TBR Challenge – Happy Holidays!

NTLMGI’m a Christmas story junkie (a confession surprising no one who reads my reviews, I’m sure), so for the last month of 2014′s multi-blog TBR challenge I decided to go after a different sort of holiday read. Why not Mardi Gras? And so I read Kimberly Lang’s No Time Like Mardi Gras. It’s only been on my Kindle since February 2014, but it still made me feel nostalgic. I’m pretty bummed that Harlequin is discontinuing their KISS line, as many of the books I read there have featured strong writing and a modern feel that belie the Pepto-pink covers.

No Time Like Mardi Gras isn’t the best of the KISS books I’ve read, but it’s not a bad book either. Since it seems to be a character-driven romance at heart, it really could have used a little more attention in the characterization department. That fix would have elevated it into the ranks of the some of the better humorous romances – the ones that manage to be both hilarious and poignant.

Or, perhaps it’s better stated that many of the best funny books tend to be memorably humorous because they’re poignant. Instead, I’d describe this read as fun but uneven,and I’d give it a B-.

Jamie Vincent moved to New Orleans to get a fresh start after her life pretty much went spiraling down the drain. However, getting settled in a new city with no network to depend on is a completely new experience for her and it’s not going all that well. Her roommate seems to be her one social outlet and so she’s third-wheeling it with the roommate at Mardi Gras while said roommate seems intent on watching a particular band play and hopefully hooking up with her crush from said band. It looks pretty bleak until she meets Colin Raine in a bar and he offers to show her to sights of Mardi Gras in the city.

The two have a fabulous time, and there’s more than a little bit of attraction going on there. When the two get separated by a crowd and then kept apart by a big misunderstanding, I was inclined to roll my eyes, but then the author does something a little bit different: Jamie and Colin talk it out. They don’t resolve everything perfectly and immediately but at least they start talking. Sadly, that’s a step up for many couples in Romanceland.

What ensues is a fun and sexy fling that gradually grows more serious. And most of the time it’s plenty of fun. Jamie’s issues from the great blowup of her past life(which she’s determined to keep as secret as possible for way too long) get a little tiresome, but given what her secrets are, I could understand why she’d react strongly even as I got irked with her on occasion. Colin’s a likable hero and in the end, he and Jamie seem like a fun couple. I totally did not get Jamie’s over-the-top obsession with all things Mardi Gras, but to each their own.

- Lynn Spencer
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xmasspirit Originally published in 1996, Patricia Wynn’s The Christmas Spirit is the whimsical tale of an elf who falls in love with a human. I always like a bit of whimsy at this time of the year, and this has that quality in spades, while also being romantic and sweetly sensual.

Sir Matthew Dunstone, a well-known explorer, has returned from an arduous trip searching for the source of the White Nile in the grip of a severe illness. To make matters worse, his fiancée has married his ex-partner, whose accounts of their trip have blackened Matthew’s name and ruined his reputation amongst the African Association, the society to which they both belong.

A broken man subject to bouts of fever induced hallucination, Matthew is not at all surprised to find himself talking to an elf one night. Thinking the sprightly apparition to be no more than the product of a disordered mind, Matthew is unperturbed and several conversations take place, during one of which the elf – Francis – tells Matthew about his sister, Gertrude (Trudy). The following night, Francis brings Trudy to see Matthew while he is sleeping. She immediately likes the look of the man who, despite his weakened state is obviously quite handsome, and when Francis wagers that she won’t be able to get him to follow her “into the mists”, she immediately takes the bet.

Shortly afterwards, Trudy takes human form and presents herself at Matthew’s house on the pretext of wanting him to make a donation to The Society for the Relief of Indigent African Natives. Matthew is not at all pleased at being disturbed, but is unable to take his eyes from the ravishing beauty with the devastating smile who introduces herself as Miss Faye Meriweather. And Trudy is surprised to discover that Matthew is far more handsome and imposing a man than she had previously thought – and also that in spite of her best efforts and most winsome smiles, he appears to be immune to her charms.

After his initial attempt to fob her off fails, Matthew begins to discover that perhaps there is something to be said for emerging from his self-imposed seclusion and, more than that, as the days pass, realises his health is drastically improving. In his dreams, he is visited by a female elf who bears a striking resemblance to Faye, a circumstance he puts down to the impure thoughts he is starting to entertain about that young lady who could, of course, never enter a gentleman’s bedchamber or sit on his bed tenderly stroking his hair. But Trudy’s touch is magical, and her nocturnal ministrations really are helping Matthew to regain his health and strength, which in turn, helps him to confront and dispel the rumours concerning his mental state and his supposedly dishonourable actions on his last trip.

Trudy is walking a dangerous path. While it’s all well and good for her to ensnare a human, to let things happen the other way around is unthinkable. A human in elven lands has much to gain – or so Francis thinks – whereas for an elf to fall for a human means she would lose her magic and begin to age in the same way that humans do. Francis reminds Trudy of their bet and her intention to enslave Matthew, but it’s too late. Trudy has fallen in love with a human and loves him far too much to consign him to a life beyond the mists as little more than a pet. There is no other way for them to be together – or is there? It’s Christmas after all, and the perfect time for dreams to come true.

The Christmas Spirit is a quick read, which fulfilled my desire for a quirky, fluffy story. The characterisation isn’t especially deep, and I have to say that other than the winter-time setting and a few mentions of Father Christmas, it doesn’t feel especially Christmassy either – but It’s light-hearted and entertaining and I enjoyed it, nonetheless. C+

- Caz Owens

Sweetheart or Shrew? Sister or Skank? AAR announces a new yet to be named series!

'PRIDE AND PREJUDICE' FILM - 2005

Keeper or Kick-Her-to-the-Curb?

In July, AAR introduced the new series “Dreamboat or Douchebag” in which our staffers weigh in on the merits and demerits of famous literary heroes. These pieces have been some of our most popular and have generated a set of robust comment streams. They’ve also been a hell of a lot of fun to write.

Thus, we’ve decided to begin a similar series about heroines. Over the next year, we will set our critical sights on some of literature’s most contested heroines and pass judgement upon them. (We may even add in a movie heroine or two–wouldn’t it be fun to assess Vivian from Pretty Woman or evaluate Princess Leia?)

There are two things we are considering as we begin. The first is what makes a good heroine? There is, unsurprisingly, no consensus on that. Maggie likes a heroine who’s “well written and can make me sympathetic to her point of view.” Melanie prefers a woman who is “human – she has her flaws, but they aren’t the focus of the book” and who “feels real.” Shannon’s favorites are “self-reliant, but not afraid to ask for help when needed.” Caroline prizes “a sense of ethics,” “a spine,” and “self-awareness.” Lynn goes for “a smart, confident heroine who knows her limitations.” Lee wants a woman who stands up for herself. For me, a good heroine is one who deserves her happy ending–a criteria so vague it can be summed up as “I know it when I see it.

The second–and likely to be far more contentious–is what to call this column. There are those readers who acutely dislike “Dreamboat or Douchebag” and others who love it. We are sure no matter what we call our heroine column, the same situation will prevail.

I asked the staff to come up with suggestions for the column–serious and not–and their list was quite inventive. Suggested were:

First Class or Trailer Trash?
Sister or Skank?
Keeper or Kick-Her-to-the-Curb?
Bangable or Brown Bag?
Darling or Diva?
Wonderwoman or Witch?
Honey or Harridan?
Sweetheart or Shrew?
Captivating or Contemptible?
Special or Spoiled?
Treasure or Terror?
Catch or C**t?
Babe or Beyotch?
Hall of Fame or Walk of Shame?
and
Babe or Bint?

 

I’m not sure what we will pick or even if this is our final list. I give the staff points for wit.

We hope you will enjoy our new series and we welcome suggestions for heroines you’d like to see us consider. As always, we love to hear from you.

Dabney Grinnan

Writing a New Love Story


How good are you at reading in between the lines? If you’re better than me, maybe you saw my impending divorce coming before I did. When I blog, I tend to take inspiration from what’s going on in my own reading and in my life. A few months ago I wrote about the romances that mirror your own romance, and in a roundabout way discussed my newfound disenchantment with heroines who marry too young. Continue reading

TBR Challenge: Back in Time

provoked Given I read historicals almost exclusively, this month’s prompt wasn’t much of a challenge so I decided to look for something – for me – a bit different. Provoked is the first in Joanna Chambers’ Enlightenment trilogy, and an M/M romance, which is a genre I’ve read only once or twice before.

Not being overly familiar with historical M/M, I had the idea that it would be quite difficult for a romance to have a convincing HEA for two men at a time in history when homosexuality was not only illegal, but punishable by death – and while I certainly have no problem with the idea of two hot guys stripping off their frock coats and getting it on, I can read erotica for that. I read romance (as opposed to erotica) most of the time because I want more than that in my reading material – I want a decent storyline, too, and – with any luck – one that doesn’t stretch my credulity to breaking point and beyond.

The book is set in Regency Scotland, at a time of much political and social unrest. The author immediately evokes a strong sense of time and place with the opening of the story in which two young men – weavers accused of treason – are publicly executed. Present in the crowd is David Lauriston, a twenty-four year-old advocate who had defended the men in court, even though their fate was a foregone conclusion. Continue reading

Grown-Up Reading: Why Romance and Happy Endings Matter

QRMI heard George RR Martin on the radio the other day. Asked about the Game of Thrones body count he said something like (this is a paraphrase): “I used to read stories that had happy endings, where people did good things and nobody got raped…then I grew up.” Meanwhile, in an article on children’s fiction, author Robert Muchamore observes, “While a childish thirst for happy endings satisfies and entertains us, the real world is so complex that unambiguously happy endings hardly exist.” Continue reading

Happily Ever….

QRMOne of the most – cough – discussed posts we’ve had on Queer Romance Month recently has been about the happy ever after in queer romance. What the post, and the responses to the post, highlighted for me was just how complex and emotive this issue is. And while that would probably make any normal person STFU, I’d kind of like to talk about it. So the next two QRM-inspired posts for AAR are going to be about the HEA: in this one I’m going to ponder what HEA means in the context of queer romances, and in the companion post next week, KJ Charles is going to talk about why the HEA is valuable and necessary on its own terms. Continue reading

TBR Challenge – On the Edges of Our Seats

huntinghuman It’s been a while since I read a paranormal that felt fresh. For that reason, I was especially happy to read Hunting Human as I dove into the paranormal side of “paranormal or romantic suspense” for this month’s TBR challenge. This book is a 2011 release from Carina Press, and after reading it, I was rather disappointed to find that author Amanda E. Alvarez has apparently not released any other books. That’s a real shame because even if Hunting Human isn’t perfect, I’d give it a very solid B. My romance picks don’t often haunt me, but this book both made me smile and made chills run down my spine.

The chilling part starts early as we meet heroine Lizzy Williams in eastern Europe with her best friend Rachel. As they leave a bar and head for their hostel, the sense of foreboding increases. The reader just knows that something horrible is about to happen to these two happy young women, but reads on, powerless to stop it. When several men they encountered at the bar kidnap the duo and throw them into a van, my heart sank. I was horrified, but also so gripped by the story that I just couldn’t turn away. Continue reading