November TBR Challenge: Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens

Or, THE EYES HAVE IT: A Textual Analysis

  • Devil's Bride by Stephanie LaurensTitle: Devil’s Bride
  • Series: Cynster, Book 1
  • Author: Stephanie Laurens
  • Published: Avon, March 1998
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Tropes: Alpha-Duke, Repetitive Repetition
  • Quick blurb: Alpha-Duke and…oh, whatever, it’s got an Alpha-Duke, what more do you need to know?
  • Quick review: Sorry, can’t hear you, MY EYE IS TWITCHING.
  • Grade: D

The theme for SuperWendy’s 2015 TBR Challenge for November was “It’s All About The Hype (a book or author that got everybody talking).”

I bought Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens a few years ago because it has eight bajillion four- and five-star ratings and umpteen reviews full o’ squee. I’ve seen countless romance readers include it in their Desert Island Keepers and All-Time Favorites and First Alpha Hero and Gateway to Romland lists.

But, alas. This book wasn’t for me. In fact, I’m crossing Laurens off my list permanently because me and this book did not get along AT ALL. And not just because the cover is so boring (see alternatives below).

There was nothing inherently wrong with the characters or plot or storytelling. It was all the usual blowhard alpha-duke and the strong-yet-vulnerable orphaned heroine. A bit of suspense, some smooching, yada yada yada. Probably a Grand Epic Romance when it was first published 17 years ago, and I probably would have given it a solid C.


Like most readers, I have a few pet peeves. Sometimes it’s just a shrug-off “oh, geez, AS IF” kind of thing. Sometimes it ramps up to an “oh, hell no” internal mini-rant.

But sometimes…[you’ll have to imagine me shaking my head very sadly and dramatically]…sometimes a certain pet peeve devolves into a full-on “OH DEAR LORD MAKE IT STOP FFS HOW CAN ANYONE NOT NOTICE THIS WTF WHERE ARE MY CRANKYPANTS I NEED THEM RIGHT NOW” mess of slobbering incoherence.

The quirk that triggers such non-stop cringing is Repetitive Repetition. Authors using the same words and phrases over and over and over. I have no idea why my brain picks up on these things, but once those little seeds are planted, I CAN’T UNSEE THEM.

It’s happened before. I had to cross Grace Burrowes off my list because of her obsession with aristocratic titles and with smells. DEAR GOD, THE SCENTS AND AROMAS AND FRAGRANCES JUST KILL ME NOW.

Other NEVER AGAIN offenders offended me with hair and animal metaphors (sometimes at the same time) and apologies and grinning (sometimes at the same time).

I’m getting an eye twitch just thinking about those bullet lists. Which is ironic. Doubly ironic. Because (1) I ♥ bullet lists; and (2) Stephanie Laurens has A Thing for EYES.


You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not.

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Continue reading

Big Fat Book: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

  • Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor - 1st ed, Macmillian, 1944Title: Forever Amber
  • Author: Kathleen Winsor
  • Published: Macmillan, January 1944
  • Source: Purchased (in hardcover, paperback and digital)
  • Length: 976
  • Tropes: Everything you could possibly think of
  • Quick blurb: And you thought Scarlett O’Hara was bad….
  • Quick review: The ultimate anti-heroine in all her gaudy, garish glory.
  • Grade: A

“Madame,” he said finally, “your future is of singular interest. You were born with Venus in separating square aspect to Mars in the Fifth House.” Amber solemnly absorbed that, too impressed at first even to wonder what it meant. Then, as she was about to ask, he continued, having reached his conclusions as much by looking at her as at his charts: “Hence you are inclined, madame, to over-ardent affections and to rash impulsive attractions to the opposite sex. This can cause you serious trouble, madame. You are also too much inclined to indulge yourself in pleasure — and hence must suffer the attendant difficulties.”

Forever Amber is…”a bawdy bestseller”…”a torrid potboiler”…”a bawdy, lusty costume epic”…”a crude and superficial glorification of a courtesan”…”a big, fat tombstone of a bestseller”…”a naughty literary relic”…”a preposterously long and sumptuously naughty book”…”a love story of immense driving force and a magnificent, all-inclusive picture of an era”…”swoony with ill-defined sex”…”a glamorization of immorality and licentiousness”…”a colorful picture of Restoration England in all its immoral finery”…”Moll Flanders with, as it were, knobs on”…”a splendidly evocative guide to the events and mores of the time.”


…”the story of a slut’s progress.”

And, my favorite:

…”Opium on a gigantic scale.”

Every one of those descriptions is accurate. Set in Restoration England, Amber St. Clare’s story begins in 1660 with our 16-year-old heroine throwing herself at a Returning Cavalier, and ends (heh) 10 years later with our heroine throwing herself at the Jilting Cavalier.
In between, our heroine…

…Runs off to London with Cavalier. Gets pregnant. Gets scammed into marriage with a fortune hunter. Gets thrown into Newgate for debt. Escapes with infamous highwayman. Becomes con artist. Escapes a con-gone-wrong, winds up with impoverished second-son aristo, charms her way onto the stage. Sleeps with the king. Steals rival’s protector, then goads him into a fatal duel with the Returning Cavalier.

At this point, we’re only a third of the way through the book.

…Duel makes her more popular, sleeps with the king again, gets preggo again, gets abortion. Goes to Tunbridge Wells to recuperate and seduces filthy rich aging widower with 14 children. Resumes affair with Returning Cavalier (again), gets pregnant (again), finds out Cavalier also got 16-year-old stepdaughter pregnant. Husband dies, cavalier returns (again).

…THE PLAGUE. (this deserves a paragraph by itself)

Halfway done. Hang in there with me.

…Cavalier still refuses to marry her, she marries Evil Earl in revenge to gain title and access to Court. Evil Earl drags her off to the country, where she seduces his son in revenge. Evil Earl discovers them, poisons his own son.


We’re now at page 666. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.

…Finagles a post in queen’s bedchamber, sleeps her way through the courtiers. Gets pregnant by the king; he makes her marry a nobody. Various intrigues with courtiers. King makes her a duchess. Builds ridiculous mansion. Goes ballistic when Jilting Cavalier returns with new wife. Dresses as half-naked Venus at ball for spite. Fakes duel letter from cuckolded husband. Affair with Cavalier resumes (AGAIN), more hissy fits. Confronts Cavalier’s wife; he (finally!) throws her out.

And then…


I’m not kidding.  This was a one-hit wonder of a book, and a much-discussed sequel never appeared, so poor Amber is left perpetually chasing after her One True Love.


It’s a swashbuckling melodrama stuffed with fashion and poverty porn. It’s a sex-positive feminist manifesto.  It’s a full-blown and blowsy historical soap opera that unapologetically dismantles every “heroine” trope while coating it all in the glossy-yet-sleazy veneer of Restoration England.

Scarlett O’Hara and Becky Sharp can just take a seat. The gleefully amoral Amber St. Clare is the ultimate antiheroine.

This book is EPIC…. All I will say is that after finishing this book, I called my mother in a rage, and she said, “For lord’s sake, read Kathleen Woodiwiss and call me in the morning.”

~ Maria (Maya) Rodale, “Romance Novels 101: The Infamous Book List That Changed My Life,” Huffington Post, May 27, 2015

Continue reading

Deconstructing “For Such a Time,” Part 4: What Really Matters

Subtitle: The End Times (Finally)

I’ve written a lot of words about this book. I was going to write even more — more excerpts and more articles and more self-righteous sarcasm about hidden anti-Semitism.

Then I came across an interview with author Kate Breslin posted mid-August on a video series called “Heritage of Truth.”

I didn’t watch it. I couldn’t even look past the YouTube caption. My words died. My brain shut down. My capslock key whimpered in fear.

I can’t handle any more close reads. My tolerance is gone. I’ve finally hit Outrage Fatigue.

Faith is not us vs. them.

Open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your hearts. Get your heads out of your asses.

But to really understand why talking about For Such a Time is still important — why it will always be important — other people’s words matter much more than mine.

These are the voices that resonated strongly with me.


Marc Chagall, White Crucifixion, 1938 (Copyrighted image from the Art Institute of Chicago)White Crucifixion, Marc Chagall, 1938

The 1938 painting White Crucifixion represents a critical turning point for the artist Marc Chagall: it was the first of an important series of compositions that feature the image of Christ as a Jewish martyr and dramatically call attention to the persecution and suffering of European Jews in the 1930s.

In White Crucifixion, his first and largest work on the subject, Chagall stressed the Jewish identity of Jesus in several ways: he replaced his traditional loincloth with a prayer shawl, his crown of thorns with a headcloth, and the mourning angels that customarily surround him with three biblical patriarchs and a matriarch, clad in traditional Jewish garments. At either side of the cross, Chagall illustrated the devastation of pogroms: On the left, a village is pillaged and burned, forcing refugees to flee by boat and the three bearded figures below them—one of whom clutches the Torah— to escape on foot. On the right, a synagogue and its Torah ark go up in flames, while below a mother comforts her child. By linking the martyred Jesus with the persecuted Jews and the Crucifixion with contemporary events, Chagall’s painting passionately identifies the Nazis with Christ’s tormentors and warns of the moral implications of their actions.

~ The Art Institute of Chicago


For all the pain you suffered, my mama. For all the torment of your past and future years, my mama. For all the anguish this picture of pain will cause you. For the unspeakable mystery that brings good fathers and sons into the world and lets a mother watch them tear at each other’s throats. For the Master of the Universe, whose suffering world I do not comprehend. For dreams of horror, for nights of waiting, for memories of death, for the love I have for you, for all the things I remember, and for all the things I should remember but have forgotten, for all these I created this painting — an observant Jew working on a crucifixion because there was no aesthetic mold in his own religious tradition into which he could pour a painting of ultimate anguish and torment.

~ My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok


My Christian coworkers feel comfortable wearing a cross necklace. I do not wear a Star of David and I hide my last name when dealing with the public at work. I have been ranted at too many times with ideas from the Protocols of Zion, been given too much literature, too many lectures to try to bring me to Jesus, when I’m just trying to do my job. A job where I have to use vacation days to get off major holidays, vacation days a former employer used to deny because the other Jewish person I worked with had seniority.

This is modern Anti-Semitism, the micro-and-macro aggressions of daily life that come with being Jewish in the US in 2015.

~ Jen Rothschild


…That’s the appeal of all this. It assures folks their ignorance is a virtue and their patriotism is a virtue, regardless of consequences.

… Regardless of their actions or the consequences of said actions, the intentions are ultimately magical. They don’t mean to commit genocide.

… That’s why it works so well in the Christian world-view, especially Protestant. Your true intentions ultimately determine your fate.

… Salvation comes through grace and faith. Actions can be sinful, but really, it boils down to your faith, your intentions.

… Because the Nazi regime didn’t depend solely on a handful of fanatical genocidal True Believers overseeing the rest of the innocent country.

… It depended on a history of antisemitism built into the culture, ongoing passivity, and a belief in the fundamental goodness of patriotism.

… And the notion that ordinary people can come to see murder as good so long as they distance themselves from the victims & benefit from it.

… The fact that this kind of thing is popular in the US and in Christian fiction is a direct consequence of that propaganda.

… But it comforts people who don’t want to get their hands dirty in challenging the social structures that benefit them. It supports power.

~ India Valentin


Anti-Semitism in America is deliberate, insidious, and manipulative.

… anti-Semitism in America wears many masks, and one of them is silence. It is as violent as the others. Silence is not neutrality. Silence allows, if not fosters, oppression, aggression, and erasure. If you are silent on this book, please take a moment to examine why you are silent.

… Because we fear, even now, today, that one day, it’ll happen again. Here. And history has proven to us again, and again, and again, that we can say never again, and we can say never forget, but we Jews are the only ones saying that. When you erase the Holocaust, you erase me. You say that my life is meaningless. You say, you are only an object.

…I’ve had more kind comments than cruel ones, it’s true. More people saying I’ve opened their eyes to issues of anti-Semitism in the United States than people who have emailed me Holocaust denial, Holocaust jokes, tweeted swastikas at me, etc. But the cruel ones, the offensive ones, the hate…it sticks to your mind. It bends your back. It sinks into your bones. It exhausts you. It drains you. It destroys.

~ Katherine Locke


But here’s the thing: I live in a time and a place where it is not illegal to speak up. It is not illegal to be Jewish. I live in a country that was built on political dissidents and ragged refugees, a country whose birth was defined by the idea that protest is a gorgeous, progressive thing. I can worship how I like. I can speak my mind. And there are millions of men and women and children who never had that opportunity. Who never will.

And despite that, we’ve known all our lives that life is easier when we keep our heads down and our mouths shut. When we allow the world to ignore us. When we allow the world to erase us.

But I will not be ignored. I will not let anyone to erase us from history. I will raise my head, and I will shout for everyone who cannot.

We are here. We are still here. After everything–after everything–we are still here.

~ Sara Taylor Woods


But let’s be real clear, shall we?

You may not use tragedies that we have suffered through as a vehicle for your religious agenda.

Why are we still angry?

Why are we still angry?

Why are you giving us reasons to still be angry?

Why are you telling us that it’s not that big a deal?

That we’re too “WHITE” to have ever been persecuted?

That we don’t have what to complain about?

When have you lived the life of a Jew in 2015?

Have you realized yet that anti-semitism has never left? That it is more subtle now, that it’s ‘calm down, it wasn’t such a big deal’?

Why are we still angry?

We have never stopped being angry.

We will never stop being angry.

~ KK Hendin


Bloody hell.

Just as I finished proofreading this post, a new article came across my Twitter timeline:

Do Novelists Have to Be Politically Correct Now?Appropriating a controversy and draping in “political correctness” and “discomfiture”  to promote your own book? Badly done, Warren Adler. Badly done.

One more quote, and then I’m really truly done.

Arguing that anyone can write anything about anyone at any time, or else it is censorship, is the publishing equivalent of #AllLivesMatter.

~ lutheranjulia

September TBR Challenge: “The Cad” by Edith Layton

I cheated a bit on this one because it wasn’t really in my TBR. But I cheated for a very worthy reason, because Layton was a favorite author of an online friend.

This one is for Liz (@meoskop/#DogNamedLucky).

Wicked smart, funny as all hell, and passionate about books.

ETA: Remembering Meoskop at Love in the Margins. Thanks, Ridley.


Pass the tissues again. Goddammit.


The Cad
by Edith Layton

  • The Cad by Edith LaytonTitle: The Cad by Edith Layton
  • Author: Edith Layton
  • Series: The “C” Series, Book 1
  • Published: HarperTorch, August 1998 (rereleased 1989 by HarperCollins)
  • Source: Scribd
  • Length: 368
  • Tropes: Poor Relation, Deep Dark Secrets, Scandal & Gossip, Marriage of Convenience, Man of Mystery
  • Quick blurb: Scarred poor relation is overwhelmed by whirlwind marriage to an engimatic nobleman.
  • Quick review: Now I understand all the love for Edith Layton. I feel an author binge coming on.
  • Grade: A

“Bridget,” he said, his deep voice low and soft and slow. “Ah,  Bridget. I’m sorry, but in spite of my better judgment, I’ve decided we really must meet again.”

Her eyes flew to his. “But—why?” she asked, all thoughts of revenge swept away because of the regret in his voice, all hurt  swept away by the look in his eyes.

“Because I burn for you,” he said.

I can’t think of anything this book was missing. It’s all there, in just the right amounts and in all the right places. And you think it’s going to be about one thing, but it’s not, and it’s all just SO GOOD.

Deconstructing “For Such a Time,” Part 3: The Fallacy of the Magic Bible

NOTE: I was watching Esther and the King while working on this.

Esther and the King, 1960

Just a heads up in case Joan Collins in all her Holy Blue Eyeshadow wanders in once in a while to keep things interesting.


In case you missed the backstory of all this….


When I first saw the brief review and subsequent discussion of For Such a Time on SBTB, my reaction, after throwing up in my mouth over the whole premise (more on that soon, stick around), was “nooooo.”

A Magic Bible.



Note to any and all inspie authors and publishers who have actually read this far or even skimmed or whatever:


And I thought the one-off Magical Bible Verses were bad. I’ve ranted about those before. No, it has to be an actual Magic Bible that appears out of nowhere and follows the heroine around like a puppy with an invisibility cloak or something.

*sits on hands*

I found myself reflecting on why I specifically hate the “Magic Bible Verse” trope so much. That one is pretty easy: Because, seriously, whose Bible actually works like that? Mine doesn’t.

If God and the Bible worked like that WE WOULDN’T NEED INSPIRATIONAL FICTION.

See what I did there?

In my tiny little unworthy opinion, there is no better way to dangle the Bible in front of a doubter and then snatch it away again. It’s a “ha, ha, ha, this is why you can’t have nice things!” sneer to emphasize how much more the author knows and loves God because she knows exactly what God would say.


So. In my continuing quest to show off my smartypants and not (just) my rantypants, I’m going to keep with the “deconstruction” of For Such a Time by talking about the Fallacy of the Magic Bible, focusing on deus ex machina, conflation and proof-texting. We’ll cover the definitions first, and then we’ll look at a few (of the many, many) examples from the novel that abuse all three logical and literary no-nos.

Then we’ll talk about irony. Unintentional irony. The burning, itching kind of unintentional irony. A book-long tidal wave of unintentional irony that leaves sand in your underpants for days. Continue reading

Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time,” Part 2: Allegory, Schmallegory

In case you missed it….


I believe any allegory or a re-telling or even a “reframing” promises the reader a more than superficial resemblance. As an inspie reader, my Default Reader Trust Mode tells me that the author of a fictionalized Bible story — even one described in such vague tones as a “reframing” — has taken on the greater responsibility to go beyond the surface to tell the whole story.

A biblical story calls its readers to enter its world, to be captivated by its characters, intrigued by its plot, and affectively engaged through suspense and complication till its final denouement. Biblical stories invite us into a world contoured by ancient conventions, yet pulsing with continuous relevance. …[A] story is a whole that conveys meaning through its totality, through the choice and placement of its parts, and through the sum of its parts.1


The parts of the story can be understood only as they relate to the integrity of the whole literary structure, and, conversely, the point of the story in all of its complexity can be best understood by pondering the significance of each part.3

If I’m reading a retelling a book of the Bible, I take it as a given that the author will be faithful to the meaning and intent of that story — not just the character names and superficial plot points.

In all fairness, not every character and verse needs a corollary in a fictionalized Bible story. Other Esther-inspired novels do without Queen Vashti, and the beauty contest, and the poetic justice and the glorious irony of the scriptures, and still give good story.

For Such a Time is not “good story.”

Yes, I know that “reframing” equals “jumping off point.” But when you jump off something, there’s an implication you’re reasonably assured of a safe landing without falling on your arse.

For Such a Time shows its arse on nearly every page.

Arse is not profanity because it’s British.

I’d like to say I am confounded why author Kate Breslin chose the specific elements of the Esther story that appear in For Such a Time and ignored others. However, it’s painfully obvious (I’m using that phrase repeatedly, but argh) which elements got in the way of the story she wanted to tell. Some are of the “huh?” variety, while others are downright “WTF???” egregious.

Acronyms do not count as actual profanity. I checked.

In my one week of research, I found dozens of books and articles on the story of Esther, from Christian exegetic textual analysis to Talmudic and rabbinic commentaries to YA novels to preschool coloring books.

Also, Joan Collins movies. Totally not kidding.

Esther and the King, 1960

If I was an inspie author, I would bury myself in these sources and wallow in them. I would absorb everything and pick it apart and put it back together again to figure out how best to relate God’s word to readers looking for a good story.

[NOTE: I would wallow in the Joan Collins movie, but I’d probably avoid actually absorbing anything.]

I honestly believe that Breslin — and her editors — read none of the same non-fiction titles I did. I seriously doubt the editors of the book consulted even one of the eleventy-five Bible study guides available from their own publishing house.

Eleventy-five is hyperbole, not snark. Continue reading

Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time”: An Angry Book Nerd Manifesto

NOTE: I had all this written and formatted and was doing a final proofread when this popped up in my Twitter feed:


Bloody hell. Un.Effing.Believable.


Related posts:


Oh. You thought we were all in the “Over It” phase of the Outrage Cycle? I want to be “over it.” But I’m not.

I'm not coming down until someone apologies

This epic manifesto is an attempt to render my tangle of thoughts into a coherent analysis. By “epic,” I mean long (you are not surprised). By “manifesto,” I mean pseudo-intellectual ranting with fake academic subheadings and loads of pretentious “-ism” words and footnotes. I think “manifesto” implies “long” as well, so I’m already being redundant but I really like the word “manifesto” because it makes me feel very…powerful…in a “didn’t-even-have-to-get-off-the-couch-woohoo!” kind of way. I’m keeping “epic” too because people look for “epic” stuff and that will totally boost my SEO and I might even go viral.

I really like run-on sentences.

This post is the first of…several? I keep finding new stuff and then I have to rewrite everything and I have no idea how you author types ever actually get anything done.

If you’re sticking around for this, get yourself a snack and settle in.

*girds loins*



The obligatory #NotAllChristians intro to prove how enlightened I am about my recognizing and acknowledging my privilege and no that’s not hypocritical at all shut up and let me finish I’m just getting started here

As with my previous posts, I am thinking and researching and writing about For Such a Time1 because I am part of the target market. I’m writing this to (1) justify how much time I’ve spent obsessing over this book; (2) validate my righteous indignation; and (3) process why this has become some kind of personal mission for me.

I know the author and publishers have their fingers in their ears. They clearly don’t care.

The truth doesn't change just because you don't want to hear it

Bethany House’s Statement and Our Response

I do care. I care a lot. I’m learning a lot. I hope my voice will help escalate the discussion from a different kind of “Christian worldview” – one that not only cringes at but thoroughly disavows self-righteous revisionism and supersessionism.

I can’t write about it from anyone else’s point of view. I can only read what others have written2 and internalize their stories to reinterpret what I’ve read and inspire me (see what I did there?) to learn more.

I think I will request “Learn More” as the epitaph on my gravestone. When I die in a book avalanche.



In which I use the word “deconstruct” unironically.

I know. I had to. It’s the only way some high-minded people will take this manifesto seriously. Which is completely understandable what with all the gay werewolf orgies and whatnot around here.

Are you ready? Here we go:

*straightens bra straps*

The purpose of this post is to deconstruct why the novel For Such a Time by Kate Breslin fails its intended audience and its sub-genre of religious fiction.

Whether we call label it “Christian fiction” or “inspirational fiction,” whether it’s marketed as an “allegory” or a “retelling” or a “reframing” or even a mere “inspired by,” this book is a full-on hot mess of plug-n-play Bible verses presented with all the subtlety of a Looney Tunes anvil dropping.

Looney Anvil Dropping, featuring Road Runner and Wile E. CoyoteIf you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the outcome. Unless you’re specifically calling it a fairy tale or alternate history, not acceptable in an allegory/retelling.

If you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the meaning and the impact. Never acceptable in a retelling of a Bible story.

By (1) ignoring reader expectations; (2) cherry-picking superficial bits of the source material; (3) conflating the story with scriptural themes unrelated to the source material; (4) relying on deus ex machina and proof-texted divine interventions to drive the plot; and (5) deliberately choosing a setting solely for shock value, this so-called “inspirational” novel ignores and subverts the themes and messages of the Book of Esther so badly as to be nearly unrecognizable.

Instead of “reframing” the characters and themes of the Book of Esther to support the message God wants us to hear, Breslin uses whatever Bible verses she can find to support the story she wants to tell.


  • I am not a Bible scholar; all opinions and observations and conclusions are my own. If you don’t agree, please – in all sincerity – call me out. I’m here to learn.
  • I’m using the terms “Bible” and “Biblical” for simplicity and my own familiarity.
  • I’m trying very hard to avoid snark and profanity and all-caps ranting. Wish me luck.

Also, please note I used a Looney Tunes analogy before the disclaimer. If all abstracts had Wile E. Coyote shout-outs and kicked off with a Ritual Straightening of the Bra Straps, I would have stayed in grad school. Continue reading