, is her only chance at survival.  She's about to turn 24. She needs to make it to 25, which is when (by law) she takes over the throne of Rovina.

What follows is subterfuge. Karim shows up posing as a bodyguard to take Alexa back to Zangrar - thinking that over the course of the trip he'll scare her off from wanting to marry the Sultan. Naturally he assumes the worst, and when she tells him she's in danger - well, she's just another overly dramatic female (seriously, this guy is the worst!). In his defense, Alexa isn't forthcoming with a lot of details -  mainly because she's learned the very hard lesson that she cannot trust anybody. She's been betrayed, and badly. When she's looked for help, there's been no one showing up on a white horse to slay her dragons. 

I liked Alexa quite a bit. She's this interesting combination of desperation, vulnerability and feistiness. And boy howdy, when she finds out who Karim really is? Her hurt practically bleeds off the page.  And ultimately? That's the problem. Because Karim doesn't think he did one damn thing wrong. He doesn't get it. He's a guy who will never get it. Oh sure, Morgan gives us the requisite rescue scene at the end where she wants you to think he now "gets it" - but no, he doesn't. Alexa deserves a true partner in every sense of the word and this guy will be "give me all your trust and honesty" while not giving nearly the same level in return. In short, he's not good enough for her and she deserves all the flowers after what she's been through.


In the end it's a mixed bag. I can forgive a lot in a Presents hero if I get a good crawl-over-broken-glass grovel, but Karim doesn't really grovel. Morgan wants the reader to think he's seen the error of his ways, but I wanted him bloody and contrite at the end and...nope, that really doesn't happen. What I did get was a Presents with a heavy dose of fairy tale, which is honestly how this line works best for me. Royalty, a princess in danger, an arranged marriage and a dastardly uncle. It's like a Disney fantasy come to life, but with sex.

Final Grade = C-