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Hot in Hellcat Canyon

by Julie Anne Long
May 31, 2016 · Avon
RomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Crystal Anne with an E. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.

The summary:

A broken truck, a broken career, and a breakup heard around the world land superstar John Tennessee McCord in Hellcat Canyon. Legend has it that hearts come in two colors there: gold or black. And that you can find whatever you’re looking for, whether it’s love . . . or trouble. JT may have found both in waitress Britt Langley.

His looks might cause whiplash and weak knees, but Britt sees past JT’s rough edge and sexy drawl to a person a lot like her: in need of the kind of comfort best given hot and quick, with clothes off and the lights out.

Her wit is sharp but her eyes and heart—not to mention the rest of her—are soft, and JT is falling hard. But Britt has a secret as dark as the hills, and JT’s past is poised to invade their present. It’s up to the people of Hellcat Canyon to help make sure their future includes a happily ever after.

Here is Crystal Anne with an E's review:

First, let us all enjoy the Post-It notes that I jotted down thoughts on. It was a library book, so no notes in the margins.

I’m not getting hunted down for a librarian for nobody.

Post-Its with a bunch of notes

So I am familiar with the fact that this website loves them some Julie Anne Long, and their effusive love for her has actually caused me to one-click at least two Pennyroyal Green books.

That doesn’t mean I have actually read them yet. #failureasafunctionaladult

That familiarity means that I am aware that she has a reputation for writing really good small town. However, when the Pennyroyal Green series and its attendant corsetry came to an end, she went for contemporaries. Still with the small town, though. What I came to find out is that yes, she does good small town.

So let’s meet our lucky couple, shall we? First we have Britt Langley, a pretty blonde that both waitresses at the local watering hole and works in real estate. She’s very nice, has justifiable pride in a well-developed vocabulary, and has what is literally a pathological impulse to rescue neglected plants. Trigger warning: she also has a history of abuse that has left her both gun-shy in the extreme and she is just now starting to let herself get back into things that she loved and made her happy.

Then we have John Tennessee McCord, who goes by J.T., because that is one hell of a moniker. He is Southern, an actor who is currently on a bit of a career downswing, but he can see a possible upswing in the offing. He’s often funny, absently flirtatious (it’s pretty much second nature to him), got a black belt in his free time (like you do), says some breathtakingly stupid things during the course of the book, and has a grey streak in his hair, because someone thought of me specifically and wanted me to be happy (#silver fox #cometoButthead).

Basically, I spent the whole book picturing Timothy Olyphant’s absurdly handsome face. THANK YOU.

Gif of Timothy Olyphant in a henley shirt, jeans, and a Stetson, with the text Shitload of Swagger

There was nothing particularly new about the structure of the story. Dude walks into bar, dude meets hot lady, they both notice that the other is hot, at least one of them is reluctant to bone, they both decide that boning without a commitment is a thing that they will do, they have the best sexytimes ever, sketchy pasts invade their present, they both realize they caught feelings, someone makes a big gesture, and then declarations of love occur. Seriously, this particular sketch has been A LOT of books. That said, this book makes it work, and while not particularly fresh, it has a lot of things going for it that make it a comforting and engaging read.

Timothy Olyphant saying, Sounds like a love story

First, we have the cast of characters that always comes with the small town. We’ve got a gun-toting granny, a big dumb dude, the ladies who run the local hair place and dress shoppe, and the staff of the watering hole consists of a forever-married couple and the requisite taciturn and temperamental cook that has mad burger skills. Oh, and there’s Sequel Bait. That said, it was pretty clear that all of those characters had rich internal lives (that forever-married couple are into some gentle role-playing, and the big dumb dude makes a conscious choice to not remain dumb), and their interest and delight in the love story that was unfolding in front of them was cute. I also enjoyed some of the Hollywood types that descended onto the town, and by that I mean I liked Franco. He made for an interesting foil in the fact that even though he and J.T. are hyper-competitive, it is clear that most of the negativity is on J.T.’s side.

Then we had the conflict. Most of it is interpersonal and driven by misunderstandings on both sides. Which is fine, I don’t always need a knife-wielding maniac to drive conflict. I had several “Use your freaking words!!” moments. Both characters had had experiences that caused them to not be particularly skilled at relationship building. The book probably would have moved a bit faster had at least one of them just tried to be somewhat straightforward. They both also had the capacity to be astoundingly unreasonable (people, amirite?).

Timothy Olyphant in a Stetson and a busted lip saying, Could you be any more vague

I did like them as a couple, though. When not being close-mouthed to a fault, they both genuinely liked each other and tried to do nice things for the other. One of my favorite parts was when they were both hanging out and decided to trade e-readers so they could read what the other had. I also liked that this couple was a bit older than what one often finds. J.T. is forty, and Britt thirty-two. These were already people that had had lives, and experienced both success and failure. It might be my age (I’m 38), but I’m here for a lived-in character (also, get off my lawn).

There were a few things where, well, I had concerns. At least the first two love scenes took place in weirdly unhygienic locales (I’m not kidding, it is exactly what my Post-It note said). Second, the ex-girlfriend is villainous to the point of ridiculousness. Not a lot of complexity, almost no humor. Also, I’m sorry, I refuse to believe that a successful, skilled actress has never heard of the Greek myth of Persephone, nor do I believe that a guy that clearly enjoys reading and learning would have tolerated her for very long.

In all, I enjoyed the book, and will probably seek out more of Long’s work. As I said, I can live with the fact that there was a formula when the writing of the formula is good. Chocolate cake comes from a formula, too, and I am always here for a good piece of cake. Also, any book that makes me picture Timothy Olyphant for 374 pages is going to engender a general fondness.

Nice solid B+

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Posted by Amanda

The Soldier’s Scoundrel

The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian is $1.99! This is a gay historical romance with class differences, which readers seemed to really love in terms of the pairing. However, other reader mention having some problems with the book’s pacing. It has a 4-star rating on Goodreads. You can also grab The Lawrence Browne Affair for $1.99!

A scoundrel who lives in the shadows

Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London’s slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.

A soldier untarnished by vice

After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman’s life-one that doesn’t include sparring with a ne’er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is only matched by Jack’s pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they’re together.

Two men only meant for each other

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A Bride in the Bargain

A Bride in the Bargain by Deeanne Gist is 79c at Amazon and 99c at other vendors! Gist is a bit of an auto-buy author for some. This is an American historical and Inspirational romance, though there does seem to be some debate on shelving it as “Inspirational” on Goodreads. Readers say that though what little and tame sexual content is in the book, there is plenty of sexual tension. It has a 4.1-star rating on Goodreads.

In 1860s Seattle, a man with a wife could secure himself 640 acres of timberland. But because of his wife’s untimely death, Joe Denton finds himself about to lose half of his claim. Still in mourning, his best solution is to buy one of those Mercer girls arriving from the East. A woman he’ll marry in name but keep around mostly as a cook.

Anna Ivey’s journey west with Asa Mercer’s girls is an escape from the griefs of her past. She’s not supposed to be a bride, though, just a cook for the girls. But when they land, she’s handed to Joe Denton and the two find themselves in a knotty situation. She refuses to wed him and he’s about to lose his land. With only a few months left, can Joe convince this provoking–but beguiling–easterner to be his bride?

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The Highland Duke

The Highland Duke by Amy Jarecki is $1.99! This is the first book in the Lords of the Highlands series, and features some forced proximity and the heroine who heals the hero. Readers loved the blend of action and romance, though some found the plot a little unbelievable. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads.

She’ll put her life on the line for him . . .

When Akira Ayres finds the brawny Scot with a musket ball in his thigh, the healer has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to save his life. Even if it means fleeing with him across the Highlands to tend to his wounds while English redcoats are closing in. Though Akira is as fierce and brave as any of her clansmen, even she’s intimidated by the fearsome, brutally handsome Highlander who refuses to reveal his name.

Yet she can never learn his true identity.

Geordie knows if Akira ever discovers he’s the Duke of Gordon, both her life and his will be forfeit in a heartbeat. The only way to keep the lass safe is to ensure she’s by his side day and night. But the longer he’s with her, the harder it becomes to think of letting her go. Despite all their differences, despite the danger-he will face death itself to make her his . . .

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Playing By Her Rules

Playing By Her Rules by Amy Andrews is 99c! This is a sports contemporary romance with a rugby-playing hero and second chance romance. Be warned, the book is a little on the short side, but 99c isn’t a bad price to give it a shot. But many loved the slow burn of the second chance romance between the hero and heroine. This is part of a huge Entangled sale with books priced at 99c!

In this grudge match, the first to score…

When style columnist Matilda Kent accidentally lets slip that she was once involved with the captain of the Sydney Smoke rugby team, she suddenly finds herself elevated to the position she’s always wanted – feature writer. The catch? She’s stuck doing a six-part series on her ex. Still, there’s no way she can turn down a promotion…or the chance to dish the dirt on the guy who so callously broke her heart.

…could win it all!

Tanner Stone wants to be involved in a feature series about as much as he wants to snap an Achilles. But the thought of seeing Tilly again is a bonus—and has him more worked up than he wants to admit. Only he’s not prepared for how different she is – all cool and professional. His Tilly is still in there, though…and he still wants her, now more than ever. All he has to do is charm her into giving him a rematch. And this time, winner takes all!

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Posted by Amanda

It’s that time again! Cover Snark time! This is where we gaze upon book covers that don’t seem quite right. Let’s have at it, shall we?

Fall Into Darkness by Valerie Twombly. The hero has angel wings, but where the wings meet his back, it's flesh colored and very much looks like the start of another arm.

From Karen: Well, I’m not sure this will seem icky to everybody or just me, but here’s another possible entry for Cover Snark. Anyway, what bothers me is the positioning of his wing. I know that it’s gotta be connected somewhere but where the cover illustrator put it is kind of creepy to me. Maybe if it wasn’t partially skin before becoming feathered, but it just looks like a bad deformity. Actually, it looks like a skinny arm coming off his shoulder. So, ewww.

The other issue, of course, is whether the positioning would actually allow him to fly. Doesn’t seem so to me. Maybe someone with aerodynamics experience will know that.

Amanda: His face says it all.

Sarah: I feel sad for his chiropractor.

Redheadedgirl: That’s not…why.


Elyse: That looks like something you should have biopsied.

Sarah: A little late now.

Elyse: Can you imagine that doctor’s day? “Good morning Mr. Smith. I see you’re here about–HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!”

Redheadedgirl: I mean….okay…. I guess in terms of wing position on birds, and chordates that actually fly…. maybe? but you’re not taking into account the surrounding muscular development that would be required for those things to work

Also since humanoids don’t have keelbones and the chest shape that birds have evolved and…. am I overthinking this?

Elyse: Yes.

Redheadedgirl: I just feel like those wing supporting a body weight from the shoulders isn’t going to work.

Sarah: I’ve seen a ton of intricate drawings of how wings would fit and work on humans, and how existing muscles would have adapted or grown. This wasn’t one of the designs.

Redheadedgirl: Also how did he get that tank top on?

Doe she have a valet to sew him into his muscle tanks every morning?

Elyse: How does he go to the bathroom? Where do the wings go?

Redheadedgirl: Wheelchair accessible stall, I guess.

Sarah: Imagine what his car must look like. Forget moving the seat back. He has to be in the trunk.

Maybe he can steer with his wings?

Redheadedgirl: Sarah, he doesn’t need a car. He can fly.

Sarah: Even he has to obey no fly zones, righ?

Right? Like, if he lives in a metro area with a bunch of airports, he’d have to drive or take the train.

Redheadedgirl: I don’t think the FAA had regs on angels.

Sarah: Imagine that guy on a bus. That’s a whole other realm of manspreading right there.

I bet they do. I mean, Sandra Hill has Vampire Viking Angel Navy SEALs. you’d think if there were angel SEALs the FAA would have to be at least aware.

Concealed by M.M. Koenig. The bottom half of the cover is a woman's face, but displayed horizontally. The top half is a shirtless, heavily tattooed man, who kind of looks like the lead singer of Maroon Five.

Amanda: The face placement is jarring.

Sarah: I’m curious what ink she’s concealing.

Interlude by Kay Halliday. The cover is supposed to be the concert scene, but the audience is faceless and blurry, except for one woman. She's missing her lower half as she looks up at what I assume is the hero. He's wearing a white t-shirt and has a noticeable tribal tattoo. There is no stage. He's just sort of hovering.

Elyse: She has no legs

Art dept: I feel like we forgot something here… Nah. I bet it’s fine

Carrie: I loathe both of them on sight.

Amanda: Never trust a dude with a tribal tattoo.

Sarah: I keep thinking the curl next to the title is toilet paper. She has to run and get more because he used the last of the roll and rock stars don’t replace the paper roll, no, ma’am.

Only a Viscount Will Do by Tamara Gill. The man is embracing the woman, but is bending her back over his arm at a startling angle. She's about to flash everyone a bit of nipple. His pants are also flesh-toned, so a quick look makes it seem like he's totally pantless.

Elyse: Is he trying to steal her heart by biting through her ribcage to get at it?

Amanda: I feel like with the way her dress is sitting, we should have seen some nip by now.

Sarah: Amanda, the thumbnail image! It’s the best part of this cover.

Amanda: Feast yer eyes!

A smaller version of Only a Viscount Will Do cover and yep, the hero totally looks like he's missing his pants.

Amanda: It’s like one of those Magic Eye posters.

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Posted by Amanda

Today, we have an exclusive cover reveal of Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). Trust us, you’re going to want to see this cover.

This book is “equal parts love story, historical fiction, and love letter to Cuba.” Though we do have some bad news: it doesn’t come out until February 2018. WOE!

Better get your library holds and preorders in now!

Here’s the official book description:

A young woman travels to Havana to honor her late grandmother’s wishes–and discovers her family’s greatest secret, hidden since the Cuban revolution. A mesmerizing novel about two generations of Cuban-American women.

In 2017, freelance writer Marisol Ferrera travels to Cuba to honor her late grandmother’s wishes to return her ashes to her homeland. There Marisol recovers an unexpected piece of her family’s history–a box buried in the backyard of her family’s former mansion in Havana. Hidden for decades, it unearths her grandmother’s greatest secret.

In 1958, Elisa Perez, the daughter of one of the wealthiest sugar barons in Cuba, meets a young lawyer at a party in Havana. Their attraction is instant, their chemistry undeniable, but they’re caught on opposite sides of a growing political movement. Unable to deny their love, they begin a clandestine affair while all around them Cuba’s fractures cut deeper and deeper, violence spilling throughout the country.

Now, as Marisol grapples with her own Cuban identity, she must navigate a perilous political climate and a growing attraction to a man with secrets of his own. And as more family history comes to light, the past threatens to collide with the present, and Marisol will discover the true meaning of courage.

Now are you ready for the cover?

Are you sure?

Really, really sure?

Cover Reveal

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton cover. A woman in a gorgeous peach-colored dress, sitting on a turquoise couch. She's wearing dark lipstick and there's a beach landscape of Cuba.

What do you think? Gorgeous, right?

You might recognize Chanel Cleeton’s name from her Capitol Confessions series, or the Wild Aces romances. This book is a little different, and a little personal, too: according to her bio, she “grew up on stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution.”

Are you excited for Next Year in Havana? Bummed about the wait time? Let us know your thoughts on the cover in the comments!

Bayou Shadow Hunter by Debbie Herbert

Jun. 25th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Bayou Shadow Hunter

by Debbie Herbert
March 1, 2016 · Harlequin Nocturne
RomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Ms G. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:


Bent on revenge, Native American Shadow Hunter Tombi Silver could turn to only one woman, the “witch” Annie Matthews, for help. Her ability to hear auras had allowed her to discover Tombi’s friend mystically trapped by forces that could destroy them all. The accompanying message of a traitor in their midst meant Tombi could trust no one. Dare he bring Annie along on his quest to fight shadow spirits? Putting his faith in someone outside his tribe, especially one who pulled at his tightly controlled desires, could prove just as dangerous as his mission…

Here is Ms. G's review:

I haven’t read a paranormal romance in a long-ass time. I binged and then got sick of vampires and werewolves. However, whilst scrolling through the open options on the RITA spreadsheet, I came across a book called Bayou Shadow Hunter. Damn if that shit didn’t sound either fucking awesome or batshit crazy. Since it is a paranormal without bizarre creatures, I decided to give it a shot, and I ended up enjoying myself quite a bit.

Annie Mathews is a Hoodoo witch with magical auditory powers that not only allow her to hear like a roided-up bat, but also listen to other people’s auras in the form of music. Annie fucking hates her gift because all the constant auditory input makes it nigh impossible for her to person IRL. All she wants is for her Grandma Tia, the Hoodoo Queen of Alabama, to help her get rid of it. Annie has been coming to stay with Tia in Bayou La Syrnia every summer since she was a kid, but Tia can’t/won’t help Annie ditch her gift.

One night, while trying to fall asleep Annie notices a glowing green orb floating outside her window, and she decides to Nancy Drew it. Turns out the orb is a will-o’-the-wisp and it leads her into the Bayou. Wisps are trapped spirits of the dead, and this particular one is named Bo. He can only talk to Annie because of her gift. He wants Annie to tell his BFF, Tombi Silver, that there is a traitor in Tombi’s inner circle and Tombi shouldn’t trust anyone.

Of course as soon as Bo finishes delivering his cryptic message, who should step out of the woods but Tombi! Tombi is a carpenter by day and the leader of a group of Choctaw warriors who run around the Bayou freeing trapped spirits and fighting evil by night. He has pretty full plate.

The second these two clap eyes on each other, they catch a raging case of insta-lust. They are also kind of suspicious of each other because, you know, the whole total strangers in the dark thing. After they spend a few minutes feeling each other out (verbally) Annie delivers the message from Bo. She also explains her gift to Tombi.

Though Tombi is intrigued by Annie’s gift, he’s also suspicious as fuck. See, besides releasing the souls trapped inside wisps, he and his warriors are also looking for a way to stop the evil spirit, Nalusa, that their ancestors trapped in the Bayou. Hurricane Katrina not only took Tombi’s parents and his home, but it also fucked shit up so bad that Nalusa started gaining power and running amok. Tombi and his warriors are desperate to keep Nalusa confined to the Bayou because not only can this son-of-a-bitch shapeshift into a creepy-ass snake, and other horrible things, but he can also infect the minds of the living and bend them to his will and drive them to kill themselves. So when Annie tells Tombi that one of his most trusted friends is a traitor, he half thinks that she is under the control of Nalusa and spends a most of the rest of the book trying to decide whether he can actually trust her.

Annie is kind of fascinated by Tombi because not only is he hot AF, but she cannot hear his aura. Yep. It’s reverse Twilight. Turns out that being a shadow hunter means that you have a very particular set of skills, such as night vision and the ability to control how much energy you release into the world.

Despite being wary of Annie and her message, Tombi still feels the need to look into this whole traitor kerfuffle. He wants Annie to come and creep on the auras of his friends. At first Annie is all “Hell no. I want none of your evil snake monsters.” However, Tombi tells her he can teach her to control her energy field which might help her learn to turn off her gift. The prospect of being rid of her super hearing is too good, so Annie agrees.

This book has A LOT of plot, so for the sake of brevity I’m just going to say that Tombi’s plan doesn’t work out so well, straight up because of his trust issues and rather magnificent dumbfuckery, and all the shit hits all the fans.

Show Spoiler
Annie totes identifies the traitor (his other bestie) but Tombi doesn’t want to believe it and disregards her. Basically, Tombi is a fuckwad who should have listened to the outside consultant that he brought in because doing so would have solved almost all of the problems that arise in the rest of the story, but hey, that would have been a much shorter and less angsty book.

They spend the rest of the book hunting wisps, trying to figure out how to fight Nalusa and, attempting to suss out the traitor. Of course, all this intrigue and danger is just bursting with sexual tension and they end up boning like bunnies. And in the grand tradition of the majority of romance novels that I’ve read, Annie falls hard and knows it while Tombi has trust issues and manfeels he doesn’t quite know what to do with. Besides, he has a sacred duty to fight evil and love makes you weak so…. Anyways, it all works out OK. Evil is smushed back into a tree, Annie owns her power, Tombi figures out his manfeels, and love and weddings and shit.

I really enjoyed Bayou Shadow Hunter. There were a lot of things that I liked; however, there were also a lot of things that kind of annoyed me and took me out of the story. Granted I am a nitpicky motherfucker, so the things that bothered me might not phase other readers at all. I am willing to admit I tend to overthink. Especially about books that are set during my lifetime. I ended up having a lot of feels, so I figured the best way to break this down was to make a list (I am a BIG fan of lists) of what worked for me and what didn’t.

Things That Totally Worked for Me

– The plot is crazy interesting and compelling. There is a lot of it, but it is paced pretty well. Not too bogged down in detail or slower moments, and not too rushed or so action packed that there was no room for character development. Now it wasn’t quite I-can’t-put-this-book-down-or-I-might-actually-go-crazy good, but it was damn!-I-am-so-curious-to-see-what-happens-next good.

– I loved the setting. Debbie Herbert does a good job at giving the reader a really concrete sense of place. Her descriptions of all of the natural elements of the Bayou are lush and detailed without going complete Anne of Green Gables with the adjectives. As someone who has spent the grand total of a whole week in NOLA, I found the constant mention of mosquitos and being bitten by mosquitos to be very authentic. Though, no one ever mentions bug spray which I found disquieting.

– The main character’s total acceptance of each other’s cultures. Now, I don’t know much of anything about Hoodoo or Choctaw religious practices, but in the book there is a decent amount of overlap between the two. However, neither Annie nor Tombi ever prioritized their rituals or practices above the other’s. In fact, they were usually willing to try both or blend the two together figuring the more firepower they had in the fight against evil the better. In this era of what seems like constant religious conflict and judging, it was really nice to have two supportive people who were like “Yeah, your thing is totally cool. You do you.”

– Annie’s super hearing is really interesting. I’ve never come across paranormal auditory powers before, so for me this was a cool and unique gift. I could also see how it could be a total pain in the ass and why she was so desperate to get rid of it. As a reader I found the constant whining she had at the beginning of the book to be a little grating, but if I’m being honest with myself, if I were in her shoes I would probably be waaaay more of a sad sack.

Things That Kinda Worked for Me, but I Wish Were Better

– The world building in the supernatural realm is pretty good and vivid. There are some basic rules and people follow them. I am persnickety however, and just wanted a little more explanation. For an example of extreme persnicketiness, the shadow hunters free wisps by hitting them in the center with stones. Does it have to be stones or could any projectile work? I am sure that most people won’t care, but rocks were specifically mentioned enough that it got me wondering. Also, Grandma Tia is kind of an all knowing badass. She can suck demon-snake poison out of people and come out the other side alive. She also seems to know a whole lot about Tombi’s secret fight against Nalusa and about how and he and Annie they are destined for one another. How does she know this? Do the spirits tell her? Does she have visions? Grandma’s intuition? This inquiring mind needs to know! I mean all the stuff with Grandma Tia was cool and very convenient plotwise, but it all kind of felt Hoodoo hand-waved, which stuck out because Herbert took time to explain the mechanics of a lot of the Hoodoo rituals.

– I want more backstory on Annie. We learn that Annie is known as “Crazy Annie” in her home town up in Georgia. How did the whole town find out about her gift? Did she ever tell other people? We are left to assume that as a kid hearing shit all the time meant she acted weird, but I am hella nosey and wanted more info. Plus, we are told that Annie’s mom is awful and does not do well with Annie and her magic powers, but it is just talked about and never shown. The rejection from her town and her mom is a huge part of Annie’s character make-up and explains why she is such a shrinking violet at the beginning of the book, and I would have liked a little more explanation into her past.

Also, Tombi’s cultural heritage is a huge part of who he is. Annie is Cajun, Native-American and Caucasian, but her heritage(s) (beyond Hoodoo which in my understanding is more religion than heritage but I could be mistaken) is barely mentioned. I cannot tell if this an intentional choice to show that her past doesn’t mean anything to her, or if it was just lost in all of the paranormal stuff and plot, or whatever, but it kind of bothered me.

– I am very meh on both of the main characters. Their flaws and motivations make sense given their what we know of their backstories. Tombi is fighting an evil demon that controls people, so his trust issues, while rather prolonged, are not unfounded. Annie has had very little support and can’t do much of anything because she is constantly trying to filter out noise, so her desire for quick fixes for her gift and tendency to just bounce when the going gets tough, while a bit grating, make sense. Usually (I’m looking at you Tombi) neither one was Too Stupid To Live, which is nice. They were both just kind of broody and angsty a lot, which used to thrill me when I was a teen, but I now I like it when my heroes have their emotional shit together a little bit better. I was totally fine hanging out with both of these people for a whole book, but I just didn’t love either of them.

Things That Annoyed The Ever Lovin’ Dickens Out of Me

– PROTECTION!!!!!!! This is one of my biggest pet peeves: if you are going to set your novel in modernish times (I have no idea what year this is supposed to be taking place. Cell phones are used a lot, but no one even mentions the internet so . . .?) then your grown-ass characters should not be having unprotected sex! Protection and/or birth control is never even mentioned. No condoms. No “I’m on the pill.” No “Don’t worry baby I will pull out.” which is bullshit, but still would at least show they are aware of basic biology. NOTHING!! They just keep going at it like irresponsible twits.

I find this kind of hard to believe since when they started going to pound town Tombi was actively avoiding emotional entanglements. You know what’s emotionally entangling Tombi? A baby. And syphilis. Also, you know that Annie, working with the Hoodoo Queen of Alabama since she was knee high, has seen women showing up to Grandma Tia’s for various reproductive reasons. Girlfriend should know better. Especially because they both have been sexually active before. Unless one of a shadow hunter’s particular skills is immunity to STIs, protection should have part of the sexy times. There is no reason modern characters to be sexually irresponsible. It actually pops me out of the narrative and makes the sex scenes way less sexy because you know what is not hot? Genital warts.

– The secondary characters are barely flushed out. Tombi’s twin Tallulah gets an okay amount of page time and motivation for her actions (she is also the heroine of the sequel) but all the other warriors are barely mentioned. Like we get their names and some jobs and maybe an adjective but other than being potential traitors, they are pretty much just filler.

Show Spoiler
Even when we do find out who the traitor is, it has no emotional impact at whatsoever because we have no idea who this person is or why they go dark. It’s just like, “Surprise bitches! I’m a jackass! And now I’m going to fuck all of y’all over and be an evil rapey dick.”

– Probably not a big deal for most readers, but after I put the book down and thought about it for a minute this drove me crazy. The shadow hunters spend a week camping in the woods every month. The week after the full moon is the time when the supernatural is extra frisky, so that’s when they hunt. However, these guys have jobs. One dude in the inner circle is the local sheriff. Tombi’s sister works at a museum. How do they disappear into the woods for a week once a month and still hold down their jobs? Especially the sheriff. Tombi is self-employed, so he can peace out for twelve weeks out of the year I guess. It’s never made clear how many shadow hunters there are, only that not everyone in the tribe can be one. Overall, it’s not a huge thing, but I am detail oriented and I want to know how they manage to incorporate shadow hunting into their daily lives. Do they rotate shifts? Is there a schedule!?! An age limit? What are the mechanics of fighting evil in today’s fast paced world?

I think I would give this book a B-. Even though there were quite a few things that got my dander up I was very engaged and interested in what was happening throughout the story. Also, I was being a bit more critical than usual since I’m reviewing this book. If I was reading this book just for funsies I probably wouldn’t have been as critical. So if you just want a fun fast read, if you are into paranormals that are not vampires and werewolves, and enjoy books with a firm sense of place I think this could be an enjoyable book.

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Posted by Amanda


Prudence by Gail Carriger is $2.99! This is part of 3 pages of Kindle Daily Deals, which also includes books like Bossypants and Misty Copeland’s memoir. This book is the first book in her Custard Protocol series and Carrie gave it a B-:

The best and worst thing I could say about this series is that it’s very much like Carriger’s other series. It’s the worst thing in that there’s not a lot new in here except that it seems to be a series that gets us out of alternate universe England and into the rest of Empire. It’s the best thing because honestly Carriger’s world and style are just pure yummy candy. If you give me a five pound bag of M&M’s, it’s not like I’m going to get to the bottom and say, “Gosh darn it, this is still M&M’s!”


When Prudence Alessandra Maccon Akeldama (Rue to her friends) is given an unexpected dirigible, she does what any sensible female would under similar circumstances — names it the Spotted Custard and floats to India in pursuit of the perfect cup of tea. But India has more than just tea on offer. Rue stumbles upon a plot involving local dissidents, a kidnapped brigadier’s wife, and some awfully familiar Scottish werewolves. Faced with a dire crisis and an embarrassing lack of bloomers, what else is a young lady of good breeding to do but turn metanatural and find out everyone’s secrets, even thousand-year-old fuzzy ones?

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The Duke and the Domina

The Duke and the Domina by Jenn LeBlanc is 99c at Amazon! It’s possible this deal is on its way out, so snag it while you can. It’s also filled with lots of catnip: time travel, a Dominatrix heroine, a marriage of convenience, and for those playing Ripped Bodice Bingo, it has a broke hero! This is the third book in the Lords of Time series, and I think it can be read as a standalone, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

He’s poor. She’s rich.
He’s a sub. She’s a switch.
It’s not love.
It’s a marriage of Kink-venience. 

Grayson Danforth, Duke of Warrick, was banished from England by his father when his propensity for pain was discovered. The only reason he returned was because his father and two older brothers were killed, requiring him to take up the title. His honor has him bound to the contracts meant for his brother—including a marriage—but first he has to meet his bride.

Lulu—a professional dominatrix—was in a scene with a client when she tripped and fell, waking up in a strange house in a strange world with no idea what to think. She’s either part of an elaborate scene for another client or it’s all just a dream. But the man she woke up to…he makes her want to live in the dream forever. When she’s given the choice to run and hide or complete the contract for marriage to Warrick, she chooses the latter. She can’t help the way she’s drawn to this beautiful, powerful, man and the secrets she can see he’s hiding beneath his cross façade.

Warrick knows Lulu’s secret—even if she doesn’t believe it—and he knows that marrying her will be the best way to keep her safe. But Lulu stirs something deep inside that he’s worked for years to hide. When Lulu realizes his masochistic tendencies it’s up to her to force him to let down his domineering guard and submit. He needs to learn that what he wants, what he yearns for is not only beautiful but something she can give him but getting him to submit is a task that won’t come easily to either of them.

As they begin their dance of husband and wife can two people who’ve never known trust or love learn to submit to each other? 

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Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff is $1.99! This book has been recommended by a couple readers in the comments around the site. It’s about a couple who breaks up before the planet is destroyed. The entire book is told, epistolary-style, through texts, emails, and other documents. Some people found the epistolary format rather annoying, while others highly recommend it on audiobook. Have you read it?

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do.

This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

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Shadow Magic

Shadow Magic by Patricia C. Wrede is $1.99! This is a fantasy novel first published in the early 80s and is the first book in the Lyra series. Some found the first installment a littler boring, but say that the series gets better with each book. For those who have read it, what do you think?

Alethia listens as her father Braca questions heir Har and friend Maurin, back from Lyra borders where other caravans have disappeared. Her mother Isme has a bad feeling. The night of her twentieth birthday party, Alethia is kidnapped by enemy Lithmern, led by a man with no face, and a body of black smoke.

But the woods are protected by Wyrd, small furry archers, and Ward-Keeper mage Jordet, of the tall silver-haired Shee. Soon the Noble House of Brenn must decide whether to ally with mythical races, including the sea-dwelling Neira. While the other eight Noble Houses squabble, the evil Shadow Men rise, and seek the five lost treasures of Alkyra that used to unite the four races.

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Bayou Shadow Hunter by Debbie Herbert

Jun. 25th, 2017 02:00 pm
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Bayou Shadow Hunter

by Debbie Herbert
March 1, 2016 · Harlequin Nocturne

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Dominika. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Paranormal Romance category.

The summary:


Bent on revenge, Native American Shadow Hunter Tombi Silver could turn to only one woman, the “witch” Annie Matthews, for help. Her ability to hear auras had allowed her to discover Tombi’s friend mystically trapped by forces that could destroy them all. The accompanying message of a traitor in their midst meant Tombi could trust no one. Dare he bring Annie along on his quest to fight shadow spirits? Putting his faith in someone outside his tribe, especially one who pulled at his tightly controlled desires, could prove just as dangerous as his mission…

Here is Dominika's review:

I was really hoping to like this book. I wanted to write a review that was filled with lots of squee and happy rainbow unicorn gifs because that would have been fun to write. In retrospect, I was being overly optimistic since I am not typically a paranormal romance reader and rarely feel such adoration for the subgenre. This book did not leave me with warm and fuzzy feelings after the HEA. I found the entire journey to the HEA underwhelming. This lackluster reading experience is partly due to my extreme pickiness as a reader. There are specific tropes and character dynamics that I find satisfying in my romance novels, and this book featured none of those. In fact, it was full of a lot of my personal turn-offs.

Our heroine is Annie, a young woman with the special ability to hear other people’s auras. I think she has some kind of super hearing in general since it’s mentioned at some point that she can hear the ocean’s tides from far away. She is visiting her Grandma Tia in the South Alabama town of Bayou LaSiryna. Annie is desperate to be rid of her extrasensory ability, and she hopes her grandmother’s hoodoo powers might help her with that. I sympathize with Annie’s frustration. It’s annoying enough to get a random song stuck in your head; I can’t imagine how I’d deal with the din of every single person’s unique musical aura along with the magnified sound of every cricket and gust of wind. The hero is Tombi, a local Choctaw Indian and a supernaturally gifted hunter of evil spirits. He enlists Annie’s help to fight the local shadow spirits of the bayou in exchange for helping her learn how to control her magically magnified hearing. It’s an ok enough premise and I went into the book ready to suspend a certain amount of disbelief. The execution of this premise, however, did not work for me.

I knew I was in trouble on page one of chapter one after reading this sentence: “The forest beckoned with its thick canopy of trees draped in long tendrils of Spanish moss that fluttered in the sea breeze with a silver shimmer like a living veil of secrecy.” When I eventually get to the sex scenes, genitals are referred to as “his manhood,” stirring “loins,” and her “womanly core.” Perhaps these phrases make you want to pick up this book. Maybe that is a writing style that works for you as a reader. If you enjoy phrases like “weeping whistles of warring hope and despair,” this might be the paranormal romance for you. This writing style fell flat with me. I tend to prefer brisk action and sharp, witty dialogue. I’m not as big a fan of borderline florid descriptions of nature.

I won’t bother going into too much detail about the plot surrounding the supernatural big bad because I found that predictable and tame. The key to defeating the main villain (a shape shifting, misery loving snake beast named Nalusa) involves some kind of magical flute and Annie’s newfound hoodoo powers and the power of love or something and I just couldn’t bring myself to care because what the hell was I thinking when I picked a paranormal romance to review. When reading about the shadow hunters chasing down wicked wisps in the bayou, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the descriptions of people creeping through the woods at night with slingshots. I imagined the hunters throwing rocks at swamp gas and communicating with hand signals in the dark and felt more amused than enchanted by some of the supernatural elements.

Another thing that did not work for me was the reliance on inner monologue as exposition (more telling than showing). I got through the book with a combination of reading and listening to a chunk of it on audio book. The inner monologue felt particularly awkward when listening to the supernatural action scenes. When our main couple first runs into Nalusa, I was listening to Tombi’s inner monologue about Annie’s trustworthiness/Nalusa’s rise to power after Hurricane Katrina and thinking “just attack the stupid snake beast already.”

I never really enjoyed this book because I kept finding things to be persnickety about. Heroine overreacts to the hero telling her to sit down and claims that she doesn’t get ordered around like a dog. Native American music and history is referred to as “primitive” or a “simpler, more natural past existence.” Hero is terse, stoic, temperamental, and emotionally unavailable. Heroine is sweet and nurturing and has to convince the closed off hero that he wants more with her than just sex. Her ex-boyfriend was selfish and terrible in bed and sex with the hero is the best the heroine has ever had. The hero “probes” the “opening of [the heroine’s] womanhood” and I wonder if anyone has ever considered “probe” to be a sexy word. It’s just a long list of moments or tropes that do not appeal to me and add up to a mediocre reading experience.

In conclusion, this was not a book written for me. The things I was picky about might be the very reasons that someone else picks up this book and enjoys it. I considered backing out of the RITA review challenge altogether, but I figured that someone else might read my litany of turn offs and think, “That’s my catnip,” thereby making this review somewhat useful. As for a letter grade, how do you assign a letter grade to something so subjective as reading for pleasure? For the purposes of this review I’m going to go with a C grade since it wasn’t the worst written book I’ve ever read. It also wasn’t an amazing reading experience for me by any means. Bayou Shadow Hunter left me feeling “meh” and I probably won’t be reading tons of paranormal romance in the future.

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Posted by Carrie S


The Refrigerator Monologues

by Catherynne Valente
June 6, 2017 · Saga Press

Here are the main things you need to know about The Refrigerator Monologues: it is intense, painful, and triumphant. It is NOT a romance. Readers would benefit from some familiarity with common comic book tropes while reading. Also, it’s feminist as fuck.

The book derives its inspiration from the Women in Refrigerators website created by Gail Simone in 1999. Simone launched a conversation that is still going strong about the frequency with which female characters are killed, injured, raped, or otherwise brutalized in comics for no purpose other than to fuel a man’s story. The trope name comes from the unfortunate girlfriend of Kyle Raynor (the Green Lantern) who comes home one night to find his girlfriend murdered and her body stuffed in his refrigerator. This leads Kyle to finally fully assume his role as Green Lantern as he seek vengeance and then goes on fight other battles, now secure in his superhero role.

The monologues are kicked off by Paige Embry, who introduces the reader to Deadtown (the afterlife for comics characters) and some of the women who live there. Paige is clearly inspired by the character of Gwen Stacey (Peter Parker, AKA Spiderman’s, first girlfriend). Paige is, for lack of a better term, the president of the Hell Hath Club. This club consists of women who have died (sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily) as a result of their association with male superheroes:

There’s a lot of us. We’re mostly very beautiful and very well read and very angry. We have seen some shit. Our numbers change-a few more this week, a few less next, depending on if anyone gets called up to the big game. You can’t keep your lunch date if some topside science jockey figures out how to make a zombie-you. We’re totally understanding about that kind of thing. She’ll be back. They always come back. Zombies never last, power sputters out, and clones don’t have the self-preservation God gave a toddler in a stove shop.

In subsequent chapters, different members of the Hell Hath Club tell their stories. Comic book fans will recognize characters inspired by, among others, Harley Quinn (Batman), Mera (Aquaman), Jean Grey/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix (X-Men), and Karen Page (Daredevil). The key word here is “inspired.” Each character has their own story distinct from any inspiration. This allows the author to explore themes that might not otherwise make sense. For example, to my knowledge Harley Quinn has never been killed off, but through the character loosely based on her the author can explore themes of emotional and physical abuse, manipulation, denial, and obsession.

In theory, anyone should be able to enjoy this book regardless of their knowledge about comics. However, it’s best enjoyed if you have some familiarity with the tropes being deconstructed, which is a very pompous way of saying FUCK YOU, JOKER, YOU ABUSIVE ASSHAT. We comics readers have a vast reservoir of rage just waiting to be tapped, and this book taps it while still being thoughtful and human.

This is a hard book to read. Stories include loss, betrayal, and exploitation. But it’s also a book about sisterhood, agency, and owning your own story. Sometimes I wanted to cry while reading the book. Sometimes I wanted to scream. At the end, I wanted a framed print of the final illustration by Annie Wu, a “Hell Hath” T-Shirt (would that either of those things were available) and a chance to smash the patriarchy (call your elected officials, y’all). It’s a troubling and triumphant book and anyone who celebrates feminism in comics and good old female rage will love it.

Affective Needs by Rebecca Taylor

Jun. 24th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Affective Needs

by Rebecca Taylor
July 11, 2016 · Ophelia House
Science Fiction/FantasyLiterary FictionComic

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Faellie. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the YA Romance category.

The summary:

Ninety-two days. That’s all that’s left. Just ninety-two days and Ruth Robinson, calculus genius, will stand with her arms raised in a triumphant V as the valedictorian of Roosevelt High. With her early admit to Princeton’s Neuroscience program burning a hole in her pocket, Ruth can hardly wait to show her fellow teenage troglodytes that while she didn’t have followers, friends, or “times” in basements, she was the one ending up on top.

All she needs to do is white knuckle her way through this waiting place last semester and then, finally, she’ll be on her way. Except, the first day back from winter break, Porter Creed shows up. Porter is a special education transfer—Affective Needs. And just like all the other desk flippers and chair throwers in the affective needs classroom, Porter has some major emotional problems. But when Porter strolls onto Ruth’s home turf, Advanced Calculus, and disrupts her axis by being both gorgeous and the only person better at math than her—Ruth begins to realize that maybe life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

Here is Faellie's review:

I was late to the RITA reviewing party but there was a gap for a reviewer of either YA or Inspirational: I’m not inspirational but I was young once so YA it is. Checking out the title of Affective Needs was itself an education: apparently it’s a term for having emotional and social difficulties. Which I would have thought summed up pretty much everyone in high school, but there you go.

Right. Here we are in Trenton, New Jersey, with our heroine Ruth in first person narrative counting down the days until she escapes her final year at Roosevelt High. She has a high opinion of her intelligence and over the top snark for everything and everyone else, including her fellow social outcast and best gay black friend, Eli. Our hero is Porter Creed, the aforesaid Affective Needs guy who is newly arrived in school and (of course) turns out to be even better at math than prospective Valedictorian Ruth. Early on Porter calls Ruth out on her attitude:

“You were right; you do have a bad temper.”

“You’re one to talk.”

“Yes, but I’m labeled and filed. You’re allowed to just prowl around in the general population.”

“I’ve never tried to bash someone’s brains inside out.”

He turned his head and his eyes met mine. “Maybe not physically.”

The plotting of the novel worked well and the setting of an American high school seemed authentic. I liked the writing, in particular the dialogue. The character of Ruth took a while to gel for me, perhaps because she embodies a significant number of different ideas and perhaps because she starts out as not particularly likable, but she grows over the course of the book, and my sometimes intense irritation with her resolved into something closer to sympathy and liking.

Porter as hero was seen through Ruth’s narrative which limited his character development somewhat but there was enough there for him to hold up his side of the story. Secondary characters were well developed: I missed seeing more of best friend Eli as the book progressed but this was consistent with the plotting. There is a suitably HFN ending.

I think this would be a good book for its YA audience. I think it has fully earned its RITA nomination, and, acknowledging that an elderly English curmudgeon is probably not its target audience, I’m happy to give it a solid B+ grade.

Affective Needs by Rebecca Taylor

Jun. 24th, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Affective Needs

by Rebecca Taylor
July 11, 2016 · Ophelia House
RomanceYoung Adult

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Coco. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the YA Romance category.

The summary:

Ninety-two days. That’s all that’s left. Just ninety-two days and Ruth Robinson, calculus genius, will stand with her arms raised in a triumphant V as the valedictorian of Roosevelt High. With her early admit to Princeton’s Neuroscience program burning a hole in her pocket, Ruth can hardly wait to show her fellow teenage troglodytes that while she didn’t have followers, friends, or “times” in basements, she was the one ending up on top.

All she needs to do is white knuckle her way through this waiting place last semester and then, finally, she’ll be on her way. Except, the first day back from winter break, Porter Creed shows up. Porter is a special education transfer—Affective Needs. And just like all the other desk flippers and chair throwers in the affective needs classroom, Porter has some major emotional problems. But when Porter strolls onto Ruth’s home turf, Advanced Calculus, and disrupts her axis by being both gorgeous and the only person better at math than her—Ruth begins to realize that maybe life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

Here is Coco's review:

Affective Needs is a YA romance with classic teen characters, like an angsty, academically-focused young woman ready to leave the confines of high school and a broody, mysterious bad boy who just started at the school.

Rebecca Taylor’s story trod well-worn paths, but injects some fresh insights with an eye toward the realities behind high school experiences.

On day one hundred and forty-four, Bella Blake emerged from winter break with freshly dyed atomic-pink hair. Everyone in our first period homeroom was stunned, but impressed, and proceeded to make asinine comments like “You’re so brave” and “I wish I had your nerve.” So Bella preened and swelled and basically acted like she was so Rebel Without a Cause. This was exactly why I hated high school.

A gif from the cartoon Daria where two teens stand before lockers. Daria says that she hates this place.

The central premise, and titular inspiration, for this story is the classification of affective needs. Taylor, who is trained and works as a school counselor and psychologist herself, explains that an affective needs classroom is populated by students with emotional, particularly anger, issues—or, in her character’s (Ruth’s) words:

 Affective needs was filled with all the kids who had their anger issues dialed up to volcanic. Every chair thrower and desk kicker spent most of their days in that classroom. One big concentrated box of rage—all of whom were on my mother’s caseload and had probably been on some psych’s caseload since kindergarten.

By having Ruth’s mother working as a counselor at her high school, Taylor accomplishes two tasks: she is able to incorporate more emotional intelligence into her characters in a plausible manner, and she also builds additional tension and conflict by having mom and daughter intertwined at school/work, as well as at home.

Our young male and female protagonists do not have a classic meet-cute; the girl doesn’t trip and fall (“adorably” or otherwise) in front of the guy and they don’t lock eyes outside a concert or begin with an argument. Instead, Ruth and Porter first make eye contact when Ruth witnesses the end of an outburst from Porter that resulted in his being held down and restrained by school personnel. There’s an element of voyeurism, as she knows she shouldn’t be watching, but ultimately she is struck by the emotional pain she sees in this young man’s eyes. Her interest is this unknown new student is amplified when he joins her advanced math class, an act that seems (to her) to be at odds with his near-constant adult supervision while at school, his time in the affective needs classroom, and his overall rebellious demeanor.

Occasionally, a high school character opened his or her mouth, but a mature adult (dare I say it—a school counselor) seemed to speak. For instance, Ruth’s friend, Eli, reflected about the young adult developmental stage:

“I’m serious. Hear me out. In high school, we are not even fully formed people. Including you,” he added. “We are a collection of behaviors and opinions that are not much more than reactions to the labels and circumstances that we’ve been handed throughout our lives.

But other moments and expressions of pent-up emotion felt true to adolescence, like this scene in which Ruth is overwhelmed by her proximity to her new crush:

My mind raced obsessively. Was Porter, right now, sitting behind me and watching my every move? Did he know what was happening? Could he somehow feel this, sense it? Was my body radiating some kind of electric current that shot out in every direction, announcing my seemingly rampant attraction to Porter? Was it obvious, not just to him, but to everyone in the room?

Or this moment when Ruth’s sense of herself and the world start spiraling out of control:

I closed my eyes to that dumb broken star. The whole world was a confused and broken place. A place filled to overflowing with lost and broken people. My body, flat, stuck, still in the middle of my bed, at the edge of my room, in the corner of my house, at the end of my street, on the edge of my town, on the fringe of a landmass, a single point on the Earth— a small blue dot at an unknown location in the never-ending expanse of a universe that didn’t seem to know anything about the dark bottomless hole in the center of my soul.

Thoughts like this felt true to a teen’s turbulent emotions and conflicting feelings of self-importance and insignificance hope and despair. (Naturally, because she’s young, she has yet to learn how to self-soothe after a setback with things like bubble baths, good friends, and Pop Tarts.)

Bette Midler from The First Wives Club where she says, Bye bye love. Hello pop tarts.

Taylor has spoken about her professional and vocational interests in school psychology and writing YA fiction, which I found interesting (because I love learning about authors’ backgrounds and inspirations, etc.) and I think could also help potential readers better understand her type of storytelling and writing style.

In an old post on her own blog, she wrote that, first, she just loves the heady rush of emotions typical to teenagers, but:

Secondarily, that whole phase of human development is just ripe for explosive story telling… The whole push-pull of becoming an adult and leaving childhood. The confusion. The mistakes. The joy of new freedoms. The fear of new freedoms. Really, there are just soooo many emotionally heady avenues to explore… I actually like that the YA character can be pretty centered on their own experiences and that doesn’t make them completely self-centered because it’s still developmentally expected (to a point, of course) for the 13 to 18 year-old.

She followed up on this idea in a later post about unlikable characters:

I feel that part of that passion stems from the fact that I fully acknowledge they are in the middle of a sometimes volcanic developmental period that frequently manifests into some not very ‘likable’ character traits. To deny this and not represent this struggle as reflected in some teen characters in literature is to pretend that they are only physically younger adults (albeit much, much cooler and better dressed adults) but still in possession of all the wisdom gained of a life already lived.

Overall, I found Affective Needs fairly engaging during the first two-thirds of the story, but I felt that parts of the climax and resolution were less satisfactory. I did not completely buy into the relationship, which meant I was never fully submerged in the story, like a favorite romance can do for me. There were also some intense moments dealing with Porter and his home life, and I did not think the characters fully grappled with these issues in a meaningful way (and when they did, it was off the page). YA romance is not always my cup of tea as I prefer more mature characters and situations (and sex, I can’t forget the sex! wink!), but I appreciated what Taylor was trying to do here, even if I found the results a little uneven.

You can find this book at the usual places, but if you want to sample some first, in a truly awesome move, Rebecca Taylor has been posting this story serially on her blog—one chapter a week—since the book was released! While I’m interested in trying another book by her at some point, Affective Needs didn’t automatically move Taylor to the top of my always-buy, one-click, or TBR piles (but, hey, those piles are huuuuuuge and crowded).

That being said, I have no regrets and I’m glad I read another random RITA nominee that I would not normally have chosen. Okay, bye now! See you in the halls of the Bitchery next year 😉

The teens from The Breakfast Club running through the school hallway


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Posted by Guest Reviewer


The Moon in the Palace

by Weina Dai Randel
March 1, 2016 · Sourcebooks Landmark
RomanceYoung Adult

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Turophile. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance category.

The summary:

There is no easy path for a woman aspiring to power

A concubine at the palace learns quickly that there are many ways to capture the Emperor’s attention. Many paint their faces white and style their hair attractively, hoping to lure in the One Above All with their beauty. Some present him with fantastic gifts, such as jade pendants and scrolls of calligraphy, while others rely on their knowledge of seduction to draw his interest. But young Mei knows nothing of these womanly arts, yet she will give the Emperor a gift he can never forget.

Mei’s intelligence and curiosity, the same traits that make her an outcast among the other concubines, impress the Emperor. But just as she is in a position to seduce the most powerful man in China, divided loyalties split the palace in two, culminating in a perilous battle that Mei can only hope to survive.

In the breakthrough first volume in the Empress of Bright Moon duology, Weina Dai Randel paints a vibrant portrait of ancient China—where love, ambition, and loyalty can spell life of death—and the woman who came to rule it all.

Here is Turophile's review:

Our heroine Mei is summoned to the Emperor’s palace after her father’s untimely death. There she quickly discovers the social stratification among the emperor’s many concubines. She also learns the intricate politics among the women, though not as quickly as perhaps she should have to succeed in her overriding goal: attracting the Emperor’s attention quickly so that she could assist her mother.

The most intriguing aspect of this book is the interpersonal dynamics between the women and the elaborate political games in which they engage. In ancient China (and in many other places), external power belongs to the men. At the Emperor’s Court, a woman’s worth and power derives from the interest displayed by the Emperor as well as the success in bearing the Emperor male heirs. Because access to and the favor of the Emperor is a scarce resource, the relationships between the women are fraught with intrigue and power struggles. Mei learns this the hard way when she is betrayed by a woman whom she believed was a friend and almost mentor.

Throughout the book, she faces dilemmas about whom to trust and to align with. Making these choices becomes even more difficult when she develops a friendship with and later an attraction to a young man whom she learns is the Emperor’s son. As this book progresses, she learns from each mistake and further cements her own power base though the book ends before that power is fully realized. Thankfully, there’s another book in the series and I plan to read it. If you enjoy novels about relationships between women and women finding their own inner strength through those relationships, you will enjoy this book.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the book for me was that the language felt too contemporary. It’s a challenge writing of an ancient time in a vernacular that modern readers will enjoy, but in general I found the dialogue too simplistic.

Reviewing this book has been a challenge for me because I wanted to like it more. Historical Chinese novels are a favorite genre for me, but the downside is that I can’t help but compare one book to another. Compared to other novels I’ve read set in similar time periods or of young women who find themselves in an Emperor’s court forced to survive on their wit, I didn’t enjoy this book as much. It doesn’t feel fair to even raise that comparison, however, when I’ve read and continue to read umpteen books set it in the Regency period. Thus, I’d still recommend this book but urge readers to follow-up to it by exploring other Chinese or Chinese American authors who write historical fiction and/or historical romance set in China, including but not limited to Anchee Min, Jung Chang, Jeannie Lin and more.

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Posted by SB Sarah

Today I chat with Dr. Kecia Ali, Professor of Religion at Boston University, and author of a new book, Human in Death: Morality and Mortality in JD Robb’s Novels. We discuss what inspired her to write a book about the series, which is now 45+ books in, and what she discovered with her multiple and attentive re-reads of key novels. We talk about portrayals of ethics, family, friendship, race, women’s work, and of course violence, and we hear what she’s working on next – and of course what Dr. Ali is reading, too.

If you’re at all familiar with the In Death world, this part should not be a surprise: Trigger Warnings for discussion of sexual assault, violence, abuse, and rape in the plots of the In Death books.

I also want to give a very special thank you to Dr. Sara Ronis, Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at St. Mary’s University in Texas. She emailed me before this book came out to suggest. Dr. Ali as a guest – and she was totally right. I learned so much from this interview. So thank you to Dr. Ali, and to Dr. Ronis.

And! If you’re at all curious about Human in Death, Dr. Ali’s book, her publisher, Baylor Press, has been supremely awesome!

First, we have a giveaway of one hardcover copy, so if you’d like to enter, head over to the podcast entry. There will be a Rafflecopter widget for you to drop your email into. This giveaway is open to US and Canada only, must be over 18 and ready to learn all the things, void where prohibited. By submitting  an entry to the contest as set forth herein, each entrant does acknowledge and agree that, in the event such entrant is victorious, such entrant will perform a ceremony reasonably appropriate to such circumstance, including, without limitation, the Miposian Dance of Joy or all the dances from What the Fox Said.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

We also have a discount code! Use code BSBT at BaylorPress.com, and you ’ll get 20% off the cover price and free shipping. Thank you to Dr. Ali, and to David and Savannah at Baylor Press for hooking us up.

Listen to the podcast →
Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

You can learn more about Kecia Ali and her work at her website, and on her BU page as well.

And if you’re interested in the romance track at the PCA/ACA conference, there are a ton of details online.

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

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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 “Maniac.”

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.

Podcast Sponsor

This week’s podcast is brought to you by Falling for Trouble by Sarah Title.

With her signature wry wit and humor, librarian turned author Sarah Title returns to delight readers with Falling for Trouble, the second installment in her Librarians in Love series. With starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, an Amazon editor’s pick and a glowing review from The Washington Post, this series is highly acclaimed and just plain fun. Falling for Trouble features a librarian hero with a penchant for running in very short running shorts, and a rocker heroine, who bond over music.

Liam Byrd loves Halikarnassus, New York. He loves its friendliness, its nosiness, the vibrant library at the center of it all. And now that Joanna Green is home, the whole town sizzles. A rebel like her stirs up excitement, action, desire—at least in Liam.

Joanna never thought she’d have to come back to her dull, tiny fishbowl of a hometown ever again. She almost had a record deal for her all-girl rock band. She almost had it made in L.A. And then her deal went sour and her granny broke her leg . . . and now here she is, running into everybody’s favorite librarian every time she heads to a dive bar or catches up with old friends.

He has charm, he has good taste in music—and the sight of him in running shorts is dangerously distracting. But when he loves her old town and she can’t wait to check out, their new romance is surely destined for the book drop….

Falling for Trouble by Sarah Title is available now wherever books are sold and on KensingtonBooks.com

Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes, via PodcastPickle, or on Stitcher.
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Barefoot at Midnight

by Roxanne St. Claire
October 18, 2016 · South Street Publishing
RomanceLiterary FictionHistorical: Other

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Turophile. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Mid-Length Contemporary category.

The summary:

Roxanne St. Claire’s “Timeless” books celebrate the appeal of the silver fox hero! A little older, a lot wiser, and completely sexy, the heroes in the Barefoot Bay Timeless books are men in their 40’s and 50’s who find a second chance at love. Roxanne says her readers aren’t 23…so why should the man of their dreams be that young? The Timeless books are all set on the moon-washed beaches of Barefoot Bay, a tropical island paradise that has been the setting for many beloved romances by this author. Joining the billionaires, brides, and bodyguards on the beach, readers can now kick off their shoes and fall in love with a man aged to perfection!

Barefoot at Midnight

Lawson Monroe is a chef without a restaurant…but his friend and mentor makes a deathbed promise to leave Law the only dive bar on Mimosa Key. Law has big plans for the place, until he walks directly into the luscious body and gorgeous face of Libby Chesterfield and her outrageous claim that the Toasted Pelican should come to her.

When Libby learned that the man who once owned the crappiest watering hole on the island was actually her biological father, she decided the least he owed her was his unclaimed business. The old man wasn’t there for her when she and her brother were growing up near Barefoot Bay, but his legacy can help her build a new future when she transforms the property into Balance, a yoga studio. The only obstacle? Her father apparently named former bad boy and current sexy silver fox Lawless Monroe his heir.

Law never thought he’d want anything more than the chance to make a living cooking his food for the people of Barefoot Bay…but Libby arouses an irresistible hunger in him. Battling an attraction that sizzles hotter than one of Law’s cast-iron skillets and uncovering long-buried secrets with more twists than one of Libby’s yoga poses, they’ll have find a way to both get what they want…especially if what they really want is each other.

Here is Turophile's review:

I’d like to start by applauding a series about mature adults finding romance – Gen-X adults even! As a woman who falls into that category I wholeheartedly approve. And if you can get past the crazy-sauce goofiness of the underlying book, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Our hero, Lawson Monroe, or Law for short, is a chef looking for a restaurant. He makes a deathbed promise to Jake, the man who saved him on many occasions, to continue operating the Toasted Pelican. Except Jake didn’t leave a will, at least one that Law could find, and he spends months after Jake’s death trying to track down the person who’s taken possession of the place.

That person would be Libby Chesterfield, and her brother Sam, former classmates of Law’s. Their ne’er do well mother claimed shortly after his death that Jake was their father and she had the birth certificates to prove it. Without a will, Sam determines that if they can keep operating the place for a year it will then be theirs. (I skipped Wills & Trust class in law school, but this seems really odd . .. )

When Law and Libby encounter each other – the sparks fly. The physical attraction is obvious. And despite their diametrically opposed interests in the property, they work together to determine who really should own the Pelican. Every time you think they have it figured out, there’s another twist to the story.

It’s a fun romance, but by no means perfect. The references to Libby’s “rack” detracted from the story, especially when paired with the name “Chesterfield.” I wish Libby’s character was more developed. It was hard to like her, especially during the first half of the book. For example, she ground her heel into her daughter’s foot. Who does that?! Other than the aforementioned rack, it’s difficult to determine what Law sees in her. Her character is fleshed out more in the latter part of the book, but at that point it seems too late.

It’s another book I’d love to rate higher, if for no other reason than to encourage more romance for and about Gen-Xers. It’s a fun, but flawed book so I’m going to give it a C.

Cake, FBI Agents, & Horses!

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

Under Her Skin

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders is $1.88 at Amazon and $2.99 elsewhere! Readers warn that this is a contemporary romance on the darker side, but many say this is a great debut by Anders. I’m actually reading this right now and I love it. It’s definitely dark, so if that’s not your thing, stay away. But the hero is a blacksmith with Beta qualities. I’m in love!

Battered by a life determined to tear him down, this quiet ex-con’s scarred hands may be the gentlest touch she’ll ever know.

…if only life were a fairy tale where Beauty was allowed to keep her Beast

Ivan thought the world was through giving him second chances. Who’d want a rough ex-con with a savior complex and a bad habit of bringing home helpless strays? Everyone in Blackwood, Virginia knew he wasn’t good enough for the fine things in life; they knew he was too damaged to save. He just needed to keep his head down, work himself to the bone, and pretend he was content with the lot he was given.

Until she came into his life. Until she changed everything.

Until he realized he would do anything, fight anyone, tear the world apart if it meant saving her.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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A Gentleman’s Game

RECOMMENDED: A Gentleman’s Game by Theresa Romain is 99c! Redheadedgirl read this historical romance and gave it an A:

Theresa Romain basically created a series just for me, and the first full-length book just confirms it. She reached into my head and found the references and plot that would make me happiest, and gave those thoughts a beautiful cover and said, “Here!”

In Book One of Romance of the Turf, a refreshing new Regency series from rising star Theresa Romain, a mystery demanding to be solved brings unlikely allies together in more ways than one

How far will a man go

Talented but troubled, the Chandler family seems cursed by bad luck-and so Nathaniel Chandler has learned to trade on his charm. He can broker a deal with anyone from a turf-mad English noble to an Irish horse breeder. But Nathaniel’s skills are tested when his stable of trained Thoroughbreds become suspiciously ill just before the Epsom Derby, and he begins to suspect his father’s new secretary is not as innocent as she seems.

To win a woman’s secretive heart?

Nathaniel would be very surprised if he knew why Rosalind Agate was really helping his family in their quest for a Derby victory. But for the sake of both their livelihoods, Rosalind and Nathaniel must set aside their suspicions. As Derby Day draws near, her wit and his charm make for a successful investigative team…and light the fires of growing desire. But Rosalind’s life is built on secrets and Nathaniel’s on charisma, and neither defense will serve them once they lose their hearts…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Special Agent Francesca

Special Agent Francesca by Mimi Barbour is 99c! This romantic suspense is bursting with catnip! There’s an introverted FBI agent who goes undercover. There’s a fake relationship. Plus, a psychiatrist/criminal profiler hero. Hello! This is a standalone and readers loved the heroine, but some found the pacing a bit uneven.

An introvert, Special Agent Francesca moves to Las Vegas to escape her powerful, domineering mother. On arrival, multiple obstacles challenge her. She needs to approach a father she’s never met, a man who doesn’t even know she exists. Then she must play the role of a loving fiancée with a stranger. One who makes her question every unexpected emotion he provokes. Craving the chance for real undercover work, she grabs the opportunity to be involved in cleaning up gang corruption in a nasty neighborhood. When she poses as the new owner of a hotel, the deadly-dangerous situation ramps up and she’s forced to fight her way from one conflict to the next.

Sean Collins, Psychiatrist and LVPD Profiler, has never known anyone like Francesca Donovan. From first sight, he believes her to be a screwball but her beauty and maddening personality attracts him. Despite her prickly disposition, which gets them into a load of trouble, her rotten driving skills and her constant battles, he’s hooked. Once he’s roped into a mock engagement with her, his desire to make it real takes precedence over everything else in his world.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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American Cake

American Cake by Anne Byrn is $1.99! This book make an appearance in a previous Redheadedgirl’s Historical Kitchen post. Readers loved the blend of recipes and history. However, some reviewers found the historical aspects a bit patronizing. See this Goodreads review for more on that.

Cakes in America aren’t just about sugar, flour, and frosting. They have a deep, rich history that developed as our country grew. Cakes, more so than other desserts, are synonymous with celebration and coming together for happy times. They’re an icon of American culture, reflecting heritage, region, season, occasion, and era. And they always have been, throughout history.

In American Cake, Anne Byrn, creator of the New York Timesbestselling series The Cake Mix Doctor, takes you on a journey through America’s past to present with more than 125 authentic recipes for our best-loved and beautiful cakes and frostings. Tracing cakes chronologically from the dark, moist gingerbread of New England to the elegant pound cake, the hardscrabble Appalachian stack cake, war cakes, deep-South caramel, Hawaiian Chantilly, and the modern California cakes of orange and olive oil, Byrn shares recipes, stories, and a behind-the-scenes look into what cakes we were baking back in time. From the well-known Angel Food, Red Velvet, Pineapple Upside-Down, Gooey Butter, and Brownie to the lesser-known Burnt Leather, Wacky Cake, Lazy Daisy, and Cold Oven Pound Cake, this is a cookbook for the cook, the traveler, or anyone who loves a good story. And all recipes have been adapted to the modern kitchen.


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This book is on sale at:

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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Jun. 22nd, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl


The Alice Network

by Kate Quinn
June 6, 2017 · William Morrow Paperbacks
RomanceContemporary Romance

This is also part of my, “Okay, universe, just tell me what to read” campaign. This book has a lot of my catnip: lady spies, a dual chronology, and a host of people trying to put their lives back together after a war.

In 1947, Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair is in England with her mother. She’s on her way to Switzerland for an abortion. She’s a college sophomore, unmarried, and her parents have decided that the way to handle her unplanned pregnancy is to remove it.  What she really wants, however, is to find her cousin Rose, who disappeared in France during WWII. Rose is the only person in Charlie’s family to understand Charlie, and Charlie is desperate to find her.

In 1915, Eve Gardinier is recruited to be a spy for the Allies. She’s stationed in Lille, France, which is near the Belgian border and occupied by the Germans. She speaks French, English, and German, and has one of those faces that looks completely innocent and incapable of lying. She gets a job in a cafe where German officers congregate, eavesdrops on them while clearing their plates, and passes any interesting and useful information on to the British. Her contact is a woman who calls herself Lili, and she has a network of spies and contacts up and down the border, called the Alice Network.

The main theme of the WWI portion is “How can I serve.” Eve, in her life in England, wants to serve her country, but no one will allow her, simply because she has a stammer. Because of the stammer, people assume she’s stupid or mentally disabled. But the captain in charge of running spies in France recognizes her talents and gives her a way to serve. The other women in the Alice Network are in similar positions: this option was the best way they had to help with the war effort. Of course, sometimes the desire to serve, to help with all of your abilities, costs a great deal, and there’s the question if you’re really willing to pay that price. Eve finds herself paying a great deal more than she ever expected, for decades.

The theme of the post WWII portions is related: what is the human cost of all this war and suffering? Eve is still suffering from the psychological (and physical) effects of her service in WWI. Eve has a driver, Finn, a Scotsman who was part of the group that liberated one of the concentration camps, and that experience still haunts him. Charlie, who was in high school during the war, did not serve, but her brother came back a different person, and eventually killed himself. Charlie’s response to that trauma was to try to find a way to feel things again by sex, which did not work out the way she intended.

The trick with a dual chronology is making sure the two stories weave together and come to a climax that complement each other. The other trick is making sure your two timelines are equally interesting. I found myself skimming the 1947 story to get back to the WWI story, which was  LOT more tense. 1947 was road trip through post-war France; 1915 was espionage. Which is more exciting?

Quinn included, probably because she saw me coming, an extensive author’s note talking about how Lili was a real person, Louise de Bettignies, who did everything she does in this book.  I know there aren’t any spoilers in history, but if you don’t know about Louise, and her service record, and you’re going to read The Alice Network, maybe… don’t… read her Wikipedia page? (We didn’t link to it on purpose.) I had no idea how this story was going to go, and I didn’t know that Lili was a real person, so I was on the edge of my seat after the 2/3 mark.

The other thing that I enjoyed was the minutiae of spy craft, such as writing messages on slips of rice paper and winding them around hairpins, or drawing maps on petticoats. Or, ways to sneak past a border checkpoint when you don’t have the right paperwork – all the details are fascinating.

There is a romance. It’s not centered in the plot, it develops very slowly and organically, and the meat of this novel is the relationships between the women. They learn how to become a honeypot, if that’s what is required, how to support each other in the darkest of timelines, and how to continue to live after everything you ever knew was torn away from you.

If you read and loved Code Name Verity ( A | BN | K | G | iB | Au ) this is a book for you. I said a couple of years ago that I expected a lot of World War I stories to come out of this centennial, and I’m pretty pleased to have been right. There are a lot of really interesting stories emerging.  I’m also really interested (for various reasons) in how people deal with the PTSD that come out of traumatic periods in history, and this story is a deeply layered exploration of just that.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Tell Me How This Ends

by Victoria De La O
November 1, 2016 · Swerve
Historical: AmericanHistorical: EuropeanLiterary Fiction

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Erica. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Mid-Length Contemporary category.

The summary:

Brothers Jude and Ryan McAllister are inseparable. When Jude stepped in to raise Ryan after the death of their mother, it became the two of them against the world. But the scars it left were bone-deep. Then Lizzie Price comes along.

Lizzie hopes Ryan’s kindness can help heal her wounds from a toxic relationship. But when she meets Jude, their powerful attraction makes him difficult to resist. The problem is, Lizzie doesn’t realize Jude and Ryan are brothers, and they don’t know they’re falling for the same girl.

By the time the truth comes out, everyone is in too deep. Ryan is in love, Jude is in denial, and Lizzie wants both brothers. All of them agree that no one deserves to get hurt. But love and desire have a way of testing even the strongest bonds.

Here is Erica's review:

I loathe this book. LOATHE. With the fiery passion of a thousand suns. It is the absolute worst.

Wow, I need to start learning to express myself, don’t I? I almost wrote a DNF review for this at the 53% mark, but since I already did that (although that was out of apathy, not complete mind-numbing rage), I tried to force myself to read it – challenging myself that maybe it wouldn’t end like I thought it would.

It did.

Spoilers probably abound, because I am just stream-of-consciousness writing to vent off my rage. CW for the book: talk of suicide, something like revenge porn, a couple of ableist phrases, etc.

So. This book starts out with our heroine, Elizabeth (called Lizzie by almost everyone), deciding to finally approach this dude, Ryan, in her Shakespeare class after she’s been crushing on him awhile. He’s really smart, and she has no talent for Shakespeare, so she asks if he’ll tutor her. He agrees, and she’s excited to finally hang out with him. That night, she goes out with friends and some chick brings along her current friend with benefits – and Lizzie and he, Jude, of course have an instant connection and attraction. They play pool and flirt.

Lizzie is gun shy about a relationship with a “bad boy” because she had a really bad experience with her ex-boyfriend, which is what led her to leave Utah and come to big bad California.

Ryan has been crushing on Lizzie for a while too, and he’s stoked about getting to hang out with her. He tells his older brother Jude about her and Jude tells Ryan about how he met this girl who has him all twisted up too. Jude has basically taken care of Ryan since they were kids – their mom died, then their uncle died, and Jude quit college to take care of his brother, and has sacrificed a lot to make their little unit of two something like a family.

Even though Lizzie (who Jude insists on calling Elizabeth) has some pretty hot chemistry with Jude, she decides that she’s going to go for safe, nice Ryan instead. She doesn’t know they’re brothers. They don’t know that both of them are hung up on the same girl.

And the drama commences.

I literally hate all of the characters in this book. If there is anyone with any redeeming qualities, it’s Ryan. He’s sweet, but he’s a little immature. Jude completely enables Ryan in staying immature. Jude.. Jude is like Angel in Buffy. He’s moody, he’s broody, he’s devastatingly hot (apparently a social worker didn’t think he’d be great guardian material because he must have an “active social life” which Jude read as code that he has a lot of sex with a lot of different women), blahblahblah. Who cares. And Lizzie is the absolute worst friggin’ person. She is so unutterably selfish, it blows my mind. Like, woman, grow the hell up and break up with Ryan and get out of their lives. You selfish, selfish cow.

This book reminded me, in a way, of Wuthering Heights. I viciously hate Cathy and Heathcliff and think they both should be horse-whipped. That’s how I felt about Jude and Lizzie.

Because of course Lizzie’s going to choose Jude. I mean, duh. When she officially starts dating Ryan she thinks about how really nice he is. And this girl – I mean, she’s making out with Jude one day, then pushing Ryan into a relationship, then making out with him, then there’s some handsy action with Jude again, and then her and Ryan start fooling around and have sex. And it’s all just… It’s weird. And I don’t know about you but I cannot STAND it when characters in a romance have sex with a person other than their future partner in the book. And all the sex was between Lizzie and Ryan. She goes from giving Ryan a blow job that Jude overhears to being a cozy little couple with inside jokes (that Ryan doesn’t get) with Jude.

God, I hate Lizzie. I hate Jude. I hate Ryan for being a clueless wimp. I hate this friggin’ book.

There’s a part where Jude calls Lizzie a whore. There’s a part where Lizzie is talking about her Tragic Backstory with her ex – basically he was a controlling, manipulative, soon-to-be-abuser. She broke up with him and he shared naked pictures of her with everyone. Her dad did some victim blaming. When she tells the story to Ryan, he gushes about how she never let that douche get the best of her, because she’s so strong and amazing. And it’s clear from Lizzie’s reaction that she’s unhappy with his idolization, but he is just not picking up the signs. When Lizzie tells Jude the same story, she expands on it by sharing the fact that after all of that, she tried to kill herself. Jude gets it. Because of course he does.

Then the ending happens way too quickly for the amount of drama in this book.

Show Spoiler
Lizzie finally gets out of their lives. Ryan grows a pair and leaves his brother to his brood, and goes to Japan to teach. Jude figures out his shit. Lizzie and Jude start texting and we hear about all the things Jude has been doing to not be such a broody little ass, but all of that is off paper. Then Lizzie throws him a birthday party, and they go home and have sex and then it’s over.


So. *ahem* Not a fan. Nope. The melodrama dripping from the walls and a cast of characters I actively wish bad things on — it’s just a recipe for suck. In my opinion. F.

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Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.Hello Hump Day! How is everyone doing? I’m in the midst of an amazing book, so I’ve currently lost all sense of time. Here are some good things, many of which might hurt your wallet!

We’ve picked a date for our next Book Club Chat! The book we’ve picked (in case you missed it) is Radiance by Grace Draven and the date of the chat is June 28th at 8pm EDT. We’ll post a link to the chat that afternoon. We hope to see some of you there!

Awesome Kickstarter alert! This is one that I’ve personally backed and needs a little help reaching its goal. It’s called Two Scoops: An Ice Cream Shop Dating Sim!

Two Scoops is a fresh, new visual novel + dating sim about love and ice cream! It’s the story of a big girl in a small town who finds romance at her local ice cream shop.

In this game, you take on the role of a young woman who has just started a new job at a local, family-owned ice cream shop. She’s taken on a big responsibility, too: two of the employees are going away soon, leaving her to fill their shoes! With only a week remaining before their departure, the situation seems tricky for our protagonist, but she is determined to show that she’s the right one for the job, all while growing closer to her co-workers along the way.

It has roughly two days left!

The Bawdy Bookworm box is taking preorders for their July box. I’ve gotten a sneak peek and it’s really amazing.

SMARTB gets free shipping in the US of $6 off International shipping for Bawdy Bookworms. And, if you’ve forgotten, this box grabbed the attention of Elyse’s cat, Dewey.

The Book Voyagers put together a list of Single Parents in Romance Books if that’s your catnip! They also have a helpful legend and mention common tropes.

iGo Keyjuice Keyring

The iGo is an itty bitty tool that unfolds to one USB connection, plus a USB and a USB Micro, so you can plug your phone into your laptop, or into a portable battery. Excellent for tiny emergency kits, too.

Thanks to Reader Cleo for a heads up about this Riptide Publishing sale, where trans, genderqueer, intersex, and ace romances this week are 50% off.

More sales! Humble Bundle has a Best of Boom comics sale going on and it’s full of great selections, including Lumberjanes and Steven Universe. What I like about Humble Bundle is that you can pay as little or as much as you want. Plus, you can decide how much of what you pay goes to charity, Humble Bundle, and the comics creators. I highly recommend the site and they do this for video games and books, as well.

At RT17 in Atlanta this year, we met Luda Gogolushko, the founder of Includas Publishing. She put together a 20-minute vlog on her time there. We were lucky enough to be asked to be in the video, so you can see some of us between the 6:00-8:00 minute mark!

Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

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Posted by Amanda

My Lady Quicksilver

My Lady Quicksilver by Bec McMaster is 99c! This is the third book in the London Steampunk series. I’m not sure if it can be read as a standalone, so maybe the Bitchery can help with that question. Readers loved the world McMaster created, but some found they didn’t enjoy the main couple as much as previous books. The first book is also on sale for 99c!

Determined to destroy the Echelon she despises, Rosalind Fairchild is on seemingly easy mission. Get in. Uncover the secrets of her brother’s disappearance. And get out.

In order to infiltrate the Nighthawks and find their leader, Sir Jasper Lynch, Rosalind will pose as their secretary. But she doesn’t count on Lynch being such a dangerously charismatic man, challenging her at every turn, forcing her to re-evaluate everything she knows about the enemy.

He could be her most dangerous nemesis—or the ally she never dreamed existed.

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The Hamilton Affair

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs is $1.99! This is a work of historical fiction that focuses on Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler’s relationship. Redheadedgirl mentioned that she’d read this one in a previous Whatcha Reading. She found it “good, but disjointed.”

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Revolution, and featuring a cast of iconic characters such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette, The Hamilton Affair tells the sweeping, tumultuous, true love story of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler, from tremulous beginning to bittersweet ending—his at a dueling ground on the shores of the Hudson River, hers more than half a century later after a brave, successful life.

Hamilton was a bastard son, raised on the Caribbean island of St. Croix. He went to America to pursue his education. Along the way he became one of the American Revolution’s most dashing—and unlikely—heroes. Adored by Washington, hated by Jefferson, Hamilton was a lightning rod: the most controversial leader of the American Revolution.

She was the well-to-do daughter of one of New York’s most exalted families—feisty, adventurous, and loyal to a fault. When she met Alexander, she fell head over heels. She pursued him despite his illegitimacy, and loved him despite his infidelity. In 1816 (two centuries ago), she shamed Congress into supporting his seven orphaned children. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton started New York’s first orphanage. The only “founding mother” to truly embrace public service, she raised 160 children in addition to her own.

With its flawless writing, brilliantly drawn characters, and epic scope, The Hamilton Affair will take its place among the greatest novels of American history.

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A Royal Pain

A Royal Pain by Megan Mulry is 99c! This is the first book in the Unruly Royals series and doesn’t have a cliffhanger. Readers really loved the premise and recommend it for fans of royal romances. However, some say the execution failed when compared to the plot description.

Bronte Talbott follows all of the exploits of the British royals. After all, they’re the world’s most preeminent dysfunctional family. And who is she to judge? Bronte’s own search for love isn’t going all that well, especially after her smooth-talking Texan boyfriend abruptly leaves her in the dust.

Bronte keeps a lookout for a rebound to help mend her broken heart, and when she meets Max Heyworth, she’s certain he’s the perfect transition man. But when she discovers he’s a duke, she has to decide if she wants to stay with him for the long haul and deal with the opportunities– and challenges– of becoming a royal.

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A Fine Romance

A Fine Romance by Christi Barth is 99c! This contemporary romance has a slight enemies to lovers trope. The heroine wants to open a “romance store,” which helps craft the perfect date for couples, and the hero is a baker. It’s a sweet romance, though some readers found the couple’s obstacles to be meh.

They say you form your first impression of someone within thirty seconds of meeting them. Or, in Mira Parrish’s case, within thirty minutes of not meeting them, when said person is supposed to pick you up from the airport and never shows. This is not a perfect start to her new life. Her friend Ivy is depending on her to run a new romance store, and Mira can’t afford to let her down.

Sam Lyons should probably apologize. But every time he sees Mira–which is often, since his family owns the bakery next to her shop–he can’t resist antagonizing her. There’s something about the sexy, straight-laced woman that drives him crazy. He can’t get involved, though. He has too much baggage to be any good in a serious relationship.

Despite his teasing attitude, Mira finds Sam too sweet to resist. (His hot body may be a factor.) But if there’s going to be anything permanent between them, they’ll need to let go of their pasts and look to the future…

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Posted by Elyse


Lost and Found Sisters

by Jill Shalvis
June 20, 2017 · William Morrow Paperbacks
RomanceContemporary RomanceNew Adult

Jill Shalvis is my go-to feel good author for contemporaries. I was stoked to see she had a new series coming out (Lost and Found Sisters is the first book in the Wildstone series). I enjoyed the book, but strictly speaking, it’s not a romance novel. So I enjoyed what I got -but I didn’t get what I expected. While I can’t fault the book for being tagged as a romance at places like Goodreads, I did have issues with how many plotlines were packed into one novel. There’s a lot going on, and the ending felt like a lot of it came together too fast.

Now, there is a romance plot line here and it’s an important part of the story, but it takes a backseat to the story of the heroine finding her place in the world and finding her family. Since the romance isn’t the fuel that drives the novel, and since the book is so focused on those other elements, this book falls into the category of Women’s Fiction.

For the record, I hate the term “Women’s Fiction” because it implies that women and men can’t enjoy the same things, and I hate when it’s used as a marketing tool to put a bunch of books with Adirondack chairs and flip-flops on the cover onto a table at Barnes and Noble. It’s Mother’s Day! Get your flip-flop and Adirondack chair books here!


Lost and Found Sisters is a really heartfelt, funny, sweet novel. It also features rogue chickens, a sassy one-eyed cat, and a geriatric golden retriever with hideous farts.

Quinn Weller is a sous chef in Los Angeles whose personal life has stalled after her sister, Beth, died two years ago. Quinn is just going through the motions now, numb to just about everything. Then one day she’s approached by a lawyer who tells her that was actually adopted and that her birth mother has died. Quinn’s birth mother has left behind a café in the small town of Wildstone, CA, and has bequeathed it to Quinn, and to Quinn’s fifteen-year-old sister, Tilly.

So for two years Quinn has been grieving the death of Beth, the sister she’s known her whole life, and now she finds out she has a sister that she’s never met, who is now more or less alone in the world.

Quinn goes to Wildstone, where she has a little breakdown on the beach. It’s there that she meets Mick Hennessey and his dog, Cooper, the one with the horrid gas. Cooper, with his big dopey golden smile, offers Quinn some comfort while she processes. Dogs are great, y’all.

For clarification, Quinn did not know she was adopted, nor that she and Beth were not (as it turns out) biologically related. Quinn and Tilly are. I have no idea about the legalities surrounding informing someone they were adopted after a birth parent’s death. I have, however,  spent time with geriatric golden retrievers and vouch that their farts are legitimately horrible.

Most of the book is about Quinn trying to connect with Tilly who is 1. fifteen 2. just lost her only parent and caregiver and 3. reasonably upset about shit and not ready to trust anyone. Quinn and Tilly both struggle with the fact that their mom didn’t tell them the truth about each other, and both are still badly hurting. Quinn is also upset at her adoptive parents for not being honest with her, either. It’s pretty shitty to find out you’re adopted from a lawyer.

Quinn has a life waiting for her back in LA with a good job, the guy her parents wish she’d marry, and friends who love her. In Wildstone, she has a café that the locals want reopened, a sister who is pushing her away, and a yard full of chickens who like to escape.

She also has Mick. He’s in Wildstone after the death of his father, helping his mother clean out the house and settle affairs. Turns out Mick’s dad was not an awesome guy, and he’s struggling to make peace with his own grief and anger.

Shalvis is really talented at writing characters who are struggling through complicated, difficult emotions and at making that journey feel genuine, but never heavy. For all its discussion of grief and disappointment in parents, this is not a depressing book. Rogue chickens help with that, of course.

There were scenes that kicked me in the Feels pretty strongly. Quinn sometimes sees Beth and talks to her – not as a hallucination nor a dream. I lost my brother-in-law suddenly to an undiagnosed heart condition (aortic dissection) six years ago. I still talk to him sometimes, and I still feel him here with me. The Quinn and Beth scenes made me tear up a little because it felt so close to home.

The romance between Quinn and Mick is sexy and it’s satisfying, but it’s not what’s driving the novel. For the most part, the conflict between them comes from the fact that Quinn is debating radically altering her life. Does she stay in Wildstone and become Tilly’s guardian or does she go back to LA? It’s not a great time to start a new relationship.

The primary conflict of the novel is Quinn finding her place, either in Wildstone or LA, and making peace with her parents, as well as with the family she didn’t know she had. I liked that there were no right answers presented for Quinn. There was never a clear path set out for her with regard to Tilly or the café or even Mick. No one tries to guilt her into guardianship (which was given to a neighbor after Tilly’s mom’s death).

Her relationship with Tilly also runs hot and cold, which to me seems like pretty realistic interactions with a fifteen year old. Sometimes it’s fun and popcorn and movies and adopting a one-eyed cat who wants to eat your chickens. Sometimes Tilly isn’t talking to her.

Even though this wasn’t really a romance I enjoyed the book. The only real problem was there was too much going on for one book to handle. Quinn and Tilly’s relationship could easily take up an entire book by itself, and when you throw in Quinn’s romance with Mick and her trying to reconcile the fact that her parents lied to her for her entire life…that’s a lot of plot.

The other issue is there are also subplots about the town of Wildstone struggling to stay afloat, a character named Brock who is the guy Quinn’s parents want her to marry (and whom I suspect is sequel bait), and a little bit of a suspense element at the end. If I listed everything that goes on in this novel, this would be a seriously long review. As it was, it’s too much for one novel and detracts from the overall story.

Lost and Found Sisters isn’t a perfect book, and it’s not really a romance. It made me laugh and it made me tear-up, but it wasn’t what I was expected when I picked it up.


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June 2009

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