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?”

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.

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.

More Audiobook Adventures

I am now wishlisting books by narrator. I am officially addicted.

Highly recommended….

That would be “highly recommended” as in “read this NOW, dammit, your life is meaningless without this book.”

The Book Thief by Marcus ZusakThe Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Narrated by Allan Corduner

I avoided this for years because it’s told from Death’s point of view. I was a dumbass. It’s stunning. From start to finish. I can’t even begin to count how many times I nearly drove off the road trying to bookmark a “holy SHIT, that was good” passage.

It’s one of those books that uses language in an entirely unique way. I kept thinking the title should be “The Word Thief” instead, because Zusak somehow manages to turn seemingly simple words and phrases into characters in their own right. Just read the prologue in the sample, you’ll see what I mean.

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One-Quote Review: The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn

I’m back. Did you miss me? Don’t answer that.

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The Sum of All Kisses by Julia Quinn

  • Title: The Sum of All Kisses
  • Author: Julia Quinn
  • Series: The Smythe-Smith Quartet, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 373 pages
  • Trope(s): Enemies to Lovers, Big Misunderstanding, Evil In-Laws, Scarred/Injured for Life
  • Quick blurb: Heroine who holds a grudge is forced into spending time with the man who (according to her) ruined her life.
  • Quick review: This may end my auto-buy relationship with Ms. Quinn.
  • Grade: C-

“I looked out my window,” he choked out. “I looked out my window at half bloody three in the morning, and there you were, gliding across the grass like some sort of erotic specter.”

Rolling along with a B-level grade — totally predictable with all the usual fluff and banter and light angst  — and that lovely first kiss, and then… What the HELL happened? A ridiculously drawn-out Big Reveal sent the whole thing veering off the rails into a bad gothic melodrama like one written by Quinn’s fake-novelist creation Mrs. Gorely. I half-expected death by pigeon. Yeesh.

Recent Reads….

Yes, I’m still here. More or less.

I’ve been struggling with the anxiety and depression stuff the past few weeks, for which I prescribed myself a LOT of comfort reads, but I did manage to knock down a bit of my TBR. I’m too scatterbrained right now  to do anything more coherent than ratings and drive-by comments, so here goes….

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