A 2018 Year-End Report: The Western Binge

The Westerns Binge - banner image

I think this was my longest theme binge ever. It all started last January with a new Beverly Jenkins release, which reminded me how long it had been since I read Westerns, so I went into the Kindle archives and then bought a bunch of new stuff and now I have approximately 137,000 books in my Westerns collection.

Looking back at dates in Goodreads, this kicked into high gear at the end of May. Which is when Thing1 graduated from high school. Upon reflection, I believe I was establishing the mindset to achieve A Mood in which to visualize The Ex falling off a cliff into a really prickly bush and having to stay there for days in a dust storm because of a nest of rattlesnakes or something. (NOTE: His horse is fine and lingers happily just far enough out of reach to add to the evil humor of the situation.)

ANYWAY.

From January through July, I read more than 40 Western historical romances — a mix of re-reads and new-to-me — and watched a bunch of classic Western movies. It was a grand (and, of course, inherently problematic) adventure.

Saddle up, pardners.

(You knew I was going to say that.)

Beverly Jenkins

Jenkins puts me in a book trance nearly every single time. Her books are filled with not just characters, but communities. The stories and people and historical events are all tied intricately and seamlessly together and how in the bloody hell do authors do this?

I enjoyed the Old West series, but I’m not yet sure how these will rank among all of Jenkin’s wonderful backlist.

Tempest by Beverly Jenkins

I’ve been pondering Tempest for nearly a year now, and I have to be honest — I wasn’t all giddy over the heroine like everyone else seemed to be. Yeah, Regan shot the hero in the first chapter. But increasingly throughout the rest of the book, I found Regan to be — YES, I’M GOING TO SAY IT, GET READY TO HAVE YOUR BLOOMERS IN A BUNCH — unlikeable.

There. I said it. I hid it way down here, but I said it.

Well, not unlikeable, exactly. Maybe…insufferable? Not really that either. Argh.

Regan could do everything. Effortlessly. She cooked. She sewed. She assisted in surgery and milked cows and painted and hunted and fished and rode horses and probably saved the governor from assassination and wrestled grizzly bears as a child. I might be exaggerating about the cow milking.

She was Mary Poppins — practically perfect in every way. And she never changed. The story centered on Regan, but I only remember everyone else revolving around her and having to adapt to her. Regan was never compelled to do any self-reflection or face any self-doubts or show any vulnerability.

I want both halves of a romance couple to suffer and learn and change and grow. Colton did a lot of suffering, and a lot of learning, and a lot of changing. Regan just kept doing…stuff. Her character arc was a flat line, while Colton’s was a scatter graph.

It’s entirely possible that I’m remembering this all wrong, as I read this on audio from the library nearly a year ago. I just remember getting to a point in the story — maybe the fishing? — where I checked out of Regan’s story and switched my emotional focus to the hero instead. Which a very rare thing for me to do. Regan simply didn’t need me to root for her or her HEA.

Now I’m going have to read it again to see if I really am remembering it fairly. I shall report back.

Alexis Harrington

Harrington was one of my first ebook author binges. I bought and read her entire backlist in 2011-2012, and it was great to see how well they hold up.

One thing I realized on the second go-round is how amazing Harrington is at establishing a sense of place. My brain knows exactly what each backwoods cabin looks like, how muddy the streets are, and where the town drunk hides his empty bottles.

And the Western character tropes are all there — the spinster and the drifter blacksmith, the rancher and the duped mail-order bride, the failed prospector and the abandoned mother, the runaway-disguised-as-a-boy and the bounty hunter.

Read them all. Trust me.

Before we move on, let’s take a look at the original cover for Homeward Hearts (Topaz, 1994):

Homeward Hearts by Alexis Harrington

Saddle up indeed.

Lorraine Heath

The binge ended with Lorraine Heath. I couldn’t go on after a certain book set in post-Civil War Texas, which wrecked me for weeks and which I’m still recovering from six months later and which I immediately added to my DIK Holy Fuck All-Time Favorites list. But I’m not going to talk about that one here, because I don’t think it’s really a Western despite the Texas setting, and because it’s going on another Page O’ Lists.

I wasn’t super jazzed about reading Heath. I DNF’d one of her recent Regencies — it was…quite weird and creepy.

To my everlasting pleasure, I learned that Heath’s Westerns aren’t like that. At all. They’re mesmerizing. Back to that “sense of place” thing that I have such a hard time defining. I was there, every time. Nothing kicked me out of the stories, and a few times I may or may not have actually yelled at characters.

The Rogues in Texas books were fast reads — enjoyable romps with Brit aristos hooking up with downtrodden American ladies in need of smug wealthy manly men whether they wanted to admit it or not.

Rogues in Texas trilogy - Italian cover Rogues in Texas trilogy - Italian cover Rogues in Texas trilogy - Italian cover

As you might expect, the American ladies were quite distrustful of the soft-handed, fancy-talkin’, duded-up foreigners. There were some Big Understandings and some Bad Guys and some Jealous Neighbors and I think maybe a barn-burning at one point? Definitely worth a read.

Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath

The Leigh Brothers aren’t rompish. They’re rough and dusty and remote and fucked up cowboys. All three books were excellent, but the first book, Texas Destiny, blew me away.

A war-scarred, brooding recluse is forced to transport his injured older brother’s mail-order bride to their ginormous spread in the middle of fucking nowhere. It’s a weeks-long journey, she’s a greenhorn, he’s an asshole, there’s storms and bugs and snakes and god know what else and sometimes that “sense of place” thing is a little too visceral, okay?

But, in the absence of any other entertainment, Amelia and Houston wind up talking to each other. And OH MY GOD. The closer they get to the ranch, the more then tension ramps up, and then it goes even higher when she’s successfully delivered to the older brother, and then there’s a little brother who decides to create even more tension and OH MY GOD.

Please read this. And that other one. Trust me.                            .

Genevieve Turner

Summer Chaparra by Genevieve Turner

The Las Morenas series. Just trust me. I haven’t even finished them all because I don’t want it to end. The Farmer Takes a Wife is one of my Perfect Novellas.

Edie Harris

Wild Burn by Edie Harris

I had Wild Burn in the TBR for years. A bounty hunter and an ex-nun schoolmarm, and the author couldn’t have chosen a more apt title. This one burns.

Lacy Williams

Cowboy Pride by Lacy Williams

I binged all of Williams a few years ago, and then all of sudden my library did a Big Library Read for a new one called Cowboy Pride — a Pride & Prejudice retelling. I inhaled it and I need mooooore.

A wagonload of Harlequins

In between all of the above, I read a bunch of Harlequins I had in the TBR and bought a few new ones. By “a few” I mean “several.” And by “several” I mean maybe a dozen or so? Most were from the Love Inspired line.

Kathryn Albright

The Prairie Doctor's Bride by Kathryn Albright The Gunslinger and Heiress

The Prairie Doctor’s Bride was one of the most memorable of the entire binge. The chemistry between the highly educated doctor and the illiterate outcast was unexpected and really moving, and the Bad Guy external conflict was just the right level of creepy suspense.

The Gunslinger and the Heiress stuck with me as well, and seriously, how could I not buy anything with that title? It’s a suspenseful second chance romance set in San Diego and Corona del Mar.

There were also good Albright stories in some anthologies I inhaled, including a runaway mail-order bride.

Carolyn Davidson

A Man for Glory by Carolyn Davidson

A hit and a miss. Redemption was sublime, with a widowed wounded veteran and plain-Jane spinster schoolmarm. A Man for Glory was almost painfully earnest and forced.

Cheryl St. John

Prairie Wife by Cheryl St. John Harvey Girls bundle by Cheryl St. John

Thank you, SuperWendy, for these. Every story was amazing. Prairie Wife is a fantastic marriage-in-trouble story that wrecked me almost as much as that Heath book. And then of course after reading all the Harvey Girls I had to watch the Judy Garland movie for the eight millionth time.

Stacy Henrie

Express Rider's Lady by Stacy Henrie The Outlaw's Secret by Stacy Henrie The Rancher's Temporary Engagement by Stacy Henrie

Henrie impressed me with her debut Lady Outlaw, and now she’s an auto-buy. I especially love The Express Rider’s Lady and The Outlaw’s Secret (Lady Novelist!) and The Rancher’s Temporary Engagement (Lady Pinkerton Agent!).

Sherri Shackelford

Winning the Widow's Heart by Sherri Shackelford A Temporary Family by Sherri Shackelford The Cattleman Meets His Match by Sherri Shackelford

Another auto-buy Love Inspired author. The Prairie Courtships series is particularly great, filled with classic Western themes, like the ranger and the pregnant widow, stalked by Bad Guys though an abandoned town, and a cattle drive with kid cowboys (cowgirls this time!).

The Bridegroom Brothers series

The Preacher's Bride Claim by Laurie Kingery The Horseman's Frontier Family by Karen Kirst The Lawman's Oklahoma Sweetheart by Allie Pleiter

These are set during the Oklahoma land rush, with a marriage of convenience, an enemies to lovers on a disputed land claim, and a skittish widow in need of protection. There’s a running suspense theme through all three books that really ramps up the tension and ends with a very satisfying conclusion.

I recall these are more overtly religious than most books in this line, but they’re also quite violent. Go figure.

More mail-order brides

I just cannot resist this trope — all of these are highly recommended:

Want Ad Wedding by Cheryl St. John The Marshal's Promise by Rhonda Gibson The Courtship of Izzy McCree by Ruth Langan Timeless Romance Collection: Mail Order Brides

And one that needs a bit of special attention: Last Chance Wife by Janette Foreman, who I believe is a debut author. This is set in Deadwood, South Dakota. Yep, that Deadwood. But definitely not that Deadwood. This Deadwood is squeaky-clean and populated by people who never drop F-bombs.

Last Chance Wife by Janette Foreman

The hero is a mine owner in dire financial straits, and the heroine is a six-times-failed (no lie) mail-order bride. She arrives to find out she was duped by a saloon owner, so she goes to work at the mine guy’s mercantile and gradually takes over his life.

But wait — there’s more! They unwittingly carry on a secret lonely-hearts correspondence. You guys. I mean, seriously, just TAKE ALL MY MONEY.

The problematic stuff

Westerns are inherent racist. Period. There can be no argument. And with nearly all the books I read, and like all the others still unread, the biggest problem is erasure.

With the very notable exception of Beverly Jenkins, the Romance West is blindingly white.  I didn’t notice any “oh my god, that’s racist” moments while I read, but I’d only notice glaringly obvious examples.

It’s what missing that’s the problem. Just think of all those glorious stories waiting to be told — and all the ones that will never be told.

Advertisements

Stuff You Might Actually Want To Read and Some Stuff I Haven’t Really Decided About

We interrupting the stultifying snarkitude with some books you might actually want to read.

I’m too lazy to write any useful synopses or commentary for all of these. You’ll just have to trust me.

A Taste of Heaven by Penny WatsonMust-reads:

A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson
Out Sept. 15. Received an ARC from the author when I was mired in FSAT. I love love loved this book.

Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn
In the TBR for years, and I read it twice in one week. A fabulous trad Regency with observant Jews as the main characters.

A Hope Remembered and A Christmas Hope by Stacy Henrie
I really liked the first of this series, but these are even better.

Freedom to Love, A Marriage of Inconvenience and The Sergeant’s Lady by Susanna Fraser
More, please.

The Duke’s Holiday by Maggie Fenton
Hands down the funniest book I have read in years. Audio narration is fantastic. READ THIS BOOK.

The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen
Bowen is my only auto-buy NA author. I’m going to make Thing1 read this before she goes to college.

Taming the Legend, Two Nights with His Bride and One Night with Her Bachelor by Kat Latham
I love Kat Latham. Have I mentioned this before?

The Siege Winter by Ariana FranklinThe Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin (audio)
A nearly perfect medieval historical with KICKASS WOMEN. Everything I wanted Hild to be.

Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley (audio)
Has Kearsley ever written a bad book?

Heartless by Mary Balogh (audio)
This was one of only two Balogh my library doesn’t have, so it was new to me. Very different feel from her Regencies, probably in my top five Baloghs. Someday I will write my Balogh Binge post. When I’m done with my Balogh Binge. Which will be never.

The Paid Companion (audio) and With This Ring by Amanda Quick
I now have 57 Quicks in my library wishlist thanks to John (@dreamingreviews).

Tang Dynasty series by Jeannie Lin (audio)
*FANGIRLSQUEE* Perfect narration for perfect books. READ THESE BOOKS AND THEN REPORT BACK TO ME. Continue reading

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Carla Kelly Backlist Binge

I expanded it from a day to weekend because I am Having Ideas.

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

Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla KellyWhy I Am A Carla Kelly Fangirl:

1. The historical worldbuilding. Total immersion book trance, every single time. No one does military romance better than Carla Kelly, and from what I can tell, her accuracy is nearly flawless.

2. The joining of equals. The heroines always have — or find — their agency, and their heroes are quietly heroic in the best possible way.

3. The mix of drama, high comedy, adventure, angst (and more). Nearly every heroine is a direly impoverished (see below) orphan or widow, and nearly all the heroes are stoic military men, but the width and depth of CK’s storytelling is truly impressive.

The must-reads:

Channel Fleet Series
(Marrying the Captain, Surgeon’s Lady, Marrying the Royal Marine)
My first and truest loves. Connected, but each is unique in story, tone and romance. On my DIK list. A+ for all three. (Harlequin Historical, 2008-2010)

The Wedding Journey
A marriage of convenience between an army surgeon and a dying officer’s daughter who’s threatened by a lecherous major. If you liked Marrying the Royal Marine or Balogh’s Beyond the Sunrise, you will love this one. (Signet, 2002)

With This RingWith This Ring by Carla Kelly
Plain Jane debutante volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and finds herself in a fake engagement to a lordly major. It’s a glorious road-trip comedy with a lengthy rest stop at a friendly village where the heroine opens a barbershop (no really). (Signet, 1997)

The Lady’s Companion
A penniless companion and her employer’s cranky bailiff. Quietly funny and achingly romantic, with a great side story about the lonely aging dowager who schemes to bring them together. Added to my “Best Beta Heroes” list. (Signet, 1996)

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind
A poor relation caring for her orphaned nephew slowly learns to appreciate the mill owner who lives nearby. A slow-building romance (on her side) and Deep Dark Secrets (on both sides) make this a really compelling and memorable read. (Signet, 1998) Continue reading

Day O’ Random Lists: Short Stories and Novellas

I’m cleaning up my Kindle collections and Goodreads shelves, and finding a lot of really good stuff I forgot to squee about. I highly recommend all of these.

In no particular order (because, you know, Day O’ Random)….

Historicals

Random_Shorts_HistoricalAll’s Fair in Love series by Erin Knightley – a new auto-buy author

Improper series by Juliana Ross – full-on kickass heroine

Sisters of Scandal series by Lily Maxton – the first and newest are really really really good

Agnes Moor’s Wild Knight by Alyssa Cole – my kind of book crack

Out of the Storm by Jody Hedlund – shipwrecked and stranded on a lighthouse island on Lake Michigan

Scandal and the Duchess by Jennifer Ashley – lighthearted and romantic Continue reading

Audiobook Update

Hild by Nicola GriffithI gave up on Hild. Again. I found the early chapters about her childhood fascinating, and I’m looking forward to the Kickass Abbess years (is that blasphemous? She was pretty kickass, and not just for a nun). But the Extended Road Trip of Political Paranoia with the king has painfully slowed the pacing. Maybe I’ll go back to the ebook and skim ahead a few (dozen) chapters. I should like this book. I should love this book. Why don’t I like this book??? It’s starting to kind of piss me off.

Sleeping Beauty by Judith IvoryMy Author Crush on Judith Ivory continued with Sleeping Beauty — a bit darker and more melancholy in atmosphere and tone than Indiscretion or Beast, but still very much Ivory’s distinctive, seductive voice. I have Black Silk queued up on Scribd, and Untie My Heart lingering in the TBR somewhere. I might need another listen to The Proposition to go full circle – but I might have to skip that damn ending.

The Winter Sea by Susanna KearsleyI kicked off my Susanna Kearsley Binge and why in the hell did I have book anxiety over these??? I was leery of the woo-woo stuff, but holy cow, Kearsley does it exactly right. I started with a traditional read of The Shadowy Horses, which I’ve been sitting on for years —it was one of my very first ebook purchases. It was goooood. I bought the audio version too (of course).

The Firebird by Susanna KearsleyAnd then I listened to The Winter Sea and The Firebird — and they were everything everyone else said. Stunning. Characters, world-building, pacing, everything. I kept thinking how “cinematic” the storytelling was, and I don’t mean that it sounded like a screenplay — which is the exact same reaction I have to every Mary Stewart book. One notable audio thing: the narrator’s accent for Nicola in Firebird sounded exactly like Lady Mary on Downton Abbey. Every single vowel. The Rose Garden is in the queue.

The House at Tyneford by Natasha SolomonsI’m now listening to The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. There’s not a lot of subtlety or emotional investment yet — just the expected upstairs/downstairs conflicts. It could be the first-person POV from the young and spoiled heroine is what’s making it feel shallow so far, but hopefully as she matures the intensity of the story will pick up.

For My Lady's Heart by Laura KinsaleThe Kinsale binge is proceeding as well – I liked For My Lady’s Heart, but it required some Hild-esque heavy listening (is that A Thing?) and I need a rather lengthy breather before starting Shadowheart. My Sweet Folly and Lessons in French are in the queue; Uncertain Magic is screaming at me from my wishlist, but it’s also triggering the Book Anxiety (because of the woo-woo stuff), so I might need some reassurance on that one.

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.

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

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.

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

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-

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

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)

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

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)

The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The DNFs and a WTF

Today I wore my dogs-wearing-wreaths-and-Santa-hats socks.*  Therefore, it is time to officially kick off the Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge. We’ll open the festivities with the DNFs and a WTF.

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

A Fairytale Christmas by Susan Wiggs

  • A Fairytale Christmas by Susan WiggsTitle: A Fairytale Christmas
  • Author: Susan Wiggs
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (November 2014; originally published October 2002)
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 72 pages
  • Trope(s): Misogynistic Hero, Heiress Heroine, Sexual Harassment
  • Quick blurb: Regendered Cinderella story.
  • Quick review: W.T.Ever-Loving.F.
  • Grade: DNF and W.T.Fuckity.F.F.

I’m starting with the WTF entry. Because W.T.Ever-Loving.F.

They stared at her like a pair of dieters eyeing a box of Godiva chocolates. Idiots, thought Jack. He knew they had a standing bet to see who could get her into bed first. As if either one had a chance. Who would want to, except maybe a polar explorer with a suit that could withstand subzero temperatures?

The story opens with that mess of misogyny from the “hero” and his dude-bro coworkers. I DNF’d after the first chapter because I was starting to throw up in my mouth. SHE’S THEIR BOSS, FFS. I don’t really find sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace particularly romantic.

Also: The blurb describes the hero as an “ace reporter.” And his reporter colleagues wear cashmere sweaters and Top-Siders. I know it’s a re-release, but it’s pretty obvious this didn’t age well.

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

Going to the Chapel by Rita Herron

  • Going to the Chapel by Rita HerronTitle: Going to the Chapel
  • Author: Rita Herron
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Montlake (November 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 132 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Southern Sassy-Pants Heroine
  • Quick blurb: Sassy Southern girl ditches her cheating ex and returns home.
  • Quick review: Ick.
  • Grade: DNF

As she crossed the state line from Texas into Louisiana, she belted out “All My Exes Live in Texas,” tossed her wedding ring out the window, and waved good-by to the state — and the man who’d ruined her life.

The heroine’s name is…wait for it…Izzy Sassafras. She’s a wedding planner. In a small town called Matrimony, Georgia. The cutesy Southern sassy-girl schtick just writes itself.

Also: Izzy has sisters, God help us. And now I have that stupid song stuck in my head.

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

The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby by Carolyn Brown

  • The Cowboy's Christmas Baby by Carolyn BrownTitle: The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby
  • Series: Cowboys & Brides, Book 2
  • Author: Carolyn Brown
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Western, Holiday
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca (September 2013)
  • Source: Library
  • Length: 349 pages
  • Trope(s): Cowboy Soldier, Pistol-Packin’ Mama
  • Quick blurb: Online friends meet cute over a dead coyote.
  • Quick review: Yee haw. *shudder*
  • Grade: DNF

BEHOLD THE FIRST LINE:

There she stood with a dead coyote at her feet, a pink pistol in her right hand, three bluetick hound pups cowering behind her, and cradling an infant in her left arm.

How could I possibly resist that??? But, alas, the “down-home Texas twang” was almost as annoying as the Southern sassy-girl schtick. And it made me nostalgic for some Sable Hunter, and that’s never a good thing.

Also:

  • Heroine shot the coyote with her (pink) pistol while holding her newborn. Then stuck the gun into her waistband. All I could think was “You’ll shoot your ass off, lady.”
  • Hero dragged the carcass of the dead coyote (to get it away from the slobbering hound dogs who were devouring it) and DIDN’T WASH HIS HANDS. Gross.

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

Christmas at Carriage Hill by Carla Neggers

  • Christmas at Carriage Hill by Carla NeggersTitle: Christmas at Carriage Hill
  • Series: Swift River Valley, Book 3.5
  • Author: Carla Neggers
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Holiday
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (December 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 51 pages
  • Trope(s): Small Town, Wedding Planner, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Sexy fighter pilot follows ex-girlfriend to small-town wedding.
  • Quick review: Not a good starting point for the series.
  • Grade: DNF

Her grandmother eyed her with open suspicion. “You have that jilted-by-a-man look, Alexandra.”

Neggers is a new-to-me author, but this one does not work well as a standalone — the numerous intrusions from previous characters/plots (including some completely irrelevent bits about some stolen jewels) left little storytelling left over for the nominal main couple and . I did request an ARC of the fourth book in the series, and my library has the others, so…yet another backlist binge in my near future.

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

What Happens At Christmas by Victoria Alexander

  • What Happens at Christmas by Victoria AlexanderTitle: What Happens At Christmas
  • Series: Millworth Manor, Book 1
  • Author: Victoria Alexander
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Holiday
  • Publisher: Kensington (October 2012)
  • Source: Purchased (freebie)
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Trope(s): Flaky Family, Hired Players, Jilted & Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Ditzy widow stages a farce to lure a proposal from a prince.
  • Quick review: Over the top shenanigans with zero chemistry.
  • Grade: DNF

“She’s not quite as shallow as you think.”

Um, yes. Yes, she is.

Yay for free, but alas…. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a madcap comedy, but this wasn’t one of those times. I had to skim because I could not stop screaming “HE’S A FRAUD, YOU F’ING DIMWIT” in my head.

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

* Yes, I took that photo at work. Yes, the flash went off and everyone yelled “Hey! Who’s taking pictures?”