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Posted by Amanda

NB: Instead of focusing on a particular book or author, Guest Ranter Emerentia wants to discuss the trope of academic, brainy heroines! Also, feel free to recommending so good academic heroines in the comments. 

Emerentia spent her teenage years ignoring the protest “but you’re a girl!” every time she mentioned her interest in physics, and went on to become an astrophysicist anyway. When she doesn’t study black holes, she is passionate about diversity and inclusivity in the science community, and can also frequently be found reading (and nitpicking) romance and science fiction novels.

Dear Romance Author Who Writes About Academics,

I have a bone to pick with you. I like your books. They’re generally fun, witty and entertaining. They make me laugh or swoon and sometimes both. They give me an entertaining few hours.

But then you decide to make your heroine a scientist. By scientist, I mean “walking and talking collection of horrible cliches,” and suddenly I want to throw your book at the nearest wall.

Do I need utter realism in my romance novels? No. But I need to be able to empathize with the characters, and they need to be at least somewhat believable. The caricatures of women in academia I see described in your book embody exactly the stereotypes that, as a female physicist, I fight against every day in my real life. When I see the same stereotypes woefully exaggerated and glorified in books, it makes me feel so unbearably angry and sad and helpless that I can’t keep reading.

Representation in books matters. Books have the ability to shape our thinking and our ability to empathize with others. So here are a bunch of tropes that I can’t stand in a heroine who is also an academic. I’m not saying that none of them exist in real life, or that any of them are intrinsically bad, but the fact that all female academics I’ve seen described in romance novels so far basically exhibited the majority of these characteristics (and others) makes me think there’s something seriously wrong with how society views women in science.

1.) The heroine has four PhDs before she’s 25, and is clearly a “prodigy” or “brainiac.”

First of all, really? It’s either “Oh, I’ve never been good at maths, haha” (that pisses me off, too, but that’s a rant for another day) or “I’m so smart I did four PhDs and didn’t think of anything else, ever.” Nothing in between? Nobody who maybe started out struggling in school, but then ended up discovering a love for, say, chemistry, and persevered?

Here’s something that anyone with a PhD will tell you: intelligence alone is not a great predictor of success in academia. The main ingredients of a PhD are: (1) time, (2) perseverance. This is the thing that gets me with the four-PhDs-before-25 scenario: even in the best-case scenario, in science, a PhD will take between three and seven years (YMMV depending on subject). That’s a long time. And a lot of that can’t be cut short, because experiments take time, field work takes time, data analysis takes time, and writing papers takes time. Most of which is out of the PhD student’s control. Do we really have to settle for the lazy “she’s so super smart she could do it with her eyes closed with a snap of her fingers” method of heroine development?

2.) The heroine has “no time for anything outside of research” because she’s such a prodigy and brainiac that it never occurred to her to do anything else, ever.

Are most academics driven and often work long hours? Sure. “Publish or perish” is real. But the academics I know who are interested in a topic long enough to complete a PhD on it are generally also interested in other subjects – otherwise you wouldn’t see me writing rants about scientists in books! And if you make your character all about her research, how does that ever make for anything more than a one-dimensional stick figure? How can you ever actually add depth to a character when her defining characteristic is “does work”? How about also making a heroine an activist, or someone passionate about rock climbing, or running a cooking club for her friends? Literally anything that would show us she has a life outside of work and adds some dimensions to her character.

3.) The heroine is a virgin, because of course she is.

I have no issues with virgins, but somewhere on a blog, I read this comment about a heroine: ‘She has four PhDs, she has no time for anything outside work, let alone sex’. And that just made me sad. See also my point about “interests outside the lab” above, and yes, one of them could (and maybe should) be sex. I know there’s this idea that academics are all brainiacs who don’t think of anything other than science all day and all night, but seriously, we went through college just like everyone else. And not all of us knew at age four that we were going to cure cancer and henceforth did nothing but study microbiology all day and all night. It won’t diminish your heroine’s love for research or dedication to her work if she goes out on a date once in awhile. Many of my female friends in academia tell me they find dating quite frustrating, because apparently many men find women with PhDs somewhat intimidating. How about including that in a book for a change?

4.) The heroine approaches everything in life, including relationships and sexuality, as an experiment.

There actually is a tendency in particular among physicists to think that because they’re good at problem solving in one area, they’re good at solving problems in others (whether they actually solve problems in those areas or create more is a different question). This largely does not apply to daily life. I don’t approach cooking the way I do data analysis, nor do I set up experiments and control groups to figure out how the washing machine works. Honestly, it’s not nature, so doing experiments is stupid if you can just as easily read the manual or recipe or find a YouTube tutorial online. Your heroine, being super clever and all that, should probably know this.

I’m still waiting for the romance novel where the inevitable brainiac scientist virgin heroine has sex, hates it, and goes “Well, N=1 is not a statistically sound sample, and I’ll have to control for confounding variables, too,” so she goes out and has multiple sex orgies with a hundred different people in different positions. Then, of course, she performs multi-variate regression to figure out if she actually likes sex or not.

5.) The heroine is socially awkward.

The real trope here is “I study the universe/mathematical equations/bacteria/X so I don’t understand people.” There certainly are socially awkward scientists. I don’t at all pretend to be the most suave person on the planet. But that doesn’t mean we’re all incapable of finishing a whole sentence without stammering, or generally act like a grown-ass human being in the company of others. I suppose it’s difficult to write an interesting conversation if “intelligent” and “science!” are the heroine’s only characteristics and interests, so it makes sense in that case to describe her as socially awkward. But let’s call it what it is: a cop-out.

6.) The heroine dresses like a nun, has the worst haircut ever, and never wears make-up.

That’s one I have mixed feelings about. Because there’s a kernel of truth in some of that, but not for the reasons authors seem to think. In books, the heroine is usually too busy thinking about her world-changing science, so she doesn’t have time to think about trivial things like clothes or hair or make-up. I guess that makes for a good Cinderella-type story, and that’s a trope that seems to be universally popular (because women are only worth their looks, <insert eye roll here>). I’m sure there are scientists like that, but I also know a scientist who runs a successful fashion blog aside from stuff like, you know, figuring out how black holes work. I have another scientist friend with whom I trade YouTube links for make-up tutorials.

The sad reality is: appearances matter, and they matter all the more for female academics. I’m a physicist. I have to work quite hard to be taken seriously by men at all, so I’m actually very conscious about all of my appearance in a work context, all the time. If I dress too casually, will my students take me seriously? If I wear a skirt at work, will the visiting professor think I’m the admin and ask me to bring him coffee? If I wear this blouse at a conference, will my expertise in the subject wrote my thesis in be challenged even more often than it usually is? I wish I could just not care and wear whatever I want, but I can’t, not if I want to keep having a career. I feel like there are probably interesting stories and topics to explore here, but that sadly never happens, because that wouldn’t fit into the whole make-over narrative.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of that trope is that on the one hand, it may seem modern and progressive to write a heroine who is smart and in a stereotypically male profession. But at the same time, any progress is negated by giving her a storyline that literally tells the reader the heroine’s worth depends solely on her looks and ability to attract a man. Yes, because that’s the real reason someone spends their entire twenties in higher education on abysmal pay.

I don’t want this to get any longer than it already is, so I’ll stop adding gripes here. My point is, there are lots of interesting topics and (romantic) conflicts to explore for a heroine who is in academia without making her a walking, taking assembly of tropes. Pop culture hasn’t been very good at this, so you have a real chance here to write something new and different. Please write a book with a heroine I can actually identify with, and who I don’t want to take aside, shake really hard and then spend some serious time mentoring. If you need advice on what academia is like, or what real scientists are like, please talk to us! I for one would be happy to help.

As I said above, representation matters. Representing female academics in this one-dimensional way, as hapless brainiacs with no life experience and no character traits outside of “does research” perpetuates harmful stereotypes, and those of us in academia spend a great deal of time and energy fighting exactly those cliches every day. While I don’t think a romance novel will be the deciding factor in a woman’s decision not to go into academia, it’s yet another piece in the larger puzzle of societal expectations about what professions women choose and how they conduct themselves in these professions. Please allow us to be real human beings in your books, so that for a change, I can enthusiastically recommend them to all my scientist friends!

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO is from Seraph, who wants to find a historical romance based on some limited details:

This might probably be a long shot since I never actually even read the book…

It’s definitely a historical romance/regency novel. The only main thing I remember is that they’re using a book about the art of war, but applying it to courtship instead. I believe it’s the heroine using it to make the duke/earl/marquess fall for her, but not 100% sure.

I’m unsure if the book is strategy-based or is actually The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

Historical Romances & Witches

Aug. 22nd, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

If the Duke Demands

If the Duke Demands by Anna Harrington is $2.99! This is the first book in the Capturing the Carlisles. Readers loved the mistaken identity element that kicks of the hero and heroines deal to help each other woo other people. Though readers warn that the hero does kiss another woman, which I know some readers don’t like.

A LESSON IN SEDUCTION . . .

Miranda Hodgkins has only ever wanted one thing: to marry Robert Carlisle. And she simply can’t wait a moment longer. During the Carlisle family masquerade ball, Miranda boldly sneaks into his bedchamber with seduction on her mind. Soon she’s swept into rock-hard arms for the most breathtaking kiss of her life. But when the masks come off, she’s horrified to find herself face-to-face with Sebastian, the Duke of Trent—Robert’s formidable older brother.

Shocked to find Miranda in his bed, Sebastian quickly offers her a deal to avoid scandal: He’ll help her win his brother’s heart if she’ll find him the perfect wife. But what begins as a simple negotiation soon spirals out of control. For the longer this reformed rake tries to make a match for Miranda, the more he wants to keep her all to himself.

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The Duke of Deception

The Duke of Deception by Darcy Burke is 99c! This is the third book in The Untouchables series, but it can be read as a standalone. Readers loved that the heroine wanted nothing to do with marriage and actively tried to avoid it, but others said the book has some pacing issues. It has a 4.1-star rating on Goodreads.

After five years on the Marriage Mart, Miss Aquilla Knox is ready for spinsterhood until a benefactress steps in to help her secure a husband. Only Aquilla doesn’t actually want to marry—her failure is entirely on purpose. When the earl she’s nicknamed the Duke of Deception sets his sights on her, she refuses to be drawn in by her attraction to him. If there’s one thing she knows it’s that a gentleman is never what he seems.

Edward Bishop, Earl of Sutton, has a reputation for courting young misses and dropping them without a second thought. This has earned him a reputation for deceit, a description he can’t refute because he does in fact, harbor secrets and will do anything—deceive anyone—to ensure they don’t come to light. As he comes to know the charming Miss Knox, his resolve is tested. However, trust comes at a price and Ned won’t pay with his heart.

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The Art of Sinning

The Art of Sinning by Sabrina Jeffries is $3.99! This historical romance came out last summer and is the first in a new series. Readers loved the pairing of an American artists and a London heiress. However, a few reviewers mentioned that this lacks the passion and pace of Jeffries’ previous titles. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads and several more books of hers are available for $3.99 or less.

American artist Jeremy Keane refuses to return home and take over his father’s business. He’d much rather sample bevvies of beauties abroad, in search of a model for the provocative masterpiece he’s driven to paint. When he meets Lady Yvette Barlow at a London wedding, he realizes she’s perfect for his work—and determines to capture the young heiress’s defiant spirit and breathtaking sensuality on canvas.

No stranger to scandal, Yvette agrees to be Keane’s subject—in exchange for his help gaining entry to the city’s brothels he knows intimately, so she can track a missing woman and solve a family mystery. But when their practical partnership leads to lessons in the art of sinning, can they find a bold and lasting love?

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Slouch Witch

Slouch Witch by Helen Harper is 99c at Amazon! This urban fantasy looks all sorts of fun and I’ll definitely be buying it. Readers say it’s on the lighter side of urban fantasy, but others wanted more of a mystery to create some forward momentum. Anyone else interested?

Hard Work Will Pay Off Later. Laziness Pays Off Now. 

Let’s get one thing straight – Ivy Wilde is not a heroine. In fact, she’s probably the last witch in the world who you’d call if you needed a magical helping hand. If it were down to Ivy, she’d spend all day every day on her sofa where she could watch TV, munch junk food and talk to her feline familiar to her heart’s content.

However, when a bureaucratic disaster ends up with Ivy as the victim of a case of mistaken identity, she’s yanked very unwillingly into Arcane Branch, the investigative department of the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment. Her problems are quadrupled when a valuable object is stolen right from under the Order’s noses.

It doesn’t exactly help that she’s been magically bound to Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. He might have piercing sapphire eyes and a body which a cover model would be proud of but, as far as Ivy’s concerned, he’s a walking advertisement for the joyless perils of too much witch-work.

And if he makes her go to the gym again, she’s definitely going to turn him into a frog.

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO comes from Lindsay and she’s searching for a bonkers, time-travel historical romance:

I’ve been looking for this one for a while now. I read it about five years ago on my B&N Nook, and have been back through every book in my account and cannot find it, so I’m hoping someone out there knows what it is.

Our heroine, whose name I don’t remember, falls in love with the laird of the castle (maybe early to mid-nineteenth century?). I’m pretty sure his name was Ian/Iain. I don’t remember how, but she somehow gets sucked back in time at the magic castle and winds up in prehistoric Scotland, where she shacks up with a caveman in a village that sounds a lot like Skara Brae. She’s really into Mr. Caveman, but also desperately misses Laird Ian-What’s-His-Name, and when Mr. Caveman has to go to war, he sends her back to the nineteenth century. Obviously, our heroine has some ‘splainin’ to do, and she and the Laird reach a Laird-Caveman/Time-travel-time-share agreement, which both dudes–who never meet– seem weirdly cool with.

Like I said, this one is like a crazysauce-covered sundae, and I would love to find it again.

I’m kind of a sucker for love triangles turning into super cool triads.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

Aug. 22nd, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Elyse

A

The Duchess Deal

by Tessa Dare
August 22, 2017 · Avon
Regency

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare is a fairytale Regency that blends Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and Batman.

Seriously. And it’s amazing.

I actually read it twice. The first time I was at home on a Friday night, enjoying a few rum and Cokes and unwinding. Apparently I can have exactly two drinks before I start loving everything and then forgetting I loved it.

I woke up the next morning surprised to see that Drunk Elyse gave it five stars on Goodreads because I didn’t remember the end. I opened it up to a random chapter and was like, “Who the fuck is Trevor?”

So I read it again. But Drunk Elyse was right the first time. The Duchess Deal is full of Feels, and a hero who has his head up his ass, but is not completely oblivious to it. And it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

Emma Gladstone was kicked out of the house by her vicar father when she was found having sex with a young man. She walked all the way to London on a frozen winter night (losing a toe in the process) and pieced her life back together as a seamstress.

When the book opens she’s just completed the wedding dress for the Duke of Ashbury’s bride-to-be; unfortunately the wedding was canceled and Emma shows up at the Duke’s door to demand payment for the dress she spent so much time on.

Ash pays her, and offers her another deal as well. He was horribly wounded when a rocket went off near him at Waterloo, and as a result one side of his body and face is badly scarred. His fiancée broke their engagement off when she saw his injuries, and now he’s torn between wanting to spend his time brooding in the dark and knowing that he still needs an heir.

So he proposes to Emma. Sort of.

He sets the rules:

  • They will have sex at night – no lights, no kissing – until she produces an heir.
  • She and said heir will then go live in the country completely apart from Ash.
  • She will not ask about his scars or touch them or even think about them too hard.

Emma agrees because she doesn’t feel like dying in poverty when she gets old and her eyesight fails and she can’t sew anymore, but she immediately goes about making their marriage an actual partnership rather than the nonsense he’s proposing.

I love it when a hero is being all broody and struggling with his man-feels and the heroine is like, “Right, you can go sulk in the corner if you want, but I’ve got stuff to do.”

He’s all like “Look at my horrible, monstrous visage!” and she’s all, “They’re scars dude, chill the fuck out. You’re upsetting the cat.”

Emma is never appalled or frightened by Ash’s appearance. She accepts it almost immediately and as she begins to fall in love with him, it barely registers. It’s Ash who can’t move past the way he looks.

And while Ash does spend time sulking, he’s still pretty upbeat all the things considered. I got the impression that he liked the idea of being a monster rather than actually being one.

Like the rest of Dare’s books, The Duchess Deal is full of snappy banter and teasing and moments of utter and delightful silliness.

Such as feline interuptus. Emma and Ash are about to consummate their marriage when Ash senses an intruder in the room:

How the devil had someone slipped in?

Never mind, he told himself. That question could wait. The more pressing inquiry at hand was this: How was he going to kill the bastard? He mentally ran through the available weapons in the room. The fireplace poker would be most effective, but was out of reach. The sash of his dressing gown could make a decent garrote, in a pinch.

If needed, he’d fight hand-to-hand. His only concern was keeping Emma safe.

He rolled to his side and came to his knees, putting his body between her and the threat. “You have three seconds to leave the way you came,” he ordered. “Or I vow to you, I will snap your craven, knavish neck.”

The intruder struck first, leaping forward with a fiendish yowl.

Something that felt like a dozen razor-sharp barbs pierced straight through his nightshirt, digging into his shoulder and arm. He gave a stunned shout of pain.

Emma flung back the bedclothes. “Breeches! Breeches, no!”

The cat?

Claws. Teeth. Hissing.

The cat.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance novel yet where the hero and heroine have been interrupted by their pet, which is wild because I’m pretty sure everyone with a cat or dog has experienced this delight.

I also liked the fact that even though Ash spends a fair amount of time having a pity party for himself, he’s still pretty aware of the people around him and he’s never intentionally hurtful.

In this scene he and Emma are preparing to go to the theatre (a huge step for him):

She remained at the top of the staircase, hesitant. Well, and why wouldn’t she be. She was about to go out in public accompanied by a hideous monster in evening attire. One who flung hats and walking sticks about at random intervals.

“If you’d rather not,” he said, “it’s all the same to me. I’ve a report from the Yorkshire estate to look over.”

“Would you prefer to stay home?”

“Only if you prefer it.”

“I want to go. I should say, I’d hate to waste Mary’s efforts.” She touched a gloved hand to her hair.

What a horse’s ass he was. She wasn’t hesitating because she was concerned about his appearance. She was waiting for him to compliment hers.

A moment later:

Ash offered her his arm, and she took it. He escorted her down the staircase and out to the waiting carriage, mindful of her voluminous skirts, but never pausing. He refused to give any appearance of reluctance.

Tonight, it didn’t matter that he was scarred and hideous and would prefer to hide from society.

Emma deserved to be seen. And this night was for her.

I also liked that there was a really solid foundation for Ash’s Wounded Feels that didn’t come entirely from Ash being self-conscious regarding his scars.

Click for spoilers!
His breakup with his fiancée was truly painful and awful, and the rules about no lights, no kissing, seeing each other only at night and until she’s pregnant, and then living apart were originally the rules she set if they were still to be married.

And because we’re not done with the awesomeness, Emma becomes friends with some amazing (slightly eccentric) ladies who live nearby and are clearly sequel-bait. Female friendships FTW.

Now, I bet you’re thinking “But Elyse, you mentioned Batman earlier. Please explain.” When he’s brooding Ash walks the streets at night and, after chasing off some thugs who are robbing a woman, gets named the Monster of Mayfair by the press. The Monster’s nightly appearances get either exaggerated or entirely made up, and earn Ash the affection of a boy who is determined to be Robin to his Batman. It’s all adorable.

So I totally recommend reading The Duchess Deal, but preferably while sober so you can really appreciate all of it. It’s the perfect blend of two of my favorite fairytale tropes, it’s got a hero who never an alpha-hole, it’s funny, and it’s got female friendship. What more could you want?

Cowboys, Erotica, & Dragons!

Aug. 21st, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

His Majesty’s Dragon

RECOMMENDEDHis Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik is $2.99! Carrie mentioned she started reading this in a previous Whatcha Reading and there were many comments about how great this book is. We also have an early review of this book by Candy, who says it’s “utterly goddamn awesome.”

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature.

Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

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The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

RECOMMENDEDThe Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick is $2.99! This is a price-matched Kindle Daily Deal and the rest of today’s deals are also pretty good, including a Susanna Kearsley book. Sarah enjoyed the emotional journey of this book and gave it a B in a Lightning Review:

In the end, his realization that his life mattered, that he was loved, and that he had more to give the world before he died, too, was terribly poignant and made me sniffle for quite awhile after I closed the book.

Sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper lives a simple life. He gets out of bed at precisely 7:30 a.m., just as he did when his wife, Miriam, was alive. He dresses in the same gray slacks and mustard sweater vest, waters his fern, Frederica, and heads out to his garden.

But on the one-year anniversary of Miriam’s death, something changes. Sorting through Miriam’s possessions, Arthur finds an exquisite gold charm bracelet he’s never seen before. What follows is a surprising and unforgettable odyssey that takes Arthur from London to Paris and as far as India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met—a journey that leads him to find hope, healing and self-discovery in the most unexpected places.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters with big hearts and irresistible flaws, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a joyous celebration of life’s infinite possibilities.

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Wild Card

Wild Card by Karina Halle is $2.99! This is the first book in the North Ridge series and I’m really excited about this one. I like Halle’s writing and I really like the cover too. This is a second chance, former friends to lovers romance, which was a huge selling point for many readers. But huge trigger warnings as there’s a backstory of abuse and suicide.

What would you give up to have a second-chance at a once-in-a-lifetime love?
 
Wild Card is a STANDALONE SECOND-CHANCE ROMANCE from the NYT bestselling author of The Pact and Before I Ever Met You. 
 
Rough, raw & rugged.
As the man in charge at Ravenswood Ranch, Shane Nelson has never been afraid to get his hands dirty. His sculpted physique isn’t the product of a gym, but of years of hard labor under a relentless sun. His straightforward, alpha tendencies come from a man who knows what he wants and goes after it.
And what he wants is Rachel Waters.
He’s never stopped wanting her.
They were childhood best friends, then teenage lovers who evolved into soulmates. But on one fateful night, Shane made a grave mistake, breaking both their hearts in the process.
Now, after six years, Rachel is back in the small, wild mountain town of North Ridge, BC.
Ready to face her past.
Ready to face Shane.
Ready to face his dark secret.
But is a second-chance at a one true love in the cards? Or will their wild hearts be broken once again?
WILD CARD IS A COMPLETE STANDALONE NOVEL and the first book about the Nelson Brothers of North Ridge

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Black Sheep

Black Sheep by Zara Cox is $1.99! This is a dark erotic romance and count me interested! This is the second book in the Dark Desires series. It can be read as a standalone and there’s no cliffhanger. Readers say this is a rather intense romance and is not for those looking for a more lighthearted book.

In a family of cold-hearted black sheep,
I, Axel Rutherford, am the blackest.

My father has hated me since the day I was born. The feeling was mutual. In the shady underworld that was my legacy, Cleo McCarthy became my light. She was beautiful, passionate, and my whole world. So naturally my father had to destroy us. First he sent me away. Next he claimed Cleo as his own. But now I’ve returned, and nothing will stop me from taking back everything that is rightfully mine.

He was the love of my life – when my life was still my own.
We were young enough to believe we would last forever, Axel and I. But neither of us realized how cruel life – and our families – could be. Now I’m trapped in a gilded cage: desired by Axel, who must never know the full truth, and controlled by his father, who would sooner see me dead than free. And I wouldn’t even care, except that it’s no longer only my life at stake.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

Squee

The Velvet Promise

by Jude Deveraux
1981
RomanceHistorical: EuropeanRegency

Squee from the Keeper Shelf is a feature wherein we share why we love the books we love, specifically the stories which are permanent residents of our Keeper shelves. Despite flaws, despite changes in age and perspective, despite the passage of time, we love particular books beyond reason, and the only thing better than re-reading them is telling other people about them. At length.

If you’d like to submit your reasons for loving and keeping a particular book for Squee from the Keeper Shelf, please email Sarah!

My favourite romance novels of all time are the four books of Jude Deveraux’s Velvet series: Velvet Promise, Highland Velvet, Velvet Song and Velvet Angel. I first read them when I was about fourteen, and the impact of these books on my reading, my writing, and probably my love life cannot be overstated. My friends and I sat in our boarding school dorm and devoured—lived, breathed, slept, dreamed, ate up—these books and their one-for-each-of-us heroes: Gavin, Stephen, Raine, and Miles. The names still dredge up a sigh of contentment, of nostalgia for a simpler life when we could dream of meeting boys who would miraculously be just like them (spoiler alert: I married Raine).

All these years later, I have found that every hero of every romance novel fits one or a blend of two of these brothers. The hero of my first manuscript is Gavin mixed with Miles; book 2’s guy is Raine. Book 4’s is Stephen. Not because I’m copying these books, but because Ms. Deveraux gave us heroes with different strengths and flaws which make for good stories no matter what era you set them in. It’s like getting a lesson in character arcs and having a rollicking good time while you’re at it.

That’s not to say that, like 99% of Eighties romances, there aren’t serious issues with the plots these four gents and their feisty, abundantly-haired heroines get into. I’ll get to that. But Ms. Deveraux gave me a blueprint not only for how a woman should be treated (yeah, like I said, I’ll get to that), but the emotions that a good romance should evoke in a reader. I’ll be applying those rules for the rest of my life. The heroines in these books are strong-willed women who wield power in their own way. While they sometimes have to submit to the mores of the time, they figure out ways to turn them to their advantage, and generally take very little shit from the heroes. The heroes are… well, let’s get to that.

In Velvet Promise, Judith, who has been brought up to become a prioress, is forced to marry Gavin Montgomery instead. Gavin is your basic alpha male. You’d be forgiven for thinking his name is Hawk because that’s what she describes him as most often. Gavin runs the family property (and this is the best bit) badly, although he runs around like a headless chicken (hawk?) trying his best, poor lamb. Judith is used to running her awful father’s lands and so comes in and instantly makes Gavin’s life better. But first he hits her and then he rapes her. Sigh. I know. Eighties, right? He’s all kinds of sorry in a macho ‘I could have done better than that her first time’ way the next morning, but there’s no getting away from the fact that he’s a total asshole at this point in the story.

BUT. (Okay, there’s never a ‘but’ where rape is concerned, but I’m going to ask you to go with it for now.) We are given so much of Gavin’s background that all his missteps, and there are many, are kinda sorta understandable (okay, not the rape part, but stay with me). He’s been left with almost no female company his whole life, except for the manipulative and godawful Alice, who has become his version of what the perfect woman is. We know Alice is a money-grubbing harpy who’ll have people killed to get her way, but to Gavin she’s a simpering miss who wells up in big pretty tears whenever he gets close to figuring out who she really is. She didn’t even show any signs of pain the first time they had sex. She swore it was her first time. It thoroughly wasn’t. Alice likes rough, violent sex and the power she can wield through it. She is the benchmark of comparison by which the intelligent, upstanding, red-haired Judith is judged and found wanting. Even when Gavin acknowledges that Judith kicks butt, he’s all confused because he thinks he’s in love with Alice.

Highland Velvet
A | BN | K | iB
All kinds of dreadful medieval things happen here, including, as someone on Amazon pointed out, a lot more rape (but not by Gavin again). I honestly don’t think it’s put there to titillate, or to imply that it’s a good basis for a relationship and the woman will always forgive you. I read these books at a very tender age, and the lesson I learned is, Gavin deserves a kick in the nuts, and this is never an acceptable way to treat a woman.

Eventually, Judith loses a baby because of Alice and Gavin learns what real love, and real grief, is. He realizes his mistake and is genuinely lovely to Judith. Alice can’t stand it, goes nuts and nearly kills Judith, scarring herself in the process. It’s a great book about redemption, though Gavin is remarkably stupid at first.

Highland Velvet is about Stephen, the blond one. He is sent by the king to marry Bronwyn MacArran, who unusually has been made laird of her clan. This is the Hot Scot plot with a twist—she’s the hot scot and she schools him in so many ways it’s just… delightful. Stephen goes from being the arrogant Englishman, off to teach the heathen Scots the correct way to go about their business, to being a man proud of his wife’s power, and ready to be her helpmate in any way she needs. He embraces her clan, and her culture, body and soul. Plus he’s got awesome legs in that plaid.

But more awful things happen to people in their families, partly coordinated by Alice, who is still scarred and still nuts. She married into the Chatworth family and because of her actions, and those of her brother-in-law, the families become deadly enemies. Raine, the third brother, retaliates against the Chatworths and is declared an outlaw (because you would be, wouldn’t you).

Velvet Song
A | BN | K | iB
In Velvet Song, we meet Alyx, a wonderfully ordinary heroine, except that she has incredible hair and a remarkable singing voice. But she is forced to pretend to be a boy and goes into Raine’s outlaw camp to seek shelter as his squire. You can imagine the hilarity that ensues. Alyx is an inveterate snob and thinks herself above the people Raine is helping in the camp (though she is merchant class and also yells at Raine for the extravagance of the rich). Raine—built like a brick privy, think sexy Hagrid without the beard—is a voice for the poor and teaches Alyx their value. They make love when he’s in a fever and all that his-huge-sweaty-body-on-her-slim-boyish-but-not-too-boyish-one is great stuff. Then when he wakes up he pretends he doesn’t remember and orders her around for another few minutes before she figures it out. It’s fantastic.

A woman who has lusted after Raine for ever, and caught him once, is jealous of Alyx and contrives to have her thrown out of the camp for stealing. No one defends Alyx because they know she looks down on them. Raine is about to leave with her, which would leave him open to arrest as soon as he leaves the forest (oh, yeah, Robin Hood anyone? You UK peeps will remember Robin of Sherwood was on TV at about this time and, I’m just sayin’, Michael Praed. Le Sigh.) So Alyx kisses another guy (her only friend) in front of Raine and pretends she never loved him so he won’t leave with her. “‘Have I been a fool?’” he says, and we all weep.

She and her friend leave and end up as minstrels at the house of the Chatworths. Alyx is heavily pregnant and has been helping out the poor people she meets on the road. See? Satisfying character arc! At the Chatworths a bad guy recognizes Alyx and kidnaps her to get Raine out in the open; at the same time they kidnap Elizabeth Chatworth, beautiful sister-in-law of crazy Alice, and decide it would be a great lark to deliver her to Miles, the last brother, whom I used to wish REALLY HARD was real.

Alyx is nearly burned at the stake, Raine’s gang rescue her, but oh noes, he hates her because she tricked him. Eventually she sends their daughter to him and that breaks the ice, and it’s all good, but let’s move on because Miles.

The Velvet Angel in question is Elizabeth, who is delivered to Miles naked in a rug. Elizabeth is pathologically afraid of men, and with good reason. Her psychotic brother, whom Alice married, would place bets with his friends on which of them could take her virginity, so she learned long ago how to fight them off, literally.

Velvet Angel
A | BN | K | iB
Miles, to make it all interesting, is the Pied Piper for women. As the story points out several times, no woman has ever said no to him: “Even newborn girls clung to him.” Okay, so get it? He’s a chick magnet. And Elizabeth is his polar opposite. His reputation has also exaggerated his prowess, so she believes he has an army of bastard children, and since she loves children, she hates him even more. In fact, he has four, whose backgrounds we are told so we don’t believe he’s an asshole. Also, medieval, so, no birth control! What’s a man to do??!

Miles sets out to break through Elizabeth’s fear and it’s a splendid third of the book where his actions and those of his men, who aren’t assholes either, teach her that some men can be trusted. Of course, he’s hot as molasses in July and when Elizabeth gets drunk one day, off they go. Now, you could, and perhaps should, have a problem with all the times Miles was touching her, holding her on his horse, kissing her (she wipes it away each time) and generally getting in her personal space without permission. But… if he’d sat on the other side of the room and made his points with flowcharts it wouldn’t have been quite the same story. When they do come together (*snigger*) her release of all that fear and pain is superb.

But of course that can’t be the end of the story. Elizabeth’s slightly-less-awful brother (although whether you forgive him for what he did in Book 2 is up for discussion) comes for her and she leaves with him so he won’t kill Miles. Miles thinks this is a bad idea, to put it mildly.

One of the things that makes this more than a run-of-the-mill romance is that Elizabeth’s choices are not clearcut. She has Miles, yes, but her brother has a whole other side to the story, and she doesn’t know who to believe for a while. The plot jumps the shark here a little, but the misunderstandings and reconciliations are well laid out. In the end, the women band together and save Miles from Alice’s last and most trumped-up scheme. It’s all wrapped up with a lovely bow and the promise of future books. Which I didn’t read because after Miles, there was nowhere else for me to go.

And there you have it. Four men, four women, four stories, infinite permutations. Gavin is the alpha male who needs to be schooled. Stephen, the thoughtful beta who will fight to the death for those he considers his people. Raine is the educated mountain man looking for beauty in art. And Miles is the strong, silent type whom you just can’t resist once he turns his eyes on you. I give you the Montgomery brothers. You are welcome.


The Velvet Montgomery series comes from Kimberly Ash’s Keeper Shelf! Kimberley Ash is a writer, mom, and British ex-pat, who has lived in and loved New Jersey for twenty years. When not cleaning up after her two big white furry dogs, she writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction, and contemplates ​ex-pat life. You can find her on her website, and on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

The Velvet Montgomery series are on her keeper shelf because they are the benchmark for emotional trauma and hotness factor against which all other romances are compared. Also, if she hasn’t mentioned it yet, Miles.


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Posted by SB Sarah

B+

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

by Anne Helen Petersen
June 20, 2017 · Plume
RomanceHistorical: European

Anne Helen Petersen’s byline on any collection of words means that I’m going to drop what I’m doing immediately to read it. I don’t read a lot of celebrity gossip and culture, but her analyses are fascinating on multiple levels. Not only are they thorough and drawn from a variety of sources, but they attempt to frame one or several layers of meaning around a celebrity’s brand or image, often locating that meaning in a complicated larger context. Because Petersen has studied the gossip industry in its past and present iterations, the context is very often, “We’ve been here before, and here’s another example.”

I was very excited to read Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud – so excited that when I received the email alerting me that my turn on the hold list at the library had arrived, I got to the library branch before they’d put the book out on the hold shelves for me to pick up. (No, I promise I didn’t drive Too Fast to pick up this book. There are speed cameras everywhere and I learned my lesson long ago.)

If you like Petersen’s long form celebrity analyses, you’ll like this book. Each chapter focuses on a different person, and each is a chronological examination of how their brand or public image has shifted, and how coverage of that person personally and professional has evolved. Each chapter also spends some time identifying and then dismantling the overarching perception that follows each individual. The chapters in order are:

  • Too Strong: Serena Williams
  • Too Fat: Melissa McCarthy
  • Too Gross: Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer
  • Too Slutty: Nikki Minaj
  • Too Old: Madonna
  • Too Pregnant: Kim Kardashian
  • Too Shrill: Hillary Clinton
  • Too Queer: Caitlyn Jenner
  • Too Loud: Jennifer Weiner
  • Too Naked: Lena Dunham

The book as a whole was a very quick read for me, and I found myself taking pictures and sharing images of particular paragraphs that resonated. I wanted to tell everyone I knew about each chapter as soon as I read it.

Unruliness is defined in the introduction as possessing of attributes that are antithetical to expectations to traditional femininity. Unruly women:

…question, interrogate, or otherwise challenge the status quo. Of course, there have been unruly women for as long as there have been boundaries of what constitutes acceptable “feminine” behavior: women who, in some way, step outside the boundaries of good womanhood, who end up being labeled too fat, too loud, too slutty, too whatever characteristic women are supposed to keep under control.

So, yeah. Here for this, 3000%.

Each example starts with one element of “unruliness,” but no criticism of women is ever singular; there are many other systems of oppression involved. The chapter on Serena Williams traced how descriptions of her body have not changed all that much over time, locating those descriptions and the attitudes toward her skill and dominance in the larger context of the overwhelming whiteness and racism of tennis as a sport and performance, with a side order of sexism and classism.

I thought the chapter was fantastic, and since my husband likes tennis (and most sports on tv, come to think of it), I passed the book to him so he could read it when I finished. He did the same thing I did: nodded at the page and kept reading. His review: “I knew all of these things already, and I read most of the articles about Serena that are cited, but I hadn’t seen them organized in that way before.”

That’s a pretty apt summary of each chapter: the organization of the story tells another story. The coverage of a celebrity – the narrative that is manufactured by them, or about them, or both – is organized and examined in a way that reveals larger themes and the often massive obstacles that person deals with. In other words, there is a story about the person being profiled, and that story, the way it is told, the words that are used, and the source of the story and who tells and repeats it, reveals a LOT.

Each “too” example is often the reason pointed to by many who criticize or dislike that celebrity or their work. Each chapter pokes at the descriptor to highlight the sexism, misogyny, racism, and prejudice working against that person. Some work steadfastly against their label, and some engage with it deliberately, consciously undermining it or highlighting it to point out how ridiculously limiting and reductive it is.

To say this book gave me brain popcorn is an understatement.

Here are some of my favorite parts, which I had to mark with sticky notes because this is a library book and I am not a total monster. From the chapter on Serena:

“Imagine, too, a woman whose dominance on the court leads to discussions of her skill, not her body. Imagine a scenario in which strength, manifest in physical and mental form, is figured as a pure testament to skill, not as a means of distracting from it. Imagine a world in which female athletes do not provoke anxiety; in which black ones are not automatically perceived as a threat; in which unruliness doesn’t need to be blunted….

A woman who responds to the cries that “she’s too strong,” then “she’s too sexy,” then again “she’s too strong” with “Well, can you choose one? But either way, I don’t care which one they choose. I’m me and I’ve never changed who I am.”

From the chapter on Hillary Clinton (which was a little painful to read):

“Shrillness” is just a word to describe what happens when a woman, with her higher-toned voice, attempts to speak loudly. A pejorative, in other words, developed specifically to shame half the population when they attempt to command attention in the same manner as men.

And in the chapter on Jennifer Weiner, which also addresses a lot of the sexism surrounding the term ‘chick lit,’ an examination I found deeply deliciously satisfying, there’s a discussion of the imbalanced hierarchy within the publishing and the marketing of books:

Women make up around 80 percent of the fiction -buying public, making them an incredibly powerful market force. They’re just not buying the right books – at least according to a pervasive and problematic cultural assumption. The right books are “difficult”: experimental, impenetrable, male. They get written up in prestigious book reviews; they win awards that place a tasteful gold stamp in their corner. Their authors don’t blog or tweet about them because they don’t blog or tweet…. They occupy the rarefied air of high art. And the majority, but certainly not all, of the authors of these books are men.

On the other end of this hierarchy, there’s the feminized, the commercially popular, the books reliant on tacky self-promotion.

I finished the chapter on Nikki Minaj wishing there had been more focus more on the ways she questions the treatment she receives as a female artist and businessperson, and while there was some, I wanted more. (Also: “When a man is assertive, he’s a boss. When a woman is assertive, she’s a bitch. No negative connotations to being a boss.”)

I appreciated that the analysis of each person didn’t assume my sympathy for the person, or my support, and I appreciated that the tone wasn’t one of, “You should support this person and here is why.” From the conclusion:

Questions of representation – who controls it, and who says where and at what point it becomes “too much” in any capacity – have served as the foundation of this book, whose premise is predicated on the small yet significant ways that women have either resisted or wrested control of the way that men have represented them.

Which isn’t to say that they always succeed: the imperative against unruliness might be largely created by men, but as these chapters have shown, it’s often enforced by women.

That was the part I found most interesting, asking myself how I contribute to the castigation of unruly women, and how I manage the accusations of the same when I receive them. I mean, it’s a site called “Smart Bitches,” so I hear opprobrium about our unruliness collectively or individually on a weekly basis. But I had to ask myself about the chapters regarding women I wasn’t as curious about, why was I harboring dislike for that person? Why do I think that way?

Which is the point of the book itself, I think: to challenge readers to measure and examine their dislike or conceptions of individual celebrities in different spheres, and to potentially nudge readers to challenging the way they absorb and examine the presented stories about other people. In other words, don’t believe everything you think. Why do you think that, anyway? How we view other women and how we view ourselves are crucial examinations, and the world of celebrity gossip and public performance make for an accessible on-ramp to the difficult questioning.

I found this book to be fascinating and very edifying, almost comforting at times. I imagine many of us have been told we were both “too much” and “not enough” through our lives. Seeing how that narrative takes shape on a larger scale helps me examine how I absorb and deploy that same contradiction. If you’re at all interested in celebrity culture and how it intersects with cultural expectations and narratives, or you want to celebrate nonconformity and being “too much,” this book will be a treat.

Rugby Players, Magic, & More!

Aug. 20th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Scrappy Little Nobody

RECOMMENDEDScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick is $2.99! It’s a part of today’s Kindle Daily Deals (I highly recommend you check out the rest) and is being price-matched. I listened to this on audio narrated by Kendrick herself and I really liked it. The stories/chapters are short enough to where you don’t lose interest and it has a great balance of being touching, genuine, and really funny.

A collection of humorous autobiographical essays by the Academy Award-nominated actress and star of Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect.

“I’m excited to publish my first book, and because I get uncomfortable when people have high expectations, I’d like to use this opportunity to showcase my ineptitude, pettiness, and the frequency with which I embarrass myself. And while many of my female inspirations who have become authors are incredibly well-educated and accomplished comedy writers, I’m very, very funny on Twitter, according to Buzzfeed and my mom, so I feel like this is a great idea. Quick question: are run-on sentences still frowned upon? Wait, is ending a sentence with a preposition still frowned upon? I mean, upon frowned? Dammit!” —Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick’s autobiographical collection of essays amusingly recounts memorable moments throughout her life, from her middle class upbringing in New England to the blockbuster movies that have made her one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses today. Expanding upon the witty and ironic dispatches for which she is known, Anna Kendrick’s essays offer her one-of-a-kind commentary on the absurdities she’s experienced on her way to and from the heart of pop culture.

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Winter Garden

Winter Garden by Adele Ashworth is 99c! This is a historical romance with spies! However, readers seemed to be divided on the actual spying assignment. Some found it added a great element of action, while others felt it made little sense to them. This is the second book in the Winter Garden series and the first book is also on sale.

Though a celebrated French beauty in 1849, Madeleine DuMais’s cleverness is her greatest asset — and one she puts to good use as a spy for the British. When her expertise is needed in the south of England to break up a smuggling ring, Madeleine willingly puts her life on hold to help the crown …

Arriving in the quaint resort town of Winter Garden, Madeleine meets her partner in subterfuge. Thomas Blackwood is unlike any man she has ever met. His quiet confidence and mysterious intensity send shivers of pleasure coursing through her … shivers that slowly melt into a desperate passion. As duty gives way to desire, surrender holds its reward. And Madeleine will never recover from the touch of Thomas’s hands on her body — and the touch of his heart on her soul …

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Knowing the Score

Knowing the Score by Kat Latham is $2.99! This is a contemporary sports romance – set in the world of rugby. I mentioned this book on a previous podcast episode. It has a 3.7 average, and readers at GR liked the humor and the dialogue between the hero and heroine (though some reviews warn of a slow start to the story).

Rugby player Spencer Bailey is determined to win a spot on England’s World Cup team. But with a month break before the selectors start watching him, he’s eager to have fun with a woman who knows the score: the relationship will end when rugby season begins. The lovely American Caitlyn Sweeney seems perfect for the role of temporary lover, since her visa will run out soon anyway.

Caitlyn works for an international disaster relief organization and can handle the world’s worst crises, but she flinches from her own. Her past has left her with a fear of intimacy so deep that she has trouble getting close to anyone—until she meets sexy Spencer. His hot body and easygoing nature are too much for even her to resist.

Neither Caitlyn nor Spencer expects to fall hard for each other. But with their relationship deadline approaching, the old rules of the game seem less important than before…until past secrets surface, challenging everything they thought they knew about each other.

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Tarnished

Tarnished by Karina Cooper is 99c! This is a gritty steampunk novel with paranormal and romantic elements. Readers are divided on the heroine, who is an opium addict. Some found that the heroine was too unlikable, while others enjoyed a flawed protagonist. Have you read this one?

My name is Cherry St. Croix. Society would claim that I am a well-heeled miss with an unfortunate familial reputation. They’ve no idea of the truth of it. In my secret world, I hunt down vagrants, thieves . . . and now, a murderer. For a monster stalks London’s streets, leaving a trail of mystery and murder below the fog.

Eager for coin to fuel my infatuations, I must decide where my attentions will turn: to my daylight world, where my scientific mind sets me apart from respectable Society, or to the compelling domain of London below. Each has a man who has claimed my time as his – for good or for ill. Though as the corpses pile, and the treacherous waters of Society gossip churn, I am learning that each also has its dangers. One choice will see me cast from polite company . . . the other might just see me dead.

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Posted by Amanda

Welcome back to Lightning Reviews, where we give some quick and dirty thoughts on books in a mini-review format. We’ve been away from this feature for a while because of all the RITA reviews, but now we’re back into the swing of things. This trio features a historical romance, some historical fiction with romantic elements, and a thriller!

 

    The Dry

    author: Jane Harper

    The Dry is an Australian-set mystery perfect for those who (like me) enjoy a good cold case.

    Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to the small community he grew up in after a childhood friend, Luke, kills his family before committing suicide. His horrifying actions are chalked up to stress: drought has plagued the community for years, farms are failing, and the town is fracturing.

    Falk isn’t sure he buys the murder-suicide theory. When Aaron and Luke were teens, a friend of theirs, Ellie, was found dead in a river. Luke and Aaron, under suspicion, provided each other with alibis. The truth is, Aaron doesn’t know where Luke was when Ellie was killed all those years ago, and his friend’s death is dredging up a lot of questions that had been buried.

    The Dry is an excellent, solid mystery. I loved the setting of a rural community struggling through a drought that sets everyone on edge and amplifies tensions. I loved how the cold case (Ellie’s death) tied into the mystery surrounding the murder of Luke’s family.

    Trigger warning–this book does discuss the murder of children (obviously) and also deals with the sexual assault of a child. It’s not the book to read if you get the heebie-jeebies easily, but if you love a good whodunit and have girdy loins, then I totally recommend it.

    Elyse

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    Goodnight from London

    author: Jennifer Robson

    Goodnight From London tells the story of Ruby Sutton, a journalist who is sent to London at the dawn of World War II to cover the war from the perspective of a young American woman. Once there, she endures the deprivations of war on the home front, the Blitz, sees the changes and horrors that the war causes in Britain, meets a man, falls in love, and all that good stuff.

    Honestly, while this was a good read while I was reading it, in the end I found it curiously unsatisfying, and I spent about four days thinking about why.  First is that Ruby Sutton is a boring heroine. She has one big secret in her background, and a bunch of adversity she needed to fight through to get to her place in the world as a journalist. But once she got that job, everyone falls over themselves to help her, except for one and a half people. There  is very little that even mildly complicates her life.

    Hell, she gets bombed out of her flat during the Blitz, and ends up safe and sound with rich friends, so other than, “well, my passport got blown up, that kinda sucks,” it barely causes a hiccup. Even when her Big Secret comes out, the complications get quietly washed away. And these are MAJOR complications! They should have had actual repercussions, and not have been neatly disposed of in half a chapter.

    The romance is mostly conflictless: he’s got a weird job during the war so he’s in and out of London, but there’s barely any tension. The whole book is “Ruby wants to do something, people help her in doing that thing, Ruby worries that she’s not worthy of their help, people fall over themselves to assure her that she’s adored, rinse, repeat.”

    The best parts of this book where the stories that Ruby went out to report on, like a field hospital in France, or the aftermath of the bombing of Coventry. Those parts were great. But all the interpersonal non-drama was a HUGE drag.

    Redheadedgirl

    ,

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    Six Impossible Things

    author: Elizabeth Boyle

    I mentioned this in a previous “Whatcha Reading” and I totally admit that the title and the cover got me interested. I like Boyle’s writing, and I enjoy her books, but it was the gorgeousness of the cover moved this one up the TBR pile. Marketing: it works!

    Rosalie Stratton’s father worked in the Home Office as a spymaster and diplomat. Of all his children, she is the one who inherited all his skills and his brains. Of course, since she’s a girl, it’s simply impossible that she put those skills to good use…until she just does anyway, with the support of her uncle and a few other people.

    Brody, Baron Rimswell, also works for the Home Office, and he’s had a number of run-ins with a mysterious masked woman, Asteria, who might work with the Home Office (or maybe the Russians?) and those run-ins seem to always end with a passionate make-out session. As so often happens.

    Rosalie and Brody have known each other since they were children, and she’s both annoyed and amused that he doesn’t recognize her when she’s in her guise as Asteria. When they’re caught in a compromising position, they must do the responsible thing and get married, and then figure out how to sort out their lives as spies and spouses. The romance is based on figuring out how a partnership works- Rosalie is NOT going to be a quiet wife, and Brody needs to rethink his ideas of what being a husband means. His parents didn’t give him a good template for a successful, happy marriage, so he needs to figure it out for himself.

    What I liked best about Six Impossible Things was Rosalie and her determination that she would use her talents to help King and Country, whether King and Country liked it or not. She’s a patriot in the purest sense, and she’s got a brilliant mind that’s working two steps ahead of everyone else. Once Brody figures that out – that she’s as smart and talented and brave as anyone he’s ever met – he’s on her team. I love terrifyingly competent heroines and the heroes that adore them.

    This is the sixth book in a series, and I have not read all of them. While I think you can read this as a stand-alone, I have a feeling there are some through-lines that might have more of a payoff if I had read all of the other books. I had a conversation with someone who has read all of this series, and she said that it’s not at that clear how all of these couples intersect (“How is that a SERIES?”). So maybe I didn’t miss a through line.

    Redheadedgirl

    ,

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30% Off Zazzle Mug Sale!

Aug. 19th, 2017 09:00 am
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Posted by Amanda

From today, August 19 to 11:59pm PST on August 20, Zazzle is offering 30% off mugs, tumblers, and coasters. Use code ZAZZLECHEERS at checkout.

The SBTB store has some great mug selections if you’re looking for a gift or just to treat yourself.

Slayer of Words

 

Disrupt the Patriarchy

 

It’s Romance Reading Time

 

Mug Full, Book Open, It’s Romance Reading Time

 

Bad Decisions Book Club – “No, I wasn’t up too late reading, not at all.”

 

That’s “Smart Bitch” to You

 

That’s “Smart Bitch” to You Magic Mug – Design appears with hot liquid

 

Disrupt the Patriarchy, Read Romance Tumbler

 

Bad Decisions Book Club Drink Coasters

 

Slayer of Words Stone Coaster

 

Happy shopping!

August Book Club Chat Announcement!

Aug. 19th, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Amanda

We know many of you are excited to discuss this month’s book club selection: Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai! You can read our official selection post here to catch up.

Our chat will occur on Wednesday, August 30 from 8:00pm – 9:30pm. That afternoon, we’ll post the chat link on the site and it will go live around 8:00pm. If you’re new to the chats, Sarah will lead a discussion of the book and then Alisha Rai will join us for a Q&A!

We hope you can join us!

Whatcha Reading? August 2017 Edition

Aug. 19th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Amanda

Illustration of magic opened book covered with grass trees and waterfall surround by ocean. Fantasy world, imaginary view. Book, tree of life concept. Original beautiful screen saverI can hardly believe it’s time for Whatcha Reading already. It always sneaks up on me and I can hear my book budget weeping quietly in the background. If you’re new to the site, this is where we recap the books we’ve been reading and how we feel about them.

Let us know in the comments how much or little you’ve whittled down your TBR pile!

Sarah: One of the benefits to developing and then testing the course I’m building on using Google Calendar to declutter your schedule is that I am finding more and more time to read, and making it a priority. It’s too easy to set it aside like I’ll have time later, when reading is one of the best ways for me to recharge and comfort myself. So while I’m working a lot lately, I’m also reading a lot more, which makes me really happy.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud
A | BN | K | iB
This week, I finished the books in the Peter Grant series and read Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen (review forthcoming!). I’ve also read one of Olivia Dade’s books and close to finishing another.

I struggled with the rapid pace of the emotional development in Broken Resolutions ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), and didn’t quite buy the HEA, though I learned that reclusive writers are a particular strand of my catnip. I caught the Jane Eyre references, though, which I did rather like.

Elyse: I just fell down the In Death rabbit hole so I’ll see you all in a year.

Naked in Death
A | BN | K | iB
Amanda: Goodbye, Elyse! We’ll miss you!

SarahHidden Hearts ( A | BN | K | G | iB )I’m enjoying more, as there is more space to develop the emotional connection, and there’s email back and forth which is another strand of my catnip. Epistolary romances with reclusive writer characters are apparently my ultra-catnip.

Carrie: I have been reading There Is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton ( A | BN ). It’s fictional weird western horror story about Sarah Winchester, who built the Winchester Mystery House.

Crash Into You
A | BN | K | iB
Amanda: I checked out Crash Into You by Roni Loren from the library. It was on sale a couple weeks ago. It’s the first in an erotic romance series and I’ve enjoyed Loren’s writing before. I’m also anticipating the release of the Royally Mine anthology ( A | BN | K | iB ), which comes out on the 22nd this month. There was a great discussion in a recent sale post about some of the descriptions. Like with most anthologies, I know there are going to be some highs and lows and I’m eager to see how the collection shakes out.

Sarah: Next I’m reading Ink & Bone by Rachel Caine ( A | BN | K | iB ), recommended by Beverly Jenkins in the recent podcast interview we did. The podcast episodes are just as dangerous to my TBR pile, I promise.

How has your month been for reading? What books have you loved or hated?


By request, since we can’t link to every book you mention in the comments, here are bookstore links that help support the site with your purchases. If you use them, thank you so much, and if you’d prefer not to, no worries. Thanks for being a part of SBTB and hopefully, you’ve found some great books to read!

Buy from Amazon.com

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Posted by SB Sarah

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books Podcast
The transcript for Podcast 7. We’re back! And we’re talking about Romance! has been posted!

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

Click here to subscribe to The Podcast →

We’re back in the archives, adding transcripts to the older episodes. This one dates back to six years ago today! August 18, 2011, in fact, when I decided I was going to learn how to edit audio and produce the show, so we restarted the podcast. Enjoy!

Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovich

Aug. 18th, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by SB Sarah

B

Midnight Riot

by Ben Aaronovitch
February 1, 2011 · Del Rey
Nonfiction

First, a note: this is more of a review of the series, but the books therein need to be read in order so I shall start here. Second, I will avoid spoilers as much as possible, focusing mostly on what I like, what I find bothersome, and whether I recommend the book and the series. The grade above is both for this book and the series as a whole – lucky for me they line up, which doesn’t always happen.

As I mentioned in a recent Whatcha Reading post, both my husband Adam and I are reading these books one after the other.

Well, he’s reading one after the other. I take breaks every two to read another book in a different series. If I don’t, the pattern of the writing becomes to distracting. I think because my brain loves to pick out a pattern, glomming one author or one series for too long is detrimental to my enjoyment. I notice the writerly tics and they smother some of my interest. I also read very quickly, so even with reading other novels in between, we are keeping about the same pace as far as plot twists and character developments. A number of our dinner conversations have begun with, “Where are you in…?”

In Midnight Riot, London police officer Peter Grant is working when a ghost starts talking to him. As you do. This leads to his involvement in The Folly, a somewhat secretive and very old branch of the police department specializing in magic, or, as it’s referred to in the series, “weird bollocks.” Peter becomes the first apprentice wizard in a long ass time, working with Nightingale, the last remaining wizard/police officer.

Each successive book after Midnight Riot (the UK title is Rivers of London) builds on the larger magical world and the (many) problems therein, while also solving an individual case. There are mystery elements, various relationships and characters that appear and recede, and a whole bunch of different individuals, including goddesses, fae, wildlife that may be more conversant with humanity than one would suspect, and more weird bollocks.

Black Mould graphic novel cover with Guleed and Grant in full body hazmat suits

I’m immensely enjoying this series, even though there are a number of things I find a little frustrating.

Also, I have skipped the graphic novels because I’ve discovered that the illustrated version of the characters was so at odds with my own mental image, I was irritated when I tried to read them. (I know, my brain can be very diva-like.)

What I like about this series:

  1. Language is a character – I couldn’t ask for a more enjoyable piece of catnip for my nerdery interests. Just as in some books the setting can be a character, in this series, the slang and colloquial language define individual people, signal a multitude of elements about each person (among them class because whoadamn do multiple systems of class play a role in this world), and create a linguistic environment that’s almost as much of a puzzle as the plot. It’s a good thing I’m reading this on my Kindle because I stop and look things up constantly. (I’ve also heard that the audiobooks are terrific for the same reason, so I might start listening to them after I’m done.) The language is so much fun for me.
  2. Women have to explain things to Peter All The Time – Peter is intelligent, and has a scientific way of looking at the magical world he’s learning about, but there are several secondary characters, Lesley May and Sahra Guleed among them, who have to explain things to Peter that he missed entirely. Peter is not the most special of all the wizards, and is pretty regularly undone by his own bad habits (which can be frustrating and satisfying).
  3. Random delightful references to all manner of fun stuff – I don’t think there has been a narrative from which Adam and I have texted one another more quotes. There was a Phineas and Ferb reference that delighted me for days. The random pop culture bits are delightful, and ground the world in a contemporary reality that makes the magical “weird bollocks” (yup, I really like saying that) seem plausible as well. And I feel pretty pleased with myself when I catch one. I also enjoy Peter’s internal nerdy monologues about architecture, which is one of his secret passions, one he’s deeply opinionated about.
  4. Casual inclusion, casual prejudice – Peter is a character of mixed race, and the stories are told from his point of view. This means that he mentions the race of every character, partly because he’s a police officer who by training learns to catalog such things, and partly because he’s not operating in a worldview of white default. There are characters of different classes and backgrounds, all casually inclusive in a way that makes this world seem very, very real. (Reality! It’s awesome.) There are also so many moments of casual racism directed at or around Peter, and there’s a repeated, powerful contrast between his mental tally of who said what and at which time, and his outward absence of reaction.
  5. Women’s power is relentlessly underestimated – I’m just at a point in the series where the fact that the power of the women around Peter and Nightingale has been misunderstood and dismissed might be about to rise up and chomp them both in the butt, and I’m pretty excited about that. It’s past due.

Things that bug me:

  1. Plot, plot, procedural development, plot, OH MY GOD IT IS THE END WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED – The development of the story takes place bit by bit, which I like because instead of getting information in heaping teaspoon-sized helpings, sometimes I get 1/8th of a teaspoon, and sometimes it’s one grain of salt at a time. But when the Solid Waste Connects With the Air Circulating Device my gosh does it splatter everywhere fast. When there is action of any kind, it mostly happens in the last few chapters, sometimes the last few pages, and I have to go back and re-read. And you can count on all sorts of shit going down in the last few chapters as much as you could count on a purple prose sex scene within 10 pages of the cardboard insert in an old Zebra romance. To quote Horse eBooks, everything happens so much. And each time, at the end, it can be too much, especially when several books in a row follow this pattern.
  2. Women have to explain things to Peter All The Time – There are times when I’d much rather follow characters like Guleed or Beverley or Abigail much more than I would Peter. His character can become so boring and repetitive, while they are interesting and complex in ways he isn’t. This perspective may be because I am so used to romance that having interesting women not at the center of the story can make me surly and impatient, and because Peter is narrating the story so of course I get overly-familiar with his POV. I suspect there are millions of bytes worth of fanfic focused on Beverley, Molly, and every other character – Toby! Toby fanfic! – because I can’t be the only reader who wants to follow them home.
  3. Peter can be obtuse to screamingly obvious degrees – There are a few incidents where something weird happens, and despite weird being his literal business, Peter shrugs and is like, “Oh, well, whatever.” It’s not just Chekhov’s gun he’s walking past. He ambles blithely by Chekhov’s howitzer mounted on a Gustav spray painted hot pink. Maybe it’s a thing that the women both in the story and reading the story are sometimes more aware than Peter?
  4. Women sometimes rest on the fringes of the fridge – Bad shit happens to some of the women closest to Peter, which is boring and predictable. How those women respond (if they aren’t dead) is fascinating, but it’s still a giant let down for women to be constantly harmed while the multitude of dudes Peter counts as allies and colleagues seem to end up perfectly fine.

This series has been a terrific brain reset for me. Jumping back and forth between this series and Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series has been fascinating as an exercise in comparison and contrast in terms of world building, romantic plot elements, and character development. I haven’t finished either series, but the way in which the respective magical worlds are built and power is managed mean I have a lot to think about while I read. Thinky brain is happy brain.

As for whether I recommend this series for romance fans, I do, though obviously you have to suspend all genre expectations at the door. As a reader who loves immersive deep dives into different aspects of various cultures, and who loves puzzles and language, this is a lot of my catnip. Reading it concurrently with Adam is also part of what makes it fun on a personal level, but it’s a series and world that comes with a lot to talk about, too. If you’re looking for a blend of mystery and magic and like snarky deadpan narration, there’s a lot here you’ll enjoy, too.

Have you read this series? What do you think? Are you keeping up with it? 

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Posted by SB Sarah

I interview author Santino Hassell about his new series with Berkley, starting with Illegal Contact, which just went on sale on August 15th. We discuss his inspiration for football romance since he’s a baseball fan, and we talk about his being one of few men writing romance. We cover how he got started as a writer, what writers inspired him to start and keep going, and how he addresses stereotypes of bisexuality in his writing, We also discuss his writing projects with Megan Erickson, and, a special note for all of who who are fans of his work: we describe the perfect bait to trap him, should you wish to do so. (Kidding! That would be creepy.)

I also have a giveaway to go with this episode! I have a very, very cool pair of Barons athletic socks, and a copy of Illegal Contact for one of you. There will be a giveaway widget in the show notes for this entry at SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com/podcast, and you can enter to win.

Standard disclaimers apply: void where prohibited. I am not being compensated for this giveaway. Open to international residents were permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18 and prepared to wear some very nifty socks. Whereas, upon participation in the contest as aforesaid, said participant shall nonetheless deliver hereunto all such paraphernalia as reasonably necessary and appropriate.  Notwithstanding anything hereinafter to the contrary, the contest shall nonetheless be conducted as heretofore described thereupon. Do not taunt happy fun ball.

Listen to the podcast →
Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

Giveaway! You can enter the giveaway right here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And if the widget doesn’t work for you, this link should work as an alternate. If you’re having trouble, please email me, k?

Standard disclaimers apply: void where prohibited. I am not being compensated for this giveaway. Open to international residents were permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18 and prepared to wear some very nifty socks. Whereas, upon participation in the contest as aforesaid, said participant shall nonetheless deliver hereunto all such paraphernalia as reasonably necessary and appropriate.  Notwithstanding anything hereinafter to the contrary, the contest shall nonetheless be conducted as heretofore described thereupon. Do not taunt happy fun ball. Winner will be chosen at random and announced on 25 August 2017.

And, of course, we have links!

You can find Santino Hassell on his website, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in his Facebook group, Get Hasselled.

If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher, too. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

More ways to sponsor:

Sponsor us through Patreon! (What is Patreon?)

What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at sbjpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.

This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “Panic.”

You can find their two album set with Caravan Palace and Panic on Amazon and iTunes. And you can learn more about Caravan Palace on Facebook, and on their website.

Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Historical Romances on Sale!

Aug. 17th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Sarah: Today and tomorrow, 40% off Accessories at Zazzle, with ZACCESSORIES. The code expires 8/18/2017 at 11:59 PM PST.

The accessory sale includes water bottles! And we have some of those:

Waterbottle 1: Disrupt the Patriarchy, Read Romance

Water bottle 2: Slayer of Words (all profits to Doctors Without Borders)

Destiny’s Surrender

RECOMMENDED: Destiny’s Surrender by Beverly Jenkins is $2.99! This is the second book in her Destiny series and follows Andrew, Logan’s brother. He has a particularly unique relationship with a courtesan named Billie, who shows up on his doorstep with a child she says is his – and with the intention of leaving her son there so he can have a better life and escape the danger that’s closely following Billie. This book has an impressive 4.2-star rating on GR. 

The child he didn’t know he had . . .

Andrew Yates has come to a decision: it’s time to stop sowing those oats and start a family. But searching for a bride isn’t as simple as he’d hoped, and many of the respectable women of his acquaintance feel . . . lacking. Then beautiful, feisty Wilhelmina “Billie” Wells arrives at the family ranch with a toddler in her arms, claiming Drew is the father!

The woman he didn’t know he loved . . .

Billie had no choice but to show up at Destiny in search of Drew. For the sake of their child, she’s willing to leave him with his father so the boy can have a better life, but then, before she can blink, she’s saying “I do” in front of a preacher in a marriage of convenience. All Billie and Drew have in common is the heat that brought them together, but can their sizzling passion lead to an everlasting love?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

Kobo Google Play iBooks

and

amazon

 

 

 

Moonlight on My Mind

Moonlight on My Mind by Jennifer McQuiston is $1.99 at most vendors and $2.99 at Barnes & Noble! This is an enemies to lovers historical with a marriage of convenience. Readers really loved the heroine’s redemption arc, but found the suspense/mystery element took away from the romance a bit.

To ruin a man’s life once takes a regrettable mistake.

To do so twice takes a woman like Julianne Baxter.

Eleven months ago, Julianne’s statement to the authorities wrongly implicated Patrick, the new Earl of Haversham, in his older brother’s death. The chit is as much trouble as her red hair suggests, and just as captivating. Now she has impetuously tracked him to the wilds of Scotland, insisting that he return home to face a murder charge and save his family from ruin. A clandestine wedding may be the only way to save her reputation—and his neck from the hangman’s noose.

Julianne has no objection to the match. More and more she’s convinced of Patrick’s innocence, though when it comes to igniting her passions, the man is all too guilty. And if they can only clear his name, a marriage made in haste could bring about the most extraordinary pleasure…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

Barnes & Noble Kobo Google Play iBooks

and

amazon

 

 

 

Temptations of a Wallflower

RECOMMENDEDTemptations of a Wallflower by Eva Leigh is $3.99! The previous book is also $3.99. Elyse read this one and gave it an A-:

Temptations of a Wallflower is very very sexy (people talking openly about sex and finding what works for them together is sexy) and it’s also very smart. There were a few things I still wanted, though. Overall, I found the third book in the Wicked Quills of London series to be eminently readable and very hot, and I highly recommend it.

Eva Leigh’s deliciously sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues as a Lady’s secret career writing erotic fiction is jeopardized by real-life romance . . .

In society circles she’s known as the Watching Wallflower—shy, quiet, and certainly never scandalous. Yet beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander. An especially tempting option when the clergyman in question is the handsome, intriguing Jeremy Cleland.

Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy. His mission must remain a secret, even from the new wife who stirs his deepest longings. Yet when the truth comes to light, Sarah and Jeremy’s newfound love will be tested. Will Sarah’s secret identity tear them apart or will the temptations of his wallflower wife prove too wicked to resist?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

Kobo Google Play iBooks

and

amazon

 

 

 

The Trouble with Honor

The Trouble with Honor by Julia London is $1.99! This is the first book in her Cabot Sisters historical romance series. The heroine makes a deal with the hero for him to seduce her stepbrother’s bride-to-be and of course, they fall in love while he’s supposed to be wooing someone else. Readers loved the heroine, but felt the last quarter of the book didn’t fit with the rest.

Desperate times call for daring measures as Honor Cabot, the eldest stepdaughter of the wealthy Earl of Beckington, awaits her family’s ruin. Upon the earl’s death she and her sisters stand to lose the luxury of their grand home – and their place on the pedestal of society – to their stepbrother and his social-climbing fiancée. Forced to act quickly, Honor makes a devil’s bargain with the only rogue in London who can seduce her stepbrother’s fiancée out of the Cabots’ lives for good.

An illegitimate son of a duke, George Easton was born of scandal and grows his fortune through dangerous risks. But now he and Honor are dabbling in a perilous dance of seduction that puts her reputation and his jaded heart on the line. And as unexpected desire threatens to change the rules of their secret game, the stakes may become too high even for a notorious gambler and a determined, free-spirited debutante to handle.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

Barnes & Noble Kobo Google Play iBooks

and

amazon

 

 

 

Guest Squee: The Works of Fred Vargas

Aug. 17th, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Guest Reviewer

Squee

An Uncertain Place

by Fred Vargas
October 25, 2011 · Penguin Books
Mystery/ThrillerUrban Fantasy

NB: We have a guest squee or rather an author squee for Fred Vargas’ mystery novels. It’s made a couple of us at SBTB HQ add the books to our TBR piles.

This squee comes from Lara. Here is Lara’s bio: “A burlesque-dancing feminist with a deep yearning for solitude and a library of my own. I also teach English to high school students and knit when the stress levels rise.”

Heartbreak requires a very particular kind of book. In my case, I needed a book that was compelling enough that I forgot I was living in a metaphorical ditch and hopeful enough for me to believe that just maybe life does work out. Fred Vargas provided me (and her millions of readers) with those exact books. But she has taken it a step further: her books have reminded me that it is human connection in all its forms that sustains us, not romantic relationships.

It was on the very day that Donald Trump became President-Elect, that I was dumped. This was the relationship that I wanted to last for the remainder of my years. Reader, I was devastated. None of my usual comfort reading (historical romances and crime) was providing even a modicum of comfort. During a library amble, I found Fred Vargas’ An Uncertain Place. It had a suitably eerie cover, a slightly different size page to what I was used to and a list of awards to its name. I would only work out later that this book is quite near the end of the series featuring Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg and is probably not the best place to start, but nevertheless it was the only book at the time that could hold my attention and remove me from my temporary metaphorical ditch.

I give you this backstory, not to rehash the misery of being dumped, but rather to emphasise just how captivating this series is. Despite heartbreak (which included a trip to the hospital for suspected ‘pulmonary embolism’ according to the ER doctor) and the sheer weight of misery, this book held me close. I could not look away. These novels are not romance novels, but, my God, are they Romantic. There is a spark, an originality to the characters, setting and writing that set these novels apart from all other contenders.

First, the author. Fred Vargas herself is French and these books are translated from French into 32 languages, one of which is English, thankfully. The books are set in Paris and there are two series which intersect with each other in a most pleasing way. There is the Adamsberg series. This series focuses on Commissaire Adamsberg, a big deal in the police department who does not adhere to a single social norm. Each book tells the story of a particular crime. This major plot line is resolved before the end of the book, but there are larger plot lines which weave in and out of all of the books.

The Three Evangelists
A | BN | K | iB
Then there is The Three Evangelists series. This series focuses on a group of unusual housemates. These novels each focus on solving a particular mystery or crime, but again, there are plot lines that weave in and out of the books. The two series do also interact in terms of plot and characters. I would recommend reading both series simultaneously and just reading all of them in the order they were published in French. (For reasons I don’t fully understand, the books were not published in chronological order in English.)

Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg is a police detective, and a relatively successful one despite what his detractors might think. He is scruffy in appearance and rather short. He is not presented as a romantic lead and yet that it is precisely what he is, for the characters and myself all fall in love with him in our own ways. Be it through Danglard’s devotion or Retancourt’s protectiveness, or my obsessive reading, we are all drawn to this man who holds himself distant, but never consciously so. He is just living his life. He walks for hours and doodles constantly. He battles to remember names. He hates reading and doesn’t consider himself above his team.

At this point, I need to make it very clear that while some of these characteristics might sound familiar, NONE of the usual detective tropes are evident in these novels. Not a single one. These are characters I met for the first time, and ones which in no way served as echoes of other characters from other novels, or indeed my own life. Adamsberg is a singularity both within his setting and the larger world of literary detectives.

As the books progress a team is built up around Adamsberg. Chief amongst them is second-in-command, Danglard. There is a clear love between these two men that never becomes twee. They’ve evolved to work as a unit, but not always harmoniously so. Adamsberg sees how he irritates Danglard, but Danglard remains devoted. Adamsberg will call Danglard first, always. Danglard himself is pear-shaped, and a single father of five children. He hides white wine in the cellar of the police station and (during the earlier books) would often be drunk before 3pm.

Added to these two are a team of people unlike any you’ve met. Normal rules are chucked out the window and it works. These two series of books serve as eloquent arguments for just allowing people to be instead of forcing them to follow social strictures. Parts of the story are farcical and difficult to believe, but you do anyway. There is a hint of magical realism to the books, but only ever a hint, it never takes centre stage.

This Night’s Foul Work
A | BN | K | iB
Importantly, there is also a spectacular office cat. Below are a few extracts about The Snowball from This Night’s Foul Work. For context, Retancourt is an Amazon of a woman and each of the team are in awe of her; she is infallible and all-powerful in the eyes of all those around her.

The team took it in turns to look after the big, soft, furry creature, scared of its own shadow, which needed to be accompanied when it went anywhere, whether to eat, drink or relieve itself. But it had its favourites. Retancourt was the leader by far in this respect. The Snowball spent most of its days close to her desk, snoozing on the warm lid of one of the photocopy machines. The machine in question could not be used without giving the cat a fatal shock.

Danglard considered himself lucky when the creature deigned to walk the twenty metres to its feeding bowl. One time in three, it would give up and roll on its back, obliging someone to take it to the food or to its litter tray in the drinks room.

[they are in the very middle of a murder case when this conversation takes place]

“Get back here quickly, lieutenant, the cat’s pining for you.”

“That’s because I went without saying goodbye. Put him on the line.”

Adamsberg knelt down and put the mobile close to the cat’s ear. Lying on its back, the cat listened while Retancourt explained that she was on her way back home.

Are you in love, yet? Well, are you?! Because heavens to Betsy, I definitely am.

The Three Evangelists series tells the story of three historians and an old detective who all share a ramshackle house. Mathias is a prehistory specialist, Mark studies the middle ages, and Lucien focuses on World War One. Mark’s uncle – a detective who was fired for allowing a murderer to escape – completes the quartet. These characters are revealed delicious clue by delicious clue and the discoveries are heart-filling. I will say, however, that if you don’t fall in love with Mathias, then you might have a heart of stone. The four men build a bond as deep as that between Danglard and Adamsberg and it is a beautiful thing to witness.

Read these books; they will separate you from the noise of life. Vargas’ books are an ode to the outcast and how those outcasts build bonds and support each other. Vargas’ subtlety means that this realisation will grow steadily in your heart and you’ll only realise the depths of love between characters when you’re seven books in and it is 2am and you’re crying because Adamsberg called Danglard first.

Regardless of the question, human connection is the answer. These books prove it.

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Posted by SB Sarah

In our first installment of Podcast and Episode recommendations, my playlist grew by giant leaps and piles of downloaded audio – thank you for all the suggestions!

I have a few more episodes to suggest this week, especially because I found these to be very thought provoking – sometimes enough to listen to multiple times.

So, let’s get started!

Lifehacker The UpgradeLifehacker’s podcast The Upgrade has been changing in subtle ways – there’s a new co-host, and there’s more discussion between the co-hosts before they get to the interview. I’m not sold on either combination, to be honest.

The interviews are the best part, however, and there are three episodes I really enjoyed that I’d like to tell you about.

First: Why Your Awkwardness Is Secretly a Social Asset, With Ty Tashiro was a brilliant interview. Tashiro is compassionate towards the emotional pain of social awkwardness, and also scientific in his approach and analysis, a combination I found very compelling.

Tashiro’s book, Awkward: The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), is now on my TBR, but if you only listen to the podcast, there are many kind and soothing pieces of advice, and techniques to examine your own perception of your awkwardness. I recommended this episode to about six people while I was listening to it.

Other interviews that are excellent from this series:

And one of my favorites that I’ve also listened to multiple times: Charles Duhigg on Self-Motivation, Mental Models, and Getting Stuff Done. There’s one moment where he talks about the desk of 50 years ago that I think about constantly.

You can find Lifehacker: The Upgrade on iTunes, Stitcher, and wherever you access your fine podcasts.

The Racist Sandwich podcast logoAmanda also has a suggestion:

I’d like to recommend the Racist Sandwich podcast, which discusses food and its connection to race. It’s really fascinating!

They have guests like food photographers, cookbook authors, etc.

Episode 20: Taking in New Orleans in the Age of Trump is where I started because of this LitHub article, “Talking in New Orleans in the Age of Trump,” written by Maurice Carlos Ruffin.

Racist Sandwich is available at iTunes, Stitcher, and in your friendly local podcast app.

Hey Sis podcast logoElyse really likes the podcast Hey, Sis, which features two sisters (you guessed it!) in a conversation-style podcast. From their description:

We’re Nicole and Nailah Blades, two sisters who are 12 years apart, living 3,000 miles apart, but who still manage to talk everyday about so many different things. We thought it’d be cool to add other folks, like you, into this ongoing conversation.

In particular, Elyse recommends episode 4, “Read ’em, Honey,”  wherein they interviewed Glory Edim of The Well Read Black Girl, a Brooklyn based book club.

You can find Hey Sis on Stitcher, iTunes, and your podcast app-land.

Slate Culture GabfestSlate’s Culture Gabfest podcast has a lot of different and interesting episodes, but my favorites are the Hit Parade episodes, which are nerdy deep dives into popular music.

First: Hit Parade: The Imperial Elton and George Edition looks at the “imperial period” of Elton John and George Michael – the period at which they were so popular their music was an instant hit, regardless of what it was. The episode also looks at their friendship, and I got teary listening to it at the end – and built the mother of all playlists from some of the songs sampled.

Then, Hit Parade: The Charity Megasingle Edition:

In the mid-1980s, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are the World” gathered dozens of the biggest stars in music to put on a show for a good cause. The two songs spawned imitators, but today, the charity megasingle is a relic of pop music’s past, except around the holidays. This month, we examine how good intentions, pique, excess, and vanity led to the rise and fall of the do-gooder celebrity pop song.

If you’re a little like me, the prospect of a nerdy behind-the-scenes exploration of charity mega-singles sends a thrill right to your eardrums. Fear not, Canada, for Northern Lights is also mentioned – you’re not left out!

You can find Slate’s Culture Gabfest on iTunes, Stitcher, and all the nifty places you grab your podcasts.

(And though I’m pretty sure you know, I want to make sure to note that we also have a podcast, Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, and you can find all the details here at the site, or at iTunes or on Stitcher.)

So what episodes of what shows have rocked your brain lately? Anything you want to tell us about?

 

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