The Hating Game by Sally Thorne – aka Fat-Shaming for Fun and Profit

The Hating Game by Sally ThorneHi! It’s me, calling out some problematic shit in the latest squeed-over bestseller!

  • Title: The Hating Game
  • Author: Sally Thorne
  • Published:  August 2016
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Tropes: Enemies to Lovers, Lust in the Workplace, Fat-Shaming
  • Quick blurb: Office rivals compete for the same job while flirting and otherwise generally engaging in an HR nightmare of inappropriate workplace behavior.
  • Quick review: If only….(see below)
  • Grade: D

I had this on hold at the library for weeks, and did a little chair-dance at my desk when I got the notification it was waiting for me. I picked it up on my way home yesterday and read the whole thing last night.

It did live up the the hype for truly funny banter and bone-melting romance, so I in no way fault anyone for liking it.

However.

HOWEVER.

*~*sigh*~*

1) Towards the end, the hero describes himself as “socially retarded.”

These are supposedly smart characters. Putting words like “retarded” in their mouths is lazy writing and it’s offensive to many readers.

It’s 2016 for god sake. FIND BETTER WORDS.

ALSO.

This is where I get really cranky.

2) The heroine’s boss – a chain-smoking anorexic – brings in doughnuts or cookies or something and jokes about “bringing on diabetes” in her short, fat colleague.

“Ha ha ha let’s make the pervy boss fat and sweaty and tempt him with cookies so he gets diabetes.”

And it’s even funnier because the hero is ripped and the heroine is a teeny-tiny!

HAHAHAHA NO.

FUCK OFF. Not funny. In any way. Ever.

I mistakenly assumed the offensiveness of this cringe-inducing bullshit was common knowledge as well, but apparently not, so let’s review, shall we?

A) Fat-shaming is not, never has been, and never will be funny.

B) Diabetes is not, never has been, and never will be funny.

C) Openly mocking a character by assigning these traits is GROSS and INSULTING and even lazier writing.

This book might have been one of my favorite reads of the year. But nope. I lost all trust in the author and will probably never read her again.

I sincerely hope she gets a better editor and better beta readers who have the compassion to actually notice this bullshit and the balls to call it out.

TBR Challenge: Kicking It Old School with Patricia Rice

Last year for Old School Month, I read two Jude Devereaux classics — a hit and a miss. This time, I’m kinda sorta maybe mostly undecided.

Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice

  • Title: Moon Dreams
  • Author: Patricia Rice
  • Series: American Dreams, #1
  • Published:  January 1991; re-released February 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Tropes: Dimwit Runaway Innocent Ingenue, Illegitimacy-But-Not-Really (see “Back From the Dead” below), Evil Heirs, Kilted Kourage, Exotic Otherness, Cultural Appropriation, Fake Scottish Brogues, Cinderella Makeovers, Back From the Dead, Very Convenient Coincidences, Smuggler With a Heart of Gold, Actual Historical Name-Dropping, Metaphorical Metaphors
  • Quick blurb: Illegitimate heiress runs away from her lecherous cousin and gets rescued by a Scottish smuggler obsessed with avenging his own family dishonor.
  • Quick review: Stuffed with all the Old Schoolish WTFery you could ever possibly want.
  • Grade: C- (it was a loooong slog up the Highlands in the last third to avoid a D+)

Firstly, let’s wallow in the original cover for a moment, shall we?

Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice

THE FLAMING PASSION OF TROPIC NIGHTS LIT LOVE’S GOLDEN DAWN

Are you done wallowing yet? Need a moment? Need an ointment of some sort?

*~*waits patiently*~*

So. I bought this one and the follow-up a few months ago when I was looking for some American-set historicals. Despite the series name, very little of this one was set in Colonial America. The happy couple bounced around the northern hemisphere and it was pretty exhausting trying to figure out how they manuevered all that Near-Sex and Actual Penetrative Sex and Hate-Sex into their year-long itinerary.

I’m going do a full recap to help you properly appreciate the Full Glory Old-Schooliness of this Epic Adventure. I haven’t gone full-snark in over a year, so buckle up and gird your loins and grab a snack.

Chapters 1-2 — Cornwall, Fall 1759

Reality was the cold gray mist soaking her woolen cloak and clinging to her lashes and mixing with a torrent of tears.

Our heroine Alyson (yes, really) Hampton has a dog named Peabody. I was highly encouraged about this, but, alas, poor Peabody is never heard from again.

Alyson is the orphaned illegitimate granddaughter of an earl. She has Secret Rendezvouses (?) with a neighbor guy who Promises Things In The Dark. These Promises In The Dark do not, alas, include marriage proposals. (But you probably already knew that.) Innocent Alyson realizes she must Grow Up and Open Her Eyes.

Alyson’s Beloved Grandfather dies and leaves all the unentailed property to Alyson (because of course he does).The  Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir (aka The Macaroni, aka The Despicable Fiend),  arrives and announces Alyson will marry him. She rebuffs his tender attentions by pouring boiling tea in his lap.

Alyson’s only recourse, of course, is to Run Away. In the middle of the night. In a maid’s dress with a horse blanket for a cloak.

Chapter 3

Angels and half-wits and kidnappers all in a night strained credulity,

We meet our hero, Rory Douglas Maclean, of the disgraced Jacobite Macleans, as he’s scratching a flea bite in his armpit. No, really. I did not make that up.

Rory’s smuggling ship lands in Cornwall and he takes the mail coach to London because…IDK, we just need to move the plot along here. He’s squashed between an obese woman who is so fat she couldn’t possibly be raped (no, really) and a skinny shrewish  spinster. On the opposite seat is a Mysterious Waif who reads books and smells like the “barely perceptible evergreen scent of heather in the springtime.” That, and horses because of the whole horse blanket as cloak thing. The book-reading heather-smelling waif has smooth white hands.

En route, Rory foils the kidnapping of our smooth-handed, horse-blanked-yet-heather-smelling waifish heroine. Because of course he does. The kidnappers take the skinny shrewish spinster instead.

Our heroine is enchanted by our hero’s rolling Scottish R’s. We learn our heroine is half-Scottish because of course she is.

Rory just doesna ken. He just doesna. But he is very hungry.

Rory opened the napkin, and the scent of pickled salmon hit him. With wonder he sampled the rest of the fare, each discovery bringing another enraptured cry. “Bannocks! Ach, my bonny lassie, do ye not know what I would give for fresh bannocks? And spelding? It’s been years….” His ecstasy disappeared in the mouthful of bread and fish he deposited between his grateful lips.

So. Food metaphor as sex foreshadowing, amirite?

Anyway. Alyson tells this complete stranger her entire life story because she can totally trust him because he’s The Maclean.

Chapter 4 — February 1760

Alyson smiled. The Maclean was looking at her as if he couldn’t decide whether to eat her or strangle her, but she felt confident he would do neither. He really was a nice man for all that he tried to be an irascible curmudgeon.

Rory hires a chaise and horses and they somehow make it to London without having Actual Penetrative Sex or even Near Sex. However, he is “stunned to the state of shock by the force of her devastating smile.” But, alas, he must part from the only angel heaven would ever send to him. He leaves her with his aunt, who, of course, is a Dear Old Friend of Alyson’s Kindly London Solicitor.

Makeover time! Dress porn, powdered wig with fat sausage curls, blah, blah, blah.

Reunited!

The innocent cherub who had slept in his arms had become a much more worldy angel in satin and bows, but to Rory she still appeared to have wings and a halo. Where before she had been all heather and mint, now she was the sparkling, crystalline drifts of Ben Nevis in winter. 

So, remember: Alyson is still an innocent angel. This is important because this is an Old School Romance.

“No kissing?” Alyson stared at him in wonder. “But kissing is so very pleasant. Who should anyone be denied it?”

::HEADDESK::

Chapters 5-8

Cranville [our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir] studied the pale nape of Alyson’s neck. It was a very fragile neck, topped by a thick cloud of ebony tresses. It wouldn’t take any effort at all to snap it, but he doubted that a murderer could inherit his victim’s wealth. It was the money he wanted, after all.

Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) challenges our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir to a duel because of course he does.

Alyson is upset. So she runs away. In the middle of the night. Again. Because of course she does. She’s a Dimwit Innocent Ingenue, remember? Also, it’s very foggy out. Because London is always foggy.

She’s kidnapped. Again.

Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) just happens to saunter into the the very same slimy Bishopsgate tavern where the Half-Wit Henchman have taken their prize. Because OF COURSE HE DOES.

coincidence

Rory tricks the Half-Wit Henchmen into bringing Alyson to his smuggling ship (with only one sword-slit throat along the way), and the Sea Witch escapes into the storm-tossed Atlantic.

“I have always wanted to sail on a ship. Can I go up and see the sails?”

*~*sigh*~*

Imprisoned Alyson (no sails for her) befriends the cabin boy and the cranky ship’s cook and bakes bread in her undies. Somewhere in here Rory is knocked senseless by…something…and she sees his naked torso and touches his forehead and has tingly feelings in her ladybits.

Rory recovers and yells at her for being a dimwit without the sense that God gave a goose and she gets all weepy that he doesn’t respect her and ruffled feathers waaah waaah waaah.

They’re forced to share a cabin and there’s some awkward moments changing clothes and whatever Insta-Boner #377 yada yada yada.

Chapter 9-10 – Charleston, Spring 1760

Land ho. Her hair is frothing and he gets Insta-Boner # 417 whilst imagining releasing the wild ecstasy behind her demure features.

She runs away. Again. (OH MY GOD REALLY WTF BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE)

She finds her way to an attorney in hopes of contacting her Kindly London Solicitor. But guess what? The Charleston attorney is besties with The Maclean’s man of business! Who’da thunk it, amirite?

Reunited! And It Feels So Good! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

They finally kiss. Breasts full of promise (hers). Aching loins (his). He apologizes and she gets all huffy.

“If the moon is what leads a man to madness, I’ll be certain to lead all my suitors down the garden path in its light. Then they shall be as mad as they think I am, and I can choose the one who kisses me best.”

With a flounce of her skirts, she fled back to the house.

flounce

Chapters 11-14

Alyson hangs in Charleston while Rory sails off to do his smuggling thing. She has lots of beaux and buys lots of new clothes because that’s what Runaway Dimwit Innocent Ingenues do.

Until…our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir shows up, having somehow figured out exactly where in all of the Eastern Seaboard she was hiding. She gets tricked into boarding his ship.

BUT WAIT.

JUST WAIT.

ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?

Alyson escapes from her captors and makes it to the deck. She spies — WAIT FOR IT — Rory’s ship just pulling into the harbor.

NO, REALLY. I am not making this up.

So. What’s an Abducted Dimwit Innocent Ingenue to do? She takes off her petticoat and waves it around and drops it into the harbor to get Rory’s attention.

It totally works.

“Jump, Alys, jump!” he shouted as the dinghy lowered into the water.

“I can’t swim!” she wailed, glancing over her shoulder.

He saves her, he yells at her, she tries to flounce in her water-logged gown, etc., etc., etc.

Rory stood there in his sodden clothes contemplating the insane but enchanting pixie who had danced into his life one fair morn….

Feeling as if he had lost complete control of the situation, Rory surrendered. Since he had met his personal angel, he had been held up by highwaymen, challenged an earl to a duel, killed a kidnapper, and fired on a British merchant. He was down to his last three decent shirts and one of those was clinging clammily to his shoulders right now. He was better off when he courted the devil, despite the fact that Alyson looked more delicious in a blanket and dripping ringlets than any other woman on the planet.

She changes clothes, he sees her boobs, Insta-Boner #818. Storm-clouded eyes, passions of a royal hellion, sweetness and tartness, etc., etc., etc.

More boobs. More boners. He makes her wear the cabin boy’s breeches and stares at her arse. You are not surprised.

But now you will be surprised, because SURPRISE!

“You have the Sight, don’t you?”

Yes, really. Half-Scottish Alyson has second sight. Because OF COURSE SHE DOES. Just like her mother and grandmother who were shunned as witches.

That was the beauty of Alyson’s deception. For years she had been convincing people of her half-wittedness with her vague habits, when in truth she had just adapted to the behavior expected of her, the one that explained her strangeness to everyone’s satisfaction.

So, you see, she’s not really a dimwit. She’s just…special.

I could really use Peabody the terrier right about now.

YAWN.

YAWN.

Chapters 15-16 – a deserted island in the Caribbean (yes, really)

Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) machetes his way through an isolated lagoon. Our almost-happy couple gets naked separately to bathe. Because while Alyson is no longer a dimwit, she is still an Innocent Ingenue.

BUT NOT FOR LONG.

He tells her his sob story (1745 Jacobite rebellion, everything lost, boohoo), she comforts him, he gets a boner.

“Ach lass, I’ll take ye, will ye, nill ye, if we do not return to the ship now. There is time yet to do this with a little more ceremony,”

They return to the beach, where a Raucous Pagan Pirate Party is going on. He hand-feeds her tempting nuggets from a bowl of fruit. I don’t think that’s a metaphor, but you never know. However, she does get hot moisture in her nether parts.

They dance on the beach as the bonfire flames grow higher. I think that is a metaphor.

But what about that “ceremony” mentioned above, you ask? You shouldn’t have asked.

You’ll want to read this next bit with one eye closed and a full-on headtilt.

One of the crewmen, a giant African, had apparently been selected as spokesman, and he stood blocking their entrance into the circle. For some odd reason, the men behind him were waving a worn-out broom from the ship’s galley.

Yeah. Not making this up.

BUT WAIT — THERE’S MORE. The Giant African has a Big Knife.

With further intonations, the African rubbed their bleeding palms together, and Rory’s fingers twined around hers. Their blood mixed and flowed into each other, and Alyson felt the completeness of this joining as her legs threatened to give way beneath her.

Something’s giving way over here, and it’s not my legs.

Rory hauls her off into the rainforest again and promises are pulled from the wind and carried on moonbeams. You think I just made that up but I totally didn’t.

So. The deflowering in the jungle is all about the music metaphors.

It was as if his body was the bow and hers was the string. He played her sweetly first, testing the notes, refining the tension until she quivered beneath his touch….

His fingers played across her skin….brought her closer to the crescendo he sought.

…Alyson’s wild cry as Rory entered her rang through the jungle, at one with the call of the other creatures around them. [NOTE: WHAT THE HELL NO NO NO NO NO where is that ointment]

…She only knew Rory had pulled her strings taut as he drew himself back and forth, and the music reached its height.

A crescendo built so that she could no longer control her own movements. The pulsing beat carried her away, rolling over her in wave after wave of pleasure.

Before you give in to the crescendoing swoon: He didn’t pull out. This is important later in the story.

Rory saves the virginal-blood-stained satin…something…they had sex on and wraps it around himself.

“I should have a flag made of this.”

Could ANYTHING be more Old-School Romance than that? I think not.

Chapters 17-18 — Barbados, August 1760

We’re only at 44%. Still with me?

So they pull up into Barbados. She marvels at the bright colors in the garb of the island inhabitants, but apparently fails to notice shackles or branding or other distasteful slavery-type things.

Instead, she spies a Tarted-Up Tart in pink pouring from a fancy carriage. And she gets a Sight. In her third eye, she sees the Pink Canary having sex with Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean).

Naturally, our Deflowered Ingenue gets upset about this (she barfs over the rail of the Sea Witch). So — WAIT FOR IT — she runs away.

AGAIN.

Because OF COURSE SHE DOES.

She somehow finds her way to a kindly lady (because of course she does). This family just happens to be besties with the Governor of Barbados, who just happens to be in cahoots with smugglers like Rory Douglas Maclean.

coincidence

Our hero and heroine meet up at a ball and she runs away again. Yes, that’s twice in one chapter. I am still not making this up.

He corners her (in his own bedroom, for the love of god do not ask) and declares that her choices are to (a) marry him in truth in front of God and All Of Barbados Except the Africans or (b) get hauled off to prison because she stole money from him about seventeen chapters ago and wrote him an IOU and he’s going to call it in.

This, apparently, is the Black Moment.

There’s a lot of crying and flouncing and they get married but she’s still totally miffed at him.

Somewhere in here, her long-dead father shows up. And the Evil Heir is on his way because he has a GPS tracker on them or something.

Chapters 19-22

Rory’s excellent plan of action to escape the Evil Heir involves booking passage on an Actual Pirate Ship. This pirate ship is a piece of shit that falls apart at the first flash of lightning and they founder on the coast of…somewhere…and there’s a mutiny and Rory must punch Alyson in the face to knock her out so she won’t get raped and he’s sorry he didn’t just go ahead and kill her to save her from the pirates.

Rory drags his unconscious bride to the deck of the pirate ship (after the mutiny is over, of course) and lo and behold, the Evil Heir. Who was following the chemtrails. Or something.

Chapters 22-24 — London, Fall 1760

These two really get around.

Back in England, Rory is taken away in chains but Alyson gets him freed on bond and she has another Vision of Doom and he refuses to use her money and they snub each other in the hallways. This goes on for weeks.

And weeks.

And weeks.

Rory befriends Samuel Johnson at a party. Yes, the dictionary-guy Samuel Johnson. Actual Historical Name-Dropping appears to be A Required Thing in Old-School Romance.

Chapters 25-26

Alyson is pregnant. Alyson is surprised. You are not surprised.

Chapters 27-33 — Scotland, November 1760

Two-thirds done. You will not believe what happens in the last third.

Our grumpy couple slogs off to Scotland and stays at Alyson’s ruined castle tower because of course she has one.  The one remaining servant of course remembers her dear sainted mother and grandmother who totally weren’t witches.

Meanwhile, Alyson’s Long-Dead Father reappears in Cornwall to Claim His Rightful Inheritance. Everyone believes him because OF COURSE he looks exactly like his childhood portrait and the portraits of all his ancestors in the portrait gallery.

The Long-Dead Father slogs off to Scotland.

The Evil Heir slogs off to Scotland.

Meanwhile, Rory gets all pissy that Alyson is using her own money to fix up her own castle so he stomps off to his own castle which isn’t his anymore because his Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Cousin (hereafter known as Evil Cousin #2) stole it during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Rory rouses the impoverished populace to his Rightful Cause and they hoard weapons and steal sheep.

Rory and Alyson finally have sex again but they’re still mad at each other.

With cries of joy, they discovered new heights, and clinging to each other, fell from the cliffs with dizzying delight.

That cliff thing was just a metaphor. The actual cliff-falling comes later. Sorry not sorry about the spoilers; I’m trying to get this mess of crap over with.

The Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Cousins conspire to kill off the Rightful Heirs. This involves shooting at the happy couple from across a loch in hopes of starting a landslide because they’re both too drunk to aim properly. But don’t worry. Rory saves them.

“‘Tis nothin’, lass. Dinna fash yerself.”

I did not make that up.

Alyson’s Long-Dead Father shows up on Christmas Eve in a snowstorm.

I did not make that up either.

Alyson’s parents were totally really married and therefore she is not illegitimate but there’s no proof OF COURSE because someone ripped the pages from the marriage register or ship’s log or something.

Rory gets an Illegal Kilt for Christmas and he totally Wears It In Defiance because he is a Rebel and the Rightful Heir.

Evil Cousin #1 finally gets disgusted with being an Disgusting Drunken Lecher and ditches Evil Cousin #2 to stew in his own juices (don’t ask).

Then there’s this swirling snowstorm and they all go out searching for…someone…because Alyson has Had A Vision. You know, that Second Sight thing because we haven’t had any blatant foreshadowing in like a whole chapter and a half even though it doesn’t really add anything to the plot.

Chapters 34-OH DEAR GOD WE’RE FINALLY ALMOST DONE

85%. We’re finally getting to the good stuff. Trust me.

Alyson is now approximately 57 weeks pregnant and she very innocently goes for a walk on a high, snowy, craggy hill because Scotland in the winter is really boring, duh. A scary dark-caped horseman appears out of the fog and there’s screaming and whatnot. Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) naturally assumes his Paragon of Innocence ran away again so he gets all up in arms (literally, with, like guns and everything) and goes after her up the high, snowy, craggy hill.

Alyson goes into labor on the high, snowy craggy hill. Because — all together now — OF COURSE SHE DOES.

BUT WAIT. This is where it gets exciting. The bad guy (Evil Cousin #2, not the boiling-tea-in-the-crotch one) catches Alyson and ties her up and hauls her off to Rory’s Repossessed Castle. But on the way, Evil Cousin #2 shoots at Rory and makes him fall off the cliff (not a metaphor this time). But don’t worry — Rory pulls an Indiana Jones and clambers back up the craggy hillside.

Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) calls his men to arms.

Men poured in from the blinding blizzard, summoned by a series of signals, As they arrived, the servants passed out torches. Outlawed swords, halberds, and hatchets were removed from the walls…. Even Rory, once  his injuries had been seen to, emerged sporting the plaid of war instead of a frock coat.

They’re going FULL KILT here, people. Like…Braveheart. Yeah, Braveheart.

braveheart

Or…maybe more like this:

mob-scene

But with, you know, kilts. Because we’re in Scotland, duh.

Meanwhile, Alyson is still in labor. Evil Cousin #2 tries to throw her out a window but she spits in his face. Rory is concerned that such”wayward behavior” will enrage the demented villain even further. I did not make that up.

The bad guy sets something on fire and makes a break for it.

Only when he flung open the door did Drummond realize the back stairs were filled with pitchforks, hatchets and carving knives of his own servants.

He turned and found Rory waiting for him in the doorway, claymore in hand, the fire blazing impossibly high behind him, glinting red off his hair as if he were a demon from hell.

Rory carries Alyson to safety and they argue if the baby will be a boy or girl.

It’s a boy. Because of course it is.

Bagpipe time! Rory does a sword dance in his kilt.

sword-dance

Because he’s the Rightful Laird, ye ken.

I just got lost for about 20 minutes looking at Highland sword dance pictures.

Epilogue

Post-baby sex in a meadow. You are not surprised.

Things I Have Learned About Old-School Romance

  • All the heroines are dimwit ingenues.
  • All the heroes are galumphing whiners.
  • Plots are magically driven by Very Convenient Coincidences.
  • Actual Historical Name-Dropping is required.
  • London is always foggy.
  • Virginal blood is a Big Deal and worth saving to share with friends and family and pirate crews.
  • Food and music metaphors are vitally important because otherwise the sex would be really boring.
  • Runaway ingenues never actually end up in brothels no matter how many times the exasperated heroes tell them they will.
  • People can have sex in a jungle but not get eaten by gigantic bugs.
  • People can have sex in a Scottish meadow and not get swarmed by gnats.

The final pronouncement

Moon Dreams was, indeed, full-on Old School Romance. complete with wild adventure and purple prose. The pacing was dreadful and every time Alyson ran away I wanted to scream, but the last 15% with the pitchfork mob was worth the effort.

#TBR Challenge: The 2016 RITA Rundown

For last year’s “award winners” TBR Challenge, I read three RITA-nominated inspies, and found a new auto-buy author (Stacy Henrie). I tried the one historical inspie on this year’s RITA list, but DNF’d it because it was sugary wallpaper — and OF COURSE it won.

Here’s this year’s rundown….

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

Historical Romance: Long

Bella and Beast by Olivia Drake

Bella and the Beast by Olivia Drake

Not available at my library in any format, not available on Scribd, and I couldn’t justify paying $7.99 for a new-to-me author — ESPECIALLY when the mmpb is priced lower than the ebook. Get your shit together, St. Martin’s Press. I want to read your books, make it easy for me.

Grade: N/A

Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen

Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen

Library. Fluffy fluff and blatantly unbelievable hist-rom wallpaper with no outstanding qualities. But damn if I didn’t read the whole damn thing in one sitting.

To quote myself:

“I…grudgingly admit that I was maybe slightly charmed in a grumpy sort of way.”

Grade: C+

If the Viscount Falls by Sabrina Jeffries

If the VIscount Falls by Sabrina Jeffries

I adore Sabrina Jeffries. I own and frequently re-read her entire backlist, and there’s not a dud in there. The Duke’s Men series is a great mix of drama, suspense, angst, snark, and swooniness. Viscount wasn’t my favorite in the series (Lady Zoe in How the Scoundrel Seduces for the win), but it’s a great second-chance romance.

Grade: B+

NOTE: If Jeffries’ The Study of Seduction isn’t a finalist next year, I will be VERY PUT OUT. One of my top reads this year.

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist (winner)

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

I had a major case of Book Anxiety over this one. The ARC sat on my Kindle for months and months and months. I finally got the audiobook earlier this year and kicked myself for waiting so long. It was beautiful.

To quote myself again:

“Gist can take a tiny thread from a historical newspaper article or, in this case, a Chicago World’s Fair brochure, and spin it into glorious layers of character and relationship building. And then she surrounds it with an almost touchable sense of place.”

Grade: A-

Tremaine’s True Love by Grace Burrowes

Tremaine's True Love by Grace Burrowes

I downloaded it from the library. Twice. Still haven’t read it. The blurb just wasn’t compelling enough to compel me to un-break-up with Burrowes.

Grade: N/A

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

Historical Romance: Short

Falling into Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath

Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath

Library again. I tried. I really did. But…no. Just…NO. The heroine’s name was MINERVA DODGER and I still couldn’t do it. I think I made it to about 60% before I gave up.

The summary from this review capsulizes my dismay:

“The manwhore hero, Ashebury, develops a leg and foot fetish after his parents die in a train crash, an event for which he wasn’t present. His PTSD is then miraculously cured after he sees the legs of the heroine, Minerva, once.”

NO LIE. What. The. Ever. Loving. Hell.

Grade: DNF

It Started with a Scandal by Julie Anne Long (winner)

It Started With A Scandal by Julie Anne Long

I read it when it first came out. And when I saw it on the RITA finalists list, I couldn’t remember anything about it. And I didn’t feel like reading it again because I’d rather re-read To Catch a Thief and Like No Other Lover for the umpteenth time.

Grade: C

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare

I have this gif for permanent exclusive use with Tessa Dare reviews:

sally-sweet-baboo

I read Marquess when it first came out and was charmed, and then I got the audiobook and was charmed all over again.

I did not buy into the wedding-planner plot device AT ALL, but WHO THE HELL CARES because Dare makes me love all her characters unreservedly. Every time.

Grade: B+

Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress by Theresa Romain

Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress by Theresa Romain

I am now a Theresa Romain auto-buy fangirl. I have one more ARC I’m hoarding and then I will have read all her books and then I will start all over and wallow in them again.

Yes, the titles are of the wallpaper variety. But these are not Romance-O-Matic stories. Heiress was set in Bath and had intriguing main characters with Deep Dark Secrets and I WANT THIS ON AUDIOBOOK PLEASE AND THANK YOU.

Grade: B+

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn

I suppose a Quinn nomination is obligatory for the RITAs. But this one was just dreary. I wanted to punch Sir Richard in the face and tell him to just STFU already. My second-least favorite Quinn. Bleah.

Grade: C-

Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

When I saw this on the RITA list, I realized how far behind I was on the Maiden Lane series and I didn’t even own this one. So I bought it. And then I had to binge-read all the previous Maiden Lane books and now I’m all caught up and it was kind of exhausting.

I liked Scoundrel because it gave us a break from the often-eyerolling Ghost of St. Giles schitck, the theatre setting and villain(s) were vividly memorable, and the chemistry between Eve and Asa was…feral.

I haven’t decided where I’d rank it in the series or among Hoyt’s full backlist, but it’s definitely RITA-worthy.

Grade: B+

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

Other categories

Best Inspirational

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter (winner)

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

Yawn. Did not hold my interest in any way — ditched it around 20%. Grade: DNF

Contemporary Romance: Long

Brokedown Cowboy by Maisey Yates (winner)

Brokedown Cowboy by Maisey Yates

This was the only Yates I’ve liked. Her style or voice or something just rubs me the wrong way and I have no idea what it is or why. I enjoyed this one, but I’ll probably never re-read it. Grade: B-

Redemption Bay by RaeAnne Thayne

Redemption Bay by RaeAnne Thayne

I DNF’d the ARC of this. I think I requested it because Grumpy Brooding Hero, but the squishy holiday goo was just the typical Small-Town Schlock from the HQN imprint. They’re all exactly the same. Grade: DNF

Contemporary Romance: Mid-Length

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

It’s really good, in the straight-girls-writing-new-adult-m/m-for-other-straight-girls kind of way. It wasn’t Riptide Good, but I’m a little biased. Grade: B

Contemporary Romance: Short

One Night with Her Bachelor and Three Nights Before Christmas by Kat Latham

On Night with Her Bachelor by Kat Latham  Three Nights Before Christmas

I love love love Kat Latham and I will read anything she writes. Bachelor was a typical rom-com, but Christmas deserved the category win for Latham’s fantastic ex-con heroine. Grades: B, A

Erotic Romance

For Real by Alexis Hall (winner)

For Real by Alexis Hall

Yeah. All that hype and squee? All of it 100% earned. Read this. If you don’t think it’s utterly effing brilliant, we can’t be friends. Grade: Can’t because of conflict of interest so you’ll just have to trust me.

Romance Novella

Toward the Sunrise by Elizabeth Camden

Toward the Sunrise by Elizabeth Camden

This prequel is soooo much better than the novel it’s prequeling. There are goats. Lots of goats. I haven’t re-read it since the scathing SBTB review pointing out some egregious romanticizing of colonialism, but from what I remember the surface was enjoyable. Grade: TBD

Paranormal Romance

Nada. But Must Love Chainmail is purchased and queued up at the top of the list.

Romantic Suspense

Nada. But I bought the category winner Flash Fire because I love Dana Marton.

Young Adult Romance

Nada. But I moved The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett out of whatever “Someday/ARC Guilt” folder it was lingering in and moved to the PROBABLY SHOULD READ THIS SOONISH list.

Recent Reads

A visual depiction of a single parent with two kids and two jobs at the end of a school year:

Looney Tunes gif - Sylvester sliding down stairs

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

Let’s see, where were we? Ah, yes — books. I’ve…read a lot more than I thought. And nearly all of it was soul-satisfying. It’s not hyperbole to say books can keep us sane.

I’m dumping everything in one stupidly long post so I can clear out my NetGalley Wall of Shame.

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

Only Beloved and Longing by Mary Balogh

Only Beloved by Mary Balogh  Longing by Mary Balogh

I was a little wary of the last of the Survivors’ Club books because I did not like Ralph and Chloe’s story (so distressingly repetitive, especially on audio, and it added nothing of value to the series), but I knew Balogh would pull out the Big Guns of Angst and Drama for Stanbrook’s Deep Dark Secret. It’s set on a cliff-top in Cornwall, for crying out loud. I loved Dora, but I really wish she had a different name.

Speaking of Big Guns of Angst and Drama…. Longing is chock full of both. This is a stand-alone title, more of a “historical with romantic elements” than a straight rom-dram. Widowed mine worker becomes governess for widowed mine owner’s lonely daughter, with Chartist labor intrigue and unrest keeping them apart. The setting in the depths of an isolated Welsh valley is my favorite character in this story; Balogh’s usually understated brilliance at world-building is front and center here — it’s atmospheric and vivid and  tactile and completely enveloping.

Someday I will write up my feelings about Balogh. But it will likely just be the word “effortless” over and over and over.

Only Beloved »  |  Longing »

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

Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries by C.S. Harris

Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris  Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris  When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris

Epic re-read binge. The first binge was a few years ago with the first six books, then I bought each one (at full price) when it came out and they sat in the TBR. When I saw the cover of the newest one — When Falcons Fall (Book 11) — I had to dig them out and start the whole thing from scratch.

There’s a lot of High Political Intrigue in this series; these aren’t cozies by a long shot. But not even the regular appearances of the Prince Regent can kick me out of my St. Cyr book trances — and you know how I feel about Prinny. Harris’s cast of characters is phenomenal, and she’s masterful at revealing just enough bits of backstory to keep the series momentum going.  I’m  on book TEN and we STILL don’t know what secret Sebastian’s estranged father is hoarding about his Machiavellian father-in-law.

Also, I love Lady Hero. A heroine named Hero, and she kicks ass.

I have to finish #10 tonight because #11 is due back to the library tomorrow night but we have a doubleheader ballgame and I can’t renew it because there’s a wait list and I already feel guilty for keeping it the full three weeks OMG *FLAIL*

The Sebastian St. Cyr series »

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

The Reckless Brides series by Elizabeth Essex

Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex  A Scandal to Remember by Elizabeth Essex

A few people on Twitter were talking up different titles in this series, so I got the first two from the library and then I had to buy them all. At full price. Yes, I have issues with impulse purchases and instant gratification.

The first one — Almost a Scandal — is the best chick-in-pants romance I’ve ever read. The sea-loving heroine disguises herself as her younger brother when he refuses to report for naval duty. Usually plots like this have me running the other way screaming “THEY’RE ALL TSTL JUST PUT THEM OUT OF THEIR MISERY ALREADY,” but Essex hooked me in the first chapter. The chemistry is palpable, and the HEA is so hard-worn I’m still sighing over it months later.

It’s a family-centered series, but each book and each couple is markedly different and very memorable. I’m on book five — Grumpy Lieutenant and Lady Scientist Get Shipwrecked — and I’m loving every minute of it.

I need to give a big-ol’ eyeroll for the backless satin that magically survives a lethal storm and shipwreck with all its hideous shininess inexplicably intact and holy cow I just used a lot of modifiers there, didn’t I? This is what bad book covers can do.

The Reckless Brides series »

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

Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

On audio from the library. I’m working through Quick’s backlist (all from the library) and I’d love for her to get my money directly, but there’s no way in hell I’m paying $13.99 for an ebook. FOURTEEN DOLLARS. What in god’s name are the people at Berkley smoking? Thank god (and I mean that literally this time) for libraries.

Quick’s latest is a lot like her other recent Victorian mysteries, but it’s worth a read/listen; narrator Louise Jane Underwood manages Quick’s slightly off-kilter characters and careening plots without turning them into breathless melodramas. This one has a particularly good twist I am a bit embarrassed to admit I did not see coming.

Did you notice I used a semi-colon up there instead of yet another em-dash?

‘Til Death Do Us Part »

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

As You Are by Sarah M. Eden

As You Are by Sarah M. Eden

Speaking of overpricing nonsense…. I got this self-pub novella for $3.99 when someone recommended it on that SBTB post on beta heroes, also known as Kelly’s Book Crack.

I loved this novella about a horse breeder and the widow with Deep Dark Secrets who moves in next door. Loved it. I immediately wanted to read the rest of the series.

But even my recklessly impulsive one-click finger balked at $10.99 for each of the other titles. These books range from 225-300 pages. ELEVEN DOLLARS FOR NOVELLA OR CATEGORY-LENGTH I DON’T THINK SO WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE SMOKING? And no go at the library. Ugh.

I have an upcoming title by Eden from NetGalley in the queue that I’m really looking forward to — lady sheriff gets pushed aside by the new manly sheriff. I’ll keep you posted.

As You Are  »

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

Our Own Country by Jodi Daynard

Our Own Country Jodi Daynard

On audio (purchased); I think I had an ARC as well. I liked the author’s debut novel, The Midwife’s Revolt,  about a healer who gets mixed up in Revolutionary War intrigue, so I gave this one a try — despite the major side-eye of the “rich white lady falls in love with a slave” premise.

On the plus side, the historical world-building is really, really good; I was there through the whole story. The romance worked beautifully, and I believed in the heroine’s evolution.

But I think I like the idea of this author’s books rather more than the execution. The characters and plots are so compelling enough to keep me reading, but the storytelling is forced and episodic and I never quite reach the level of wanting to recommend to other readers.

I do not recommend the audiobook. The over-enunciated and sometimes wooden narration doesn’t do much to overcome the structured formality of the prose.

Our Own Country  »

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

The Dashing Widows series by Anna Campbell

The Seduction of Lord Stone by Anna Campbell  Tempting Mr. Townsend by Anna Campbell  Winning Lord West by Anna Campbell

I squeed over an Anna Campbell holiday story, so I grabbed these as soon as I saw them. Three widowed friends find new loves with some of my favorite tropes: mysterious newcomer, friends-to-lovers and enemies-to-lovers.

I especially loved the first one, in which a brash merchant drags a mother from her self-imposed isolation to search for their runaway boys. So, so romantic and sexy — fantastic relationship-building in just a few chapters.

The Dashing Widows series »

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

Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Just inject these straight into my brain, I don’t care how fluffy they are. It’s all about the banter, and Quinn is the best at it.

And holy cow, hurry up with the next book about the brother missing in the colonies.

Because of Miss Bridgerton »

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

The Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

The Painter's Daughter

I’ve been really disappointed with Klassen, but this lovely marriage of convenience story brought me back. Just enough edginess to balance the angst, a very hard-won HEA, and the bad guy gets the comeuppance he deserves.

It’s an inspie, but not preachy in the least.

The Painter’s Daughter »»

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

Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

Yeah, me and everyone else. I was way behind on this series too, so I glommed them all in about week.

The Ghost of St. Giles thing was getting old, so I’m glad the series turned to other characters. I really liked the suspense in Darling Beast (Apollo/Lily) and Dearest Rogue (Phoebe/Trevillion), and the chemistry between Asa and Eve in Sweetest Scoundrel was delicious.

I’m still trying to decide about Duke of Sin (coming out May 31). While Val and Bridget definitely have sparks, I didn’t quite buy the romance. And that’s because amoral Val left me feeling a bit squicky. Not quite an Eloisa James level of squickiness,  but close. I love that Hoyt didn’t turn him into a born-again do-gooder, but I never really crossed the line into seeing him as true hero material.

Until the bit at the end with the kittens. THE KITTENS. Good lord.

Duke of Sin »

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

Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen

Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen

An impulse download from the library, I think because I saw an author I trust recommend it (Theresa Romain, maybe?). I’ve tried and DNF’d Galen before; let’s just say the word “wallpaper” comes to mind.

But I made it through this fluffy bit of nonsense about a pickpocket as a missing heiress  in one sitting. It’s still wallpaper and wildly unbelievable, but I will grudgingly admit that I was maybe slightly charmed in a grumpy sort of way.

Earls Just Want to Have Fun »

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

The Express Rider’s Lady by Stacy Henrie

The Express Rider's Lady by Stacy Henrie

Henrie is now an auto-buy. I enjoyed her debut Lady Outlaw, and I highly recommend her Of Love and War series (homefront WWI). The newest is going on my READ THIS TRUST ME list as well. All of the Pony Express category line is good, but Henrie’s really stands out. Total book trance.

The Express Rider’s Lady »

Of Love and War series »

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

Anything and everything by Theresa Romain

A Gentleman's Game by Theresa Romain  Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain

Author binge, and well worth it. I’m really enjoying her new series with the horsey people – the prequel novella The Sport of Baronets is wickedly sexy, and A Gentleman’s Game is a fun suspense-y road-trip yarn.

I have the one with the courtesan vs. the bossy naval officer in the queue for the MOM IS BUSY LEAVE ME ALONE MEMORIAL DAY READ-A-THON.

Romance of the Turf series »

Fortune Favors the Wicked »

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

Boston Fire series by Shannon Stacey

Heat Exchange by Shannon Stacey  Controlled Burn by Shannon Stacey Fully Ignited by Shannon Stacey

I like Stacey’s stand-alone books, especially Slow Summer Kisses, but I think the Kowalski books are…*glances around furtively*…highly overrated. Yes, I just said that out loud.

The firefighters, however…. Caretaking alphas, yes please. And the heroines are Stacey’s best by far. The covers are all about the abs, but I’m remembering the women more.

Boston Fire series »

TBR Challenge: Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark

  • Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya ClarkTitle: Good Time Bad Boy
  • Author: Sonya Clark
  • Published: Self-Published, June 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 316 pages
  • Tropes: Good Ol’ Boy, Smartass Heroine, Small Town, Music, Dysfunctional Families
  • Quick blurb: Country singer on the skids has to make amends for getting hometown barmaid fired.
  • Quick review: New-to-romance author needs to write more romance.
  • Grade: A-

This month’s TBR Challenge theme is Recommended Reads, and boy howdy, do I choose my friends wisely.

I bought Good Time Bad Boy last year when everyone else (e.g., Sunita and Janine at Dear Author and others) was raving about it. And of course it got buried pretty quickly because I rarely make an effort to keep contemporaries at the top of the queue.

I finished it in one night.

I haven’t read Liz’s review yet, but I’m sure she’s done her typically smart things with it. I’ll just do my usual thing because otherwise we’ll be here until next Tuesday.

The premise is pretty simple – the heroine is a small-town barmaid who puts the smackdown on a handsy drunk customer, who just happens to be the hometown celebrity. He gets his shit together enough to make amends and there’s an HEA and a crap-ton of angsty-yet-fun goodness in between.

The meet-cute…

She walked around him, headed for the coffee urn stationed at the entrance to the kitchen. He mumbled something as she passed then slapped on her the rear, hard enough to sting and make a cracking noise that seemed to echo in the nearly empty restaurant.

Somebody said “oh shit.”

…“So I guess you won’t be giving me your phone number,” Wade said to her back. She slipped her hand behind her back and responded with a raised middle finger.

I loved Daisy. I really loved Daisy.

Wooing with music….

The crowd fell away and Wade sang directly to Daisy, only to Daisy. It pleased him to see that it stopped her in her tracks, empty beer bottles balanced precariously on her tray. She brought a hand to her throat and bit her lip. He smiled to her as he sang and he told himself that the heat he knew must have shone in his eyes was just part of the performance. If it affected her, well, that was just an unfair advantage singers sometimes had.

That’s just one. There’s more.

The chapter endings….

“Hey.”

“Yeah?” “I just. I like it that all those holy relic instruments are the constellations that guide you. That’s really nice.”

Emotion clutched at his heart and clogged his throat. “That’s…that’s the most amazing thing anybody’s ever said to me.”

“I’m so tired, I was afraid it wouldn’t make any sense.”

“It makes sense to me.”

“Good.” Daisy smiled and waved, then went inside the trailer.

He listened for the sound of the door being locked before turning back to his truck. He sang more Gram Parsons to himself all the way home.

The guitar constellation thing? OH MY GOD *~*swoon*~* <thud>

The angsty bits….

This was the closest Daisy got to prayer anymore. She closed her eyes briefly, picturing a smiling, happy mother and child, then blew out the candle. She sat in the dark for a while, her hands folded in her lap and thinking of nothing and everything.

Some of angst was pretty uncomfortable to read, but in a good way — absolutely wrenching, but never manipulative or melodramatic.

The quiet moments….

She said nothing for what felt like a long time but was probably not even a minute. Just stared at him with her eyes full of emotion. “I feel like I’m about to walk a tightrope without a net here.”

“If it helps, you won’t be alone.”

And there’s an utterly lovely grand gesture disguised as a quiet moment. You’ll just have to read it yourself.

The smartass females….

…“What are besties for if not to make you feel good about your boobs?”

…“For God’s sake, just pick a George Strait song.”

…“Do you think she’s talking dirty to him?” Jillian sipped her drink. “I hope she’s talking dirty to him.”

The overcoming poverty thing….

A twenty-eight cent difference between generic spaghetti and a brand name should not have made a difference to her. She didn’t want it to make a difference to her. Her gaze ping-ponged back and forth between the two price tags for nearly ten seconds before she finally put the generic in her cart. Pasta was pasta. She’d spend that twenty-eight cents on decent sauce. Maybe one of these days she’d try making her own sauce, with tomatoes from the farmer’s market and whatever the hell else went in spaghetti sauce. Generic labels and dented cans, birthday cupcakes bought from the red tag sale cart full of stuff about to go out of date. Boxes from the food pantry. Fast food burgers if her mother had a little money for a change. That’s what Daisy grew up on, and that’s why she was working her ass off going to school so she could buy some fucking brand name groceries without having to skimp elsewhere or debate whether it was worth it or even look at the price. She didn’t need to be rich. She didn’t even need to be full-fledged middle class. She just wanted better than generic spaghetti and a rusting rental trailer.

Did I mention that I loved Daisy?

One more that I don’t have a single good except for….

The small-town southern vibe — to which I usually give good side-eye — was completely genuine. Clark neither vilified nor idealized the setting, and by the end she managed to make the tight-knit community a character of its own, quietly supporting the main characters and nudging them to their HEA.

*~*happysigh*~*

Only two niggles that made me add the minus to the grade…

  • Use of the analogy “mushroom head” in the middle of an otherwise scorching scene. STOP WITH THE MUSHROOM THING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
  • Some noticeable typos, increasing in frequency in the last few chapters. All are easily overlooked homophone and apostrophe errors, but it needs a good proofreader.

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

*AHEM* SONYA CLARK

Re: Your next romance novel….

waiting-patiently

Are you done yet? How about now?

Recent Reads

I’m currently reading Riveted by Meljean Brook (audio) and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.

Riveted by Meljean Brook   The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Both are good. Really good. As in this kind of good:

snoopy_library

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

A quick disclaimer: I’m friendly with several authors below on Twitter.

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

The Art of Sinning and The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

The Art of Sinning by Sabrina Jeffries    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25814323-the-study-of-seduction

Jeffries has been an auto-buy for years, and there’s no sign of breakup. I inhaled her entire backlist when I first started reading romance, and the Hellions of Halstead Hall and Duke’s Men series are constant re-reads.

The latest titles are just as good. Sinning has an artist hero and you know I can’t resist those. Seduction has a marriage of convenience between a grumpy hero who makes lists and a secretly-smart social butterfly, and adds in a truly creepy stalker who cooks up some creative blackmail over Deep Dark Secrets, and just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I can’t say more without spoilers, but Seduction was especially memorable because of the social butterfly heroine’s Deep Dark Secret, which made the consummation of the marriage…heart-wrenching. I think Jeffries handled that potentially problematic trope really well.

I keep trying to articulate why Jeffries’ books work so well for me. She’s not a particularly flashy or profound or incisive writer. Her books are standard dukes-a-million regency fare that never bust out of the usual tropes – but they’re never wallpapery fluff.

I think it’s the simple fact that I know I can rely on her consistency. That might not sound like a compliment, but I mean it the best way – she’s just a damn good storyteller. Every. Single. Time.

Source: Edelweiss

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

All I Have and All I Am by Nicole Helm

All I Have by Nicole Helm  All I Am by Nicole Helm

Helm is kind of the contemporary version of Jeffries — nothing flashy, just consistently good storytelling with really memorable characters. The realistic small-town settings and kick-ass heroines really set her Superromances apart. Also, dogs. I like dogs.

Her latest Harlequins are both close to perfect contemporary romances for me, and I think Helm just keeps getting better with every book. I’m a very character-driven reader, and Helm knows my sweet spot.

You need to read Falling for the New Guy too, because ANGST-O-RAMA. And Too Friendly to Date, because LADY ELECTRICIAN. Trust me.

I have Rebel Cowboy in the TBR; cowboy hockey star on a motorcycle usually isn’t my kind of thing, but we’ll see.

Source: Purchased; Provided by Author

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

The Sport of Baronets and A Gentleman’s Game by Theresa Romain

The Sport of Baronets by Theresa Romain    A Gentleman's Game by Theresa Romain

Romain is another Regency author whose titles and covers have that wallpapery vibe.  But like Jeffries, Romain has the kind of character-driven stories that push every one of my buttons.

Her latest series centers on horse racing. I love it when authors give their characters hobbies and obsessions, and when unlikely couples are thrown together under high-conflict circumstances, so just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I also love how Romain’s heroines (in all her books, not just this series) always have equal agency in the relationship, regardless of their social status.

Source: NetGalley

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

Once Beloved by Amara Royce

Once Beloved by Amara Royce

I need Royce to write faster. Character-driven stories with unusual — but always realistic — conflicts. Royce isn’t afraid to take risks, and it’s a Book Trance every time.

Source: NetGalley

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

A Woman’s Worth by Audra North

A Woman's Worth by Amara Royce

North tweeted something about her newest novella featuring a single mother and of course I one-clicked immediately.

This trope is a really touchy one for me, and this story got nearly everything right. The heroine is a marketing executive who loves her job and values her career. The initial flirty-sexy times with her enigmatic boss were a bit squirmy, but in good way, and I loved how their relationship developed.

The parenting bits were spot-on. I highlighted a lot of bits about the ex that really resonated with me, and I *loved* that the Other Woman wasn’t a shrewish harpy.

The only thing that bothered me was the timing. Characters jumping head-long into a new relationship immediately after a divorce is one of my eye-twitch triggers. I broke up with Marie Force over it. Authors, do your research and think long and hard about rebound romances.

Source: Purchased

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

Tycoon by Joanna Shupe

Tycoon by Joanna Shupe

Just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

Read this. Trust me.

Source: NetGalley

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

The Silk Series by Cassandra Dean

Silk Series by Cassandra Dean

Olivia Dade made me buy the first in the series. Then I had to get all the others.

Source: Purchased

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

Chasing Jane by Noelle Adams

Chasing Jane by Noelle Adams

A little bonus for reading this far: It’s a freebie!

All of Adams’ novellas are great comfort reads. This one is just fluffy friends-to-lovers cuteness and I loved every word of it.

Source: Purchased