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?”

One-Quote Reviews: Four Harlequin Love-Inspired Historicals

Falling for the Teacher by Dorothy Clark

  • Falling for the Teacher by Dorothy ClarkTitle: Falling for the Teacher
  • Author: Dorothy Clark
  • Series: Pinewood Weddings
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical (1841 Upstate New York)
  • Publisher: Harlequin, September 2013
  • Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Tragic Past, Small Town, Extreme Self-Doubt
  • Quick blurb: Schoolteacher returns home to care for her ailing grandparents and finds the brother of her rapist managing the family business.
  • Quick review: Really annoyed with the heroine in the beginning, but chemistry and character development turned this into an unexpectedly emotional read.
  • Grade: B

He rose and looked down into her eyes. “Sadie….”

“Yes?”

Her name was a gruff plea from his constricted throat – her answer a barely heard whisper. Time was lost in his need to comfort her, to protect her, to love her forever. He sucked in a breath, fighting his heart with every bit of strength he possessed and hating himself for winning the battle. “I’ll see you safe to the house.”

I struggled with Sadie’s overwrought, baseless accusations in the first third of the book, but as Cole slowly wins her over, we get the backstory details we need to root for their HEA.

Continue reading

Lady Outlaw by Stacy Henrie

Lady Outlaw by Stacy Henrie (Harlequin)

  • Title: Lady Outlaw
  • Author: Stacy Henrie
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (Western), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, September 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowgirl in Peril, Beta Hero with Tragic Past, Evil Banker, Bad Guys in Salooons
  • Quick blurb: Desperate rancheress rethinks her dangerous ways of acquiring money when she hires an ex-bounty hunter with a tragic past as her new cowhand.
  • Quick review: Good — but recommended only for dedicated inspie readers.
  • Grade: B-

“Is that what this is about? Making sacrifices?” He leaned forward. “A sacrifice is only worth something if it’s right. Sacrificing your integrity, your happiness, your freedom — that won’t bring you anything but misery. I know, because I tried.”

A strong-but-vulnerable heroine, an honorable beta hero with a believable tragic past, and a great set-up for the spot-on faith messages. But compared to my last read, Henrie’s storytelling and voice sagged. This was her debut novel, and I’d be willing to try her second.

Tripleheader: Fool’s Gold Summer (x3) by Susan Mallery

“This is Fool’s Gold. You can’t mess with one of the women and then act as if it didn’t happen.”

I’m going to present these in descending series order, because Book 7 is an epic Mess O’ Crazy. With goats. But not enough goats.

Goat Warning

WARNING: GOATS AHEAD

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All Summer Long

  • All Summer Long by Susan MalleryTitle: All Summer Long
  • Author(s): Susan Mallery
  • Series: Fool’s Gold, Book 9
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN, July 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 376 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Misfits, Friends with Benefits, Angst, Kick-Ass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Former underwear model helps small-town firefighter overcome her fear of men.
  • Quick review: Great balance of fun, angst and hotness, with perfectly matched hero and heroine.
  • Grade: A-

“Lesson one,” he told her.

“How many are there?”

“As many as it takes. This is going to be a full service seduction.”

Damn, that was fun – especially considering where I started with this series. And the grand gesture? OH. MY. GOD. Second only to Nev’s in About Last Night. *~*swoon*~*

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More Goat

Dude. Hang in there. You’ll get to the goats soon enough.

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Continue reading

Cowboy’s Triplet Trouble by Carla Cassidy

  • The Cowboy's Triplet Trouble by Carla CassidyTitle: Cowboy’s Triplet Trouble
  • Author: Carla Cassidy
  • Category/Series: Romantic Suspense, Top Secret Deliveries
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense (???)
  • Publisher:  Harlequin,  October 2011
  • Source: Amazon, $3.82 ebook
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowboy, Single Mother, Plot Moppets (x3!!!), Beta Hero, Sibling Drama, One-Night Stand, Secret Babies (x3!!!)
  • Quick blurb: Single mother of triplets tracks down Baby Daddy to Oklahoma ranch, where she mistakes his identical triplet brother (yes, really) as her one-night stand.
  • Quick review: I am clearly MUCH too cynical to enjoy books like this.
  • Grade: D+

The only thing he knew for sure was that a man brandishing a gun shouldn’t be inside Grace’s house.

Full disclosure….

The reason I chose this book was because there are triplets in my family. I’ve seen and experienced first-hand what it takes to survive parenting multiples. I knew there would be numerous “oh, NUH-UH” moments that I could giggle over and share with snarky glee.

And those expectations were fulfilled in oh so many wonderful ways – primarily because THESE BABIES ARE CYBORGS. They are mini robots programmed to be the Perfect Plot Moppets:

  • They are named alphabetically (Abby, Bonnie, Casey).
  • They wear color-coded outfits.
  • They fall asleep and wake at the exact same time, without a whimper.
  • They sit quietly on the floor and play with toys.
  • They wait patiently for meals and baths.
  • They nap peacefully in their car seats during long road trips.

But wait – there’s more! These babies NEVER CRY. Ever. Except when tears and wailing are useful to the plot in the second-to-last chapter.

Example:

Hero and heroine take triplets out for dinner and have long, intimate, soul-baring conversation. While the babies eat spaghetti.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

These babies are so Stepford perfect that at TEN MONTHS their SINGLE MOTHER is completely comfortable driving them to their UNKNOWN BABY DADDY’S HOUSE hours away and STAYING IN A MOTEL. But then, having magically-appearing baby gear and a car bewitched with an Undetectable Extension Charm like Hermione’s purse or Mary Poppins’ carpet bag probably helps.

Example:

The three car seats can be easily removed from Grace’s car and installed in (a) bench seat of a king-cab pickup AND (b) backseat of a cop car. Within minutes. With no swearing.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

So, now for the not-funny parts….

I recently read another Carla Cassidy book, and while it wasn’t mind-blowing, I did enjoy the suspense and the characters. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen at all with this book.

I found it boring because the cardboard protagonists never change. From start to finish, he’s the Stoic Cowboy with a Heart of Gold and she’s the Perfectly Perfect Schoolteacher (except for that one-night moment of drunken weakness, of course). These two have a very noticeable lack of personality.

Even worse, the internal angstifying was unbearably repetitive:

She wasn’t expecting instant happiness from Justin, but what she was hoping for was some sort of acceptance of the situation and the happiness would come later.

By the end of the first chapter, WE KNOW that she’s not after money or marriage. But we’re still confronted with her thoughts on it over and over and over. The hero’s inner drama is just as numbing:

He’d spent most of his life shouldering responsibilities to make life easier on everyone else around him. Now what he wanted more than anything was just to be left alone.

How often are we reminded of this? The word “alone” appears in the book FORTY-FOUR (44) times. My god, we get it already, all right?

I have a few other Carla Cassidy books on my “maybe” shelf and most are rated highly, so I’m hoping this one was just an anomaly.

One-Quote Review: Complete Faith by Sue Brown

  • Complete Faith by Sue BrownTitle: Complete Faith
  • Author: Sue Brown
  • Series: Morning Report, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, M/M
  • Publisher: Dreamspinner Press, April 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($5.38 ebook)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • Trope(s): Coming Out, Cowboys, Virgin
  • Quick blurb: Preacher inspires young ranch hand to come out of the closet.
  • Quick review: Not a lot of emotional depth considering the race and religion themes.
  • Grade: C

The pastor of St. Mark’s was a walking wet dream as far as Tommy was concerned: smooth chocolate skin that fascinated him, and huge dark eyes that seemed to know everything there was to know about him.

I LOVED that one of the heroes was a gay black preacher, but the characters and storytelling seemed really simplistic and superficial, and even the sex was perfunctory. I was expecting a lot more emotion, both romantically and spiritually – Marie Sexton’s Between Sinners and Saints set my expectations, and Complete Faith just felt completely lackluster in comparison.

More Harlequin Categories: Intrigue, Special Edition and American Romance

In which I reference an Alfred Hitchcock movie and fuss about more misogyny-disguised-as-romance.

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Wrangled by B.J. Daniels

  • Wrangled by B.J. DanielsTitle: Wrangled
  • Author: B.J. Daniels
  • Category/Series: Intrigue; Whitehorse, MT: Chisholm Cattle Co., Book 6
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, June 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 217 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowboys, Kidnapping, Serial Killer, Friends-to-Lovers, In Disguise
  • Quick blurb: Something involving a cowboy and a cowgirl, with some wacky not-really-suspenseful crime stuff.
  • Quick review: If this finale book had this much Chock-Full-Of-Crazy, I don’t think I’d survive the entire series.
  • Grade: C

“But that kiss? I was just fulfilling a promise I made you before you moved to New Mexico. Remember?”

The happy couple….

Dakota Lansing is an orphaned cowgirl playing host to her Surprise Step-Sister. Zach Chisholm is a cowboy who…um…I don’t really remember, but he’s definitely a cowboy because his last name is Chisholm and he drives a pickup.

The setting….

The 8,000,000-acre  (approx.) Chisholm Ranch near Whitehorse, Montana, which conveniently features a mysterious graveyard, numerous villain-proof hidey-holes and a water cistern that becomes vitally important to the plot.

The storytelling….

Yowza. In-Disguise Serial Killer Out for Revenge, with bonus Prison-Escapee Minions.  Surprise Step-Sister coerced into doing something illegal that never really made sense. Heroine and Hero identify Surprise Step-Sister’s birth mother with two phone calls and one brief road trip. Surprise Step-Sister and Heroine abducted by Serial Killer. Last-Second Rescue aided by an Airplane Chase, a la North by Northwest:

North by Northwest plane scene

Kinda like this. But not really.

It’s all very exciting. And when I say “all,” I mean there’s a LOT of shit going down on the Old Chisholm Homestead.

Even without reading the previous five books in the series, the identity of the Disguised Serial Killer is blindingly obvious – but really, who the hell cares, because it gives us plenty of fun “Hey, yoohoo, the villain is RIGHT THERE, dumbass!” moments.

The romance….

Hmm…let me think for a moment…. I believe there was some smooching and maybe some under-the-clothes touching at some point, but then The Crazy took over.

The recommendation….

I went with a C grade because this book fulfilled most of my expectations of an over-the-top Harlequin Intrigue suspense plot, but the romance got lost in the dust.

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Fortune’s Perfect Match by Allison Leigh

  • Fortune's Perfect Match by Allison LeighTitle: Fortune’s Perfect Match
  • Author: Allison Leigh
  • Series/Category: Special Edition; The Fortunes of Texas, Book 954 (approx.)
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin, June 2012
  • Source: Digital ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 218 pages
  • Trope(s): Beta Hero, Secret Baby (kind of)
  • Quick blurb: Sophisticated city girl and scruffy small-town guy, with some baby drama
  • Quick review: Nothing spectacular, but I enjoyed it.
  • Grade: B-

“Problem is—” his fingers slowly inched upward, “I usually make a habit of doing things that aren’t smart.”

The happy couple….

Emily Fortune is the VP of advertising for her father’s telecom company, and she’s desperate to become a mother like her sisters. Max Allen is a brooding airport manager and pilot-in-training who had to give up the Secret Baby That Wasn’t Really His. (Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler.)

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