The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The DNFs and a WTF

Today I wore my dogs-wearing-wreaths-and-Santa-hats socks.*  Therefore, it is time to officially kick off the Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge. We’ll open the festivities with the DNFs and a WTF.

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A Fairytale Christmas by Susan Wiggs

  • A Fairytale Christmas by Susan WiggsTitle: A Fairytale Christmas
  • Author: Susan Wiggs
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (November 2014; originally published October 2002)
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 72 pages
  • Trope(s): Misogynistic Hero, Heiress Heroine, Sexual Harassment
  • Quick blurb: Regendered Cinderella story.
  • Quick review: W.T.Ever-Loving.F.
  • Grade: DNF and W.T.Fuckity.F.F.

I’m starting with the WTF entry. Because W.T.Ever-Loving.F.

They stared at her like a pair of dieters eyeing a box of Godiva chocolates. Idiots, thought Jack. He knew they had a standing bet to see who could get her into bed first. As if either one had a chance. Who would want to, except maybe a polar explorer with a suit that could withstand subzero temperatures?

The story opens with that mess of misogyny from the “hero” and his dude-bro coworkers. I DNF’d after the first chapter because I was starting to throw up in my mouth. SHE’S THEIR BOSS, FFS. I don’t really find sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace particularly romantic.

Also: The blurb describes the hero as an “ace reporter.” And his reporter colleagues wear cashmere sweaters and Top-Siders. I know it’s a re-release, but it’s pretty obvious this didn’t age well.

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Going to the Chapel by Rita Herron

  • Going to the Chapel by Rita HerronTitle: Going to the Chapel
  • Author: Rita Herron
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Montlake (November 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 132 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Southern Sassy-Pants Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Sassy Southern girl ditches her cheating ex and returns home.
  • Quick review: Ick.
  • Grade: DNF

As she crossed the state line from Texas into Louisiana, she belted out “All My Exes Live in Texas,” tossed her wedding ring out the window, and waved good-by to the state — and the man who’d ruined her life.

The heroine’s name is…wait for it…Izzy Sassafras. She’s a wedding planner. In a small town called Matrimony, Georgia. The cutesy Southern sassy-girl schtick just writes itself.

Also: Izzy has sisters, God help us. And now I have that stupid song stuck in my head.

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The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby by Carolyn Brown

  • The Cowboy's Christmas Baby by Carolyn BrownTitle: The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby
  • Series: Cowboys & Brides, Book 2
  • Author: Carolyn Brown
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Western, Holiday
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (September 2013)
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 349 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowboy Soldier, Pistol-Packin’ Mama
  • Quick blurb: Online friends meet cute over a dead coyote.
  • Quick review: Yee haw. *shudder*
  • Grade: DNF

BEHOLD THE FIRST LINE:

There she stood with a dead coyote at her feet, a pink pistol in her right hand, three bluetick hound pups cowering behind her, and cradling an infant in her left arm.

How could I possibly resist that??? But, alas, the “down-home Texas twang” was almost as annoying as the Southern sassy-girl schtick. And it made me nostalgic for some Sable Hunter, and that’s never a good thing.

Also:

  • Heroine shot the coyote with her (pink) pistol while holding her newborn. Then stuck the gun into her waistband. All I could think was “You’ll shoot your ass off, lady.”
  • Hero dragged the carcass of the dead coyote (to get it away from the slobbering hound dogs who were devouring it) and DIDN’T WASH HIS HANDS. Gross.

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Christmas at Carriage Hill by Carla Neggers

  • Christmas at Carriage Hill by Carla NeggersTitle: Christmas at Carriage Hill
  • Series: Swift River Valley, Book 3.5
  • Author: Carla Neggers
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (December 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 51 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Wedding Planner, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Sexy fighter pilot follows ex-girlfriend to small-town wedding.
  • Quick review: Not a good starting point for the series.
  • Grade: DNF

Her grandmother eyed her with open suspicion. “You have that jilted-by-a-man look, Alexandra.”

Neggers is a new-to-me author, but this one does not work well as a standalone — the numerous intrusions from previous characters/plots (including some completely irrelevent bits about some stolen jewels) left little storytelling left over for the nominal main couple and . I did request an ARC of the fourth book in the series, and my library has the others, so…yet another backlist binge in my near future.

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What Happens At Christmas by Victoria Alexander

  • What Happens at Christmas by Victoria AlexanderTitle: What Happens At Christmas
  • Series: Millworth Manor, Book 1
  • Author: Victoria Alexander
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Holiday
  • Publisher: Kensington (October 2012)
  • Source: Purchased (freebie)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Trope(s): Flaky Family, Hired Players, Jilted & Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Ditzy widow stages a farce to lure a proposal from a prince.
  • Quick review: Over the top shenanigans with zero chemistry.
  • Grade: DNF

“She’s not quite as shallow as you think.”

Um, yes. Yes, she is.

Yay for free, but alas…. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a madcap comedy, but this wasn’t one of those times. I had to skim because I could not stop screaming “HE’S A FRAUD, YOU F’ING DIMWIT” in my head.

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* Yes, I took that photo at work. Yes, the flash went off and everyone yelled “Hey! Who’s taking pictures?”

MORE RANTYPANTS: Writing Mental Illness for Fun and Profit

FULL SNARK AHEAD.

Yes, I’m taking my meds. Shut up. Also, it’s my birthday, so I can put on as many pairs of RANTYPANTS as I want. And maybe even go commando in them. That episode of Friends is my all-time favorite.

Sorry, where were we? All that lack of focus must mean I’m ADHD. Maybe a certain self-proclaimed expert can do a fly-by diagnosis for me.

So. Someone retweeted this, and I could not stop myself from clicking that damn link.

writing_insanity

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2014/09/30/9-tips-for-writing-an-insane-character

How fun was it? Let’s take a look at a few highlights:

You need to get specific. There are about a million types of crazy.

Does anyone else see the WTF in this statement? Just me?

I even took a university class on abnormal psychology….  For those of you looking to lose your fictional marbles, let me share what I’ve learned.

One undergrad class makes one an expert? I shall update my résumé! Let’s see…world religions, astronomy, statistics, juvenile delinquency (A+ in that one! I should write a book!), Intermediate German (there’s a good story about that), visual communications (in which I researched the brilliance of Cecil Beaton so I’m an expert on him too). OH! Also: racquetball! My only A in a PE class; I had a killer serve.

Yes, I changed my major seven times. Shut up and keep reading.

What flaw is splintering your character’s sanity? Is it alcohol abuse, as in The Shining?

Because mental illness is never just an illness. I keep wondering what my Deep Dark Secret or Tragic Past is, because I honestly can’t remember. Maybe I should try regression therapy. Or I could make up something, like…I was kidnapped as a toddler and force-fed mercury-tainted tuna by a satanic motorcycle gang club. That’s crazy enough to justify my crazypants, right?

I detest tuna. Just the smell of it makes me nauseous. I should write a book about that.

…obsession is a side effect of having a screw loose…

Let’s try this instead: …obsession is a side effect symptom of having a screw loose mental illness. Got it? It’s really not that difficult a concept.

Give your insane character these moments!

If only my mental illness was momentary. And deserving of !!!exclamationpoints!!! I feel so undeserving.

Writing insane characters offers a fantastic chance to use dramatic irony.

I shall endeavor to find the ironic moments in the drama that is my life.

5. He shows symptoms of a real mental disorder

Does this really need to be said? Seriously???

Most insane characters seem to have an escalated version of psychosis. This disorder is worth researching, from the early signs (social withdrawal, sleep disturbance, anxiety…) to full-blown delusions, hallucinations, and speech problems.

I don’t doubt the items mentioned correlate with some forms of psychosis (which, btw, is a generic umbrella term and not an actual diagnosis). But calling out common issues like anxiety and equating speech problems with full-blown delusions reduces a highly complex medical issue to nothing more than some potential Amazon keywords.

Insane characters are not like this.

Because all crazy is the same — even though there’s million different kinds of it. [See what I did there?]

8. He was set off by something

What triggered your character’s descent into madness? You may choose to show the trigger in your plot, or mask it as backstory.

Mental disorders have a variety of causes. Why does your character have this disorder? Was her mom bipolar? Is it drug-induced psychosis? Did she have a traumatic experience as a child? Again, use science to inspire you.

OH FOR FUCK SAKE. I just CAN’T EVEN WITH THIS. It just KEEPS GETTING WORSE. Where’s my damn Xanax?

A crazy character’s Snap moment is probably the most fun thing to write. Like, ever. In the history of time.

*~*sigh*~*

Note that an insane character doesn’t have to be doomed.

This is totally true. Insanity can be cured by some vitamin injections. Even if the character has been diagnosed with a real mental illness by a psychiatrist and has prescription meds. No, really.

If you’re preparing to write an insane character, I do recommend you study the books and movies I reference.

*RAGEFACE*

Oh, wait – I hope *rageface* doesn’t mean I’ve lost my non-fictional marbles, or that I’m “one fry short of a Happy Meal.” If it’s only in lowercase, does it still count as insane, or just cranky? What’s the threshold here?

Insanity might seem synonymous with unpredictable, but it does have patterns and symptoms that we need to be mindful of. (pardon the pun?)

Ah, finally. But..this was in response to an actual logical response in the comments.

And what are the author’s credentials, you ask?

I don’t care if you didn’t ask. You should have. Because UGH.

Yes, I’m going there. I’m a bully. So sue me. Is that stupid STGRB site still around? If so, I’m on it.

Two (2) self-pubbed YA books. And that one university class. But she’s read The Shining and watched Fatal Attraction, so she’s got that going for her.

Yes, The Shining is the epitome of batshit crazysauce. I think Stephen King is a little crazypants himself, but in a good way. He gets a pass. You, dear author [collectively, not specific to anyone], are not, and never will be, Stephen King. You’re not even Tana French. Don’t even try to go there.

HOWEVER.  I can only hope this article compels other authors to read A Beautiful Mind or The Silver Linings Playbook. As in actually read them to find all the ways Sylvia Nasar and Matthew Quick treat their mentally ill characters as actual people and not !fun! and !easy! and !lazy! plot devices.

One fry short of a Happy Meal, indeed. To which I say: Bite. Me.

RANTYPANTS: Looking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl

  • Looking for Trouble by Victoria DahlTitle: Looking for Trouble
  • Author: Victoria Dahl
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN, July 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Secretly Sexy Librarian, Tattooed Biker Bad Boy, Small Town, Mental Illness
  • Grade: D

In case you missed it in the title, beware of the RANTYPANTS. This will be apparent in the abuse of italics, bold, ALLCAPS and other means of beating you over the head with my emotional emotions.

Also, spoilers.

I’ve been stewing about this book for weeks, trying to distill my thoughts — and emotional emotions — into coherent, logical analysis. Which is pretty ironic, considering….

I am really disappointed with the author, and with Harlequin. The basic story is quintessential Dahl — misunderstood tattooed bad boy biker and misunderstood secretly sexy librarian kept apart by second-generation small town rumors. Yeah, it’s got Dahl’s trademark wicked chemistry and smoking-hot sexytimes.

But it also has a seriously offensive portrayal of mental illness. Take a wild guess which character is mentally ill. That’s right — the villain. The hero’s mother. She’s obsessive. She’s paranoid. She’s a stalker.

And guess what? She’s a whack-job because she’s bitter about being dumped by her husband twenty years earlier. Everyone in town knows that. Duh.

Yes, the hero and his brother know she’s a whack-job. But do they do anything about it? Of course not. Because that would eliminate the lazy-ass villainy that passes for conflict. They know their mother is supposed to be on meds. They know she has a therapist. But instead of caring enough about their obviously distressed mother to you know, actually get involved, the hero and his brother shrug off her self-destructive and increasingly erratic behavior. Why should they bother? It’s so much easier story-wise to send the therapist on a Very Convenient Extended Vacation (with no on-call backup, of course) and give the misunderstood bad boys a tragic past and embarrassing parent to angst about.

But wait — there’s more!

The resolution. Ugh. Not just UGH. More like the ARE YOU SERIOUS??? OH FFS kind of WTFery. Please note the triple ugh use of italic, bold AND allcaps.

It’s just a vitamin deficiency. Yes, really. You know – like a real medical problem.

<INSERT CAPSLOCK OF RAGE AND RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION HERE>

A short hospital stay for some Vitamin B injections and the Evil Psychotic Villainess is cured. She writes an apologetic letter to the editor of the local newspaper — yes, really — and all is forgiven.

Because — duh — someone with mental illness needs to apologize. And be forgiven.

I need to go now. The Xanax is calling. And fuck you if you think I need to apologize for it.

The Facebook Book Meme: My Annotated Edition

The rules: List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and don’t think too hard. They don’t have to be the “right” books, or great works of literature — just ones that have affected you in some way.

I broke the rules (you are not surprised). I spent more than just a “few minutes” and there may or may not have been a bit of obsessing and waffling and mind-changing. Because, duh, you can’t just fluff off a list of BOOKS.

And 10? TEN? Yeah, right.

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The Heyer Project: Part I – First Impressions

The Heyer Project - Part 1: First Impressions

Back in 2012, I commenced a Summer of Harlequin in an attempt to understand what the hell “category romance” actually meant. I learned a lot.

To continue my odyssey into the deeper realms of Romancelandia, the next logical step seemed obvious: Georgette Heyer. And I just happened to have nearly all of her titles waiting patiently on Minerva (my Kindle) thanks to Sourcebooks’ $1.99 sales. Have I mentioned the OCD book-hoarding thing?

So far, I’ve read 11 (six on audio) and temporarily DNF’d two. I’ll do individual reviews for each book, but here are my first impressions on the Heyer Oeuvre….

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One-Quote Review: The Duke’s Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

This one gets its own post because DUDE. The Duke's Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

  • Title: The Duke’s Match Girl
  • Author: Lila DiPasqua
  • Genre(s): Historical, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2013
  • Source: Purchased (99¢)
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Smartass Heroine, Arrogant Aristocrat, Forgiveness & Redemption, Angry Sex, Makeup Sex,
  • Quick blurb: Recently widowed duke goes on campaign to woo back his first and only love
  • Grade: A (maybe an A+, need to read it again, might be lacking a big slobbery dog)

Your Grace,

Your man has informed me of your offer. He was quite uncomfortable about relaying my response. It is for his ease that I put it to you here in writing. As to your offer — and say this with the utmost sincerity  you may take it, and insert it into your exalted posterior.

Sincerely,

Suzanne

Drop whatever you are reading and READ THIS INSTEAD. No, really. Yes, the description says it’s a retelling of the Danish fairy tale, but trust me. I would never recommend a romance where the titular character freezes to death in a doorway.

Instead, it’s hilarious (the excerpt above is a mere hint) and madly sexy (as in angry makeup sex in a carriage) and breathtakingly romantic (I almost used “speechlessly” as the adjective but it sounded weird, which is kind of ironic when you think about it) with just the right amount of holiday seasoning.

Let’s just put it this way: The hero is a SMARMY ALPHA-HOLE AND I LIKED HIM ANYWAY. Christmas miracles, indeed.

Unleashing the Snark: A Light in the Window by Julie Lessman

I guess it’s not really “full snark.” It’s more like half-snark with vitriolic overtones of CAPSLOCK OF RAGE.

  • A Light in the Window by Julie LessmanTitle: A Light in the Window: An Irish Christmas Love Story
  • Author: Julie Lessman
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Ten Talents Press, November 2012
  • Source: Purchased (99¢ promo)
  • Length: 407 pages
  • Trope(s): DON’T EVEN ASK .
  • Quick blurb: DON’T MAKE ME GO THERE.
  • Quick review: WHAT PART OF “CAPSLOCK OF RAGE” ARE YOU NOT UNDERSTANDING?
  • Grade: DNF

He flinched. “I have faith,” he said, a bristle of hurt in his voice.

“Yes, of course you do,” she said quickly, gaze gentle as she tapped a finger to her head. “Up here.” She slowly slid a hand to her heart, taking great pains to soften her words. “But based on what I know of a man of your ilk, I worry that it doesn’t live here.” She studied the confusion in his face and tried again. “I believe that in your mind, your faith is deep—doctrine, precepts, catechism—but when it comes to living it?” Her smile was sad as she curled her hand over her chest. “I suspect it may be heart shallow.”

Yes, it’s THAT BAD. If this were a movie (God help us, and I mean that literally), the tagline would be “She has a License to Judge — and she know how to use it.”

The only thing “inspirational” about this book is my overwhelming desire to tell the Saint Mary Sue “heroine” to TAKE HER UNBEARABLE SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS and STUFF IT SOMEWHERE UNSPEAKABLE and go somewhere FAR, FAR AWAY.

That smarmy smile on the cover model’s face? It’s THAT for the ENTIRE BOOK. It’s being HIT OVER THE HEAD with SANCTIMONIOUS PREACHING in every. freaking. chapter. I skimmed ahead in hopes of the “heroine” finding herself in need of enlightenment and redemption, but of course not. She’s PIOUS. She’s VIRTUOUS. And she makes sure everyone around her knows it.

I DETEST (and that’s putting it mildly) the “You’re Not Worthy of Love Until You’re as Godly as Me” inspie trope, and this book is built on PILES AND PILES of that HOLIER-THAN-THOU HYPOCRISY. It’s ironic — and not in a good way — to find such a pharisaic message glorified and rewarded in a Christmas novel.