Midweek Minis

Melanie’s reads:

Gunpowder Alchemy by Jeannie Lin

After all the raving about it this past year, I was really looking forward to this one. Honestly, though, I just couldn’t get into it. I loved the world that Lin created – the steampunk elements are so perfectly entwined with the Chinese society of the time, that I could easily believe it’s all true. I would definitely be interested in reading more books like this, with steampunk elements that are not based solely in England or the US.

Soling is an interesting character, and while I’m not sure that I would say she grows as a character throughout the story, she does come to understand those around her more. She’s incredibly brave – in a time and place where women could not travel alone, she is willing to do so for her family. She faces real danger, difficult decisions, and moments where she has to figure out who she can really trust. It’s fascinating. She just falls kinda flat – even though she’s on this incredibly emotional journey, reaching back into her less-than-happy past, worrying about her family (you know, whether they have enough food, whether they are alive, the basics), but I never really felt any sense of urgency from her. She talks a good talk, but it was a bit of a blank slate, especially from a first-person point of view. I enjoyed her relationship with Chang-Wei – while I did find him to be, at times, overbearing, it fits with the cultural history, and we get to see her stand up for herself (and against him) in different situations. I think their relationship definitely evolved from where it began (well, where it began in the book – there is also some history there that I’m trying not to go into because spoilers).

I think the thing for me, though, was that it just didn’t keep my interest going. There was something….off about the pacing that had me putting it down regularly. It took me the better part of three months to read as a result. The writing is good, the characters are good, the world-building is great, but still, nope. I think that there was just too much going on – we have the Opium War, a Western invasion, and rebellion breaking out, and each piece touched the story. Now, that’s great, that the author obviously made the effort and did her historical homework, but it just….yeah. I don’t know. Not bad, but it just wasn’t for me.  Grade: C-.

The Errant Prince by Sasha L. Miller

This one is a short m/m story (and I mean short – it’s at about 40K words), and while I wanted more in that world and with the characters, it still felt like a full story. That’s something I really appreciate – it doesn’t feel like a book 2.5 in a series, or half a story, but like a complete piece. It seems to be one of those things difficult to achieve for a lot of writers.

I really liked the addition of a trans character – Myron has binding on his chest, and there’s a mention of how he told his parents that he was their son, not their daughter. It was more a passing conversation, and not really a big deal, which was pretty great. Overall, I would love for this to become a series, and would happily read more – I love fantasy stories like this. Grade: A-.

Closed Eyes by Jerry Bomhan

Okay, I really wanted to like this. Like, really. And it isn’t bad. The writing is actually pretty good, the Japanese culture seems well handled from what I know, and the characters seemed interesting. I think for me, though, I had trouble connecting emotionally to either character, and so I just couldn’t really get into it. I really enjoyed the kick-ass heroine we have in Ryo – she’s strong and determined, and her relationship with Kei is really quite beautiful. While I wasn’t as much a fan of Kei, she is definitely a product of her time and station. I liked how their strengths and weaknesses were perfectly complementary – and Kei’s moment of realization is probably the most stirring moment of the story.

I also have to take a moment to praise Uzo, the villain of the piece. Except he’s not completely a villain. But he really also kinda is. I loved how his character was handled, and how he’s definitely not a good person, he is working with the ends justifying the means. It gives him more depth, to see the reasoning behind his actions, and his reasoning actually kinda makes sense. I mean, I don’t condone the things he’s done, but I understand why he did them. I love that.

Though I may not have been able to get into the romance, the fight scenes were absolutely fabulous. The author keeps the tension up throughout the story, using the natural highs and lows of the plot to propel things along – it was really well done. I also really enjoyed the physical world he describes – everything feels quite real. It’s a bit rushed, but there’s just so much going on. Overall, I thought it worked pretty well. Grade: B-.

Caz’s reads:

The third book in Stella Riley’s series of Georgian romances, The Player tells the story of a young man who was forced into exile in order to avoid scandal. Thrown out of his home and country with little more than the clothes on his back, Adrian Devereux spent ten years in France living on his wits and continually re-inventing himself. But unforeseen circumstances mean he must return to England, which will mean confronting society, gossip – and the man ultimately responsible for ruining Adrian’s life.

Ms Riley’s heroes are always utterly captivating – attractive, witty, intelligent and ruthless when necessary but with a vulnerable streak that only those closest to them ever see; and Adrian is no exception. He’s spent so long pretending to be someone else that he has almost forgotten how to be himself – in fact, he’s forgotten who “he” actually is, having decided that when it comes to emotions, it’s far less bother to act them than to feel them. It’s not until he meets his heroine, Caroline, that he starts to rediscover the man he’s meant to be. The Player is a delightful book, with a strong storyline, a well-written, tender romance and a cast of well-developed supporting characters. Grade: A.

Dabney’s reads:

Part-Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates is the first full-length novel in the new Copper Ridge contemporary series by the prolific Ms. Yates. (I read the entry novella, Shoulda Been a Cowboy, and found it worse than unremarkable. If it hadn’t been a novella, it would have been a DNF for me.) I decided to give Part-Time Cowboy a go, however, because I am quite fond of another of Ms. Yates’s contemporary series, the Silver Creek books. (Book Two of that series, Untouched, was one of my favorite books of 2013.)

Part-Time Cowboy was better than–and is it must me or is this an awful title?–Shoulda Been a Cowboy but it still left me wanting. This is a bad girl returns home and falls for hot good guy lawman tale. And that’s pretty much it. If you’ve ever read this story, this book has nothing new to offer you. The heroine Sadie isn’t really a bad girl–she had her reasons for her misspent youth and is now walks the good girl path. The rote hero Eli has an outsized dick to match his outsized Sadie-inspired libido and the best parts of this book are all the sexy times Eli and Sadie get up to… despite the fact that they just know they aren’t meant for true love. I did like the Eli’s extremely surly brother Connor quite a bit and will, despite having found the first book and a half of the Copper Ridge series uninspiring, read his book Brokedown Cowboy when it comes out in June.  Grade: C.

Posted in Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, Melanie AAR, Mini reviews | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Eagerly Awaited April Books

It sure looks like April is shaping up to be a month of big releases! Quite a few of us are excited to see new books from the likes of Susanna Kearsley, Simone St. James, and Jo Goodman. Releases from Julie Anne Long, Jenny Colgan, Grace Burrowes, and Eloisa James weren’t far behind. I know I’m hoping for some good reads next month. What about you?

Title and Author Reviewer
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley Lynn, Heather, LinnieGayl, Lee, Maggie, Alex
This Gun for Hire by jo Goodman This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman Dabney, Lea, Caroline, Mary, Jean, Lynn
The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James The Other Side of Midnight by Simone St. James Jean, LinnieGayl, Caz, Lee, Lynn, Maggie
The Duke's Disaster by Grace Burrowes The Duke’s Disaster by Grace Burrowes Caroline, Anne, Mary, Caz
It Started With a Scandal by Julie Anne Long It Started With a Scandal by Julie Anne Long Mary, Caz, Alex, Lee
Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan Lee, Maggie, Alex
Library Wars, Vol. 13 by  by Hiro Arikawa Library Wars, Vol., 13 by Hiro Arikawa Caroline, Melanie
Meant-To-Be Mom by Karen Templeton Meant-to-Be Mom by Karen Templeton LinnieGayl, Caroline
Fall With me by Jennifer L. Armentrout Fall With Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout Anne
The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau Caz
The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris Melanie
Deep by Kylie Scott Deep by Kylie Scott Anne
All's Fair in Love and Scandal by Caroline Linden All’s Fair in Love and Scandal by Caroline Linden Dabney
Hard as a Rock by Christine Warren Hard as a Rock by Christine Warren Melanie
Silver Bastard by Joanna Wylde Silver Bastard by Joanna Wylde Anne
An Inconvenient Mistress by Caroline Kimberly An Inconvenient Mistress by Caroline Kimberly Lynn
Deep Focus by Erin McCarthy Deep Focus by Erin McCarthy Mary
A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall Melanie
Too Dangerous for a Lady by Jo Beverley Too Dangerous for a Lady by Jo Beverley Anne
Posted in All About Romance, Lynn AAR | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Taboo or not Taboo

One of the ideas I’ve had for this blog is The Taboo Bookclub. I envision that, every month or so, we’d pick a book for discussion that has a taboo in it. This idea, though, has proved easier to imagine than to implement. For starters, one person’s taboo is another’s who the hell cares. Additionally, there are so many types of taboos. There are character taboos–things like “I could never like a heroine who had an abortion.” There are context taboos–things like “I could never enjoy a book set in a religious cult.” There are taboos that involve both–”I refuse to read a book where the heroine has an abortion while living in a religious cult.” And there are taboos that that make my Twitter feed go crazy.

Furthermore we live–thank the gods–in a time where we respect each other’s limits. I might be fine with a book where the heroine cheats on the hero, but if you tell me you’re not, I’m not about to tell you you should be more open minded in your reading.

So, the Taboo Bookclub is still, at best, an idea in development.

But, were we to create one, I’m interested to know: What are your taboos in romance reading?

If you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine.

Taboo #1: The insta-pregnancy. I spent a very miserable year trying desperately to get pregnant so I now hate stories where the couple, despite using a condom and practicing withdrawal, find themselves preggers. It’s not only unlikely, it sends a message that birth control is barely worth trying. For me, it’s an almost lock that I’ll hate the book.

Taboo #2: Renesmee Cullen Syndrome. If a lead (like Jacob in the Twilight books) first fell for his/her true love when she/he was a child, that’s flat out creepy. I don’t mind the, wow, she’s suddenly a woman now love story, but tales where the guy watched the girl flower into womanhood are a no-go for me.

Taboo #3: The hero/heroine has sacrificed everything for for their true love but she/he still doesn’t trust in their feelings. There’s a scene at the end of Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s This Heart of Mine where Kevin, the hero, has gone way beyond the call of true love to show Molly he truly loves her and she’s still not quite buying it. So, he sorta kinda drowns her so he can rescue her and thus prove he is worthy of her love. I hate this scene. I hate it more than the sperm stealing scene which is, I suspect, more taboo for many. Grand gestures are fine. Grand gestures on top of grand gestures especially when the former require sacrifice or exposure to danger on the part of the gesturer make me want to shut the book and watch Orphan Black.

Taboo #4: Gorgeous apartments/cosy homes lived in by those with no strong source of income (or why I never liked Sex in the City.) Heroes and heroines who dwell in safe, quiet, architecturally interesting places in high priced zip codes annoy the hell out of me. A room in a crappy house in Brooklyn goes for 1300 a month on Airbnb. The heroine who lives in Chelsea in an adorable room over a Vietnamese restaurant run by sweet sages who give her free food all the time makes me fume. It’s a slap in the face to all those working their tails off just to pay the rent in Newark.

OK, OK. So maybe these aren’t taboos as much as preferences. I think that’s because I don’t really have any taboos. A great writer can make me buy into almost anything. And the things that bother many–adultery, abortion, arrogance, abrogation of the law–don’t keep me from reading and even enjoying romance.

But that’s just me.

What about you?

Posted in Dabney AAR, Romance reading | 53 Comments

TBR Challenge 2015 – Catch-Up Time!

moonglow I’m not normally one for vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters or paranormal romances in general, but I loved the first book in this series (Firelight) and this month’s prompt of “series catch-up” gave me the ideal excuse to read book two, Moonglow.

The things I’d enjoyed so much about the first story are very much in evidence in this one – the Victorian setting, a terrific storyline, strong characterisation and the amazing chemistry the author creates between her two protagonists. Once again, I was sucked in pretty much from the word go.

Daisy Ellis is the middle of the three Ellis sisters, the youngest of whom, Miranda, was the heroine of Firelight. Daisy was married off to a much older, abusive man six years earlier, and has recently been widowed. Determined to enjoy her new freedom, she is out for a night on the tiles with a friend when a gruesome double-murder abruptly puts an end to her plans for the evening. Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Monday Minis

Dabney’s reads:

I first read Chase Me in November and loved it. Just loved it. So, while stuck in a surgery center waiting room for most of a Friday morning, I read it again. And loved it again. (I’m not sure my fellow waiting room waitees shared my love. My constant snickering garnered many a long suffering stare.) In this very hot contemporary, struggling actress Roxy Cumberland stole my heart–and that of sexy lawyer Louis McNally the Second–from the moment she appeared. Roxy appears at Louis’s door dressed in a pink bunny costume to sing him a telegram from one of his many one-night stands about, yes, his cock. The encounter between the two is flat out hilarious. It’s worth reading this book just for that. After meeting her, Louis is determined to have her and not just in his bed although man does he want her there (His thoughts are so steamy, I confess that, when I wasn’t snickering, I was squirming.) Roxy doesn’t trust the rich and she finds Louis’s serious attentions hard to take seriously. Chase Me is lighter than Ms. Bailey’s other books although fans looking for her trademark dirty talking hero won’t be disappointed. I found the ending a bit abrupt and struggled to not reach into the pages and smack Roxy for her silliness there but, other than that, this is a winning read. Grade: B+.

Ten Good Reasons by Lauren Christopher is a book I picked to read because I am overwhelmed by my TBR pile (currently with over 1000 books on it…) so I decided to sort by new and upcoming releases with a four star or more rating on Goodreads. This book is one such romance albeit it has just nine reviews. I haven’t read the author’s debut novel, The Red Bikini, which people rave about on Amazon, but after reading Ten Good Reasons, I might. This story of a withdrawn, grieving boat captain and the bubbly yet not annoying PR professional finds the right balance of light, sexy, and sad. Plus there are whales! Lia is a heroine whose joy in life reads as real rather than painfully perky and it makes sense that Evan slowly lets her show him how to live again. The love scenes are doled out slowly and in a way that supports the emotional relationship the leads cautiously build. (If you’re sick of books where the lovers leap into bed and then grow to care about one another, this is a good choice for you.) There is some hard to hit sweet spot between contemporary romances so sugary they ping my “this is some serious crap” meter and those so dark I find myself longing for a Jill Shalvis novel. This book hits that special place. Grade: B.

I tried yet another New Adult rock star book. Yet again, I didn’t like it. However, in the case of Deep, my dislike doesn’t stem from the rock star adulation or the young adult angst. Nope, I disliked this book for a host of other reasons.

It’s official: The couple that gets pregnant the first time they have sex while using a condom is the laziest plot device currently en vogue. It requires no relationship building because, hey, the lovers are insta-bonded over the baby–who invariably has some cutesie pie name like Bean. Each book in the Stage Dive series has been weaker than the one before it and this one is no exception. There’s endless info about much of nothing here and when the focus is on the leads they’re usually texting, a literary affectation I found annoying.

I also find the child bride thing a bit creepy. Not only is the age/life experience gap too great, the heroine Lizzy hasn’t a life outside her relationships which, given how career obsessed Ben, the rocker baby daddy, is makes her seem vapid.

I can’t think of anything I liked about this book. Even characters I liked in their books were iffy here. I also found the casual violence–all the guys keep beating the shit out of each other for trivial reasons–off putting.

No more Stage Dive or Ms. Scott for me. Grade: C-


Maggie’s reads:

Fans of Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series will not be disappointed in Dead Heat, this fourth book of the series. The story starts with a serious conversation. Anna wants children. She knows Charles does as well. But for werewolves, childbirth is a great challenge and they will have to be creative to overcome the many obstacles they face.

In an effort to lighten the mood – and to ensure he gets Anna the best birthday gift possible – Charles plans a rare personal vacation to Arizona. It gives Charles a chance to reunite with an old friend and Anna a chance to purchase a new horse. But trouble is waiting for them in this seemingly idyllic location. A Fae of incredible power and cruelty is hunting the children of this area. And it will not tolerate any interference to its plan. Grade: B+.

Dead Heat kept me glued to my seat and eagerly turning the pages. It has that rare but wonderful combination of action packed adventure, intriguing mystery and wonderful relationship building that a great book should have. I love how Briggs is able to move the story line of the whole series forward while still delivering a tale that stands completely on its own. If you’re looking for a good paranormal read, look no further.

Haunted by Lynn Carthage was difficult for me to grade. On the one hand, after a slow start, I became very invested in the characters and their destiny. On the other hand, there are definite flaws.

Phoebe has done something so awful that her family has felt the need to cross the ocean to England and move into her step-father’s ancestral estate. None of them are quite prepared for what they find. The house is not just large, it’s huge – a mansion complete with artwork and antiques. It’s also creepy. Not just dust and spiderwebs icky but full of odd sounds which local legends attribute to a ghost. Phoebe soon finds out for herself that something far more horrible is in that house. But that monster is not the biggest surprise waiting for her.

Part horror story, part gothic and part teen romance this book examines the life of the average teen and how much impact they have on their family. Phoebe’s adventures as she fights the horror in the house, meets Miles and starts to fall in love and how she makes some startling discoveries about herself made for interesting reading. The big secret however is fairly apparent long before she figures it out. That makes for a slow point as the reader frustratingly waits for the maim character to catch on to what is happening. Once that occurs though the story takes off.

Overall I liked this enough that I plan to read the sequels. Given how many series I’ve recently stalled on or quit that says something quite positive about the book. Grade: B-.

Sara Thomas loves numbers. She is far less fond of people. Her cousin Jaqui is an exception and when Jaqui offers her the opportunity to work on a journal written entirely in cipher, Sara agrees. She’s not sure she can solve it – she’s not an expert code breaker – but she’s willing to give it a go.

She heads to France where the diary is kept and meets an intriguing cast of characters, including the handsome Luc Sabran. Sara knows she is socially awkward, a bad bet for any kind of long term relationship but she soon finds herself wishing she could keep Luc in her life forever. She also finds herself deeply intrigued by the tale of young Mary, whose diary she is deciphering. 

Mary Dundas’ family essentially deserted her for the Jacobite cause. When her brother comes to the home where she is staying,  saying he wants her to join his family she is ecstatic. She feels far less delighted when she figures out he needs her for one of the many clandestine projects for his cause. Before she knows it she is whisked off to Paris, playing a part in a dangerous charade. It is here that she meets a mysterious and dangerous man who proves to be both her protector and savior many times. But can he ever be more, as her heart longs?

While I thoroughly enjoyed the history in A Desperate Fortune and the journey through the world of ciphering we took I found myself doubting all the relationships. I couldn’t understand Mary being kind and helpful to people who had nothing to do with her for years. Her love story fell flat for me because I could never see the hero caring as much for her as he had for his cause. I found Sara’s love story completely unrealistic; Luc was more taking on another child than he was marrying an equal and I found that disturbing. Kearsley does her usually bang up job of telling an interesting story but the romance here won’t be sweeping you off your feet. Grade: B-.


Caz’s reads:

Winterblaze (Darkest London #3) by Kristen Callihan

I don’t read Paranormal Romances as a rule, but I’ve made an exception for this fantastic series. When Inspector Winston Lane of Scotland Yard is attacked and almost killed by a werewolf, he becomes aware of a truth that has been long-suppressed – that there are supernatural beings living among human society. During his recovery, he makes another unpleasant discovery – that his wife of fourteen years (Poppy, the eldest of the three Ellis sisters) has been lying to him for the entirety of their relationship. Unfortunately, however, it seems the betrayals they have wrought upon each other don’t end there, and there is worse to come when a powerful demon reveals a long-buried secret that threatens to tear them apart.

The story follows Poppy and Winston as they come to realise that perhaps their marriage had not been everything they had believed it to be, and sees them gradually beginning to readjust to the truths they now know about each other. There are bitter words and recriminations, but ultimately, there is no question these are two people who love each other very deeply and need each other at an instinctual level. I loved seeing them as they re-evaluated each other and their lives, and then watching them work together to win the day.

The balance between the romance and the action is just about perfect, the storytelling is wonderful and the plot is exciting and well-paced. Ms Callihan creates the most incredible sexual tension between her couples, and here, shows us the Lanes’ relationship evolving through a series of flashbacks, which are touching and very effective. It’s a fabulous book and I can’t wait to read the next one. Grade: A.

Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale

I felt emotionally exhausted by the time I’d finished reading this book. There’s no way to do it justice in couple of paragraphs, but there’s no question that in Sheridan Drake, Ms Kinsale has created one of the most complex, compelling heroes – should that be anti-heroes? – I’ve ever read.

A decorated naval officer, widely regarded as one of the nation’s heroes, Sheridan knows he’s a fraud. He’s clever, ruthless and manipulative, but finds himself on the receiving end of similar treatment following his father’s death, when his father’s former mistress – who is companion to Olympia, princess of a small European state – insists Sheridan marries Olympia in order for him to attain the inheritance left him. Olympia already has a serious case of hero-worship, even before she meets Sheridan, and of course he exploits that to the full – but she nonetheless turns him down. A series of misadventures sees the couple running off in secret, captured by convicts, stranded on an island together, and then sold into slavery, and over the course of those events, Olympia comes to see Sheridan at his worst, and his best – and to love him in spite of it all.

I honestly couldn’t put the book down. It’s not an easy read at times, because Sheridan is a difficult character to like. But it gradually becomes clear that he is not really what he seems to be, and that he’s in fact a deeply troubled man who is haunted by so many of those events for which he has been lauded as a hero. My one complaint about the book is that the ending is very abrupt, but it’s still an amazing story. Grade: A.



Posted in Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, Maggie AAR, Mini reviews, Reading, Romance reading | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A Few of My Favorite Scenes

There’s been a lot in the media lately about women and desire and what it is, exactly, that flips the female switch from watching “The Bachelor” to wanting to do the bachelor (or the husband or the friend with benefits). Recently, in the New York Times, Sheryl Sandburg (the CEO of Facebook) and co-writer Adam Grant posited that men who do their share of household chores have more sex. They coined the term choreplay which does have a nice ring to it. It’s a myth, though, says a well-known and respected study published in the American Sociological Review. That study showed that “husbands and wives in couples with more traditional housework arrangements report higher sexual frequency” which, in layman’s terms means men who vacuum get laid less.  Other sexual scientists believe that many women have responsive sexual desire–what turns them on is to be desired. One thing almost everyone agrees on is that women who read romance have more sex (one study said 74% more).

All of this got me to thinking about what turns me on in romance novels. That in turn made me think about seduction in romance novels. Several scenes immediately came to mind. Here, in no particular order, are a few moves that, were I the heroine, would have swept me off my feet.

Tristan, the hero of Caroline Linden’s Love and Other Scandals, takes heroine Joan on a balloon ride and shows her her world as seen from the sky. He does so because,

But after tea the other day, when she looked so shockingly lovely and he couldn’t think of anything but touching her, Tristan had been determined to do something to please her, as a way of making up for his past failings. Taking her ballooning seemed an excellent choice: something she’d probably never do on her own, but thrilling and exotic. He wanted her to remember this morning for the rest of her life. He knew he would.

Joan adores the outing and why wouldn’t she: It’s an experience a man created specifically for her. That’s something I find very sexy.

In Lisa Kleypas’s Secrets of a Summer Night, Simon, the hero, gives Annabelle, the heroine, a pair of sturdy boots so that she may safely walk in countryside. It’s a lovely gift, one that Annabelle can accept–they arrive at her doorstep without a card–and that she desperately needs but can’t afford to purchase for herself.  So often in romance novels, the hero showers the heroine with expensive gems. Those sorts of offerings don’t do a thing for me, but giving a girl a pair of shoes so she can safely explore the outdoors rocks.

When Caleb Clark makes his first move on Ellen Callahan in Ruthie Knox’s Along Came Trouble he does so by offering to change a burnt-out bulb. This particular bulb is just a little too high for Ellen to change herself, even using the ladder, but Caleb’s a big guy and he can do it safely. Ellen knows that Caleb is deliberately being “charming and helpful” and Caleb knows that she knows. It works for her anyway because it’s a sweet, small, unthreatening step in his campaign to win her very wary heart.

I really do have a thing for handymen. There’s a scene in Sarah Mayberry’s Suddenly You where the hero Harry is patching a hole in the wall for Pippa, a broke single mom living in a dump. After Pippa mistakes a tube of filler in Harry’s jeans for an erection–and asks “Is that for me?”–she is so mortified she locks herself in the bathroom. She tells herself she’s “a million miles from the kind of women that would inspire a hard-on the size of a tube of spackle.” Harry refuses to leave her to her misery and, even though he knows getting involved with her is a bad idea, he kisses her into next week. He’s just so perfect here–he makes Pippa feel like the most desirable woman in the world, despite her faux paux, threadbare yoga pants, and baggy shirt. This scene–which includes pulse racing sex against the wall–is hot as hell. As is Harry.

Ash Turner in Courtney Milan’s Unveiled seduces Margaret Dalrymple by giving her control–it’s something he does for her over and over again in the story. I adore a scene early in the book where Margaret thinks he’ll kiss her. Instead he tells her that as much as he wants to, he wants more that she kiss him. “I want you to choose me,” he said, “well and truly choose me of your own accord.” Ash is one of my favorite of Ms. Milan’s and, in this scene, he completely wins me over.

Michael, the hero of Julia Quinn’s When He Was Wicked–the raciest of the Bridgerton books–seduces Francesca (for the first time) by talking dirty. He’s wanted her for over a decade and, now that she’s in his arms, he tells her all the things he’s about to do to her. It’s quite a list and turns Francesca (and me) into a puddle of lust.

“There are so many choices,” he said huskily, sliding his hands up her legs another few inches. “I scarcely know where to start.”

He stopped to look at her for a moment. She was breathing hard, her lips parted and plump from his kisses. And she was mesmerized, completely under his spell.

He dipped closer once again, to her other ear, so he could make sure his words fell hot and moist upon her soul. “I think, however, that I would have to start where you need me most. First I’d kiss you…” — he pressed his thumbs into the soft flesh of her inner thighs — “…here.”

He held silent, just for a second, just long enough for her to shiver with desire. “Would you like that?” he murmured, his question intended to torment and tease. “Yes, I can see that you would.

“But that wouldn’t be enough,” he mused, “for either of us. So clearly, I would then have to kiss you here.” His thumbs inched up until they reached the hot crevice between her legs and her torso, and then he pressed gently, so she would know exactly what he was talking about. “I think you would enjoy a kiss right there,” he added, “almost as much” — he slid along the crease, down, down, closer to the very center of her, but not quite all the way — “as I would like to kiss you.”

And while it’s true that Michael’s a gifted wordsmith, it’s the power of his desire for Francesca that makes his sexytalk so damn persuasive. If I were Francesca, I’d definitely want to hear more.

These are just a few of my favorite scenes. I’d love to hear yours. What heroic moves would have you saying yes?

Dabney Grinnan

Posted in Characters, Dabney AAR, Heroes, Relationships | 10 Comments

An interview (and giveaway) with author Stella Riley

Back in 2013 when AAR staffers were asked to choose their top ten romances, one of my choices was A Splendid Defiance by the British author, Stella Riley. It’s a book I read for the first time in the 1980s, and which I’ve never forgotten. More recently, I chose her latest book, The King’s Falcon as one of my favourite books of 2014.

Ms Riley wrote a handful of books back in the 1980s and 1990s, and then just vanished! Her books were not reprinted and second-hand copies were not only hard to find, but very expensive, so when she began to revise and re-publish her back-catalogue digitally a few years ago, I may actually have squealed with delight at the prospect of at last being able to read those of her books I’d not been able to find before.

Following a twenty-year break in her writing career, Ms Riley published a new book – The King’s Falcon – last year, and her latest book – The Player – was published on 6th March 2015, and I’m taking the opportunity to catch up with her and to talk about that and a few other things I’ve been dying to ask for over twenty years!

Caz: Welcome to All About Romance, Stella!

Stella: Thanks, Caz – I’m happy to be here.

Caz: You’ve written books set in two particular historical periods that aren’t commonly seen in historical romances – the English Civil War and Restoration and the Georgian period. What is it that has drawn you to those eras in particular?

Stella: As far as ‘Why Georgian rather than Regency?’ goes – it’s because historical romances in either of these genres are basically just a matter of clothes and manners. The 1770’s were a more robust, less respectable era than the Regency. Duels, abductions, highwaymen … all of these fit better into the mid-Georgian period than they do in the Regency. Also, I love the sheer extravagance of the fashions. All those colourful silks and satins, the lace, the flash of jewels – and that was just the men!   Then again, I have a secret weakness for gentlemen with long hair.

Caz: Hah! I suppose all the make-up, wigs and high heels (again, just the men!) might make it a bit difficult to have them appear suitably masculine and heroic.

Stella: That’s certainly true of the Macaronis with their fans and lavender powdered wigs.  But, thankfully, my guys manage to avoid these particular afflictions … and, at the end of the day, masculinity and so on is mostly to do with what’s inside the clothes.  Or, to put it another way, I’ll bet you wouldn’t mind seeing Sarre without his shirt.

Caz: Um… having read the book, I suspect I’m going to be one in a long line who wouldn’t mind!

Stella: Good to know. And the 17th century? Well, I’ve had an on-going love-affair with that period for as long as I can remember. It’s a complex and hugely important part of English history that isn’t taught in schools nearly as often as it should be – and I don’t understand why. It’s far from boring. In fact, it’s packed with fascinating detail. As a writer, if offers everything I could possibly want in terms of a backdrop. The drama and intrigue of stirring events; gallantry and tragedy; love and loss … and a cast of real-life heroes and villains as varied as any I could ever create.

But there’s a price. The Roundheads & Cavaliers series is historical fiction as opposed to historical romance. Using the history to the best advantage without letting it swamp the book can be difficult; and it’s important to make the historical detail as accurate as possible. I want my readers to know they can trust me to get it right – and that means extensive research. Time-consuming and labour-intensive but enjoyable in its own way.

Caz: Oddly enough, both your newer books are third in their respective series; The King’s Falcon follows The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw; and The Player follows The Parfit Knight and The Mésalliance. Tell us a little about the world of The Player and how it relates to the previous books.

Stella: The idea for The Player came about when I was preparing the e-version of The Mésalliance. I started to realise that I wanted to work with that cast of characters again – particularly Rockliffe, who is a great favourite of mine. I also had an idea for a story about a young man who had been driven abroad by scandal and spent a decade living on his wits. I wanted to know who this man had become; how his experiences had changed him; and how he’d cope with a return to his former life, despite the stain still clinging to his name. And because I always like to give myself a challenge, I created The Player. Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre … recently known to Paris as the actor, L’Inconnu – a fact of which he’d naturally like London society to remain unaware. Unfortunately, he’s fairly sure that the Duke of Rockliffe already knows. This is no surprise. Readers of The Mésalliance will recall that Rock always knows everything. The only question is – what will he do with his knowledge?

Caz: I’m sure this is a question you’ve been asked before, but what – if anything – is different about your writing process now to your approach back in the 80s and 90s?

Stella: The main difference is that I’m enjoying myself. I’ve re-discovered the pleasure of creating what, in essence, is a massive jigsaw puzzle; one where you can’t resist going back to put in just one more piece. I’ve also stopped being quite so fussy about the first draft. Years ago, if a sentence or paragraph didn’t ‘balance’, I’d spend ages picking at it until it did. Now I follow the golden rule. Don’t get it right – get it written. You can put it right later.

Caz: This is probably another question you’re sick of being asked, but I’m going to do it anyway – why the long break?

Stella: By the time I stopped writing – a few months after the publication of Garland of Straw – the whole thing had become a chore. All the joy had gone out of it and sitting down to work every day felt like pushing rocks uphill. I wasn’t happy with my publisher – but I had a four book contract of which I’d only delivered the first two. Something had to give. Either I pressed on and ended up climbing the walls or I bought myself out of my contract. I chose the latter and, as you can appreciate, going back after that – certainly in the conventional way – wasn’t an option.

Caz: What made you decide to revise your older titles rather than just republish them?   The advent of digital publishing has led to an explosion in the republication of authors’ back-lists, but I think it’s fairly true to say that the majority of those books are published “as is”. You decided not to do that, however.

Stella: Originally, I didn’t think beyond republishing my back-list and the first title I chose to produce was the first one I ever had published – The Marigold Chain. With hindsight, I think this was the book I thought I ought to write, rather than the book I wanted to write. At any rate, when I started looking at it from the perspective of re-release, it became clear that the ‘voice’ wasn’t wholly my own and that it needed work. It probably still isn’t my best work but I believe the digital version is a distinct improvement on the original.

For the rest, I made virtually no changes to The Parfit Knight but spent a long time restoring The Mésalliance to the book it would have been had not the publisher insisted on massive cuts. And, on a general note, I felt that styles and tastes had changed during my long break from writing … that readers expect more these days. Since I had the opportunity to up-date my books a little, it seemed sensible to do it. Also, I think that inserting those new sequences helped me to see that I hadn’t forgotten how to write from scratch.

Caz: So following all that work on your older books, you then returned to what I believe was planned as a quartet of books set during the English Civil War. Was the idea of writing something completely new after your long break a daunting one? Or was it like you’d never stopped writing?

Stella: The most daunting thing about producing my first new title in over twenty years was the possibility that readers might be disappointed. When my backlist started gathering pace on Amazon, something remarkable and totally unexpected happened. I found out that readers not only remembered me (which was amazing enough) but they remembered me with affection. I’d started something purely for my own pleasure and amusement, only to discover that it was turning into something more. Exciting – but also rather scary.

I had a head-start with The King’s Falcon in that the first section of the book – the part covering the Worcester campaign – had been lying in a drawer gathering dust. This was helpful. What wasn’t was the fact that the rest of the original story-line was completely useless. In short, plot-wise it was necessary to re-think the whole thing. Fortunately, the words flowed and characters started to take charge of their own destiny … and, truthfully, writing Falcon was an absolute pleasure.

Caz: Well, that’s excellent news – as it means we will see more from you! So what are you working on now? It seemed to me that there are some characters in The Player that we might meet again soon…

Stella: I’m finally starting work on book four of my Roundheads & Cavaliers series which is the long-awaited – and frequently requested - story of Eden Maxwell.  As for characters from The Player and further books in the Rockliffe series … well, maybe.  I’ll admit taking quite a fancy to Nicholas Wynstanton.  But that’s for another day. Eden comes first.

Caz: That’s good to know. Readers familiar with Eden’s story so far will no doubt agree with me that the guy deserves a break! Stella, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. Best of luck with The Player, and even though it’s somewhat belated – welcome back!

Ms. Riley is giving an eCopy of the two previous books in the series –The Parfit Knight and The Mésalliance – as a “set” to one lucky reader. To be entered in this giveaway, make a comment below.

Posted in Authors, Caz AAR, Interviews | Tagged | 51 Comments

Speaking of Audiobooks: Accessing Audiobooks Through Your Library

LibraryFor years, I have wanted to write a column on borrowing library audiobooks. In my experience, “checking out an audiobook” from the library has been reserved for the occasional hard copy (cassettes or CDs). I haven’t really taken the time to figure out digital audiobook library borrowing. Oh, I tried about five years ago and found that my Apple device was incompatible. Being the technophobe that I am, I quickly gave up.

But things have changed since my failed attempt to digitally borrow an audiobook. The selection is much more impressive and the technical aspect has improved. Remember, we’re talking about your library here. Who loves to help folks enjoy books more than your library? The help is there to get you started.

In our July 2014 Speaking of Audiobooks column, I mentioned my desire to feature a column on accessing audiobooks through libraries. I requested help from our listeners since my knowledge level, as evidenced here, is indeed low. Thanks to Mel, Diana, and Rachel for stepping up and contributing to today’s column.

Last month I started a new regular feature at Speaking of AudiobooksFor the New Listener. Today’s column targets not only existing audiobook listeners but the new listener as well. Listening to audiobooks through your library is an excellent way for the new listener to become acquainted with a number of new authors and narrators for no cost other than their listening device.

Hard Copies

Let’s start with the easy stuff – those hard copies. Diana Neal is a librarian with Fayette County Public Libraries, in southern West Virginia, a library system that includes six branch locations and one bookmobile library in a county of 50,000 residents. I asked Diana, “What percentage of your library’s audiobooks are hard copies? Are they only CDs or do you still see an occasional audio cassette? Is checking out a hard copy still a common activity?”

tape-CDOur library phased out all but a few of the audio cassettes; the ones we kept were older titles for big name authors like Patterson, Cussler, and Griffin. (And by few, I mean less than 150. And in the last year those have gone out maybe a handful of times. If we had the money, we would replace them with CD copies and delete the cassette version.)

Of our current audiobook collection, about 45% are hard copies with 97% of those being CD and 3% Playaways (which is a self-contained MP3 player). The Playaways, however, will probably be the next format to phase out as they are extremely expensive and easily broken. 

Our patrons do still checkout hard copies but not so much in the winter months. Our peak “time” is during the high travel times of the year as well as those months when truckers are on the roads. Some months, we can checkout over 100 CDs in one month at one branch, other times, we may only check out 50. We have requests every month for certain titles in hard copy audio, so some people are still enjoying them!

Downloading Audiobooks from Your Library

Downloading audiobooks from your library can still seem like a tricky puzzle. But things are improving and if you haven’t tried borrowing audiobook downloads from your library recently, it’s time to try again. Yes, at one time it was a game of “You can do this but not here or you can’t do that there but, yay!, my library allows it!” Or it was a “My device works here but not there – wah, wah!” type of thing. And selection issues remain – some libraries have one book while a second library has another.

Although there is still a bit of confusion with library borrowing, overall the entire process has become much more user friendly. Diana gives us a picture of how their patrons start borrowing digital content.

Most of our patrons start with a conversation like this: “My [insert well-meaning family member name] bought me this device but I don’t know how to use it, can you help me?” We provide a basic tutorial on how to use their device then segue into telling them about our digital library. The majority of these patrons aren’t as familiar with computers, internet, electronics, etc.

For those patrons more familiar with their devices and the internet, there are handouts we give to patrons on where and how to start. OverDrive requires a library card and pin number to use the service and we show patrons how to start there. Once they have that completed, the other side of the sheet shows patrons the website. On the homepage of the website, there are collections for patrons to peruse or they can search for specific titles. At a library’s or patron’s request, staff will offer “tours” of WVDELI (our digital collection) showing how to get the most out of the site and answer any questions. We also offer assistance through email and telephone for those patrons unable to get into a library.

As an example of what your library’s digital collection may look like, check out Fayette County Public Library’s digital collection.

There are also a number of libraries that allow out-of-state residents to access their digital collections for an annual fee. One such library is the Free Library of Philadelphia where out-of-state residents can obtain a card by paying an annual fee of $50.00.

Now let’s hear from two other Speaking of Audiobooks regulars!

Rachel’s Experiences with Library Listening

I’d love to share some of my experiences; you never know who might be listening and might be able to help improve the process.

Just for some background – I live in Brooklyn, NY and have a Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) card but my husband works in Manhattan so he also has a New York Public Library (NYPL) library card. With access to four of the five boroughs of such a large city, you would think I would be able to get my hands on anything – unfortunately so not true. Many of the narrators and books recommended in the Speaking of Audiobooks columns are unavailable at the two libraries I have access to.

OverDriveLogoBoth library sites work the same way and are based on OverDrive – you download the program to your computer (there is also an app, but I use my desktop). To find audiobooks you can either go to the e-book/audio link from OverDrive on the website, or find it in the general catalog which will lead you to the OverDrive catalog to check out. (You may have to set up your library account again in their catalog). After you check your book out, you need to download it (a button right near the book cover as displayed in your account). It automatically opens the OverDrive program. With a few clicks you can download and then play it on the computer or transfer it to another device (I use a SanDisk MP3 player). Because you use your library card to check out books, you can only access books from library sites where you have their card. If anyone else knows of a way to access other library systems or lending sites, I’d love to know that too!

If the book expires before you delete it on your own device, OverDrive will pop up a message to that effect the next time you open the program and force you to delete it. If you’ve downloaded it to a separate device they have no way of forcing you to delete it from there, so technically you can listen past the expiration, and deleting it is really based on the honor system; I always do, but I can see that being abused. One recent improvement is that you can now return the book from the OverDrive program to the library rather than just deleting it from your computer/app and waiting for it to expire before it comes off your card.

Digital copies of the books are treated like physical copies – only as many as the library owns can be borrowed, so you will likely have to put something popular on hold, and if there are only a few copies the wait can be pretty long.

I’m not sure who does the ordering of the e-books/audiobooks, but it is likely not someone who is an avid listener. Very often when the library finally does get books in a series, they do not start with the first one. For example, Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series – both libraries only have Books 4 and 5. It’s as if they hear from somewhere about a popular author or series and start ordering from the current one, without considering how people might like to listen to a series of books.

Another oddity – I cannot borrow and download J. D. Robb’s new novels. I need to put the CDs on hold at the NYPL – the BPL doesn’t have them at all.

I enjoyed listening to Barbara Rosenblat’s narration of the Amelia Peabody series but cannot download them for a re-listen as they are not available in that format.

While I enjoy listening to books, I rarely want to re-listen and audiobooks are very expensive. Therefore, I borrow from the library rather than using Audible or another service. I borrow physical (and e-books to a lesser extent) from the library as well. While I enjoy reading, there are few books I’m willing to buy for myself (the aforementioned Amelia Peabody series being the exception, and those were mostly purchased as used paperbacks).

Mel Burns – Advice for Library Audiobook Downloads and Comparisons

I have access to five libraries and I check their e-media catalogs daily. For audiobooks, I mostly use OverDrive and only occasionally use Recorded Books (OneClickdigital) and Hoopla. The last two are not user friendly in my opinion. Recorded Books catalog is unusually difficult to search and downloads take forever and the streaming has never worked on my Acer netbook or on my iMac. Hoopla is streaming only and a real pain in the butt. I have tried several times to listen to audiobooks and watch films and it is ALWAYS buffering. Our wifi is strong and so is the wifi at my office and on campus, but it is never smooth, so as I said before, I rarely use it. I have not attempted to use their apps for my Kindle, mobile, iPod, or iPad. I don’t listen to audios on my phone, but I have a colleague who downloads a few chapters at a time to her iPhone 6 and never has trouble with the apps, though she mostly uses OverDrive and Audible.

OneclickdigitalNot all libraries have Hoopla and Recorded Books, but most have OverDrive. OverDrive is fantastic! I have the OverDrive Media Console for audios on my computers and the OverDrive app on my Kindles and iPad. I LOVE IT. I read all my e-books from the library on OverDrive app (which is e-pub) because it is easier and has less steps than Kindle’s process. The audios work well too. I just bought a Kindle HD 6 for listening and viewing while traveling and commuting and it’s perfect for library audiobooks. The download process on all my devices is quick, unless using public wifi at a cafe or the like. And with OverDrive, it is easy to download as many chapters as you wish, so that you don’t take up too much space on your mobile. The instructions for downloading the  book listening apps for all compatible devices are on the library e-media page. OverDrive is the simplest and their tech help is always immediate and helpful.

For example on Seattle’s OverDrive page, these devices are listed:


Kobo, Nook

iPad, iPhone, iPod touch



Android/tablets….and there is more. All you need is a library card in good standing and a compatible device

These are the libraries I use: Los Angeles Public (LAPL), County of Los Angeles, Santa Monica Public (SMPL), and Seattle Public (SPL). Recently I set up an online account for my Mom at the Maricopa County Library, which is part of the Greater Phoenix Library system, and it has a huge catalog of both digital and CDs. My Mom listens to CDs and there is always a long wait list. I stopped listening to CDs about ten years ago… too much to carry around and too many things that can be damaged or lost.

His at NightAs far as holds, it depends. As an example, it’s February 19th and here are three audios that were added to the LAPL catalog today along with the holds as of noon: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman (48 holds). J.R. Ward’s The Shadows (14 holds) and Suzanne Enoch’s Mad, Bad and Dangerous (8 holds). All of these are listed pre-release. Most libraries will only get one digital copy where as most branches of the LAPL will have a CD copy. Sometimes a popular author like Sherry Thomas will have more digital copies – LAPL has four copies of His at Night. Then there’s Nora Roberts (NR), hugely popular, but there is usually only one copy of her audios available. And… the availability of NR digital titles is funny. I’ll break down and get the hard copy of her audios. Years go by before her latest are added to OverDrive.

Ninety-five percent of my downloads come from LAPL and SPL, both e-book and audiobook. Around 2000, the Seattle library received a grant and became part of an early pilot program for e-media. The main provider was Recorded Books (RB) and that later changed to OverDrive. SPL no longer offers RB. We moved to Santa Monica in 2004 and have a five-branch library with a state of the art main branch. We even have a Carnegie library – our Ocean Park branch. SMPL has a great print catalog, but their e-media offerings are small compared to LAPL and SPL.

LAPL has 14,231 fiction audiobooks – 2,500 are romance. SPL has 13,005 – 2,016 are romance. LAPL adds books once or twice a week, where SPL goes weeks sometimes without adding new books.

I found Georgette Heyer, Ilona Andrews, and all those wonderful Marion Chesney romances in the OverDrive digital audiobook catalog. I still buy audios, but I get more through the library. You might want to check out the LAPL e-media page. Here’s the link: http://www.lapl.org/collections-resources/e-media

My thanks goes out again to Diana, Mel, and Rachel for sharing with us today.

Library Download Options (if available)

I imagine there are more – please tell us about any I have missed. These promotional descriptions are directly from the sites so no personal opinions included herein.

OverDrive - Borrow eBooks, audiobooks, and more from your local public library – anywhere, anytime. All you need is a library card.

Recorded Books – OneClickdigital - OneClickdigital brings exclusive Recorded Books eAudio, as well as content from all major publishers, together with an eBook service. Combine eBooks and eAudio in one collection, offering the most comprehensive platform for your content. Curated title lists feature the best literature in a wide variety of genres along with an outstanding collection of award-winning Children’s and Young Adult titles.

Hoopla - Allows you to instantly borrow free digital movies, music, and more with your library card. Simple to access and use, without the hassle of having to return the items you’ve borrowed, all you need is your library card, a web browser, smart phone, or tablet to get started.

Now – Let’s Hear From You

One thing I do know about digital library borrowing is that there is always more to learn and many helpful details for users to share. We have only started the discussion today. Please ask questions, share what you have learned, or add to our discussion in our comment area.

Ending Notes

Check out our Speaking of Audiobooks Facebook page to see romance audio updates, industry news, and links to articles on interest.

For those new to our Speaking of Audiobooks column, be sure to check out our audio archives for further recommendations and discussions.

Our affiliated Goodreads group – Romance Audiobooks - keeps growing and now has 971 members. We started this group five years ago for discussions in between Speaking of Audiobooks columns. Come on by to share your latest listen or contribute to a number of our ongoing romance audiobook discussions.

Enjoy your listening.

- Lea Hensley

Posted in audio books, Book news, Lea Hensley | Tagged , , , | 34 Comments

A Guest Pandora’s Box: Erin Nicholas’s Getting Dirty

Hello everyone and welcome to the second of our AAR blog columns. The basic idea is that we’re going to choose a book every month and have a hopefully-not-too-lengthy discussion about it. We’re still Elisabeth Lane (of Cooking Up Romance), a long-time romance reader who now creates recipes inspired by books and then blogs about it, and Alexis Hall (author of, most recently, Waiting for the Flood), relative newcomer to the romance genre and occasional writer. We hope you’ll enjoy reading our thoughts, and we hope you’ll think about reading along with us next month.

This month’s title is Getting Dirty by Erin Nicholas. The third book in her Sapphire Falls series, it features a city girl and a country boy essentially conspiring to drive each other nuts. Sapphire Falls is just the sort of place Lauren loves and Travis is just the sort of farmer she goes for, but she’s terrified of sacrificing her career and her freedom by settling down. So instead she convinces him to help her remember everything she hates about small town life. He fails.

AJH: Y’know, even writing that plot summary makes me kind of want to shout and shake people.

Elisabeth: Ha! I take it you didn’t like this one much.

AJH: Well. It’s probably not a book for me, put it that way. I don’t think it sucks or anything. It’s genuinely engaging, funny and sexy, and there were lots of things that interested me about it and some of the ideas it explored. But … I … yeah, I struggled. How did you find it?

Elisabeth: Frankly, I struggled with it too, which surprised and disappointed me because I’ve read this author before and had high expectations for this book. Unfortunately, the characterization, particularly of Travis, felt wooden to me and I thought the plot was contrived and uninspired.

AJH: It’s kind of … almost Kafka-esque isn’t it? Like the first 60% of the book is this invented scenario that takes place entirely in the heroine’s head as she tries to stop wanting to stop liking things she blatantly likes. I found that really hard to invest in because it felt so bizarre and unreal.

Elisabeth: Well, and she’s a scientist and an entrepreneur and a real smarty-pants, right? But she has this notion of how behavioral conditional works that is…bafflingly wrong? I mean, I know her area is agriculture, not psychology, but she’s 30 years old and very successful? This seemed like the scheme of a much younger, much more naive person. Someone like Travis, in fact. Though he is immediately skeptical of the whole thing.

AJH: I suppose it was meant to be a screwball comedy type set up? Except, yes, you’re right, the goofiness pulled against the essentials of her character and kind of undermined her. Which is a shame because I quite liked her when she wasn’t behaving like Miley Cyrus on LSD.

Elisabeth: It’s even worse when you’ve read the first two books. She’s so sharp and interesting and ambitious. Plus there’s this whole context of the town and female relationships in the other books that weren’t as strong in this one. This close-knit, rather appealing place turned into a caricature of itself.

AJH: I confess, I do naturally pull against idealised depictions of small town life because … well … while I understand the appeal, I also kind of instinctively feel that the sort of communities we’re so desperate to return to or preserve or whatever are communities comprised almost entirely of straight white people reinforcing very typical gender roles. That’s a personal thing, to a degree though. Inherent expectation of exclusion that makes these sort of books, uh, challenging for me.

Elisabeth: That’s an interesting observation. And it’s true that I’m not sure there are any people of color in this book either? Or many of the others, come to think of it? At least, I don’t remember any.

AJH: I wasn’t keeping score, but it felt like a very … homogeneous community, however charming it was supposed to be.

Elisabeth: I guess the only rejoinder I can make is that, well, rural America hasn’t had it particularly easy in recent years. I spend a fair bit of time in rural Virginia because we like to spend time driving around to little towns looking at antiques and hiking and doing the quaint things urban people do when they go to the country. But it’s impossible not to notice just how hard-hit these communities have been economically. And I do find a lot of used romances when I visit them. The difference between those communities and Sapphire Falls is that, yes, it’s a functional community, but it’s also a prosperous one. As much as the hero-heroine relationship is important in books like these, I think the vision of a prosperous small town is just as fulfilling for some readers.

AJH: That makes a lot of sense and I appreciate that there are social and geographical complexities here that I’m just not getting as a limey. I guess I just don’t see why that fantasy of togetherness always involves drawing together very specific types of people. But, at the same time, as you say, it’s very much catering to the ideals and needs of a reader who is not me. And “I wish this was less like it was” is a damnably unfair criticism to make of anything. I suppose, more broadly, I found the book’s relationship with stereotypes a little bit incoherent. Like it couldn’t decide if it was supposed to be challenging them or overturning them.

Elisabeth: Well, I think one reason why this book seemed somewhat incoherent is that it was, I think, trying to answer some of the questions you raise about small town romance. Because Lauren isn’t straight. She’s bisexual. And the author goes to some pains to make the reader aware that this is unfamiliar to people in town, but generally accepted. I think part of what this book suffered from was a little bit of trying to do too much. Trying to portray real, small town people as they are, but also trying to make it clear that they’re more sophisticated than Lauren thinks and cover all this ground of how it’s okay to be content where you are, but also wish for more and want community, but also want adventure and achievement. It’s a little bit dizzying.

AJH: Yes. I actually liked it when the book really got into those ideas and I was very impressed at how it resolved (or didn’t resolve) those complexities. But we’d had 60% of Kiss Me Like It’s Aversion Therapy by then, so there wasn’t really time to get into the good stuff. Or what I perceived to be the good stuff.

Elisabeth: Yes.

AJH: By the way, given that portraying bisexuals in fiction appears to be actually impossible to do well, how did you think Lauren’s bisexuality was handled?

Elisabeth: I don’t think it was handled badly, to be honest. I think the author deliberately tried to avoid stereotypes of bisexuality, but also let the character be herself. She’s a brazen, sexual woman. But not in a way that made it seem like she was out to bang the whole world, which can sometimes happen. But Lauren also seems to feel like the biggest threat to her career and independence is these manly farmer men because she likes them best, which seems to devalue the previous relationships she had with women and the more urban metrosexual type guys she was meeting in Chicago.

AJH: It’s really bloody difficult. I mean it’s not like bisexuality is one thing – it’s not like all bisexuals are attracted to all gender identities equally at all times. And just because Lauren is more attracted to farmer types than women doesn’t make her less bisexual. But, at the same time, because bisexuals don’t get written about enough, I would agree that her romantic and sexual relationships with women felt very slightly devalued. On the other hand, I did like how comfortable Lauren was with her sexuality. More importantly, I also feel demanding a writer portray only politically and socially useful versions of bisexuality is even more problematic than the awkward (and often unsatisfying) ways bisexuality intersects with the expectations and conventions of the romance genre. Not that I’m any sort of judge or expert, but I feel this wasn’t by any means a terrible representation of the impossible fictional bisexual. Just for me, I thought it was brave and I appreciated it. But, you mentioned you found Travis wooden?

Elisabeth: I did. I’ve gotten to the point in my romance reading where I prefer both main characters to be fully formed. Travis felt more like a method of alternately challenging and upholding Lauren’s choices than an actual person. And while that made him a creative accessory to her story, that’s not really what I’m looking for out of romance. Even though he was sexy and supportive, especially at the end.

AJH: I’m less troubled by that, I admit. Obviously I’ve come from romance from various other genres, so actually finding women centralised in a narrative is still an intriguing novelty to me. I’m a fan of Jennifer Crusie for example, which tend to be very much about the heroine, and the hero is a kind of … yes … an accessory, as you say. Though not in a bad way. Within that context, I wasn’t really expecting Travis to have the same nuance and interiority as Lauren. Although I do find romances more romantically compelling if the characters are equally detailed. Mainly I was peeved that there seems to be some kind of rule that you can’t portray a manly man without denigrating less manly men. Like that dude ONLY has shampoo in his bathroom. That is how manly he is.

Elisabeth: Well, let’s talk about how the men in this book act then. Because some of the things they say to each other when women aren’t around made me rather uncomfortable, even as I acknowledged that it was probably realistic. Let me see if I can find an example.

AJH: Is it this? It’s quite a long conversation so here’s the gist:

“I’m just waiting for the perfect chance to show her how wrong she’s been with all of her assumptions,” Travis said. He caught the T-shirt Drew tossed to him in one hand.

“You’re waiting for the perfect chance to make a fool of her,” Tucker clarified [...] “Grandma wouldn’t approve of you embarrassing a lady,”

“Grandma wouldn’t approve of Dr. High and Mighty’s attitude either.”

“That’s probably true,” Tucker said of their grandmother. “But you can’t humiliate the good doctor.”

The thing was he probably could. But he wouldn’t. “Nah, I’ll… surprise her.”


“I figured you’d just fuck her and show her who’s best,” Tuck said and then swigged the rest of his water.

Elisabeth: Yes, that’s the scene. Jackie Horne of Romance Novels for Feminists did a post on a similar topic not that long ago where she wondered if men really talk like this when they’re together. Because it feels like stuff no one should say. But my experience being around a lot of guys growing up would suggest that they do. I guess the question is: how realistic do you want to get?

AJH: I think it’s … complicated. I mean, yeah, men say horrible things about women, especially young men who’ve never, y’know, actually noticed that women are human and live in the same world as they do. I move in over-educated liberal circles full of women so I’ve honestly never really been even on the outskirts of this sort of conversation since I moved down south. It makes it kind of easy to forget it’s a thing that really happens. I think what trips me up about scenes like this, though, is that I have trouble working out whether the author is genuinely trying to flag up some of the more subtle and invidious ways rape culture functions – rape culture microaggressions if you will (in the fact these are both nice guys, one of them at least is presented as an object of fantasy and aspiration, yet they’re cheerfully talking about punishing a woman through sex) – OR the writer has decided to present male characters talking this way because it’s supposed to be the way men talk. Does that make sense?

Elisabeth: It does. And I think that from the other attitudes presented in this book –that ambitious, career-oriented women are awesome, that bisexuality is a normal expression of human sexuality–we can guess where she falls. But I don’t think that the text provides any obvious cues that the language these men use here is sub-optimal.

AJH: Yes, it’s difficult. I mean, I don’t think fiction has to automatically be didactic. I know some authors and readers prefer that anything negative is explicitly challenged and shown to be wrong by the text. I’m quite happy for all these complex social intersectionalities to exist as they are, but that particular exchange felt jarring. I think that’s why for me it read like an “oh men talk like this” throwaway. Regardless of the intent or awareness behind it. Travis is definitely not one of those “I will assault you until you get to like it” heroes and everyone keeps going on about how gentle and sweet Tucker is. So it just felt inconsistent to me, rather than … challenging. But I could be reading it ungenerously. As you say, this is how some men talk – even apparently decent ones.

Elisabeth: I think the inconsistency is really the trouble here. As I said, I’d read this author before and this just didn’t feel like the best example of her work. The first book of this series, Getting Out of Hand, featured an uber-nerdy scientist hero and I really don’t recall it being this ambiguous. Actually, it was super charming. Whenever he made out with his heroine, he would get these amazing epiphanies and write chemical formulas on her arms. I was hoping for more of that. Oh well, not every book can be a winner.

AJH: That sounds completely adorbs. I can definitely see things to enjoy about this author’s work. I loved her dialogue and I also really liked Lauren in principle, if not always in practice. I think it was just this book in particular not quite working for me, although I’ve really appreciated talking about it. It’s full of ambition and boldness, even if it doesn’t quite come off.

We hope you’ll join us in the comments for more discussion of Getting Dirty.

And if you want to read-along at home, next month we’ll be looking at: Against the Dark by Carolyn Crane. Thanks,

Elisabeth and Alexis


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Midweek Minis

When Good Earls Go Bad: A Victorian Valentine’s Day Novella by Megan Frampton is a quick read and one I’d recommend to anyone who likes frothy, fun historical romance. Ms. Frampton is a reliably strong writer and in this novella she strives for and achieves an archly humorous tone. Each chapter starts with a maxim from the fictitious A Belle’s Guide to Household Management. In general, they cracked me up with insights such as “A housekeeper is similar to a man (even though she is always a woman!): She needs to know everything about a particular subject without ever having to do it herself.” and “Cleaning out the house is not the same as being cleaned out, even though by the end of the former your enthusiasm for the task might be the latter.” The heroine, Annabelle, is on the ditzy side and she’s just what the rather uptight hero, Matthew, needs to set him on a path to happiness. Their story is short and sweet and, once finished, forgettable. Grade: B.

Broken Open by Lauren Dane is not the book for me. I am in the minority, however. On Amazon, this book has almost 100 reviews and a 4.5 star rating. Perhaps it’s my current apathy toward rock star romances, but I just couldn’t finish this story which features a hunky rock star turned rancher and his brother’s girlfriend’s best friend. I read half of it, intrigued by its interracial romance but couldn’t finish it. Ms. Dane writes excellent sex scenes and she does a good job here of showing the pain of a self-aware recovered addict. Despite those pluses, this novel fell into my DNF pile where it languishes still. Grade: DNF.

In for the Kill is the last McClouds and Friends adventure by Shannon McKenna. It has less WTF than several of the recent books in this series, which is not necessarily a good thing. The heroine of this book, Sveti, first appeared in my favorite book in the series, Extreme Danger, as a child kidnapped by VERY BAD PEOPLE. In that book, Sveti fell in love with the heroine’s brother who is–somewhat to my disappointment, not the hero here. Ex-cop Sam Petrie is. He’s a typical McKenna hero–obsessed with fucking the heroine, brutally honest, and able to fight his way out of constant over-the-top violence. He’s a jerk but, honestly, he’s the winner in the story. Sveti is a TSTL heroine who makes such silly choices that after Sam saves her life for the third time, I wished he hadn’t. Grade: C-.

Rock Hard by Nalini Singh. I know I said I’m not that into rock star romances but I did like the first book and a half in this series by New Zealand author Singh. I thought this would be another tale about a member of Schoolboy Choir, the world famous super band featured earlier in the first two books. Sadly, it is not. The hero of this book is a very bossy CEO who decides to romance his shy and retiring employee. She has a traumatic past and he charms her right past it. This is one of these books where I liked both the leads individually far more than I liked them as a couple. The book is full of great one-liners and vivid descriptions but, as a love story, it didn’t rock my world. Grade: B-.

Time Served by Juliana Keyes left me ambivalent. On the one hand, this story of reunited high school lovers is sexy as hell and does a great job of illuminating the challenges of a cross-class relationship. (She’s a successful lawyer; he’s an ex-con out on parole who works at warehouse stacking pallets.) On the other hand, the hero, Dean, is so angry he’s scary and the heroine, Rachel, seems to hate all the other women she knows. Additionally, over and over again, Dean does shitty things to Rachel even as it’s clear he loves her as deeply as he is able. Time Served riveted me–I read it in one sitting and I’ve thought about it several times since I finished it.  If you like gritty contemporaries, this one fits the bill. But if books with morally ambiguous characters bother you, stay away from Time Served. Grade: B.

Trade Me by Courtney Milan is the first thing I’ve read by Ms. Milan that didn’t work for me. I am an unabashed fan girl of her historical romances and was sure I’d love her foray into modern times. I didn’t. To be fair, this is a New Adult romance and I like those even less than I like rock star romances. But even allowing for my non-propensity for NA, this book fell flat for me. The heroine, a dirt-poor pre-med student at Cal Berkley, is so precocious and perceptive that she seemed far older than 20. She’s determined to make a better life for her Chinese parents and her younger ADHD sister and thus has no time for gorgeous billionaire boys who have the hots for her. In fact, the hero, Blake (his father is the CEO of one of Silicon Valley’s most successful companies) irritates the hell out of Tina mostly because he’s seemingly so clueless about his wealth and the extraordinary privilege it affords him. So when Blake offers to switch lives for the rest of the semester, Tina doesn’t believe there’s a chance in hell he’ll be able to live in grinding poverty. The novel features Ms. Milan’s usual stellar prose but the story seemed forced. And while it was nice to read a book where being a billionaire is presented as a character flaw rather than a synonym for uber-sexy, I felt the moral message of the book swamped the story. Still, there is much to admire here. Tina’s roommate’s sexuality gender identity (she’s transsexual) is presented matter of factly and well, as is Blake’s emotional baggage. The lives of the Chen family and that of Blake’s father are interesting and enhance the plot. But the romance lacked credibility and the plot flew off the handle in the concluding chapters. I’m always interested in what Ms. Milan writes but this book is perhaps my least favorite of her works. Grade: C.

Dabney Grinnan

Posted in Dabney AAR, Mini reviews, Romance reading | 14 Comments