TBR Challenge: Kickin’ It Old School with Jude Deveraux

I missed the March and April challenges, but I am all over this one because MY FIRST DEVERAUXS. (Is that the plural? I’m going with it.) I had a hit and a miss.

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A Knight in Shining Armor (1987)

It was a DUD. I was DISAPPOINTED. There, I SAID IT.

A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux (1987)

My less-than-enthusiastic reaction can be blamed on:

The Susanna Kearsley binge.

I listened to The Winter Sea, The Firebird, The Rose Garden, and Splendour Falls, and read The Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms, so my standards for timeslip romances were raised ridiculously high.

Knight was undoubtedly romantic, and the time travel was entertaining, but I wanted the intensity and emotion of the chapel/churchyard scenes to be sustained through the whole story.

The awkward and uncomfortable narration.

I do NOT recommend the audiobook narrated by Steve West. It appears that he’s done several historical romances, but his performance on Knight had a lot to do with my negative reaction to the heroine (see below).

The over-the-top ex and his bratty daughter.

Halfway through the first chapter, my only thoughts were “Really?” A little subtlety would have gone a long way to make the opening of Knight a little more palatable. Instead, we get sledgehammered with caricatures.

And the fat-shaming of a 13-year-girl? REALLY? I don’t care how obnoxious the child was, or when this book was written, there is no excuse for that. I almost DNF’d by chapter two.

The heroine.

I hated Dougless. I wanted to slap her upside the head and say GOOD GOD WOMAN STOP WHINGING. She’s the prototype of the Ditzy, Klutzy, Family Fuck-Up and she annoyed me from beginning to end. All she did was whine, pout, plead and cry through the whole damn book.

Grade: C- (saved from a D+ by the perfectly perfect ending)

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The Raider (1987)

This one, on the other hand, was GLORIOUS.

The Raider by Jude Deveraux (1987)

It was a funny, sexy romp in the best possible way, and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

The heroine was a smartass.

I adore smartass heroines. Have I mentioned this before?

The hero has two (count ‘em, TWO) alter egos.

hero

And the heroine falls in love with both of them. I almost liked it against my will because the “in disguise” trope generally makes me roll my eyes, but Deveraux pulled it off beautifully.

The secondary characters were memorable and essential to the story.

I think this is another reason why Knight didn’t work for me — for most of the book, we get little respite from Dougless’s internal angst-o-rama. The remainder of the cast just served as reusable props for her self-pity party.

In Raider, however, we get scene after scene of comic relief from Jessica’s gauche family, Alex’s mysterious Russian prince sidekick, the villainous villains and the raucous residents of Warbooke— and every bit of it advances the plot.

The pacing was perfect.

Knight was a weird combination of comedy and melodrama that just wasn’t my thing — it just didn’t feel cohesive.

Raider gives us high farce from page one and never lets go. We get just enough downtime for crucial backstory, character development, foreshadowing and (of course) sexytimes before we’re thrown headfirst into the next escapade.

The time period and setting were…not Regency England.

I have no idea if every minute detail was historically accurate, but I couldn’t give a rat’s arse because I totally bought into the historical world-building. And that sucked me into a still-ongoing Colonial/Revolutionary America binge.

Grade: A

(If you missed it, be sure to check out SBTB’s post on The Raider collectible Barbies.

The (Belated) 1Q2015 Big Fat Book Review: Middlemarch by George Eliot

NOTE: I’m reading a BIG FAT BOOK each quarter in 2015. I kinda sorta forgot to write a review of my first one because I was still wallowing in it weeks afterward.

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If you don’t like MIDDLEMARCH, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

Middlemarch - Original Serial CoverAlso, you are wrong. Wrong, wrong, WRONGITY WRONG. Everyone who knows anything about books agrees that MIDDLEMARCH is brilliant.

I am capitalizing and bolding MIDDLEMARCH to make sure it gets your attention so you will remember to READ THIS FREE BOOK THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Did I mention that MIDDLEMARCH is brilliant?

Yes, it’s eleventy thousand pages long. Yes, it’s 35+ hours on audio. Get over it. Suck it up and read it, buttercup.

My Bullet List of Reasons Why Everyone Should Read MIDDLEMARCH:

  • Because it’s BLOODY BRILLIANT.
  • Because the audio narration by Juliet Stevenson is BLOODY BRILLIANT.

So, that’s my belated, yet dramatic and insightful, 1Q2015 Big Fat Book Review of MIDDLEMARCH. You’re welcome.

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I’d never scrolled down far enough on the Wikipedia page to notice these glorious illustrations from The Works of George Eliot, published by The Jenson Society, NY, 1910.

Dorothea and Will

We start out loving these two idealists and aching for their star-crossed HEA. She’s the Self-Martyring Bleeding Heart and he’s the Brooding Artistic Poor Relation. What could be more romantic?

Then Eliot slowly, masterfully, shows us Idealism vs. Reality. And we’re always shown and never just told. Eliot somehow manages to uses every single bit of description and dialogue in her 300,000+-words to build these characters and then deconstruct them in such a way that we’re mired in their pity party and we’re LOVING EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

The illustration is perfect — Dorothea is heaving a big ol’ sigh and Will glares at us with all his brooding intensity.

 Rosamond and Tertius

We all love to hate Rosamund. She’s insufferable. And yet, she’s got a hell of a lot more gumption than Dodo. Instead of swanning about moaning about her lot in life, Mrs. Lydgate just goes out and does whatever the hell she wants.

Again with the subversive character deconstruction — Rosamund never turns the corner from loathsome to loveable, but we learn to empathize as she fulfills her destiny as arm-candy for her ambitious husband. And along the way, those ambitions reveal Tertius the Noble Physician’s own self-centeredness. His unsuccessful turnaround is kind of heartbreaking in a “we knew that would happen” sort of way.

I love how blithely pompous and patronizing Tertius looks in this illustration.

Mary and Fred

Mary is pretty much a non-entity in the book, but who the hell cares? She waits patiently for Fred to get his head of his arse and we love her unreservedly for it.

And oh, Fred. Our dear, dear Fuck-Up Fred. He’s the clueless but well-meaning frat boy who just cannot seem to get his shit together. If anything demonstrates Eliot’s storytelling genius, it’s the Redemption of Fred.  I just CAN’T EVEN with him.

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Discussion topics

  1. I want Rev. Farebrother to have his HEA. Who can we ‘ship him with? He needs something wildly passionate because I’m pretty sure he secretly reads naughty books. He’s a very open-minded kind of reverend.
  2. Is there anything in the book more painful than the Featherstone Death Watch?
  3. I still do not understand the Bulstrode ↔ Ladislaw connection. Could someone please succinctly explain what Bulstrode knew about Will’s family? If that’s important in revealing Will’s — or Bulstrode’s — character, why does it come so late in the book?
  4. The BBC miniseries. I think the casting was close to perfect. I heard rumors of a new adaptation (there’s an IMDB page for it, I think Sam Mendes was the producer)— help me fan-cast a new version. Let’s re-gender Bulstrode so we can have Helen Mirren.
  5. The concept of re-gendering just made me think of this…. Could/should an adaptation of Middlemarch be modernized, or set in the mid 20th century instead of the 19th? Or is it too quintessentially capitol-V Victorian?

Make yourself useful in the comments.

TBR Challenge: The Earl I Adore by Erin Knightley

February’s TBR Challenge was “Recommended Read (A book recommended to you by another reader/blogger etc.).” I blame this one on John (@DreamingReviews) who reviewed it for Heroes and Heartbreakers. “Heroine plays the oboe” = FASTEST ONE-CLICK EVER.

Yes, I played the oboe. Full-on band geek. You are not surprised.

  • The Earl I Adore by Erin KnightleyTitle: The Earl I Adore
  • Author: Erin Knightley
  • Series: Prelude to a Kiss
  • Published: Signet, January 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Tropes: Big Misunderstanding, Deep Dark Secrets, Music Nerds, Mean Girl
  • Quick blurb: The heroine plays oboe. The hero sings opera. There’s some conflict-type stuff but I didn’t pay attention to that because MUSIC-SWOON.
  • Quick review: To quote the hero describing the heroine, it’s : “…a glass of champagne. Effervescent, light, and sweet.”
  • Grade: B

“You make me want to learn more Italian,” he murmured, offering her a small private smile.

“You make me want to listen to more opera,” she replied….

This was just charming. I’m going to be lazy and just tell you to read John’s review, because he really captures the feel of it. I never would have even looked at it without his recommendation — the title and cover just scream “wallpaper.” It does skirt the boundaries of fluff, but the wooing-with-music scenes are quite swoon-y, and I may have needed a tissue or two at the end.

And, of course, I bought the first in the series, featuring a pianist and her grumpy neighbor, and I’m impatiently awaiting book three with the Chinese heroine who plays the zither. THE ZITHER. I’m not kidding.

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More on the I Was a High School Oboe Player….

Why did I play oboe, you ask? Because I started out on the clarinet, but my two best friends were always first and second chair and I got sick of competing with them. Only two oboes, so I’d never sit lower than second chair — and I only had to practice once a week.

True story.

“The double reed is quite tricky, and it can be a lot of effort to get the sound just right, so we oboists tend to have exceedingly strong lips.”

Oboes cost $1200 for a “cheap” student model. Reeds cost $12-15 each. Strong lips, indeed.

TBR Challenge: Free Agent by Roz Lee

My first #tbrchallenge — woohoo!

  • Free Agent by Roz LeeTitle: Free Agent
  • Author: Roz Lee
  • Series: Mustangs Baseball, #0.5
  • Published: State of Mind Publishing, May 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 65 pages
  • Tropes: BDSM, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Star ballplayer hooks up with new sub
  • Quick review: *YAWN*
  • Grade: D

“If you sign the contract tomorrow, we’ll seal the deal with a good fuck. How’s that?”

Yeesh. It’s a good thing this was a freebie, because it’s got every possible erotica cliché. I annotated every other paragraph with a variation of “Of course.”

  • Honey-blonde hair hung in soft waves over bare shoulders, framing fine features, porcelain fair skin, and blue eyes. [Of course.]
  • It was as if she saw past his defenses, right to his soul. [As he’s eye-fucking her while she’s fingering herself. Before they’ve even spoken. Because OF COURSE.]
  • Brooke licked her lips…. [Of course she did. How else would he know she’s horny?]
  • “…say yellow if you need a minute before we continue, red if you can’t take anymore.” [Because we all need BDSM 101 in every.single.book.]
  • Glossy pink petals framed a perfectly shaped slit. [Of course it’s perfect. Duh.]
  • …the most amazing orgasm of her life. [At their first actual encounter at the dungeon. Of course.]
  • He’d claimed a part of her no one else ever had—her heart.  [After their first encounter at the dungeon. And they’ve only shared first names. Of course.]
  • Now, she understood. The real pleasure came from pleasing her master, not the other way around. [*yawn*]
  • ...until he met Brooke, he hadn’t truly understood the submissive partner held as much power—perhaps more—than the dominant one. [*YAWN* Will this be on the quiz?]

Other random thoughts/observations:

  • There is zero character- or relationship-building. These people are completely cardboard and interchangeable with every other bad erotica I’ve read.
  • Might have been a D+ if not for the pluralizing-with-an-apostrophe egregiousness (“two single Dom’s looking…”) throughout.
  • The meet-cute occurs at a munch. Yes, a “munch.” I cannot believe I’ve never come across that term before.
  • The contract is “Concise and well written with headings, subheadings, and bullet points.” She wonders if a secretary prepared it for him. [No, really.]
  • The word “slurping” is used.
  • Secondary character is a sub named Candy. There are dessert jokes.
  • The characters contradict themselves ALL THE TIME, sometimes even within the same sentence. “Punishment is not intended to be pleasant” — but then he teases her about being a pain slut and yammers on about how sexy her moans are. “I don’t enjoy leaving those marks” — but, um, dude, YOU’RE A DOM WITH A FLOGGER.

I was hoping for something quick and fun to prep for a Spring Training baseball theme. I’ll keep looking.

The 2015 Page O’ Wishful Thinking

Alternate title: I Have a LOT of Good Intentions

girl-reading-with-pug-charles-barber1My 2014 had a lot of comfort reading, and a lot of weekends-with-no-kids binge reading, but very little reading-to-review. I think that slow-down was partially due to my growing obsession with audiobooks; I tend to read traditional books very fast, and audiobooks force me to slow down and hear every word and immerse myself in the language. That kind of wallowing is great for Heyer and Kinsale and the Austen/Eyre/Gaskell classics, but it’s also made me rush through too many genre reads, and ignore longer books, in order to accumulate that sense of accomplishment in knocking down the TBR.

Remind me to remind myself that nobody else cares about the depth and breadth of my unreads. It’s not a competition. It simply doesn’t matter.

What matters is finding books that matter to me, and participating in discussions, and writing about why I love reading, and endeavoring to elucidate those ephemeral emotions that emerge whilst engaging in erudite entertainments.

Wow. I haven’t alliterated like that in a long time. And with vowels! Damn, I’m good.

ANYWAY. So here’s my plan that’s not an Official Plan because that would totally negate everything I bloviated about above.

Continue reading

The 2014 Page O’ Lists

In no particular order….

Favorite historicals:

2014_Historicals

Fave contemporaries:

2014_Contemporaries

Continue reading

MORE RANTYPANTS: Writing Mental Illness for Fun and Profit

FULL SNARK AHEAD.

Yes, I’m taking my meds. Shut up. Also, it’s my birthday, so I can put on as many pairs of RANTYPANTS as I want. And maybe even go commando in them. That episode of Friends is my all-time favorite.

Sorry, where were we? All that lack of focus must mean I’m ADHD. Maybe a certain self-proclaimed expert can do a fly-by diagnosis for me.

So. Someone retweeted this, and I could not stop myself from clicking that damn link.

writing_insanity

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2014/09/30/9-tips-for-writing-an-insane-character

How fun was it? Let’s take a look at a few highlights:

You need to get specific. There are about a million types of crazy.

Does anyone else see the WTF in this statement? Just me?

I even took a university class on abnormal psychology….  For those of you looking to lose your fictional marbles, let me share what I’ve learned.

One undergrad class makes one an expert? I shall update my résumé! Let’s see…world religions, astronomy, statistics, juvenile delinquency (A+ in that one! I should write a book!), Intermediate German (there’s a good story about that), visual communications (in which I researched the brilliance of Cecil Beaton so I’m an expert on him too). OH! Also: racquetball! My only A in a PE class; I had a killer serve.

Yes, I changed my major seven times. Shut up and keep reading.

What flaw is splintering your character’s sanity? Is it alcohol abuse, as in The Shining?

Because mental illness is never just an illness. I keep wondering what my Deep Dark Secret or Tragic Past is, because I honestly can’t remember. Maybe I should try regression therapy. Or I could make up something, like…I was kidnapped as a toddler and force-fed mercury-tainted tuna by a satanic motorcycle gang club. That’s crazy enough to justify my crazypants, right?

I detest tuna. Just the smell of it makes me nauseous. I should write a book about that.

…obsession is a side effect of having a screw loose…

Let’s try this instead: …obsession is a side effect symptom of having a screw loose mental illness. Got it? It’s really not that difficult a concept.

Give your insane character these moments!

If only my mental illness was momentary. And deserving of !!!exclamationpoints!!! I feel so undeserving.

Writing insane characters offers a fantastic chance to use dramatic irony.

I shall endeavor to find the ironic moments in the drama that is my life.

5. He shows symptoms of a real mental disorder

Does this really need to be said? Seriously???

Most insane characters seem to have an escalated version of psychosis. This disorder is worth researching, from the early signs (social withdrawal, sleep disturbance, anxiety…) to full-blown delusions, hallucinations, and speech problems.

I don’t doubt the items mentioned correlate with some forms of psychosis (which, btw, is a generic umbrella term and not an actual diagnosis). But calling out common issues like anxiety and equating speech problems with full-blown delusions reduces a highly complex medical issue to nothing more than some potential Amazon keywords.

Insane characters are not like this.

Because all crazy is the same — even though there’s million different kinds of it. [See what I did there?]

8. He was set off by something

What triggered your character’s descent into madness? You may choose to show the trigger in your plot, or mask it as backstory.

Mental disorders have a variety of causes. Why does your character have this disorder? Was her mom bipolar? Is it drug-induced psychosis? Did she have a traumatic experience as a child? Again, use science to inspire you.

OH FOR FUCK SAKE. I just CAN’T EVEN WITH THIS. It just KEEPS GETTING WORSE. Where’s my damn Xanax?

A crazy character’s Snap moment is probably the most fun thing to write. Like, ever. In the history of time.

*~*sigh*~*

Note that an insane character doesn’t have to be doomed.

This is totally true. Insanity can be cured by some vitamin injections. Even if the character has been diagnosed with a real mental illness by a psychiatrist and has prescription meds. No, really.

If you’re preparing to write an insane character, I do recommend you study the books and movies I reference.

*RAGEFACE*

Oh, wait – I hope *rageface* doesn’t mean I’ve lost my non-fictional marbles, or that I’m “one fry short of a Happy Meal.” If it’s only in lowercase, does it still count as insane, or just cranky? What’s the threshold here?

Insanity might seem synonymous with unpredictable, but it does have patterns and symptoms that we need to be mindful of. (pardon the pun?)

Ah, finally. But..this was in response to an actual logical response in the comments.

And what are the author’s credentials, you ask?

I don’t care if you didn’t ask. You should have. Because UGH.

Yes, I’m going there. I’m a bully. So sue me. Is that stupid STGRB site still around? If so, I’m on it.

Two (2) self-pubbed YA books. And that one university class. But she’s read The Shining and watched Fatal Attraction, so she’s got that going for her.

Yes, The Shining is the epitome of batshit crazysauce. I think Stephen King is a little crazypants himself, but in a good way. He gets a pass. You, dear author [collectively, not specific to anyone], are not, and never will be, Stephen King. You’re not even Tana French. Don’t even try to go there.

HOWEVER.  I can only hope this article compels other authors to read A Beautiful Mind or The Silver Linings Playbook. As in actually read them to find all the ways Sylvia Nasar and Matthew Quick treat their mentally ill characters as actual people and not !fun! and !easy! and !lazy! plot devices.

One fry short of a Happy Meal, indeed. To which I say: Bite. Me.