Unwanted Girl by MK Schiller

Oct. 20th, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Carrie S

B+

Unwanted Girl

by M.K. Schiller
January 19, 2016 · Lyrical Shine
Romance

Unwanted Girl deals with serious topics and yet manages to be a sweet, satisfying romance. It’s quite a balancing act in terms of tone.

The hero of Unwanted Girl is Nick Dorsey, the writer of a series of bestselling spy novels of the James Bond type. Nick is also a recovering meth addict. When the book starts, he’s been meth-free for eighteen months, although he still drinks alcohol in moderation (N.B.: most recovery programs do not recommend continuing to drink alcohol after quitting other drugs, although it appears that some people are able to do it). Nick goes to Narcotics Anonymous, has been healing his relationships with family, and is struggling with writer’s block. He lives in New York City.

Nick likes to order sandwiches from a deli that delivers. The same woman always delivers his sandwiches. Eventually she introduces herself and invites herself in. Her name is Shyla, and she is from a small village in India. Shyla is studying education with plans to return to India to be a teacher. Shyla asks Nick to help her write a book of her own and as they work on it they fall in love.

Shyla promises Nick that her book has a happy ending. Nick finds this hard to believe, since her story is about the practice of female gendercide as well as spousal abuse and rape (obviously, HUGE trigger warnings for rape, spousal abuse, child abuse, and sexism). As they work together on her book, they also watch movies and she reads both his spy thrillers and his much more personal first novel. This leads to talk about culture, the meaning and purpose of fiction, and gender and race representation.

Shyla’s story forms a book within the book. It’s about a baby in rural India who is abandoned by her biological parents due to her gender and adopted by a woman who has recently lost her only child. This woman, Nalini, names the baby Asha and raises her with the support of a local nun and teacher named Sarah. Sarah insists on Asha continuing her education well into adulthood. However, Asha is frustrated when she marries an abusive man whose mother is also abusive to Asha. Asha wonders the point of all this education is if she never gets to use it.

Even though the book Shyla is writing is full of trauma, and Nick is dealing with the consequences of his addiction, Shyla and Nick are very playful together. Their playfulness lightens the tone, rounds out their characters, and is just generally a kick to read. It also establishes that despite Nick’s original assumption about Shyla, she is comfortable and confident in her sexuality and not opposed to pre-marital sex. Nick makes many assumptions about Shyla and it’s satisfying to see her overthrow them one after another.

Shyla is an interesting character and I would have enjoyed learning more about the family and friends she works with and lives with in New York. She has a strong sense of self that I admired, and she also has the ability to be flexible in her understanding of the world around her without losing the core sense of who she is. For example, she explains that earlier in her life she would have been shocked at the idea that two women could be in a committed relationship and raise a child, but after living for some time in New York she accepts the idea that there are many configurations of family (Nick’s sister and sister-in-law have an adopted daughter). She has a wicked sense of humor that endeared her to me entirely. On the other hand, towards the end of the book she makes a couple of comments that drove me up the wall, including one about women needing to be ladylike. If she had made that comment at the beginning of the book instead of near the end I doubt I would have stuck with it.

Nick is a more bland character. He’s used to telling people what to do. His inability to comprehend things like the racism in Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom frustrated me. I felt that he tended to infantilize Shyla, assuming that she would be naïve and shy when actually she’s seen much more of the world than he has. Their relationship levels out eventually.

This book is basically a billionaire romance, with Shyla as a Cinderella who finds a rich prince. Nick isn’t a billionaire, but he is very wealthy, and he loves and is generous with beautiful things and good food. Meanwhile, Shyla is hardworking and, while not desperately impoverished, limited in her financial resources. The cross-cultural and feminist elements deepen the story and there’s a bit of thriller intrigue at the end involving a twist that frankly I did not entirely buy. There is a happy ending to both Asha’s story and Shyla’s story but readers should be warned that Asha goes through absolute (graphically described) hell before she gets to the happy ending that Shyla promises. The writing can be a bit stilted and the characters aren’t equally balanced, but the sensitive handling of difficult material and the balance of tragedy and humor bring the book up to a B+.

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Posted by SB Sarah

This is something of an all-in-one episode. Ready?

We begin with one last recommendation request for Amanda and me, and then we squee! Amanda and I both read a book we loved, and want to tell all of you about it. We go on at length, too, so be ready. It’s got magic and mystery and a terrific heroine.

But because I know so many of you immediately grab the next book when you begin a new series, I wanted to include a little information about book 2, which I DNFd after a scene that really irritated me.

THEN, I have an email from an anonymous listener who wanted to share some information based on episode 257, where we discussed BDSM and chronic pain. This is some fascinating stuff, so stay tuned for that.

Listen to the podcast →
Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

Our anonymous listener mentioned shibari rope bondage techniques, and you can learn more online.

The episode our anonymous listener was responding to was episode 257: Bitches Assemble: Our Favorite Recommendations and the Expectations of Tentacles. 

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

Thanks to our sponsors:

More ways to sponsor:

Sponsor us through Patreon! (What is Patreon?)

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

Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Our music is provided by Sassy Outwater.

This is “Fishing at Orbost,” by the Peatbog Fairies, from their album Dust.

You can find all things Peatbog at their website, or at Amazon or iTunes.


Podcast Sponsor

organization Academy lighthouse logoThis episode is brought to you by Organization Academy.

Organization Academy the home of my online courses on using Google Calendar to declutter your schedule and organize your life. I did a series on SBTB about how I use Google Calendar to automate and manage every aspect of my day, including home, family, business, other business, freelance writing, podcasting, meal planning, and more.

Over the past year, I have developed a step by step instructional program outlining the method I use for meal planning, and I am about to launch my first online course, Menu Planning Mastery. It’s all about saving time, energy, and money by harnessing the power of Google Calendar to manage your meal planning.

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Posted by Amanda

An Untamed State

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay is $1.99! This is a highly recommended piece of contemporary fiction. It’s harrowing and emotional as it chronicles a woman’s kidnapping, rescue, and recovery. This is Gay’s debut novel and there are definitely some trigger warnings for this book. For those who have read it, what did you think?

Roxane Gay is a powerful new literary voice whose short stories and essays have already earned her an enthusiastic audience. In An Untamed State, she delivers an assured debut about a woman kidnapped for ransom, her captivity as her father refuses to pay and her husband fights for her release over thirteen days, and her struggle to come to terms with the ordeal in its aftermath.

Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents.

An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places. An Untamed Stateestablishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

Kobo Google Play iBooks

and

amazon

 

 

 

A Rogue to Avoid

A Rogue to Avoid by Bianca Blythe is 99c at Amazon! This is a historical romance where a misunderstanding leads to marriage. Talk about awkward. Readers really seemed to enjoy the interaction between the hero and heroine. However, others found some things to be a bit unbelievable or inconsistent. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads. This is the second book in a series and the first one is also on sale!

A Scottish scoundrel…
Gerard Highgate, Marquess of Rockport and the ton’s most aloof rake, knows better than to wed an Englishwoman, especially one as prickly as Lady Cordelia. But when his mother dies and he finds himself saddled with her debts, he needs a wife and he needs one fast.

An exacting Englishwoman…
Lady Cordelia knows that hastiness in husband hunting leads to mistakes. But when she visits an aristocrat to warn that his life might be in danger, he misinterprets her suggestion to flee to Scotland.

An unexpected elopement…
Most elopements are born of love, not misunderstanding. Cordelia and Gerard have already broken that rule, but perhaps they can still make their marriage one of love.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

amazon

 

 

 

Stud

Stud by Jamie K. Schmidt is 99c! This sounds like a pretty fun contemporary and I already have it on my Kindle. Some readers found the writing a bit choppy at times, while others really loved the heroine’s strong personality. This is also a standalone romance.

Large. Hot. With a pump of sexual tension. 

When the barista next door teams up with a slick ad executive in this sweet standalone novel from USA Today bestselling author Jamie K. Schmidt, they both get a taste of unexpected love.

Terri Cooke wishes she could give Mick Wentworth a piece of her mind. The infuriating stud muffin walks into her coffee shop every morning expecting his regular order at 8:57 on the dot, without ever acknowledging Terri’s presence—except for staring at her cleavage. And yet she can’t deny that Mick Wentworth has an animal magnetism that’s stronger and richer than any espresso . . . which explains why Terri says yes when he suddenly, inexplicably asks her out.

After the morning coffee run, Mick’s day is all downhill from there. His family’s marketing firm is dysfunctional in more ways than one, so to save the business, Mick desperately needs to impress their newest client. When he learns that Terri’s a fan of their trendy product, he tries to get inside her head. It doesn’t hurt that she’s the barista he’s been lusting after for the past five months. But as things heat up with Terri, Mick finds that a little steam is just the jolt he needs to turn his whole life around.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

Barnes & Noble Kobo Google Play iBooks

and

amazon

 

 

 

One Bite Per Night

One Bite Per Night by Brooklyn Ann is 99c! This is a historical paranormal romance with a vampire hero who takes the heroine on as his ward. Readers seemed divided on the main characters. Many liked the hero, but found the heroine to be rather exhausting at times.

He wanted her off his hands…
Vincent Tremayne, the reclusive “Devil Earl,” has been manipulated into taking rambunctious Lydia Price as his ward. As Lord Vampire of Cornwall, Vincent has better things to do than bring out an unruly debutante.

Now he’ll do anything to hold on forever
American-born Lydia Price doesn’t care for the stuffy strictures of the ton, and is unimpressed with her foppish suitors. She dreams of studying with the talented but scandalous British portrait painter, Sir Thomas Lawrence. But just when it seems her dreams will come true, Lydia is plunged into Vincent’s dark world and finds herself caught between the life she’s known and a future she never could have imagined.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

Barnes & Noble Google Play iBooks

and

amazon

 

 

 

The Rec League: Mary Stewart

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

The Rec League - heart shaped chocolate resting on the edge of a very old bookOur community at the Bitchery is full of warm & fuzzy moments and as the person who puts together the Books on Sale posts, sometimes we get some kickass, budget-endangering comment threads. For example, KateB alerted us to a mega Mary Stewart sale!

You can view Mary Stewart’s ebook editions, sorted from low to high prices, all of which are $3.99 or lower, at this Amazon link.

Here are some Stewart recs from that particular comment thread.

No, the Other Anne:

Airs Above the Ground and The Ivy Tree are particular favorites. I also love Touch Not the Cat. Really you can’t go wrong with anything Mary Stewart, though!

Vicki:

I think my favorite might be The Ivy Tree. Currently re-reading MoonSpinners, the book is better than the movie. Gosh, I read all of these between eight and 13 years old, did not get all the sub-text and still loved them. Love them all now, too.

PamG:

Personally, I favor This Rough Magic and back in the day, when I first read Mary Stewart, I loved Wildfire at Midnight. Her later romantic suspense–post Touch Not the Cat–seemed a little bland to me, but the rest of it was golden.

Do read the rest of the comments for more recommendations, and please let us know which books the Bitchery should be during this awesome Mary Stewart sale!

A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford

Oct. 19th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by SB Sarah

DNF

A Spoonful of Magic

by Irene Radford
November 7, 2017 · DAW
RomanceContemporary Romance

Trigger warnings for rape, gaslighting, infidelity, and discussions of Joss Whedon.

I  DNF’d this book so hard I’m a little surprised my Kindle isn’t embedded in the drywall.

First, a few points.

  1. I am aware (and was aware when I started this book) that this is Not a Romance. I am not carrying into this review my romance-reader expectations on happy or optimistic endings.
  2. I started this book while the coverage of Kai Cole’s essay on Joss Whedon’s infidelity and gaslighting was everywhere, which was a weird parallel that accentuated my revulsion.
  3. This book does not come out until November 7, which is a good ways off. Usually I don’t post reviews so far in advance, but I’ll probably complain about this book more than once before pub date.

I picked up this book because the NetGalley description sounded really intriguing:

A delightful new urban fantasy about a kitchen witch and her magical family

Daphne “Daffy” Rose Wallace Deschants has an ideal suburban life—three wonderful and talented children; a coffee shop and bakery, owned and run with her best friend; a nearly perfect husband, Gabriel, or “G” to his friends and family. Life could hardly be better.

But G’s perfection hides dangerous secrets. When Daffy uncovers evidence of his infidelity, her perfect life seems to be in ruins. On their wedding anniversary, Daffy prepares to confront him, only to be stopped in her tracks when he foils a mugging attempt using wizard-level magic. 

Suddenly, Daphne is part of a world she never imagined–where her husband is not a traveling troubleshooter for a software company, but the sheriff of the International Guild of Wizards, and her brilliant children are also budding magicians. Even she herself is not just a great baker and barista—she’s actually a kitchen witch. And her discovery of her powers is only just beginnning [sic]. 

But even the midst of her chaotic new life, another problem is brewing. G’s ex-wife, a dangerous witch, has escaped from her magical prison. Revenge-bent and blind, she needs the eyes of her son to restore her sight—the son Daffy has raised as her own since he was a year old. Now Daphne must find a way to harness her new powers and protect her family—or risk losing everything she holds dear.

As I said, I didn’t go into this book expecting a romance at all, but what I got made me SO angry.

The book opens with Daffy at a 13th anniversary dinner with her husband, and she’s pissed. Someone has emailed her pictures of him having wild sex with another woman, just after the people of their small (and of course sort of weird) town saw him around when he said he was overseas. When she confronts him with the pictures and then leaves the restaurant, three dudes attempt to mug her, but he stops them with his wooden fountain pen which is actually his magic wand.

She thought he was a low-level “parlor trick” magician, similar to some of the semi-magical people around their town. Turns out he has serious magical abilities, but he only tells her that much because she saw them. He won’t answer her questions about his having sex with someone else, and keeps insisting that she not kick him out because he has to keep her and their three children safe.

I was thinking maybe at some point she’d realize her kitchen witch powers and set him on fire, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the story follows Daffy ( she’s a magical baker in a magical coffee shop in a magical small town) and her children, who are beginning to manifest their powers.

I liked that not everything is explained up front. There’s no infodumpy reverie from the protagonists – not even when G should have been explaining things because clearly Daffy is devastated and betrayed by his infidelity –  and there isn’t much random “As you know,” from ancillary characters. The world is built in small doses, and while some of it is cliched (magical small town coffeeshop bakery because of course magical small town coffeeshop bakery), it made me curious enough to keep going.

I was confused by the fact that there are dual points of view, with Daffy’s narration in first person, and G’s perspective in third person, but I figured that was a choice that would make sense later.

Unfortunately, I have no interest in getting to later. I stopped and I will not be moved.

Let me back up and explain some of the setup here. G doesn’t acknowledge how those pictures happened, except to say (of course) that it’s not what she thinks. He says that cameras can’t capture illusions, and that someone had to have hacked his email account because he didn’t send the pictures.

So he did have sex with someone but he didn’t mean to send his wife evidence?

Huh.

This is 2% in to the story so I was willing to keep going.

Then G explains that the world is really dangerous and she and their children need him around to protect them.

But he won’t say from what, and he won’t talk about whether he did cheat on her, despite visible evidence.

Then he says they’ve had “thirteen wonderful years together” and that he needs her “now more than ever.”

Daffy calls him on his bullshit:

“You need me to babysit your children. Thirteen years when I’ve raised your son as my own. I adopted him on our wedding day, so he’d never need to ask about the mother who died giving birth to him. I’ve given you two wonderful daughters, kept house, cooked, and picked up after you.”

And here is G’s sensitive, thoughtful reply:

“And I love you for that. I do truly love you despite the temptations I face every day. I built you a wrought iron-and-glass greenhouse that fills a quarter of the backyard where the stables used to be. That should prove something of my devotion to you.”

You. Have Got. To be. Fucking. Kidding. Me.

He built a greenhouse where the stables used to be so obviously she’s not focusing on the right details.

And while I’m looking at this paragraph, “The temptations I face every day?

Are you SERIOUS?!

His argument reminded me with a sick feeling of the coverage of Kai Cole’s account of her marriage wherein Whedon was cheating on her for 15+ years. That whole “temptation” whine sounded nauseatingly familiar. It was kind of eerie that this was the book I picked up immediately after I read her essay.

I mean, gosh, it’s so difficult to not stick your dick in other people.

Such a burden to be basically decent when you’re a successful, powerful dude.

I just strained every one of my ocular muscles.

Anyway, Daffy kicks his ass out of their home, and the story continues as their divorce gets closer to being finalized. The kids, it turns out, know about the cheating because one of them is drawn to locks, puzzles, and things she shouldn’t be looking at. She clicked her way into her mother’s hard drive and saw the images, which she promptly shared with her siblings.

(Yeesh.)

(And as an aside: Daffy blames herself for not doing a better job of protecting her files, since she knew her daughter was drawn to all puzzles, locks, and passwords. Do people with magical abilities have a free pass to be completely crappy humans in this world?? I cannot with that part.)

Daffy is determined that she be able to at least cordially co-parent with G, and tries to work out ways for him to be part of their lives. This becomes more complicated when each child begins manifesting signs of their own magical ability, some far earlier than normal, and all with considerable amounts of power.

Plus, G’s narration reveals that Daffy was raised in a fundamentalist household, and that her grandmother had been a magical practitioner. To get his daughter away from the “evil influence,” Daffy’s father had his mother committed and subjected to electric shock treatments. Daffy never saw her again. As a result of her own parents’ indoctrination and the absence of her grandmother, Daffy’s own magic is severely suppressed. But no doubt her own talents combined with G’s mean that their children are like a Semi-Nuclear Pre-Teen Magical Titan Fantastic Squad.

The Kids are All Magical was a really tempting element to this story for me. Each one is compelled to find their personal wand, which can take the shape of a mundane item, usually an antique that “calls” to them. One has two sticks that she wears in her hair with ornaments on them which transform her from awkward teen to beautiful siren, and another, the lock-breaking boundary-obliterating one, is later drawn to an item that’s connected with her talents.

G’s son, Daffy’s adopted son, is a talented ballet dancer, and they figure out pretty early in the story what his “wand” is, and how it accentuates and focuses his power. And his dedication to dance and to practice and training make it pretty clear he’ll be very powerful the more time he spends dancing. He was one of my favorite characters in the parts that I read. I’d read a whole book about him.

For the next few chapters, Daffy and G are separated, and she slowly learns more about who he really is (very little of that information is provided by G himself) while trying to set up new boundaries for his involvement in her life, and trying to understand what her powers are or might be.

Then there are two major revelations, one of which I will hide behind spoiler tags:

Spoiler and Trigger Warning: Rape

It seems that G’s ex is not dead, but is in magic prison for killing a bunch of people, including his parents. Except she’s escaped from magic prison, and has been killing people all over the world.

AND she used her magic to make herself look like Daffy, so that when G was having sex with her, he thought he was with his wife. Evil Ex-Wife took the pictures, hacked his email, and sent them to Daffy, knowing she’d kick her husband out, leaving her and her children – specifically her son – vulnerable.

So effectively, she raped her ex-husband and framed him for cheating on his wife.

I read that part, and said, “WHOA.” Out loud. But quietly because people were sleeping.

And I was waiting for G to sit Daffy down and explain the whole thing, about the danger to the children, about the circumstances for the pictures, all of it.

But he doesn’t.

He doesn’t seem upset about what happened to him except that his ex-wife is dangerous (and also not dead but everyone thinks that she is). He doesn’t explain what’s happening, he doesn’t reveal how he’s lied and concealed information about Daffy, about their kids, about anything. He knows best – for himself.

And I grew increasingly angry at him for it. He’s wrapped up in some willful deceit and manipluation to not tell Daffy the truth about her own life, about the children she’s raising, about her own marriage, and their collective vulnerability.

He’s supposed to be able to protect them? From what, his own dickbaggery?

Then I completely lost my shit.

G. brings pizza and wine to the bakery, where Daffy is setting up the dough on a Sunday night for the Monday morning baking. He mentions that he’ll be heading out of the country on some big case, and she reacts with some asperity (completely justified, to my thinking):

“Have fun,” I said with more than a bit of contempt.

G didn’t need to read my mind to know where my thoughts led me. He reached over and rested his big hand atop mine. I looked small and frail in comparison to his strength.

“It’s not always like that, Daffy.”

“Like what?” I fixed him with a determined glare.

“Look, I have, upon occasion, found release with another woman when I was far away from you and the amount of magic I had to case in order to close a case was too much to contain. Not often. Not habitually. There is always a woman of age I can pick up in a bar who is very willing to share a one-night stand. And I always use a condom.”

He paused long enough to chew a bit of pizza and swallow it. “Normally I hop the first flight home and return to you, my love.”

Aaaand that would be where I stopped reading.

Because are you KIDDING ME? 

Seriously.

At the foundation level of this story, I believe I am supposed to witness G redeeming himself or something. Maybe Daffy needs to show him how not to be a terrible person (which he should have figured out on his own) or maybe he is going to wake his own sorry ass up and realize what a shit he’s been, but I am not here for any of it.

G is the gatekeeper of information Daffy needs and should have, and lies to her every time they talk. And based on the direction of the plot so far, eventually they will probably go fight evil together or something.

I don’t know, and I don’t care.

I can’t invest myself in wanting any part of his involvement in her life, or in this book. I won’t be convinced, ever, that he is a person Daffy should have in her life. I won’t be convinced to read about him, either.

His inability to acknowledge his actions, and the way in which the world of the book seems to condone the fact that he lies to Daffy, misleads her, and banged people behind her back without telling her made me feel ill, similar to how I felt when I read Kai Cole’s essay. “I did something wrong over and over but it wasn’t my fault because magic/patriarchy/both” is not heroic, not in real life, and not in a book.

(And how exactly does using a condom makes it ok, you magical dipshit? Come on.)

The longer he deceives Daffy and hides the truth from her about her life, her marriage, his past, her children, her latent powers, and her future, the more he strips her of any agency in a story that is ostensibly about her. Life is way too short to spend my reading time with a character like that, and, as Amanda pointed out to me as we discussed this book, it’s very easy for me to put down the book and walk away – far easier than it may be for a person in a marriage as damaging as this one.

Daffy can’t get away from G, and he’s orchestrated everything so that she won’t be able to extricate herself from any involvement with him. He hasn’t told her anything resembling the truth, and the ethical systems and morality of the magical world seem to condone his decisions and the harm he does to Daffy and their family.

To hell with him, and people like him. I’m out.

ETA: Out of morbid curiosity, I flipped to the last chapter to read how it ends. So while I did not finish the book, I did read the end.

Show Spoiler

Daffy, G, and the kids defeat the Evil Ex Wife, and G and Daffy have outstanding sex, but then she tells him to leave. She’s going to date other people, and he can as well, but they should start over. She married him too young, and needs a chance to know herself before she commits to him again. So I’m guessing there will be another book at some point.

Good going, Daffy. Way to toss him out.

But the door is still open for him to come back in, and so I’m not interested in reading the rest.

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Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.Wednesday links are here!

Essentially, the crop of links today are strictly romance and Carrie Fisher related, and I don’t think anyone will mind too terribly about that. I’ve been in South Florida for a week, dealing with family things, and I’ll be returning to the Northeast today to sleep in my own bed and cuddle my ornery senior cat.

Three cheers for Beverly Jenkins talking about romance and diversity over at Shondaland:

Shondaland: For a lot of people, the outside perception of romance has been that it’s this very white space, which can make it feel inaccessible for a lot of minorities. But I think that’s changing, and it’s in large part thanks to amazing writers like you. So, just to start, thank you for your work, and for normalizing people of color in romance.

Beverly Jenkins: You’re very welcome. Love is love. We all love. And the industry should reflect everyone. Like you said, things are getting better — [but] every industry can do more, or needs to do more. I think romance, along with Romance Writers of America, have made tremendous strides in the last four or five years in trying to bring that normalcy to the genre. And it’s been great.

I also recommend looking over the Shondaland site from time to time for more great interviews.

Organization Academy A note from Sarah:  A quick reminder – pardon the interruption.

I am days away from opening registration for the inaugural Organization Academy online course, Menu Planning Mastery. 

If you feel overwhelmed by the question, “What’s for dinner tonight?” when you don’t know the answer, this course is for you. Each lesson will teach you how to harness the power of Google Calendar to manage and automate your meal planning, and save you time, energy, and money.

You’ll know what’s for dinner, you’ll have more time and money to buy books – what could be better?

If you’d like to be among the first to know when registration opens, please enter your email address below!  I’ll also send you weekly tips and step-by-step instructions with specific organization and time management strategies:

Please sign up if you’d like information about the course when registration opens.

Thank you in advance, and now back to your regularly scheduled link-a-palooza!

These next couple links regarding Carrie Fisher are from Elizabeth. Thank you, Elizabeth!

First up, The Mary Sue has an article about Fisher stressing the importance of Leia in pop culture:

“She was so conscious of the place that Leia had,” Johnson said, “not just broadly in the culture, but very specifically in terms of girls who grew up watching Star Wars, when Leia was the only female hero on the screen. She really wanted to do right by that, drawing the character forward. That was something that she would always be pulling us back to.”.

Here are some of Elizabeth’s additional comments: “Apparently when filming The Last Jedi, Carrie Fisher had a lot of input into the script. She wanted to make it the best it could be for all the girls who grew up watching Star Wars and for whom she was a hero.”

There’s also a #LeiaIsWithUs hashtag gaining momentum, which is calling for fans to honor Fisher during The Last Jedi‘s opening night by wearing or bringing an object that is Leia-related.

The Bacon Free Library is having a romance swag bag auction! The auction will officially launch October 22, but you can preview the items available now.

Bid to win swag from any of these award winning, best-selling, beloved, classic romance authors. Swag can include anything from signed books to having your name in one of the authors’ next book – how exciting!

There are a ton of authors participating, so please check it out!

Lastly, I’m dismayed to just hear about the Werk It Festival, which highlights women in podcasting:

Werk It’s first iteration, in 2015, was comprised of a crowd of 100 women, who met in WNYC’s Greene Space. This year the festival drew 600 pass-holding attendees and presenters, who all wore assertive smiles while mingling over coffee in the dimly lit Spanish Gothic Theatre and lobby, where the men‘s room had temporarily been labeled unisex. (The hotel was a uniquely fitting setting, based in the renovated headquarters of United Artists, a company co-founded in 1919 by one of the most powerful women in Hollywood history, Mary Pickford). Later, guests attended panels with names such as Creativity Doesn’t Just Happen and Extreme Engagement, and watched live tapings of shows such as Death, Sex & Money with Anna Sale, and 2 Dope Queens with Jessica Williams and guest co-host Naomi Ekperigin.

I would love to attend next year, as I pretty much exclusively listen to podcasts now.

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!

Firefighters, a Thriller, & More!

Oct. 18th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

RECOMMENDED: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott is $1.99! This nonfiction book tells the history of four kickass women during the Civil War. Carrie reviewed the book and gave it an impressive A+:

The book is interesting and exciting and paints incredible pictures of very different women who, love them or hate them, lived unusual lives of great political and personal passion and daring.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws the reader into the war as these daring women lived it.

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Flirting with Fire

Flirting with Fire by Kate Meader is $2.99! This is a contemporary romance and was mentioned in a podcast episode with The Ripped Bodice owners, Bea and Leah. Readers loved the heroine, but found the pace surprisingly slow. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads.

The first installment in Hot in Chicago, a brand-new, sizzling series from Kate Meader that follows a group of firefighting foster siblings and their blazing hot love interests!

Savvy PR guru Kinsey Taylor has always defined herself by her career, not her gender. That is, until she moved from San Francisco to Chicago to be with her fiancé who thought she wasn’t taking her “job” of supporting him in his high-powered career seriously enough—and promptly dumped her for a more supportive and “feminine” nurse. Now, as the new assistant press secretary to Chicago’s dynamic mayor, she’s determined to keep her eye on the prize: no time to feel inferior because she’s a strong, kick-ass woman, and certainly no time for men.

But that all changes when she meets Luke Almeida, a firefighter as searingly sexy as he is quick-tempered. He’s also the second oldest of the Firefightin’ Dempseys, a family of foster siblings who have committed their lives to the service—if Luke’s antics don’t get him fired first. When Luke goes one step too far and gets into a bar brawl with the Chicago Police Department, Kinsey marches into Luke’s firehouse and lays down the law on orders from the mayor. But at Engine Co. 6, Luke Almeida is the law. And he’s not about to let Kinsey make the rules.

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Bound by Your Touch

Bound by Your Touch by Meredith Duran is $1.99! This is a standalone historical romance and I know many of you enjoy Duran’s books. Some readers mention that this is a surprisingly emotional romance and really felt for the hero. However, others felt like there was way too much going on with the heroine. If you’ve read this one, what do you think?

Silver-tongued Viscount Sanburne is London’s favorite scapegrace. Alas, Lydia Boyce has no interest in being charmed. When his latest escapade exposes a plot to ruin her family, she vows to handle it herself, as she always has done. Certainly she requires no help from a too-handsome dilettante whose main achievement is being scandalous. But Sanburne’s golden charisma masks a sharper mind and darker history than she realizes. He shocks Lydia by breaking past her prim facade to the woman beneath…and the hidden fire no man has ever recognized. But as she follows him into a world of intrigue, she will learn that the greatest danger lies within — in the shadowy, secret motives of his heart.

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Are You Sleeping

Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber is $2.99! I mentioned this in a previous Hide Your Wallet because it’s a thriller that has to do with a true crime podcast, and true crime podcasts are 90% of what I listen to. However, some readers say that despite the cool premise, the execution is lacking in areas.

The only thing more dangerous than a lie…is the truth.

Serial meets Ruth Ware’s In A Dark, Dark Wood in this inventive and twisty psychological thriller about a mega-hit podcast that reopens a murder case—and threatens to unravel the carefully constructed life of the victim’s daughter.

Josie Buhrman has spent the last ten years trying to escape her family’s reputation and with good reason. After her father’s murder thirteen years prior, her mother ran away to join a cult and her twin sister Lanie, once Josie’s closest friend and confidant, betrayed her in an unimaginable way. Now, Josie has finally put down roots in New York, settling into domestic life with her partner Caleb, and that’s where she intends to stay.

The only problem is that she has lied to Caleb about every detail of her past—starting with her last name.

When investigative reporter Poppy Parnell sets off a media firestorm with a mega-hit podcast that reopens the long-closed case of Josie’s father’s murder, Josie’s world begins to unravel. Meanwhile, the unexpected death of Josie’s long-absent mother forces her to return to her Midwestern hometown where she must confront the demons from her past—and the lies on which she has staked her future.

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO is from Mai, who’s been searching for this book for months:

I am not quite sure if this is a full-length novel, a novella, or part of an anthology.

It’s a historical book — the male lead is probably an earl or a duke of some sort and he’s married with children, but routine has dampened his and his wife’s relationship quite a bit. The man starts to leave his wife little notes to rekindle their love and I think these notes are about his fantasies or maybe he asks her out; I’m not too sure exactly.

I also remember that the male lead thinks a friend of his wife might be after her and that’s why he is so desperate to have her fall back in love with him.

Does anyone know this one?

Scots, Vamps, & Jenny Han

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

Nothing Like a Duke

Nothing Like a Duke by Jane Ashford is $1.99! This is a Kindle Daily Deal and is currently being price-matched. Redheadedgirl picked this one for a previous Hide Your Wallet since she’s enjoyed the series thus far. Readers said there’s some great banter in the book, but wished the plot and conflict had a bit more oomph.

A Georgette Heyer-esque tale of high society in the glittering Regency

Lord Robert Gresham has given up all hope that the beautiful Flora Jennings will ever take him seriously. He heads to an exclusive country house party to forget about Flora, but his plans are thwarted when she suddenly arrives.

Their attraction flares, but their romance becomes complicated when the sinister Anthony Durand shows up and threatens Flora. Every bone in Robert’s body says to save her…but he’ll have to learn that some damsels in distress can save themselves if he truly wants to win her heart.

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If You Dare

If You Dare by Kresley Cole is $2.99! This is the first book in the MacCarrick Brothers series. Readers might be more familiar with Cole’s paranormal romances, but she started with writing historical romances. Cole typically writes Alpha heroes and this book is no exception. It has a 4-star rating on Goodreads.

Kresley Cole introduces a thrilling new romance trilogy featuring fierce Scottish brothers with dangerous lives, dark desires, and a deadly curse.

Can he exact revenge?

High in the Pyrenees, a band of mercenaries led by Courtland MacCarrick wages war for General Reynaldo Pascal. When Court turns on the evil general, Pascal orders him killed, but Court narrowly escapes and exacts revenge by kidnapping Pascal’s exquisite Castilian fiancée.

Can she deny her passions?

Lady Annalía Tristán Llorente despises her towering, barbaric captor almost as much as she does Pascal. Her inexplicable attraction to the Highlander only fuels her fury. But nothing will stop her from returning to Pascal—for if she doesn’t wed him, she signs her brother’s death warrant, as well as her own.

Can there be love between them?

From the moment Court discovers that Anna’s prim façade masks a fiery, brave lass, his heart’s ensnared, and he dares to defy the curse that has shadowed his life—to walk with death or walk alone. But Pascal vows that he’ll hunt the two, never stopping until he’s destroyed them both.

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Bittersweet Blood

Bittersweet Blood by Nina Croft is 99c! This is the first book in The Order series and right now, you can grab all three books for less than $3! There’s definitely an element of suspense, which readers liked, while others felt it had a lot going on in terms of the cast of characters.

Tara Collins just wants to be normal. Everyone else wants her dead.

Tara’s eccentric aunt raised her to be fearful of the world and follow the rules. But after her aunt’s death, Tara is ready to take control and experience life for the first time. But she quickly discovers that everything she’s been told is a web of lies. Determined to solve the mystery of who she is truly, she hires private investigator to help her uncover the truth.

Christian Roth is more than your average PI. A vampire and ex-demon hunter, Christian lives among the humans, trying to be “normal.” But recently, things seem to be falling apart. There’s a crazed demon hell-bent on revenge hunting him down, and a fae assassin on the loose with an unknown target. And the Order he abandoned desperately needs his help.

As the secrets of Tara’s past collide with the problems in Christian’s present, she finds herself fighting her attraction to the dark and mysterious investigator. Falling in love does not fit into her plans at all, but Tara soon learns that some rules are meant to be broken.

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Burn for Burn

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian is $2.99! This is a YA novel about three young women out for revenge and I immediately added this to my TBR pile when I saw it on sale. Be warned that there’s a quasi-cliffhanger ending, given that this is the first book in a trilogy.

BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY…THEY GET EVEN

Postcard-perfect Jar Island is home to charming tourist shops, pristine beaches, amazing oceanfront homes — and three girls secretly plotting revenge.

KAT is sick and tired of being bullied by her former best friend.

LILLIA has always looked out for her little sister, so when she discovers that one of her guy friends has been secretly hooking up with her, she’s going to put a stop to it.

MARY is perpetually haunted by a traumatic event from years past, and the boy who’s responsible has yet to get what’s coming to him.

None of the girls can act on their revenge fantasies alone without being suspected. But together…anything is possible.

With an unlikely alliance in place, there will be no more “I wish I’d said…” or “If I could go back and do things differently…” These girls will show Jar Island that revenge is a dish best enjoyed together.

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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO request comes from Julia and she’s trying to find a medieval romance:

I read this medieval romance about 12 years ago, back when I was a tween and my local public library still had their romance novels in one spot: the very back of the Adult Fiction section. I do not remember character names or the author, sadly. Here’s what I remember:

– Book was probably set in the 1300s.

– Heroine finds out her older sister has died and their father pulls her out of a convent to marry the hero in her sister’s place. I think the sister’s name was Sibylla, or some form of the name, but it may have been the heroine’s name instead.

– There’s a big spiel about spouses sleeping naked together. Heroine is nervous about this but hero assures her he’s not going to do anything until she’s more comfortable. Though I’m convinced he taught her the proper way to spoon.

– I remember a large battle at the end, where the hero’s helmet flies off during a duel with someone, probably the villain. I also think the heroine was either pregnant at this point or is giving birth while this is going on.

– The author had a “Historical Notes” section at the end. I think she used part of it to explain politics, how the hero’s helmet fell off during his duel, and say that “yes, medieval spouses slept naked”.

– I know there was an inside cover, and I think dark fuchsia was…incredibly prominent. It may have been a giant bed with dark fuchsia sheets. The fuchsia may have been on the cover as well.

Fuchsia alert!

His Dark Kiss by Eve Silver

Oct. 17th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Elyse

B+

His Dark Kiss

by Eve Silver
November 24, 2013 · Eve Silver
Urban Fantasy

Before I ever read a romance novel, I devoured Gothics by Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. When I was probably around twelve I found them on a bookshelf in our basement, and I think over the course of one summer I read everything both authors had written.

Gothic romances were and are the perfect blend of the creepy and the sexy. Usually set on a crumbling estate, the innocent heroine shows up (sometimes as a governess or poor relation or new wife) to meet the dark and mysterious lord of the manor/castle/whatever. These books were always told only from the heroine’s POV as she tried to piece together spooky happenings (ghosts, curses, diaries left behind by mysteriously dead former wives) while simultaneously fearing the hero and also wanting to bone him.

Sadly, there was no boning in Victoria Holt’s novels, but Eve Silver’s  Dark Gothic series is here to rectify that. His Dark Kiss is the second book in the series, but totally works as a stand-alone read.

Emma Parrish arrives at Manorbrier Castle to act as governess to the son of her late cousin, Delia. Rumors abound that Lord Anthony Craven, Delia’s husband, was responsible for her death, but practical Emma dismisses this all as “stuff and nonsense.”

When she gets to Manorbrier, however, she realizes some seriously spooky shit is going on. First of all, the previous two governesses died under mysterious circumstances.

She overhears her student, adorable plot moppet Nicky, discussing her with the cook:

“I haven’t met her yet. But if she is like Miss Strubb or Miss Rust or…” The child shivered and hesitated briefly before saying the woman’s name in a hushed whisper. “…Mrs. Winter, then I think I should not like to meet her at all. And certainly if she is like Mrs. Winter, then she should go away and never come back. Papa could send her off in a pine box. Just like he sent Mrs. Winter.”

A pine box? Emma stood frozen, digesting the implications of all she had overheard. Clearly the child was frightened, and had quite possibly been ill-treated by his previous governesses. That he had suffered was a sad thing to be sure, but his trust could be gained with patience and love. So she worried not overmuch as to Nicky’s opinion of her, but the mention of a pine box for the unknown Mrs. Winter gave her pause. There was only one type of pine box he could mean.

A chill crept across Emma’s skin. It seemed that Mrs. Winter had left Manorbrier in a coffin, and by the child’s account, it was Lord Anthony who had put her there.

One of the things that’s tricky in a Gothic is making the hero a menacing and potentially murderous figure, while simultaneously making him desirable to the heroine and reader. Like a true Gothic hero, Anthony is darkly mysterious and handsome, and has a penchant for wandering around his castle with his shirt unbuttoned but tucked in. The Gothic hero sometimes intersected with (or was a precursor to) the vampire hero, so if you’re confused as to how he could be appealing, think about Spike or Angel or whoever Sarah McLachlan was singing about in “Building a Mystery” (ah, the nineties. Good times).

Emma doesn’t think Anthony is a murderer. He’s a devoted and loving father to Nicky, and he’s also very kind to those in his employ (when a maid gets pregnant out of wedlock, he keeps her on and also pays for the care of her sick mother). But there’s definitely something fucked up going on at Manorbrier. For one, all the other servants seem creepy and tight lipped about everything, like they’re all in on some huge conspiracy. Then there’s the mysterious Round Tower that Emma is explicitly forbidden from entering.

One day Emma is enjoying the fresh air when she sees the coachman, Griggs, carrying a bundle into the Round Tower:

From the bottom of the bundle dangled a human hand, the fingers curled like talons, the skin wrinkled and pale save for a terrible blackened lesion that marred the flesh, the center glistening wetly in the sun. Emma gasped and lurched away. ‘Twas not just any body, but a terrible, frightening thing riddled with disease.

Taking another involuntary step backward, she held up one hand, palm forward. Such a futile gesture aimed at warding off the horror that confronted her. She swallowed against the bile that crawled up her throat as frozen talons of true horror gouged her heart.

Griggs looked down.

“His Lordship likes ’em fresh,” he said. “Says it’s best for the harvest.” With a grunt, he hefted his morbid parcel, turned his back on her, and disappeared into the tower.

Now, any sane person would be like:

Anna from Frozen says Uhh...okay. Well, I'm gonna go...

Not the Gothic heroine, though. The Gothic heroine is gonna wait until midnight, put on her flimsiest nightgown, grab a candle, and go figure this shit out.

One of the things this novel does really well is keep Anthony a darkly intriguing figure while also making him super bone-able. It’s a tough chord to strike, balancing fear and desire together, and going too far in any direction will ruin the mood so to speak.

Emma is illegitimate and acutely aware of what an affair with the lord of the castle could mean for someone in her position. That said, she and Anthony are drawn to each other with a delicious intensity.  And the sex scenes in this book are hella hot.

One of the things that was a little frustrating, but also frankly a convention of the genre, is that much of the conflict could have been solved by Emma and Anthony talking. “Hey, why is Griggs carrying bodies into the Round Tower?” would be a pretty reasonable question to ask. Emma doesn’t often explicitly voice her concerns and when she does Anthony answers her in a vague and roundabout way. It keeps the mystery going, but it’s irksome.

That mystery is resolved nicely though and the clues as to what the hell is really going are peppered throughout the book in a way that the reader can solve it if they want to.

Now I do want to add a trigger warning. There’s a scene where a woman is in labor and in distress, and there is a frank conversation with the physician about performing an abortion (and how it would be performed) in order to save her life. This could be upsetting for anyone who had experienced something similar.

His Dark Kiss is also fairly creepy. It didn’t give me nightmares, but the horror element is sufficiently explicit that it might freak out more sensitive readers. Since I read creepy shit all the time, it didn’t bother me much.

If you’ve never read a Gothic and want to try one, or are just looking for seasonally spooky read, His Dark Kiss would be a good place to start.

YA Fantasy, Plus Elizabeth Hoyt!

Oct. 16th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Darling Beast

RECOMMENDED: Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt is $2.99! This book seven in the Maiden Lane historical romance series, and hinted at a Beauty & the Beast theme. Elyse and Redheadgirl did a join review of the book and gave it an A-:

Elyse: For me it’s a solid B+. It was a good read, but lacked the Beauty and the Beast storyline I really wanted. Also Plot Moppets. And questionable choices on Apollo’s part.

Oh, there are great sex scenes though!

So…maybe A-?

RHG: The sex scenes were great.  I’d agree with the A-.

A MAN CONDEMNED…

Falsely accused of murder and mute from a near-fatal beating, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne has escaped from Bedlam. With the Crown’s soldiers at his heels, he finds refuge in the ruins of a pleasure garden, toiling as a simple gardener. But when a vivacious young woman moves in, he’s quickly driven to distraction…

A DESPERATE WOMAN…

London’s premier actress, Lily Stump, is down on her luck when she’s forced to move into a scorched theatre with her maid and small son. But she and her tiny family aren’t the only inhabitants-a silent, hulking beast of a man also calls the charred ruins home. Yet when she catches him reading her plays, Lily realizes there’s more to this man than meets the eye.

OUT OF ASH, DESIRE FLARES

Though scorching passion draws them together, Apollo knows that Lily is keeping secrets. When his past catches up with him, he’s forced to make a choice: his love for Lily…or the explosive truth that will set him free.

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The Crown’s Game

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye is $1.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble! This is a YA fantasy novel that has been sitting on TBR pile for a bit. It sounds so awesome,  but I’m also hesitant to pull the trigger when it comes to YA. Readers loved the Russian setting and the magical element, but wanted more political intrigue over the romance.

Vika Andreyev can summon the snow and turn ash into gold. Nikolai Karimov can see through walls and conjure bridges out of thin air. They are enchanters—the only two in Russia—and with the Ottoman Empire and the Kazakhs threatening, the Tsar needs a powerful enchanter by his side.

And so he initiates the Crown’s Game, an ancient duel of magical skill—the greatest test an enchanter will ever know. The victor becomes the Imperial Enchanter and the Tsar’s most respected adviser. The defeated is sentenced to death.

Raised on tiny Ovchinin Island her whole life, Vika is eager for the chance to show off her talent in the grand capital of Saint Petersburg. But can she kill another enchanter—even when his magic calls to her like nothing else ever has?

For Nikolai, an orphan, the Crown’s Game is the chance of a lifetime. But his deadly opponent is a force to be reckoned with—beautiful, whip smart, imaginative—and he can’t stop thinking about her.

And when Pasha, Nikolai’s best friend and heir to the throne, also starts to fall for the mysterious enchantress, Nikolai must defeat the girl they both love . . . or be killed himself.

As long-buried secrets emerge, threatening the future of the empire, it becomes dangerously clear . . . the Crown’s Game is not one to lose.

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My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, and Brodi Ashton is $1.99! This book comes highly recommended and I keep bumping it up, higher and higher, on my TBR list. This is a YA fantasy novel that many readers find clever and really entertaining. However, others didn’t find it very memorable. It has a 4.1-star rating on Goodreads.

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

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Rooms

Rooms by Lauren Oliver is $1.99! This is a departure from Oliver’s previous YA novels, as this seems to fall more into adult fiction. Based on the description, it also seems perfectly spooky for an October read. Reviewers say the book starts off strong, but their interest seemed to wane halfway through. Have you read this one?

A tale of family, ghosts, secrets, and mystery, in which the lives of the living and the dead intersect in shocking, surprising, and moving ways

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

Squee

In the Distance There Is Light

by Harper Bliss
September 8, 2016 · Ladylit Publishing
GothicRomanceHistorical: European

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

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

I’ve been a big fan of Harper Bliss’s lesbian romances for a long time, and age gap (or May/December) stories are like my catnip, so you can imagine my delight when I heard she was putting one out last year. I consumed In the Distance There is Light in a day and it consumed me, crawling under my skin and staying there. When I recently listened to the new audiobook edition and loved it even more, I knew I had to share it with all of you amazing readers.

It opens as Sophie watches her boyfriend’s casket being lowered into the ground. She’s surrounded by friends and family, and yet she doesn’t identify with anyone except Ian’s stepmother Dolores, who’d lost Ian’s mother a decade prior to cancer. Sophie is a walking wound, her soulmate taken way too soon in an accident, and she doesn’t even get the distinction of the title “widow” because they’d never married.

This is real. I’ll never see Ian again. Dolores will never see her son again. During my thirty years on this planet, I’ve only been to the funerals of people I vaguely cared about. Distant aunts and relatives I never got to know. I’d always thought the first big one, the first one to tear me apart at least a little bit, would be my granddad’s. But I’m burying my boyfriend instead. Well, my partner, I guess. Boyfriend sounds so juvenile, so inadequate for what he was to me.

Sophie can’t stay in the apartment she and Ian shared because it’s too painful. After staying with a friend for a few days and sleeping only thanks to a nightly dose of Ambien, she finds herself calling Dolores and going over for a visit. Except that visit turns into an overnight, and when neither of them can sleep on their own, they find themselves passing out in front of the TV in Dolores’s bed. And then one night turns into a month and then more, with Sophie sleeping (Ambien-free) next to Dolores, each woman trying to pull their shattered lives back together. Everything changes yet again the night that Sophie kisses Dolores, the women finding comfort in a way they never would have expected.

So yes, it’s a lesbian romance about a woman who finds love with her stepmother-in-law. And as I was describing the book to my husband (who brought it on himself by asking what I’d been listening to lately), I found myself saying “I know! It sounds like a total porn premise, but I swear it’s not salacious!” And seriously, nothing about this book will make anyone say “Ooh, this whole ‘banging her dead boyfriend’s mom’ thing is so hot!” That first kiss is Sophie grasping for a lifeline, not the result of a meet-cute and flirty banter, and it’s followed by understandably complicated feelings. Sophie and Dolores’s sexual relationship, especially in its early months, is about survival and doing exactly what’s necessary to make it through the day so they can get up the next morning and do it all over again.

More than just a romance, In the Distance There is Light is a study in grief. What happens when your life is ripped apart and you can’t sleep in your own bed, let alone even think about going to work? Because the book is told in the first person from Sophie’s perspective, we’re given unfiltered access to her feelings and the rawness is almost overwhelming at times. She watches as Dolores handles her own grief by throwing herself back into things at work, while Sophie ekes out the smallest of existences in Dolores’s home, journalling her feelings in a series of letters to Ian.

[…] fuck, Ian, there have been numerous times, more than I’d like to admit, that I wished I were religious, so that I could find comfort in my faith, and believe that you are up there somewhere watching me, but sadly, I don’t believe in any of these things. You’re as gone as you’ll ever be. I’m left behind. And, yes—and you won’t like this—I have been feeling mightily sorry for myself. But you know what? I’m allowed. Because I have nothing left. Not even a wedding ring. Yes, you heard that right. I’ve also been wishing we had married. Then at least I’d be your widow, a scandalously young one, but at least something in relation to you. Now, I’m just a woman whose partner died in a road accident so stupid it wasn’t even worth an article in a newspaper.

I love how Sophie doesn’t shy away from her grief. She doesn’t try to compartmentalize it. She just fully experiences the sadness or anger or numbness as it comes. She may marvel at Dolores’s strength as she resumes normal life, but I suspect it’s Sophie’s acceptance of the worst of her feelings that lets her support Dolores in the moments when grief tackles her out of nowhere.

I was a little nervous about listening to the audio version of In the Distance There is Light because I love this book so much. It was one of the best books I read last year and what if the narrator didn’t do it justice? Narrators make or break audiobooks, and I was so afraid of not liking this one. My fears totally unnecessary because Charlotte North knocked it out of the fucking park. From the very first second, she was Sophie. And listening to Sophie tell her story made it even easier for me to connect with her again and understand her path from that enveloping fog of grief to a manageable day-to-day life.

If you can buy into (or get over) the premise of this book, I can’t recommend it enough. And if you enjoy audiobooks, I especially think you should pick it up in that format. This is Harper Bliss’s best book and it’s well worth the time and money


In the Distance There is Light comes from Tara Scott’s Keeper ShelfIf you want to read her previous guest reviews on SBTB (and we highly recommend that you do), you can see them all here.

Tara reads a lot of lesbian romances. You can catch her regularly reviewing at The Lesbian Review and Curve Magazine and hear her talk about lesbian fiction (including romance) on her podcast Les Do Books. You can also hit her up for recommendations on Twitter (@taramdscott).


Highland Promise by Alyson McLayne

Oct. 16th, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Amanda

B+

Highland Promise

by Alyson McLayne
October 3, 2017 · Sourcebooks Casablanca
GLBTRomanceContemporary Romance

Warning that the book does include violence and harsh language against women both on and off the page.

Did Amanda just read and enjoy a historical romance? Hell yes, she did. For readers who have been around the Bitchery for while, you might know that I’ve had a complicated relationship with historical romances. I just can’t get into them much anymore. It’s not historical romance’s fault! However, every so often, I’ll pick one up, and I will either give up fifty pages in or, in a rare case, I will devour it like a hangry honey badger.

Highland Promise falls into the latter and I was utterly surprised because it has some elements of which I’m normally leery. But they worked because they made sense within the narrative, instead of seeming more like a personality quirk thrown in for the hell of it. I swear this will all make sense and seem less mysterious once we get into the nitty gritty.

Highland Promise is the first book in The Sons of Gregor MacLeod series. It opens with the prologue, where a highland laird is demanding his clansmen pay for their treachery. Either they give up one of their sons to be raised by him or he kills them and takes their sons anyway. This also sets up plenty of sequel bait and, while the five men all make an appearance, none of the others overshadow the hero and his romance. The five men also have distinctive personality traits and it made me feel a lot like I was playing Highland Pokemon: I desperately want to catch them all.

Fast forward from the prologue: one of the sons, Darach MacKenzie, has a tentative truce with Clan Fraser. But when he sees an unconscious and obviously beaten woman thrown over the back of a Fraser horse, he jeopardizes the truce to attack the men and save the woman.

The woman is Caitlin MacInnes, a woman who has been given to the Frasers by her uncle as part of deal for gold. So it’s like a weird reverse dowry, I guess. Caitlin’s uncle gets riches if he gives her away to the leader of the Fraser Clan.

There’s no love lost between Darach and the Frasers. He was originally betrothed to Moire, Laird Fraser’s sister. Things did not end well and it’s revealed that Moire had plotted to kill Darach. Because of that, Darach is wary of being blinded by love again. He’s a serious man, but he avoids making the kind of decisions that would have made me closing the book. For example, he overhears Caitlin calling his name while she slept. Now, I’m sure we’ve all read romances where the hero takes the heroine’s sleepy murmurings as consent. Instead, Darach leaves her bedroom without so much as touching her. Most of the physical affection is also initiated by the heroine, which is very important because while Caitlin is twenty, she has lived an incredibly sheltered life. It’s a little sad that I get excited when a hero doesn’t take advantage of the heroine, but that’s where we’re at.

Caitlin’s family home burned down when she was around fourteen and she had lived with her uncle since then. He kept her under lock and key during her time in his home, until she was pretty much sold to Laird Fraser. I found Caitlin to be rather childlike, but it never bordered on annoying or infantilizing. She had no women with whom to talk and no additional education save for religious teachings from ages fourteen to nineteen. She was also abused while in her uncle’s care and adopts a willing-to-please, impulsive manner with Darach. She’s so desperate to be in his good graces and to try and demonstrate that she can be helpful because she fears Darach will send her away. To realize the deeper implications of her behavior and how they originated was an a-ha moment for me. Caitlin seems younger and more naive than her actual age, but it stems from years of a toxic, unhealthy upbringing where her worth was equated with money.

The only real issue I took with Caitlin’s traits was how pious she was. I’m not a religious person by nature and I would not classify this as an inspirational romance, but Caitlin is a firm believer in modeling one’s life after religious tenets. Her chastising about how Darach and his brothers would go to hell for blaspheming was a little much at times.

But despite the piety, Caitlin is what kept me reading because I was enthralled by how much I liked how. She was earnest and sweet, and I related to her people-pleasing tendencies. The fact that I understood her as a character and why she acted the way she did made all the difference in me finishing the book versus chucking it into the DNF pile. Caitlin also has a penchant for getting into trouble with her good intentions, which balanced out perfect she could have been.

Yes, she helps raise a litter of kittens back to health and many of the secondary characters adore her, but it’s clear she’s trying to find her place. Caitlin offers to help in the kitchen and the cook kicks her out for screwing things up. She wants to learn swordsmanship in an effort to show she’d be useful in defending the keep, but nearly lops off a limb in the process. Not everything she touched was magically fixed and she didn’t have an endless list of talents to be revealed. Honestly, I’m still surprised how McLayne won me over, since I tend to prefer my heroines angst-ridden and with a chip on their shoulder.

As I mentioned before, Darach has four other foster brothers who will be the heroes of subsequent books. All make an appearance toward the second half of this story, but McLayne does a great job in mentioning them without taking away too much time away from Darach and Caitlin. There’s also a really sweet moment when Darach is telling his family about Caitlin and they’re all happy sighing as Darach recounts his moments with Caitlin.

“Caitlin sounds like a wonderful lass.”

“She is…when she’s not digging up my baileys or drowning in the river”

“God’s blood,” Gregor exclaimed, eyes wide. “You will recount everything.”

They did, Lachlan telling most of it while Darach added to or protested Lachlan’s debatable remembrances. His brothers laughed themselves hoarse over Darach’s numerous trips to the loch, Lachlan losing all his coin, and Caitlin branding herself a besom, then claiming Darach was an innocent victim of her lewd advances. They listened with quiet dread as he related saving her from the river and the subsequent ill heath that befell them both. They erupted in anger upon the telling of her parents’ murder and Caitlin’s treatment by Fraser and her uncle. Then they sighed like women when Darach finally made her his bride.

Now tell me that isn’t a cute picture – five burly Highlanders along with their foster father sitting around a fire, rapt in attention regarding Darach’s relationship.

There are a few shortcomings to Highland Promise. The book seems to be split with the courtship and romance happening in the first half and the action regarding the book’s villains occurring in the second half. And, as mentioned earlier, Caitlin’s frequent religious quoting grew tiresome. The book also has the “scorned ex turned villain” trope that only lasts a matter of pages, so it seems like an empty element. I’m not a huge fan of that trope to begin with and it came and went so quickly, the book probably didn’t need to include it at all.

However, if you love a Disney princess, in all their saccharine, animal-loving, pure-of-heart glory, you’ll love Caitlin. If you have a weakness for kilted heroes, there’s plenty of plaid to go around. It’s a pretty pleasing start to a new series and worth a shot, especially since the cover model has some Sam Heughan vibes, don’t you think?

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Posted by Amanda

Man, we’re just doing giveaways right and left!

For all you coloring book lovers and readers who sometimes need a bit of stimulation, please check out A Far, Far Better Thing to Do: A Lit Lover’s Activity Book by Joelle Herr, with illustrations of Lindsey Spinks.

And to make it even cooler, we have three (3) copies to give away!

A Far, Far Better Thing to Do
A | BN
Here is the activity book’s description, which gives you a hint of what you’ll find inside:

Nothing captures the imagination quite like classic literature — the warmth of Little Women, the mystery of Dracula, and the heart-racing suspense of Moby Dick have inspired generations of readers.

A Far, Far Better Thing to Do pairs these treasured books with a witty, light-hearted sensibility, giving lit lovers 65 engaging activities to tease their brains and unleash their creativity. From word searches and connect-the-dots to coloring pages and quizzes, these charming activities infuse our best-loved texts with a fresh, modern spin and just the right level of challenge.

A celebration of reading — and readers — A Far, Far Better Thing to Do is sure to delight bookworms of all ages!

As someone who is a word search and crossword addict, I’m ALL FOR THIS!

The illustrations inside are also romantic and delicate. Here are a few images done by Lindsey Spinks:

A collection of classic books on a shelf - Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, and Wuthering Heights

A black and white drawing of a pretty woman in a flowing dress, sitting in a chair with a large mirror nearby

A cute illustration of a cat sitting up.

What do you think of the artwork? Cute, right? There’s something so dainty about it.

To enter for a chance to win one of three copies, tell us which book would give inspiration to a great activity! A maze for Captain Ahab to find his white whale? A coloring page for The Secret Garden with all manner of shrubs and flowers?

Standard disclaimers apply: We are not being compensated for this giveaway. Void where prohibited. Open to US and Canadian residents where permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18. No need to stay in the lines while coloring. Creativity is not a must, though always encouraged! Feel free to do the activities in pencil, though in the words of Bob Ross, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” Comments will close Friday October 20, 2017 around noon EDT, and winners will be announced shortly thereafter.

Good luck, everyone!

Paranormal Romances on Sale

Oct. 15th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Three Wishes

Three Wishes by Kristen Ashley is $2.99! This is a romance with a paranormal/fantasy element in the form of a genie, though judging by the reviews, the hero ISN’T the genie. Bummer. However, other felt the actual hero was a rather ambiguous figure with a criminal background, but they say his redemption arc is worth it.

When Lily Jacobs was born, she inherited Fazire – a genie. Her family had three wishes and they’d only ever used one so Fazire was stuck in the human world. This worked since he’d become a member of the family anyway.

Even with a genie, Lily’s young life wasn’t perfect. To escape the kids making her miserable at school, Lily buried herself in romance novels. One day, when the teasing was just too much, she used one of her wishes. She told Fazire she wanted to find a man like in her books and she made the most complicated wish Fazire had ever heard. Her wished-for man had to be impossibly handsome, virile, fierce, rugged and ruthless (amongst a dozen other things).

He also had to think she was beautiful and he had to love her more than anything in the world.

Nathaniel McAllister wasn’t born to a life where there were such things as genies granting wishes. His life was filled with drugs, crime and neglect. He was running errands for a gangster before he was in his teens and, even though life and hard work led him to wealth and respectability, he always knew, deep down, he was dirty. When Nate met Lily he knew he was no good for her but as virile, fierce, rugged and ruthless as he was, Nate was no match for the pull of sweet, innocent Lily.

Unfortunately, Lily’s wish included that she and her hero go through trials and tribulations to test their love. And Fazire wasn’t only a good genie, he loved Lily – so he gave her exactly what she wanted.

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All Bets Are On

All Bets Are On by Cynthia Cooke is 99c! This paranormal romance sounds kind of fun, as the Prince of Hell tackles online dating. Readers recommended this to fans of paranormal romance who prefer things on the lighter side, though others thought the ending was a bit rushed. It has a 3.7-star rating on Goodreads.

The Prince of Hell needs to get laid. Well, according to his minions, anyway. Now Derek Wescott, ruler of the Eighth Level of Hell, has been set up on an online date. And worse still, his minions are placing bets that Derek won’t be able to entice the sweet yet plain Jaclyn Reynolds into bed before midnight. But Derek has no intention of losing the bet. Not now. Not ever.

Jaclyn, on the other hand, is in danger of losing everything. The charity she runs is in trouble, and she is desperate for cash. The moment she sees her absolutely gorgeous—and insanely wealthy—date, she knows she’s in way over her head. She also knows his type all too well, and it will be a cold day in Hell before she ever gets into his bed. Yet Derek offers her a friendly wager: he’ll give $10,000 to her charity if she can resist him.

The wagers have been set. The game has begun. And Derek will do just about anything to ensure that Jaclyn is completely—and infernally—his

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Eternal Darkness

Eternal Darkness by Stacy Reid is 99c at Amazon! This paranormal romance is the first book in The Amagarians series and the description has some heavy Amanda catnip. Normally, Reid writes historical romance, but fans seemed to enjoy this departure. But, some felt the ending could have been better thought out. Have you read this one?

The darkest taste of temptation…

Fleeing from a blood oath made against her will to a man known in the seven realms as the tyrant king, the last place Princess Saieke Shyokara, expected to be trapped was in the Darkage, the land of the feared shadowed demons. Even worse, she’s stuck with Archduke Drac EL Kyn, a Darkan–a creature of darkness and sensuality, who entices her with passion, intrigue, and danger. The only thing she needs from the fierce warrior is his body to further her own plot…certainly not the dangerously irresistibly desire he rouses.

As one of the deadliest shadow assassins of his realm, Drac must use his skills to unearth the factions who murdered his king. Drawn by an irresistible hunger to the princess, he struggles to maintain distance from a woman who is utterly forbidden to those of his race. Yet, as she navigates the treacherous schemes and traps laid for her by the kingdoms of the seven realms, Drac must decide if he will claim Saieke as his mate, or will he relinquish this woman, who stirs in him the darkest hunger he’s ever known, to avoid embroiling his kingdom in war…

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King of Darkness

King of Darkness by Elisabeth Staab is $1.99! This is the first book in the Chronicles of Yavn paranormal romance series and features vampires and fated mates. Some readers mention that the main characters get together rather quickly, while others liked the twist on the typical vampire romance novel.

ETERNAL COMMITMENT IS NOT ON HER AGENDA…

Scorned by the vampire community for her lack of power, Isabel Anthony lives a carefree existence masquerading as human-although drifting through the debauched human nightlife, she prefers the patrons’ blood to other indulgences. But when she meets the sexy, arrogant king of the vampires, this party-girl’s life turns dark and dangerous.

BUT TIME’S RUNNING OUT FOR THE KING OF THE VAMPIRES…

Dead-set on finding the prophesied mate who will unlock his fiery powers, Thad Morgan must find his queen before their race is destroyed. Their enemies are gaining ground, and Thad needs his powers to unite his subjects. But when his search leads him to the defiant Isabel, he wonders if fate had gotten it seriously wrong…

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Posted by Carrie S

Romance Wanderlust - a yellowed and burnt edge map with a compass in the corner, with Romance Wanderlust written across itThis month’s Romance Wanderlust features a place that I’ve actually been to. The Winchester Mystery House is romantic in the sense that the owner, Sarah Winchester, seems to have been devoted to her husband, and it’s romantic in the sense that if you go on a candlelight tour then you can clutch each other in terror. Otherwise, it’s not so much as romantic as it’s just strange and unusual. You can’t stay at the Winchester Mystery House, nor would you want to (I assume) but it makes for a lovely outing in a beautiful part of California (assuming that it doesn’t all burn down, blow away, or fall over by the time this column is published).

Gather round, children, and I’ll tell you the story that has freaked out Californian children for lo these many years. Once upon a time, there was a woman named Sarah Winchester. Her baby died, her in-laws died, her parents died, and her husband died. She inherited a huge fortune that came from the sales of Winchester rifles, the “gun that won the West,” but she was miserable. So she consulted a medium, who explained that she was cursed by the spirits of all those who had been killed by Winchester weapons. The only way to appease the spirits was to build them a house, and the construction would have to go on 24/7 and not stop until Sarah died. In order to prolong the construction, the house was built with odd features like steps that go nowhere. In order to please the spirits, the house was also built with repetition of the number 13.

Alternate ending that scared my pants off in first grade: the building went on until Sarah left town for a day and because she couldn’t yell at the workers they stopped working and took the day off and she dropped dead the minute they all stopped.

The house and gardens from the outside

The interesting thing about this story is that the first version is presented as gospel truth at the Winchester Mystery House and online and all over California. The legend has it that Sarah was a sad and mentally ill woman who compulsively made her house not only as large, but as strange as possible. For a biography that contests this story, try Captive of the Labyrinth by Mary Jo Ignoffo.

Here is what’s known, more or less. Sarah Winchester was indeed a widow who inherited a vast sum of money from the Winchester estate. She moved to San Jose, California, in or around 1884, purchased a farmhouse, and began adding on. She was not an architect but she loved design and woodwork and she designed the house herself. Part of it fell down during the 1906 Earthquake but most of the house and the gardens around it remain. The house is owned by a private company that does daytime tours as well as special candlelight tours. These tours play heavily on the legend and on the idea that the house is haunted.

My teen daughter and I went on the extended tour, which meant that we got to see some of the main parts of the house as well as one of the attic rooms and the basement. I’m going to sound pretty warm and fuzzy about most of the house, but let’s get this out of the way. The basement is creepy. I’m quite certain that many murders were committed in it despite a total lack of any evidence. Indeed, one of the only claims NOT made about the house is that it’s a murder site. However, I’m calling it – someone used this basement as a torture chamber and incinerated the bodies in the furnace. I’m standing by this and I will never ever go in that basement again because I WATCH MOVIES AND I KNOW HOW THIS ENDS.

Ahem.

Most people feel pretty creeped out, or at least very sad, about the rest of the house. It’s easy to see why. It’s pretty weird. There are indeed steps that lead right up to the ceiling and then stop, and a door that opens onto thin air (it is, inconveniently, located on the second floor). For the most part the house is unfurnished although someone thoughtfully left a Creepy Doll lying around and someone else donated an organ (the kind you play, not a body part) to the ballroom. Did I picture the creepy doll waltzing in the dead of night while ghostly organ music plays? Yes I did, and so would you.

However, I actually felt quite at home in the Winchester Mystery House. Like me, Sarah was short (she was 4’10” and I’m 4’9”). Since it was her house, she had all the fixtures (like bathroom sinks) built to her height, which everyone on my tour seemed to think was eccentric but I found to be delightful. She also, like me, had arthritis (she had rheumatoid arthritis which was very severe, and I have moderate osteoarthritis). She built special low-rise stairs with switchbacks so that she could get around (she also had elevators). Again – the stairs, which have a lot of switchbacks so that they can fit into a small space, are touted as a house oddity and I LOVED them. In my future, all stairs will be just like those and I’ll be able to get my exercise without my kneecaps flying off into space. Sarah and I are as one, clearly.

sitting room with 2 chairs, table, and lamp
Most of the house is unfurnished but a few rooms have been restored

Sarah lived to be 83, so she must have done something right. While we all thrill to the legend of the spirits, I’m fond of the theory posed in Captive of the Labyrinth that says that Sarah built stuff because she liked building stuff. She had aptitude, money, and time, so why not? And since she wasn’t an architect, and she learned as she went, so there’s some weird stuff. Additionally, she built for her own comfort.

Usually people leave the Winchester Mystery House in a discomfited state, but I felt nothing but great fondness for Sarah, my short, arthritic sister. You can book tours at www.winchestermysteryhouse.com. Just don’t go in the basement.

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Posted by Carrie S

B-

Captive of the Labyrinth

by Mary Jo Ignoffo
October 30, 2010 · University of Missouri
RomanceHistorical: European

The Winchester Mystery House is a famous tourist attraction in San Jose, California. Sarah Winchester, the owner and builder of the house, became enormously rich thanks to her marriage into the Winchester family (as in Winchester rifles). She moved to San Jose in 1884 or 1885 and purchased an eight-bedroom farmhouse that she added onto almost continuously until her death in 1922.

According to legend, after a series of losses including the death of her baby and husband, Sarah consulted a medium who told her that she was being cursed by the spirits of those who had been killed by Winchester firearms. If she wanted to appease the spirits, she would have to continuously build onto a house for herself and the spirits. This, the legend goes, is why the Winchester Mansion is so strange. It has over one hundred room, stairs that lead nowhere, doors that open onto open air (on the upper floors) and other oddities. According to legend, construction went on 24/7 and stopped at the moment she was pronounced dead.

If you are attached to this legend, then read the fictional book There is No Lovely End by Patty Templeton.

If you want to read something anticlimactic yet much more plausible, read Captive of the Labyrinth by Mary Jo Ignoffo. This biography makes a compelling case that Sarah built onto her house not because she was afraid of spirits because she enjoyed building stuff. It’s a feminist take on a much-maligned historical figure but oh, so deflating for those of us who grew up with the legend.

Ignoffo was able to gain access to letters to and from Sarah and Sarah’s attorney. The collection also had invoices, magazines subscriptions, and other ephemera. Ignoffo also found materials from a family who worked for Sarah for twenty-five years. These included photographs, letters, and daybooks. This archive allowed Ignoffo to write a “just the facts” biography. Ignoffo couldn’t find any mention of ghosts or spirits in Sarah’s life other than those mentioned in often-contradictory newspaper accounts. However, she does find abundant evidence that construction did not occur around the clock and often stopped for months at a time.

The great question about Sarah is: “Why did she build such a bizarre house?”

The stock answer is “Because the spirits told her to.”

Given the lack of documentation to support this theory, Ignoffo posits:

  1. She liked architecture but being a woman, she couldn’t be an architect or access good training, so she practiced on her own house.
  2. She grew up around woodworkers and loved it, so she used her house to experiment with different woods and products.
  3. As long as she was building, she didn’t have to have people over (INTOVERT ALERT!).
  4. She had unlimited time and money so hey, why not? Winchester was, by the way, not unusual in building a large, rambling house. This was a thing that rich people did. Ignoffo specifically cites Elizabeth Colt as another heiress who built a large rambling house, and Sarah’s attorney, who built two large houses and then built a wing to connect them.

As for some of the more bizarre traits of the Winchester house, many are practical, like the low-rise stairs, which I’ll rave about further on. Others are because Sarah didn’t have architectural training and sometimes she messed up. Most are because after the earthquake damage in 1906, Sarah blocked off some of the house and redirected her efforts to other areas that weren’t falling apart. Moreover, other strange elements, particularly the recurrence of the number 13, were added by the company which owns the house now and which profits enormously off of playing it up as a haunted house.

Ignoffo believes that Sarah was smart, generous, creative, and levelheaded in a culture that did not value smart, creative women. She believes that the legend about Sarah took hold for several reasons. Sarah was reclusive, and she offended her neighbors by not making or accepting calls. She was short and had terrible teeth and gnarled hands from arthritis so she pretty much looked like a fairytale witch. Above all, there was a lot of money in the story. Today, the Winchester Mystery House is a tourist attraction that thrives on the supernatural element and plays it up in both the regular tours, in their advertising, and during special events on Halloween and Friday the 13th.

The final ingredient, according to Ignoffo, is that Sarah’s money came from sales of Winchester rifles, and people had conflicted feelings about the roles of guns and violence in the formation of America as we know it today:

She was not targeted simply for being rich; it was the fact that her fortune came from the repeater [rifle] that made some convict her. If she had not been a Winchester, if her wealth had derived from something other than a firearm- a sewing machine, for example, patented at about the same time as the repeater-the rationale for the huge, odd house would have followed an entirely different tack. No one would have suggested she was guilt-ridden by sewing machines or feared ghosts of garment workers. The themes of superstition, guilt, fear of death, and communication with the netherworld are due to Winchester’s connection to the rifle.

I’ve been to the Winchester Mystery House recently, and yes, it’s weird (many hallways, many doors, one strategically-placed-by-tour-guides creepy doll), but a lot of it made perfect sense.

For instance, the tour guide explained that the shallow stairs with many switchbacks were made so that Sarah, who was 4’10 and had rheumatoid arthritis, could walk on them, and all the bathroom fixtures were made to match her height. Everyone in my tour group seemed to find this odd. Why? It’s her house! I happen to be 4’9” and I have osteoarthritis in my feet, knees, and hips and let me tell you I’ve never been more comfortable than in that house. Everyone’s all “Oh, she was so crazy” and I’m all, “Sister, represent!”

The basement, on the other hand, is incredibly creepy, but all basements are creepy.

Ignoffo is not the most artistic writer (hence the B-), and while she had much more material to work with than other biographers did, that still doesn’t add up to a lot of material.  I did not feel like I knew Sarah as a person by the end of this biography, although I was thrilled to discover that her personal physician was a woman named Euthanasia Meade. Still, Ignoffo makes a compelling case that Sarah was not superstitious, at least not to a point where it dominated her life. She also paints a picture of a woman who loved her family but also her privacy. Sarah’s sisters, who were as openly progressive and political as Sarah was private, are fascinating in their own right, especially Sarah’s animal-loving sister Isabelle.

Above all, Ignoffo is a staunch defender of Sarah as a brilliant woman with more talent than opportunity who was made a scapegoat because of her refusal to act as was expected of her:

Those who are the most mocking of Winchester, her most strident accusers, have based their definitive opinions on a mythology that does not stand up to historical scrutiny. It is a disservice to the facts of her life to dismiss Sarah Winchester as a superstitious madwoman. It is time to set the record straight. If Winchester’s San Jose house had not been turned into a tourist attraction, her memory would have been relegated to the annals of local history as an eccentric dowager who spent a fortune in equal parts on frivolity and philanthropy. But as the house draws thousands of people each year and represents details of the widow’s life to them, it becomes imperative to give the other side of the story.

Outlander 3.05: Freedom and Whisky

Oct. 14th, 2017 06:15 pm
[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by Elyse

outlander season 3 with claire and jamie on either sides of a stone This week Readheadedgirl is off in the UK enjoying cream teas, so I’m on my own for the recap.

Also, A Note from Sarah: 

By request we’ve placed the gifs behind spoiler tags so they don’t distract or irritate anyone’s eyeballs while reading.

But you can still see the visuals if you wish.

Click to reveal and conceal as needed – and please let me know if this method words for you to avoid gif-distraction, ok?

The title card is a shot of Claire painting Brianna’s First Christmas 1948 on a wooden ornament.

The episode opens with Claire performing surgery alongside Joe, fixing a bleed just in the nick of time.

Click for gif!

Claire performs surgery

We cut to Brianna in class at Harvard, not really paying attention and doing some amazing architecture sketches her notebook. She looks up when her professor tells the class about William Dawes, a man who rode with Paul Revere, but was “lost to history.” Her professor asks to speak with her privately and tells her that she’s failing his class and, according to her other professors, other classes as well. He asks her what’s changed and she tells him that everything is fine and storms off.

Brianna goes home where the house is dark but the Christmas tree is lit. She looks at the ornament from the title card, then starts to sort through some of Frank’s things. She smells his pipe and sorts through old photos, struggling not to cry.

Back at Claire’s office, Joe pours them a drink and asks her what really happened in Scotland. He thinks Claire met a man.

“Well, there was someone. From my past,” she confesses.

“I had hoped that we would be able to find each other again,” Claire tells Joe. “But fate had other ideas.”

“Fuck fate,” Joe says.

I like Joe.

Out of the blue, Roger shows up in Boston. He rings the Randall’s doorbell (Claire and Brianna are clearly fighting inside). Brianna throws the door open and demands, “What!?”

“Happy Christmas,” he says sheepishly.

After some awkward introductions, Claire tells Roger that Brianna is withdrawing from Harvard and moving out. Brianna leaves, and Claire and Roger have some wine and cheese and visit.

Click to see gif!

Brianna says she needs a break

“You didn’t just come here for an American Christmas, did you?”

“Is it that obvious?” Roger asks.

Claire tells him that she’s glad he’s there as Brianna needs someone to talk to, and Roger is the only one who knows the whole story about Jamie. They move from wine to whisky (Brandy, she’s a fine girl…). Roger tells Claire that he found a journal article from 1765 that contains the line “for as has been known for ages past, freedom and whisky gang thegither.”

Claire told Roger and Brianna in the last episode that she quoted that line to Jamie, leading Roger to believe that Jamie wrote the article. Claire points out that the line came from a poem by Robert Burns, but Roger tells her that Burns was 6 when the article was written.

The article was printed by Alexander Malcolm, a name Roger believes was a pseudonym Jamie was using. All of this means Jamie was alive and living in Edinburgh about 19 years after Claire left him.

click for gif!

Roger sits on Claire's couch and says I found him

Claire is upset, telling Roger that he should have left well enough alone. “I could have lived the rest of my life not knowing. Twenty years ago, I shut the door on the past. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. When you told me he survived Culloden, I began to hope,” she says. “I can’t go through that again.”

“But this isn’t just hope!” Roger says. “This is real! You can go to Jamie!”

Claire points out that Brianna needs her and that going to Jamie would be abandoning her daughter. She asks Roger not to tell Brianna what he found out about Jamie.

The next day Claire is back at the hospital where Joe has laid a bunch of 150 year old bones out on her desk. His friend, an anthropologist, sent them looking for a cause of death. Joe and Claire determine that the woman was murdered, nearly beheaded.

Claire confides in Joe that the man she thought to meet in Scotland was Brianna’s real father and that she told Brianna.

Joe tells her that he watched her live a half-life for years, and that if she has a chance with this man she should take it. He assures her Brianna will come around.

Cut to Roger hanging out at Chez Randall, watching Dark Shadows. Brianna comes home. She teases him for his taste in television then invites him to join her at a ceremony at Harvard where a fellowship will be named after Frank.

As they tour Harvard, Brianna tells him that history can’t be trusted, that it’s a story that changes depends on who is telling it.

Claire, Brianna and Roger attend the ceremony for Frank’s fellowship. Claire runs into one of Frank’s former mistresses, Sandy, now a professor, and much awkwardness abounds.

Sandy chastises Claire for living a lie with Frank and making Frank and Brianna live that lie too. She tells Claire that Frank was the love of her life and that she’d give anything to have one more day with him.

When Brianna asks Claire about Sandy, Claire tells her the truth. Brianna asks if Frank hated her, looking at her every day and knowing she was Jamie’s child, not his. She also asks if Claire resented her, as her pregnancy was the reason she left Jamie. Claire says no on both counts and tears are shed.

Claire admits that Roger found Jamie in 1765.

Brianna tells her that she has to go back to Jamie. She assures Claire that she can get by on her own, and that while she loves her mom, she doesn’t need her the way she once did.

Cut to the hospital. A bunch of doctors and nurses are in a lounge, watching the Apollo 8 mission on TV.

“How do you take a trip like that, and come back to life as you knew it?” Joe ponders.

Claire looks pensively at the moon from her window.

Later Claire and Brianna discuss the possibility of Claire traveling back in time to Jamie, specifically that they may never see each other again. Claire tells her that she doesn’t know if she can live with that.

Brianna tells Claire that she’s more of her mother than either of her fathers, and that if she’s half the woman Claire is she’ll be fine. She also wants Claire to tell Jamie about his daughter. Claire worries that Jamie might have forgotten her or moved on.

“You gave Jamie up for me,” Brianna says. “Now I have to give him back to you.”

The next day at the hospital, Claire asks Joe if she’s still sexually attractive. “Is this about your man?” Joe asks her.

Claire, again, reiterates her fear that Jamie won’t want her.

Joe tells her, “You’re a skinny white broad with too much hair, but a great ass. He’ll be in heaven when he sees you.”

Then it’s Christmas at the Randall household. Roger and Brianna give Claire some old coins she can use in Edinburgh as well as a history of Scotland book. Brianna says she wanted to give Claire a flashlight, but Roger warned her that it would lead to another witch trial. Claire confesses that she stole some penicillin from the hospital to take to the past with her.

Brianna gives her mother a topaz necklace, Brianna’s birthstone.

Roger jokingly suggests Claire make herself a utility belt like Batman to carry all her items in to the past. We get a montage of Claire sewing while the Batman theme plays in the background. After inspecting her gray hairs in the mirror, Claire dyes her hair to hide them.

Claire packs her suitcase and gives Brianna a letter for Joe, as well as the deed to the house and paperwork turning the bank accounts over to her. She also gives Brianna the pearls that belonged to Jamie’s mother.

The three of them toast whisky, “to freedom and whisky.”

Click to see gif!


Claire leaves, and Brianna cries in Roger’s arms. Roger gives Brianna a copy of a A Christmas Carole which Frank and Claire used to read to her. Brianna kisses him.

We get a shot of Claire stepping out of a cab and into a puddle, as the camera pans up the taxi is replaced by a carriage and she is in her historical garb. She is in Edinburgh in 1766.

Click to see gif!

Claire looks at the sign for the print shop

She walks down the street to the printer’s shop. She opens the door and hears Jamie’s voice. She looks down at Jamie from the door and says, “It’s me. Claire.”

Jamie turns around slowly, then faints.

Click to see gif!

Jamie faints.

Elyse: Like I said, I’m on my own here as RHG is traipsing about the UK, probably having a really good scone right now.

So this whole episode felt weird to me. I’m not crazy about Brianna’s character, partially I think because there hasn’t been enough screen time to develop her. Regardless, it feels super weird having her help Claire pack so Claire can go back in time and they never see each other again. I get that Brianna is an adult, but…. the acting felt off, like these two women barely know each other. I didn’t sense any super deep affection.

I also want to know WTF the random bones thing was about. I’m sure it will come up later, but if Claire was somehow examining her own bones, I’ll be pissed. And kinda grossed out.

And finally, FINALLY we get a reunion. I am so stoked for the next episode which is 75 minutes long…but doesn’t air for two weeks. UGH.

So, what did you think of this episode? How are you liking this season so far?

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