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.

Tripleheader: Carina Press Historicals

A Dream Defiant by Susanna FraserA Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser

  • Title: A Dream Defiant
  • Author:  Susanna Fraser
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Carina Press, July 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: ~85 pages
  • Trope(s): Forbidden Love, War Heroes and Widows, Family Matters
  • Quick blurb: Black soldier delivers spoils of war to new widow and marries her for her protection
  • Quick review: Too much story for the short format.
  • Grade: B

He caught her hand. “Wait.” He slid his hands to the back of her neck, fumbling for the necklace’s clasp. He undid it and held the chain of rubies up, red and gold in the flickering candlelight. “No shackles for us,” he said, “no matter how rich.”

Loved the characters and premise, and Fraser managed to get a lot of emotion into less than 100 pages. But this story deserves more than a novella to avoid the rushed romance and resolution.

Continue reading

More Naughty Norsemen: The Bodice-Ripping Era

For round two of our romp through Viking romance, we’ll focus on three vintage titles from the beloved old-skool era of Forced Seduction, Logic Fail and General WTFery.

I didn’t finish any of these — I dragged myself through the first half of each, but couldn’t find any reason to finish.

We’ll start with the least painful and save the vomit-worthy one for last.

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Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

  • Title: Somewhere to Call Home
  • Author: Janet Lee Barton
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1890s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Small-Town Girl, Private Detective, Mean Girl, Evil Banker
  • Quick blurb: Miss Mary Sue McGoodytwoshoes in the big city.
  • Quick review: I am restraining myself from unleashing the snark — but only because I couldn’t even finish it.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%, and nothing had happened. Zero tension, zero drama, and zero indication of what the actual conflict might be. There was, however, plenty to make fun of.

I’m only going Half-Snark on this because (a) I didn’t finish it; and (b) it’s an inspirational. But all the ingredients of a “This Is Why People Make Fun of Harlequins” are there. Trust me.

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The Rake’s Redemption by Regina Scott

The Rake's Redemption by Regina Scott

  • Title: The Rake’s Redemption
  • Author: Regina Scott
  • Series/Category: Everard Legacy, Book 3 (Love Inspired Historical)
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Inspirational, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Annoyingly Perky Heroine, Angsty Emo Hero, Insta-Love, Mistorical, Purple Prose
  • Quick blurb: Marquess’s daughter decides a dueling poet is the perfect man to acquire her father’s title.
  • Quick review: This wasn’t working for me as a historical, as a suspense, as an inspirational OR as a romance.
  • Grade: DNF

It started with the Regency heroine asking an uknown man to dance at a ball. Then we get this:

…she’d wondered whether she’d finally found the suitor she’d been praying for — someone who could help her protect the family name, as her father’s only living child.

And then, during an actual prayer, it got worse.

“Show me the man You mean to help me gain approval to carry on the title of Marquess of Widmore!”

So, yeah. It was like that.

One-Quote Review: Bewitching the Duke by Christie Kelley

  • Bewitching the Duke by Christie KelleyTitle: Bewitching the Duke
  • Author: Christie Kelley
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Kensington, December 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($1.99 ebook promo, regular $5.99)
  • Length: 290 pages
  • Trope(s): Fiesty/Sassy/Saucy/Etc. Heroine, Angsty Grumpy Duke, Tragic Past, Big Misunderstanding(s), I Hate You Except When We Kiss
  • Quick blurb: Duke tries to evict local healer/midwife because of painful memories and unwanted erections.
  • Quick review: The title and blurbed worried me, and it just didn’t measure up to the fun of her previous books.
  • Grade: DNF

Dammit! This little hoyden had disturbed his thought process.

I struggled to reach my 33% decision point, and there just wasn’t anything different about this Regency to keep me reading. The dialogue was repetitive, the plot had yet to move forward in any meaningful way, and I never connected with either of the main characters.

Also: Important secondary characters are twins named Mia and Tia. That’s not a good way to encourage me to keep reading or, god forbid, buy their sequels.

However, I can recommend nearly all of Kelley’s backlist — her Spinster Club series has the smart heroines and swoony heroes and chemistry and romance and just-unpredictable-enough plots that Bewitching is lacking.

Final Resort by Dana Mentink

  • Final Resort by Dana MentinkTitle: Final Resort
  • Author: Dana Mentink
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Suspense (Treasure Hunters mini-series)
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Inspirational, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Trope(s): TSTL Heroine, Con-Artist Relative, Friends-to-Lovers
  • Quick blurb: Uncle’s kidnapping leads ski resort owner into searching for famous missing jewel.
  • Quick review: I was hoping for some Smooching in the Snow. My favorite character was the dog.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%. I didn’t even get to the Sinister Ski Gondola part.

The heroine’s predominant character trait is her insistence on shrugging off the oh-so-amusing antics of her con-man uncle (aka the scoundrel, rascal, trickster, showman, etc.) despite his DECADES of being a slimy and manipulative THIEF.

“Ava, I know I messed up. Your mother left this place to us, and I took advantage. I blew it. Took money out figuring I could make it back and then some, but I never did.”

She hated the tone of defeat in her uncle’s voice. “You meant no harm. I know that.”

::headdesk::

That was Chapter One, and it just went downhill from there. (That’s my one attempt at skiing humor. Pathetic, I know.)

It’s OK that Uncle Paul destroyed her parents’ marriage, stole her inheritance, and made enemies of ALL their family, friends and neighbors by defrauding them of THEIR money, because he’s just so “jovial” and “charming.”  And, of course, he’s *~*family*~*, which means he gets a pass for everything.

GAH. Ava is almost as TSTL as Heidi the Goat Girl and her clueless future mother-in-law. I felt ZERO compassion for Ava or her Idiot Uncle, and I saw ZERO potential for respecting Ava as a character by the end of the book. I just wanted to smack some sense into her.

ALSO: The ski resort was on “Whisper Mountain.” Every time it was mentioned, I had visions of the Mountain of the Whispering Winds from Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. This book could have used a Winter Warlock.

World Series of Romance Doubleheader: Baseball, Harlequin-Style

Yes, I know the World Series is over. It’s not MY fault the Tigers couldn’t hit worth a damn.

The Winner: The Real Deal by Debbi Rawlins

The Real Deal by Debbi Rawlins

  • Title: The Real Deal
  • Author:  Debbi Rawlins
  • Series/Category: Lose Yourself, Book 2 (Blaze)
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin, November 2010
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 220 pages
  • Trope(s): Athlete, Beta Hero, Smartass Heroine,
  • Quick blurb: Lonely tourist and pro ballplayer try really, really hard to convince themselves their whirlwind romance is just a fling.
  • Quick review: Just the right amounts of angst and humor and lust and romance for a sweet and satisfying HEA.
  • Grade: B+

He sighed. “With all the beautiful airheads I have at my disposal, I had to choose a smart-ass to meet my folks.”

The set-up:

Freelance editor Emily drags herself out of her self-made, home-based Cave of Solitude for a much-needed splurge in New York City — but a run-in with a big-league ballplayer changes her vacation itinerary from spas and shopping to seduction and sex.

The hits:

Studly but sensitive beta hero. Smart, smartass heroine. Great relationship-building. Swoon-worthy romantic moments. Believable angstifying about friends and family. A low-key but effective use of the superstar-athlete angle. No over-the-top villains or plot shenanigans.

The misses:

The obligatory tacked-on-but-useless epilogue. Blech. The ballplayer hero thinks Romantical Thoughts in the final innings of a World Series game. My inner baseball fan was screaming “Keep your mind on the game, FFS!”

The final score: B+

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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Fontana by Joshua Martino

Fontana by Joshua Martino

  • Title: Fontana
  • Author:  Joshua Martino
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): GLBTQ, Contemporary (NOT a romance)
  • Publisher: Bold Strokes Books, July 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($9.99 ebook)
  • Length: 264 pages
  • Trope(s): Closeted Athlete, Hard-Bitten Sports Reporter
  • Quick blurb: Attention-whore sports columnist outs closeted slugger during record-breaking hitting streak.
  • Quick review: First-person POV from unlikeable narrator didn’t work for me AT ALL.
  • Grade: DNF

“A coach once told me that if I’m polite to you guys, you’ll save the tough questions for the other players,” he said. Charmed by his frankness, I laughed and told myself that from then on, I would save my worst for his teammates.

I DNF’d this pretty quickly, primarily because it wasn’t what I expected, but also because the stupid Cardinals put me in a cranky mood even before the narrator pissed me off.

Blame my immersion in Romancelandia, or the fact that I didn’t finish it, but this book would have worked much better for me with a little more sensitivity and a little less heavy-handed sensationalism.

I knew this wasn’t a romance, and I was actually looking forward to a different perspective, but I wasn’t prepared for the first-person POV from the sleazy reporter/blogger. Jerry’s unrelenting assholery came through loud and clear in just the first few pages, and his character and voice pushed me away instead of engaging me in the story.

This admission may discredit this entire review, but I bailed on the story even before The Dramatic Big Reveal. In addition to my aversion to the narrator, the lack of POV from the title character made me feel he was nothing more than an empty prop. I needed to know something — anything — about Ricky Fontana beyond Jerry’s alcohol- and ego-skewed observations and the inevitable abuse from fans.

A few other issues raised my inner red flags, even from the first chapter:

I remembered those knuckles, that grip, decades younger, squeezing each grain of pine in his bat….

A PINE bat? Really? That kind of “huh???” moment — in the second sentence of the book — killed the scene-setting and character-building for me immediately. And it wasn’t just in the e-galley I read, it was in the published sample on Amazon as well.

A few pages later, we get this:

Men cheered for his batting eye, and women serenaded him for batting his eyelashes.

This was followed by a sample of a supposedly humorous column written by the skeevy reporter, with the cringe-worthy headline of “Female Fans Fond of Fontana.” This hard-hitting essay featured phrases like “a gaggle of Gotham girls would gladly fill his passenger seat” and “October can’t come quickly enough for some ladies.”

Not done yet….

He smiled with broad lips and brilliant teeth that could melt the frostiest woman into a puddle of desire.

Oh, BARF. I fully admit to making tongue-in-cheek comments about player appearance (good god, get rid of those playoff beards, FFS), and I know that scene was intended to set up the narrator as a smarmy dickhead and demonstrate the pressure on the gay slugger, but for me, the misogyny went too far. One or two references to “fawning lady fans” would have been enough — after that, I felt alienated as a reader and disrespected as a true baseball fan.

A general tip for all authors of sports-theme books: Women who read books about sports are in all likelihood fervent and knowledgeable fans. In fact, women currently comprise nearly HALF the MLB fanbase. PLEASE do not dismiss us as brainless bimbos. In other words: Don’t. Piss. Us. Off.

This last bit of whining is really just a personal quirk for me, but I prefer fictional sports teams and player names in novels. The closeted phenom played for the Mets (at least not the Yankees, thank god), and the repeated references to Jeter and A-Rod and other real-life A-list players kicked me out of my reading trance. Jeter was name-dropped SEVEN times. Naming current players will also date this story quickly — especially considering A-Rod’s disastrous 2012 season.

I lied….

One more bit of whining: paragraph breaks. For GOD SAKE, break up the three-page-long paragraphs of internal monologuing. This should be a no-brainer for digital formatting.

This contemporary drama was definitely intriguing and worth the attempt, but I think I’ll stick to historicals, non-fiction and fluff with HEAs for a while.

A Season for Sin by Vicky Dreiling

A Season for Sin by Vicky Dreiling

  • Title: A Season for Sin
  • Author: Vicky Dreiling
  • Series: Sinful Scoundrels, Book 0.5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Forever Young (Hachette), September 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley (99¢)
  • Length: 100 pages
  • Trope(s): Rake, Widow
  • Quick blurb: Rake intends to make a beautiful young widow his mistress, but she’s not interested.
  • Quick review: Can’t really review an unfinished story.
  • Grade: DNF

Although I actually read the whole thing, I’m tagging this as a DNF, and here’s why:

Introducing the Sinful Scoundrels…

The Earl of Bellingham is nothing is not a creature of habit: money, meals, and mistresses must be strictly managed if a man is to have a moment’s peace. It’s a system that works splendidly for himuntil now. With his oldest and dearest friends succumbing, one by one, to wedded bliss, Bell is now restless and a trifle lonely. Enter the Sinful Scoundrels — Colin Brockhurst, Earl of Ravenshire, and Harry Norcliffe, Viscount Evermorewho drag him back into society and draw his rakish eye to the ton’s new beautiful young widow. Bell isn’t after a wife, but a challenge. And Laura Davenport should fit the bill quite nicely…

Word count: 29,000 words

That’s the official description of this “novella” from Amazon. Do you see the words “preview” or “teaser” in there anywhere? No? Me either.

This is not a prequel. This is not a novella. This is not even a short story. Characters and conflict are introduced, but there is no resolution.

The “prequel” story ends at 67% of the Kindle version, with the remaining third an excerpt from the beginning of Dreiling’s upcoming full novel. If I had paid for thiseven just 99¢I would have been really irritated at the blatant misrepresentation.

What’s there was an OK read, but I got the impression it would be just another typical Regency. And the publisher’s tactics in charging readers for a useless bit of fluff will not compel me to pay $7.99 for the author’s next release.