The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The Contemporaries

Officemates are playing incredibly crappy Christmas music at full volume, so I feel no guilt whatsoever about writing blog posts at work.

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Don’t Miss; Have Kleenex

Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat Latham

  • Unwrapping Her Perfect Match by Kat LathamTitle: Unwrapping Her Perfect Match
  • Author: Kat Latham
  • Series: London Legends, Book 3.5
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (November 2014)
  • Source: Amazon ($2.99)
  • Length: 119 pages
  • Trope(s): Reluctant Heroine, Gentle Giant, Plot Moppet
  • Quick blurb: Celebrity bachelor auction + rugby injury = sexy times
  • Quick review: I loved the heroine even more than the hero.
  • Grade: A-

I love love love Latham’s entire London Legends rugby series, and everything about this novella absolutely worked for me. And if you haven’t read Mine Under the Mistletoe, read that too. *~*happysigh*~*

Off the Map by Tamara Morgan

  • Off the Map by Tamara MorganTitle: Off the Map
  • Author: Tamara Morgan
  • Series: Winter Rescue, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (November 2014)
  • Source: Author
  • Length: 88 pages
  • Trope(s): Reunited, Dogs, Kickass Heroine, Grumpy Hero
  • Quick blurb: Helicopter pilot risks her career to help grumpy ex rescue his rescue dog
  • Quick review: I ♥ Tamara Morgan
  • Grade: B+

You’ll need the kleenex because you’ll be laughing so hard you’ll be crying. Morgan’s In the Clear is still tops on my DIK contemporary list (OMG, that shower scene *swoon* <thud>), and this one is going to be a frequent re-read as well. Also, it’s about dogs.

Hero’s Homecoming by Rebecca Crowley

  • Hero's Homecoming by Rebecca CrowleyTitle: Hero’s Homecoming
  • Author: Rebecca Crowley
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Carina Press (November 2013)
  • Source: Scribd
  • Length: 88 pages
  • Trope(s): Hurt/Comfort, Snowbound, Reunited, Kinda-Sorta-Big Misunderstanding
  • Quick blurb: Wounded war vet stuck in blizzard with former lover
  • Quick review: Three hankies
  • Grade: B+

At first, I was all, “WHY is she making this all about HER???” But I kept reading and then I cried.

Christmas at Waratah Bay by Marion Lennox

  • Christmas at Waratah Bay by Marion LennoxTitle: Christmas at Waratah Bay
  • Author: Marion Lennox
  • Series: Christmas Around the World
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Tule Publishing (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 120 pages
  • Trope(s): Enemies to Lovers, Big Misunderstanding, Family Drama
  • Quick blurb: Supermodel clashes with business tycoon when she returns home to visit her dying grandfather
  • Quick review: Ah, the glorious, glorious angst.
  • Grade: B+

I think Marion Lennox is going to be my next Author Binge.

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan

  • Maybe This Christmas by Sarah MorganTitle: Maybe This Christmas
  • Author: Sarah Morgan
  • Series: O’Neil Brothers, Book 3
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Friends to Lovers, Angsty Athlete, Kickass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Smooching in the snow
  • Quick review: Everything I wanted it to be
  • Grade: A-

I wasn’t all that impressed with the first book in this series that everyone else adored, but this one pushed ALL my buttons. The only thing keeping this from an A+ was the over-the-top Evil Ex. Other than that, this has everything I crave in a friends-to-lovers story.

One Night in the Ice Storm by Noelle Adams

  • One Night in the Ice Storm by Noelle AdamsTitle(s): One Night in the Ice Storm
  • Author: Noelle Adams
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published (December 2012)
  • Source: Amazon
  • Length: 81 pages
  • Tropes: Snowbound, Brother’s Best Friend
  • Quick blurb: See tropes above
  • Quick review: See tropes above
  • Grade: B+

Snowbound with brother’s best friend = here, take all my money.

The Mistletoe Effect by Melissa Cutler

  • The Mistletoe Effect by Melissa CutlerTitle(s): The Mistletoe Effect
  • Author: Melissa Cutler
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s (October 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 200 pages
  • Tropes: Fake Engagement, Crazy Family, Cowboys
  • Quick blurb: Hotel heiress fakes engagement to ranch hand to preserve her family resort’s reputation
  • Quick review: I really can’t believe I actually like this.
  • Grade: B

I prepared myself for another caricature down-home yee-haw festival, but Cutler redeemed the Christmas Cowboy trope with this gleeful farce.

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Not Bad; Worth a Read

  • Snowed In by Sarah Title
    Insta-lust in the grocery store, but it still charmed me. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • The Kent Brothers Trilogy by Jaci Burton
    A bit predictable, but I loved the brothers’ banter. Grade: B (Purchased)
  • Snow Angel Cove by RaeAnne ThayneSnow Angel Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
    Pleasantly surprised. Debating whether to read more by Thayne…. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • A Yorkshire Christmas by Kate Hewitt
    The Cameron Diaz/Jude Law bits of The Holiday. But with sheep. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • Christmas with the Laird by Scarlett Wilson
    Coworkers snowbound in derelict castle = take all my money. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • Christmas in Venice by Joanne Walsh
    Angst-o-rama. Probably won’t read again, but it was a lovely reunion romance. Grade: B- (NetGalley)
  • Wild Holiday Nights anthology by Samantha Hunter, Meg Maguire and Debbi Rawlins
    Everyone should read this for Maguire’s snowbound-with-the-high-school-crush story. Grade: B (NetGalley)
  • A Family for Christmas by Noelle Adams
    Stretched the marriage of convenience trope quite a bit, but Adams still rocks the sexy inspie thing.  Grade: B (Purchased)
  • Unwrapped by Maisey Yates
  • Again a bit predictable, but lots of chemistry. Grade: B-

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Meh; If You Like That Sort of Thing

  • Her Holiday Man by Shannon StaceyHer Holiday Man by Shannon Stacey
    Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone else loved it. I found it so bland and boring I almost DNF’d it. It has none of the zing and chemistry of Holiday Sparks.  Grade: C- (NetGalley)
  • Christmas Curveball by Shari Mikels
    A snowbound-with-brother’s-best-friend that fizzled quite disappointingly. Grade: C- (Scribd)
  • Trading Christmas by Debbie Macomber
    My first Macomber. It was OK. The second, not so much (see below). Grade: C (Library)
  • Love Finds You in Frost, Minnesota by Judy Baer
    I bought this because I have relatives that live here. I finished it. Grade: C (Purchased)
  • Snowbound Surprise for the Millionaire by Michelle Douglas
    More travelogue than romance, but I liked the heroine. Grade: C (NetGalley)
  • A Mistletoe Christmas anthology by Carla Cassidy, Cathy McDavid, Marin Thomas
    None of these really stood out. I don’t think I even remember any of them after a week.Grade: C- (NetGalley)

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Blech; Don’t Bother

  • The Christmas Violin by Buffy AndrewsMr. Miracle by Debbie Macomber
    Schmaltz to the Nth Degree. D+ (Library)
  • Home in Time for Christmas by Heather Graham
    Loved the premise, but the execution was a complete mish-mash of Way Too Much Going On. DNF (Scribd)
  • The Christmas Violin by Buffy Andrews
    I’m usually a sucker for anything involving musicians, but this crossed that Schmaltz to the Nth Degree threshold too. (Purchased)
  • Just in Time for Christmas by Kim Boykin
    The Sassy Southern trope just does not work for me. DNF (NetGalley)

One-Quote Review: The Duke’s Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

This one gets its own post because DUDE. The Duke's Match Girl by Lila DiPasqua

  • Title: The Duke’s Match Girl
  • Author: Lila DiPasqua
  • Genre(s): Historical, Holiday
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2013
  • Source: Purchased (99¢)
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Smartass Heroine, Arrogant Aristocrat, Forgiveness & Redemption, Angry Sex, Makeup Sex,
  • Quick blurb: Recently widowed duke goes on campaign to woo back his first and only love
  • Grade: A (maybe an A+, need to read it again, might be lacking a big slobbery dog)

Your Grace,

Your man has informed me of your offer. He was quite uncomfortable about relaying my response. It is for his ease that I put it to you here in writing. As to your offer — and say this with the utmost sincerity  you may take it, and insert it into your exalted posterior.

Sincerely,

Suzanne

Drop whatever you are reading and READ THIS INSTEAD. No, really. Yes, the description says it’s a retelling of the Danish fairy tale, but trust me. I would never recommend a romance where the titular character freezes to death in a doorway.

Instead, it’s hilarious (the excerpt above is a mere hint) and madly sexy (as in angry makeup sex in a carriage) and breathtakingly romantic (I almost used “speechlessly” as the adjective but it sounded weird, which is kind of ironic when you think about it) with just the right amount of holiday seasoning.

Let’s just put it this way: The hero is a SMARMY ALPHA-HOLE AND I LIKED HIM ANYWAY. Christmas miracles, indeed.

More Audiobook Adventures

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

Highly recommended….

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

The Book Thief by Marcus ZusakThe Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

Narrated by Allan Corduner

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

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

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Audiobook Angst: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (audiobook)

  • Title: Flowers from the Storm
  • Author:  Laura Kinsale
  • Narrator: Nicholas Boulton
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, 1992
  • Source: Purchased ($2.99 ebook, $3.49 audiobook)
  • Length: 565 pages (19 hours)
  • Trope(s): Sheltered Spinster, Dukish Duke, Evil In-Laws, ANGST ANGST AND MORE ANGST (did I mention the ANGST?)
  • Quick blurb: Sheltered Quaker woman feels called to help a notorious (but brilliant) duke when she finds him wrongfully imprisoned in her uncle’s asylum.
  • Quick review: Go away and leave me alone. I’m still swooning.
  • Grade: A- for story, A+ for narration

 “It was an Opening,” she whispered.

 “It was…you,” he said.

OH. MY. GOD. You people weren’t kidding about this book. Good lord. It’s going to take me months to recover my equilibrium, and god help whatever books I’m reading and listening to next.

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (original 1992 cover)The minus on the story grade is for the slight lag in the pacing after the [NO SPOILERS], and I wondered about Maddie being called “Duchess” instead of “Your Grace,” and I couldn’t figure out why her father didn’t play more of a role in her spiritual conundrum, but then I had to replay the last chapter three times because, you know, OH. MY. GOD.

[Gimme a sec, I need to swoon again: *~*SWOON*~* <thud>]

Sorry, where was I? With the wrong narrator, this audiobook would have been a disaster of epic proportions. Nicholas Boulton captured Jervaulx’s anger and anguish — and Maddy’s longing and confusion — so bloody brilliantly I had my headphones on all night for four nights straight. And I stayed up until 3 o’clock this morning and I don’t care if I fall asleep at my desk and drool on my keyboard.

These characters, and all their lovely, glorious angst, will live with me — and I can’t think of much higher praise for an author than that.

Audiobook Adventure: The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare

  • Title(s): The Bronze Bow
  • Author: Elizabeth George Speare
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical, Young Adult
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 1961
  • Source: Purchased ($1.99 ebook promo, $1.99 audio)
  • Length: 256 pages (7.5 hours)
  • Trope(s): Coming of Age, Angry Young Man, Revenge and Redemption
  • Quick blurb: Young blacksmith’s dreams of avenging his father’s death are disrupted by the unwanted responsibilities of adulthood — and his encounters with a charismatic traveling preacher.
  • Quick review: Now THIS is how to write historical fiction.
  • Grade: B+ for story, A for narration

He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

This book won the Newbery Medal in 1962, and I can’t believe I’ve never read it before. The historical world-building is utterly enthralling, and narrator Pete Bradbury made the complex characters vivid and unique — I was there every minute, and there were more than a few times I lingered in the parking lot when I arrived at work to listen just a few minutes longer.

The plot went in directions I never expected, and I loved how the secondary characters grew and changed — even more so than the main character. Just when you think Daniel has finally gotten his head out of his nether regions, he has another hissy fit about something and must begin his spiritual and emotional journey all over again. My frustrations with his self-centered cluelessness lowered the grade a bit, but this book might just have a place on the DIK list.

Lord and Lady Hetheridge Mysteries by Emma Jameson

Ice Blue by Emma JamesonBlue Murder by Emma JamesonSomething Blue by Emma Jameson

  • Title(s): Ice Blue, Blue Murder, Something Blue
  • Author: Emma Jameson
  • Series: Lord and Lady Hetheridge Mysteries
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
  • Publisher: Lyonnesse Books, March 2011
  • Source: Purchased ($3.99 for Kindle)
  • Length: 170-200 pages
  • Trope(s): Age Gap, Smartass Heroine, Repressed Hero, Cops, Misogyny & Racism, Murder & Mayhem
  • Quick blurb: Veteran (and titled) Scotland Yard inspector’s world is turned upside down when he brings a foul-mouthed young female onto his team.
  • Quick review: Hooked by the brilliant characterization, stayed for the bloody stuff.
  • Grade: A- (for the series so far)

The first book in this series popped somewhere in my Amazon recommendations soon after it was published, and I LOVED it without even realizing I’d read the author before. Emma Jameson is a pseudonym of Stephanie Abbott, aka edgy m/m author S.A. Reid (Protection, Something Different). I’m always blown away by writers who can successfully switch genre and voice, and Abbott/Jameson/Reid appears to be phenomenally good at it.

The author labels the Lord and Lady Hetheridge books as “cozy” mysteries, but with the metro London setting and the prickly, smartass professional detective heroine, these books don’t have that Miss Marple/Jessica Fletcher vibe I associate with cozies. There’s just enough blood-and-guts gore and police procedural stuff to sustain the “cynical urban cops” atmosphere, with a few suspenseful gun-in-the-face moments and a charming serial killer to keep everyone from getting too jaded.  Book two, Blue Murder, has a particularly good twisty bit at the end.

For me, however, this series is all about the characters.

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