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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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One-Quote Review Tripleheader: Regency Novellas

The all-blue cover thing is just a coincidence, I swear.

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The Perks of Being a Beauty by Manda Collins

  • The Perks of Being a Beauty by Manda CollinsTitle: The Perks of Being a Beauty
  • Author: Manda Collins
  • Series: Ugly Ducklings, Book 3.5
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s, June 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 125 pages
  • Trope(s): Reformed Mean Girl, Reunited, Social-Climbing Employer, House Party Nookie
  • Quick blurb: Penniless former debutante is unexpectedly reunited with the man she rejected years before.
  • Quick review: Intriguing enough to add a few of Collins’ previous books to my library wishlist.
  • Grade: B-

Then, as if he’d been dying to do this very thing from the beginning, he kissed her.

I didn’t realize before reading that this novella is a bridge between author’s previous series and upcoming series. We get only a few brief mentions of Amelia’s former bullying ways and an apparently infamous public outburst, and those glimpses aren’t quite enough to make an unfamiliar reader appreciate her atonement and redemption. But I loved the chemistry and enjoyed Collins’ voice enough to seek out her previous and upcoming titles.

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Miss Watson’s First Scandal by Heather Boyd

  • Miss Watson's First ScandalTitle: Miss Watson’s First Scandal
  • Author: Heather Boyd
  • Series: Miss Mayhem, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: LLD Press, July 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Workaholic on Vacation, Childhood Acquaintance All Growed Up and Sexy, Pain in the Ass Best Friend, Sequel Bait, Naked Swimming
  • Quick blurb: Banker must serve foreclosure papers on his best friend, but gets distracted by the deadbeat’s surprisingly grown-up younger sister.
  • Quick review: A good premise that deserves more pages.
  • Grade: C+

“It’s not enough,” she whispered unsteadily. “It couldn’t possibly be.”

I’ve enjoyed several historical novellas by Boyd, and based on those works, Iwas expecting the titular scandal of this story to be a bit more erotic. It’s a nice bit of Regency fluff, but I’m hoping Boyd’s upcoming trilogy will have more bite and substance. The plus on the letter grade is for the puppy.

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A Scandalous Plan by Donna Lea Simpson

  • A Scandalous Plan by Donna Lea SimpsonTitle: A Scandalous Plan
  • Author: Donna Lee Simpson
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Beyond the Page Publishing, May 2013 (re-release; first published 2003)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 99 pages
  • Trope(s): Bored Spinster, Grumpy Widower, Plot Moppets, Disability, Gossiping Villagers
  • Quick blurb: A widower is steamrolled by a local do-gooder who insists on making superstitious villagers accept his autistic child.
  • Quick review: Not painful, but probably not worth a re-release.
  • Grade: C-

It was time to disturb the surface and see what happened.

Another bit of Regency fluff, but this heroine verges on being annoying. She’s a more obnoxious version of Jane Austen’s Emma who blunders about with endearing plot moppets instead of matchmaking schemes. I got the feeling the mystified hero married her just to shut her up.

One-Quote Review: Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

  • Title: Any Duchess Will Do
  • Author: Tessa Dare
  • Series: Spindle Cove, Book 4
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, May 2013
  • Source: Edelweiss
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Smartass Heroine, Brooding Duke, Marriage-Obsessed Mama, Bad Knitting
  • Quick blurb: Duke’s mother declares she can turn a barmaid into a duchess in one week.
  • Quick review: Shut up and quit bugging me, I have to read the whole series again.
  • Grade: A-

Her. I’ll take her.

The only other time I’ve used a gif in a review was the previous book in this series. So…yeah.
My Sweet Babboo

One-Quote Review: Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

  • Title: Bound to Be a Bride
  • Author: Megan Mulry
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 87 pages
  • Trope(s): Runaway Bride, In Disguise, Kidnapped, Bondage, Mistorical, TSTL
  • Quick blurb: Runaway bride kidnapped by fiancé she’s never met.
  • Quick review: Not painful, but more than a little ridiculous.
  • Grade: D+

She had proved quite amenable, showing admirable equestrian and culinary skills and generally not making a nuisance of herself.

This story was all over the place, especially the wildly inconsistent, nearly-TSTL heroine and her education at the Convent of Handy Outdoor Survival Techniques.

Book Anxiety, Part 2: Untamed by Anna Cowan

Untamed by Anna Cowan

  • Title: Untamed
  • Author: Anna Cowan
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Australia, May 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 432 pages
  • Trope(s): Heroine Who Says the F-Word, Hero Who’s Prettier Than The Heroine, Evil Gambling Father, Tragic Pasts, Sibling/Parent Issues, Deceit & Manipulation
  • Quick blurb: A dandy in disguise changes the lives of a disgraced and debt-ridden family.
  • Quick review: Again with the Book Anxiety, but a better outcome this time.
  • Grade: C+

“I will write a book of bad ideas,” she said, pulling viciously at the buttons on her sleeve, “and the final chapter will be dedicated to this epic, gravity-defying feat of stupidity. And in a hundred years a celebrated English wordsmith will come across it and write a poetic tribute to the very bad idea that malformed in the brain of one demented duke. His work will run to eleven volumes before his vocabulary has even begun to do justice to how extremely bad this idea is.”

Oy. I need to quit whining for new and different, because more like this is going to kill me.

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Book Anxiety, Part 1: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

  • Title: A Spear of Summer Grass
  • Author: Deanna Raybourn
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harlequin (MIRA), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Bad Girl with a Heart of Gold and Hidden Depths, Enigmatic Loner Hero, Colorful Cast of Supporting Characters, Very Convenient Coincidences
  • Quick blurb: Disgraced socialite exiled to stepfather’s crumbling estate in 1920s colonial Kenya
  • Quick review: After much pre-reading anxiety and post-reading obsessing, it didn’t work for me — but for more reasons than I expected.
  • Grade: D+

“For Christ’s sake, woman. Don’t stand there mooning about. This is Africa. Go inside before something eats you.”

I’m a huge fan of Raybourn’s Julia Grey mystery series (countless re-reads, book trance every single time), so when I saw the cover and blurb for A Spear of Summer Grass, I sighed happily and thought, “Ohhhhh, she wrote a new one just for me.”

So why the Book Anxiety? It started with the usual “She’s one of my favorite authors, what if I don’t like it???” I sucked it up and made it through the two chapters with an initial dislike for the heroine, but no major red flags – so far, so good.

But then a quick glance at a few reviews – “horrible” and “DNF” from The Book Smugglers and the enlightening discussion at Dear Author – sent me flailing into the worst-case scenario of “What if I like it – but I shouldn’t???” So I moved it from currently-reading back to the to-read shelf and let the anxiety fester. For weeks.

I started reading again last night, and finished this morning around 3 a.m. It was a one-sitting read, but not a full-on blissful book trance. Instead of wallowing in the language and characters, I could not stop myself from focusing on all the elements that were so problematic for other reviewers.

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