Have I mentioned that I ♥ bullet lists? And…ellipses. Also — em-dashes.
- The Virtuous Scoundrel by Maggie Fenton — For the love of god read Maggie Fenton just trust me on this.
- Doing No Harm by Carla Kelly — have I mentioned that I am a capital-F Fangirl?
- Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh — Only a Promise, not so much
- True Pretenses by Rose Lerner
- A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley
- Star Dust and A Midnight Clear by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner
- The Earl I Adore by Erin Knightley
- Once Beloved by Amara Royce
- Tempted by Molly O’Keefe
- The Mistake by Lily Maxton — Everyone should read this novella series
- When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare — Yeah, me and everyone else. She kills it every time.
- Ransleigh Rogues series by Julia Justiss
- The Penniless Lords series by Sophia James
- The Lost Gentleman and The Gentleman Rogue by Margaret McPhee — I feel an Author Binge coming on.
- Taming the Legend by Kat Latham — The Author Crush continues.
- Once Upon a Rose by Laura Florand — OH MY GOD *swoon* <thud>
- Party Lines by Emma Barry
- A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson
- Falling for the New Guy by Nicole Helm
- Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker
- Her Convenient Cowboy and Her Cowboy Deputy by Lacy Williams — The Author Crush continues.
- Of Love and War series by Stacy Henrie — Lovely. Just lovely.
- Alaskan Homecoming by Teri Wilson
- The Protector/The Champion/The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw
- Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund
- Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden
- Carla Kelly
- Molly O’Keefe
- Julie James
- Meredith Duran
- Laura Kaye
- Donna Thorland
- Edith Layton
- Sarah Mayberry
- Susanna Fraser
- Laura Frantz
- Erin Knightley
- Sarina Bowen
- Amanda Quick
Yes, really. I actually read — and liked — some New Adult.
- The Ivy Years series by Sarina Bowen — The Shameless Hour is brilliant.
- Trust the Focus and Focus on Me by Megan Erickson
- Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy
- The Deal by Elle Kennedy
- International School series by Chanel Cleeton
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
- All the Susanna Kearsley — I’m on my second go-round. The Firebird is the current fave.
- A boatload of comfort reads — Tessa Dare, Lisa Kleypas, Cecilia Grant, Loretta Chase. And holy cow, I almost forgot how much I love Rupert and Daphne in Mr. Impossible.
- A bunch of Amanda Quick — With This Ring, I Thee Wed, The Paid Companion, Otherwise Engaged
- Virtuous Scoundrel by Maggie Fenton — Did I mention that you should READ THIS BOOK?
- The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory – A bit more repetitive than I remember from traditional reads (and re-reads), but still my favorite Gregory.
- The Proposition by Judith Ivory — First listen from library, then I had to buy it so I can keep it on my phone at all times.
- Ransom by Julie Garwood — Everything I was hoping for that I didn’t get with The Prize.
- Heartless and Silent Melody by Mary Balogh
- The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman — This helped me get over my blah about Hild (see below).
- The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati — Someone else needs to read this because I neeeeeed to discuss the ending.
- Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn
- Black Ice by Anne Stuart
- Lady X’s Cowboy by Zoe Archer
- An Infamous Marriage by Susanna Fraser
- The Raider by Jude Deveraux
- The Rake by Mary Jo Putney
- Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas — YAWN.
- The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn — Yawn.
- The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks — Tried both trad and audio, didn’t make it past the third chapter.
- A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers — Overrated inspie. Read the Capshaws instead.
- The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki — A lot of “huh???” moments.
- The Tory Widow by Christine Blevins — I still can’t believe I DNF’d this.
- Hild by Nicola Griffith —I’m officially giving up.
- Fair Play by Deanne Gist — The only Gist I haven’t loved unreservedly. It’s page after page of Teachable Moments.
Still with the Book Anxiety….
- Tiffany Girl by Deanne Gist
- The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
- A Dance with Danger by Jeannie Lin — Because if I read a Jeannie Lin, I have to READ ALL THE JEANNIE LIN.
- Indigo by Beverly Jenkins — Remind me we need to start the read-along of this!
The Big Fat Books….
- Middlemarch by George Eliot
- Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens — This is still a work in progress. A very…slow…work in progress.
The TBR Challenges….
- Free Agent by Roz Lee — A half-snark whinging.
- The Earl I Adore by Erin Knightley
- A Knight in Shining Armor and The Raider by Jude Devereaux
- Carla Kelly historicals
- RITA-nominated inspirationals
- The Cad by Edith Layton
- Devil’s Bride by Stephanie Laurens — A full-snark bitchfest.
- A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell
The Heyer Project….
I documented Part II of the quest, in which I color-coded a spreadsheet of Heyer’s character archetypes and plot tropes.
I’ve listened to Bath Tangle and Black Sheep and Venetia three times to erase Cousin Kate from my brain.
Deconstructing For Such a Time, Parts 1-17
I know I went overboard on my continued ranting about this book and probably pissed off a lot of people, but I desperately needed to think through the depictions of my faith on the page.
- Intro: Just Because You CAN Doesn’t Mean You SHOULD
- Fuck It, I’m Going Full Snark — A ridiculous recap featuring Bugs Bunny and Sound of Music memes.
- Part 1: An Angry Book Nerd Manifesto
- Part 2: Allegory, Schmallegory
- Part 3: The Fallacy of the “Magic Bible”
- Part 4: What Really Matters
I learned a lot, and what I learned will forever change the way I read inspirationals and historical fiction.
- Title: No Christmas Like the Present
- Author: Sierra Donovan
- Published: Zebra, October 2014
- Source: Library (and then purchased)
- Length: 257 pages
- Tropes: Mysterious Man of Mystery, Lady Scrooge
- Quick blurb: A glorious mash-up of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. No, really.
- Quick review: BUY AND READ THIS RIGHT NOW TRUST ME
- Grade: A
I don’t use gifs (except for Tessa Dare books), but this one calls for a gif.
This is only $1.99 and everyone should read it immediately. The premise could have been horribly wrong, but it’s everything right. So of course I had to live-tweet it.
- Title: A Pirate for Christmas
- Author: Anna Campbell
- Published: Self-published, October 2015
- Source: Purchased
- Length: 150 pages
- Tropes: Mysterious Man of Mystery, Virtuous Village Vixen, Madcap Meddling, Snowbound
- Quick blurb: A pirate and a vicar’s daughter and a recalcitrant donkey.
- Quick review: BUY THIS RIGHT NOW TRUST ME
- Grade: A-
I cheated. Again. This wasn’t in the TBR, but it’s so ridiculously charming I couldn’t not share the squee.
I read Campbell’s Her Christmas Earl last year and loved that one too. I feel another Author Binge coming on….
Or, THE EYES HAVE IT: A Textual Analysis
- Title: 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.
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?
- Title: 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.
…GREAT FIRE OF LONDON.
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.
…BEST UNRESOLVED CLIFFHANGER EVER.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
…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.
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.
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.
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.
Just as I finished proofreading this post, a new article came across my Twitter timeline:
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.