TBR Challenge: Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark

  • Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya ClarkTitle: Good Time Bad Boy
  • Author: Sonya Clark
  • Published: Self-Published, June 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 316 pages
  • Tropes: Good Ol’ Boy, Smartass Heroine, Small Town, Music, Dysfunctional Families
  • Quick blurb: Country singer on the skids has to make amends for getting hometown barmaid fired.
  • Quick review: New-to-romance author needs to write more romance.
  • Grade: A-

This month’s TBR Challenge theme is Recommended Reads, and boy howdy, do I choose my friends wisely.

I bought Good Time Bad Boy last year when everyone else (e.g., Sunita and Janine at Dear Author and others) was raving about it. And of course it got buried pretty quickly because I rarely make an effort to keep contemporaries at the top of the queue.

I finished it in one night.

I haven’t read Liz’s review yet, but I’m sure she’s done her typically smart things with it. I’ll just do my usual thing because otherwise we’ll be here until next Tuesday.

The premise is pretty simple – the heroine is a small-town barmaid who puts the smackdown on a handsy drunk customer, who just happens to be the hometown celebrity. He gets his shit together enough to make amends and there’s an HEA and a crap-ton of angsty-yet-fun goodness in between.

The meet-cute…

She walked around him, headed for the coffee urn stationed at the entrance to the kitchen. He mumbled something as she passed then slapped on her the rear, hard enough to sting and make a cracking noise that seemed to echo in the nearly empty restaurant.

Somebody said “oh shit.”

…“So I guess you won’t be giving me your phone number,” Wade said to her back. She slipped her hand behind her back and responded with a raised middle finger.

I loved Daisy. I really loved Daisy.

Wooing with music….

The crowd fell away and Wade sang directly to Daisy, only to Daisy. It pleased him to see that it stopped her in her tracks, empty beer bottles balanced precariously on her tray. She brought a hand to her throat and bit her lip. He smiled to her as he sang and he told himself that the heat he knew must have shone in his eyes was just part of the performance. If it affected her, well, that was just an unfair advantage singers sometimes had.

That’s just one. There’s more.

The chapter endings….

“Hey.”

“Yeah?” “I just. I like it that all those holy relic instruments are the constellations that guide you. That’s really nice.”

Emotion clutched at his heart and clogged his throat. “That’s…that’s the most amazing thing anybody’s ever said to me.”

“I’m so tired, I was afraid it wouldn’t make any sense.”

“It makes sense to me.”

“Good.” Daisy smiled and waved, then went inside the trailer.

He listened for the sound of the door being locked before turning back to his truck. He sang more Gram Parsons to himself all the way home.

The guitar constellation thing? OH MY GOD *~*swoon*~* <thud>

The angsty bits….

This was the closest Daisy got to prayer anymore. She closed her eyes briefly, picturing a smiling, happy mother and child, then blew out the candle. She sat in the dark for a while, her hands folded in her lap and thinking of nothing and everything.

Some of angst was pretty uncomfortable to read, but in a good way — absolutely wrenching, but never manipulative or melodramatic.

The quiet moments….

She said nothing for what felt like a long time but was probably not even a minute. Just stared at him with her eyes full of emotion. “I feel like I’m about to walk a tightrope without a net here.”

“If it helps, you won’t be alone.”

And there’s an utterly lovely grand gesture disguised as a quiet moment. You’ll just have to read it yourself.

The smartass females….

…“What are besties for if not to make you feel good about your boobs?”

…“For God’s sake, just pick a George Strait song.”

…“Do you think she’s talking dirty to him?” Jillian sipped her drink. “I hope she’s talking dirty to him.”

The overcoming poverty thing….

A twenty-eight cent difference between generic spaghetti and a brand name should not have made a difference to her. She didn’t want it to make a difference to her. Her gaze ping-ponged back and forth between the two price tags for nearly ten seconds before she finally put the generic in her cart. Pasta was pasta. She’d spend that twenty-eight cents on decent sauce. Maybe one of these days she’d try making her own sauce, with tomatoes from the farmer’s market and whatever the hell else went in spaghetti sauce. Generic labels and dented cans, birthday cupcakes bought from the red tag sale cart full of stuff about to go out of date. Boxes from the food pantry. Fast food burgers if her mother had a little money for a change. That’s what Daisy grew up on, and that’s why she was working her ass off going to school so she could buy some fucking brand name groceries without having to skimp elsewhere or debate whether it was worth it or even look at the price. She didn’t need to be rich. She didn’t even need to be full-fledged middle class. She just wanted better than generic spaghetti and a rusting rental trailer.

Did I mention that I loved Daisy?

One more that I don’t have a single good except for….

The small-town southern vibe — to which I usually give good side-eye — was completely genuine. Clark neither vilified nor idealized the setting, and by the end she managed to make the tight-knit community a character of its own, quietly supporting the main characters and nudging them to their HEA.

*~*happysigh*~*

Only two niggles that made me add the minus to the grade…

  • Use of the analogy “mushroom head” in the middle of an otherwise scorching scene. STOP WITH THE MUSHROOM THING FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.
  • Some noticeable typos, increasing in frequency in the last few chapters. All are easily overlooked homophone and apostrophe errors, but it needs a good proofreader.

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

*AHEM* SONYA CLARK

Re: Your next romance novel….

waiting-patiently

Are you done yet? How about now?

Recent Reads

I’m currently reading Riveted by Meljean Brook (audio) and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.

Riveted by Meljean Brook   The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Both are good. Really good. As in this kind of good:

snoopy_library

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

A quick disclaimer: I’m friendly with several authors below on Twitter.

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

The Art of Sinning and The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

The Art of Sinning by Sabrina Jeffries    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25814323-the-study-of-seduction

Jeffries has been an auto-buy for years, and there’s no sign of breakup. I inhaled her entire backlist when I first started reading romance, and the Hellions of Halstead Hall and Duke’s Men series are constant re-reads.

The latest titles are just as good. Sinning has an artist hero and you know I can’t resist those. Seduction has a marriage of convenience between a grumpy hero who makes lists and a secretly-smart social butterfly, and adds in a truly creepy stalker who cooks up some creative blackmail over Deep Dark Secrets, and just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I can’t say more without spoilers, but Seduction was especially memorable because of the social butterfly heroine’s Deep Dark Secret, which made the consummation of the marriage…heart-wrenching. I think Jeffries handled that potentially problematic trope really well.

I keep trying to articulate why Jeffries’ books work so well for me. She’s not a particularly flashy or profound or incisive writer. Her books are standard dukes-a-million regency fare that never bust out of the usual tropes – but they’re never wallpapery fluff.

I think it’s the simple fact that I know I can rely on her consistency. That might not sound like a compliment, but I mean it the best way – she’s just a damn good storyteller. Every. Single. Time.

Source: Edelweiss

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

All I Have and All I Am by Nicole Helm

All I Have by Nicole Helm  All I Am by Nicole Helm

Helm is kind of the contemporary version of Jeffries — nothing flashy, just consistently good storytelling with really memorable characters. The realistic small-town settings and kick-ass heroines really set her Superromances apart. Also, dogs. I like dogs.

Her latest Harlequins are both close to perfect contemporary romances for me, and I think Helm just keeps getting better with every book. I’m a very character-driven reader, and Helm knows my sweet spot.

You need to read Falling for the New Guy too, because ANGST-O-RAMA. And Too Friendly to Date, because LADY ELECTRICIAN. Trust me.

I have Rebel Cowboy in the TBR; cowboy hockey star on a motorcycle usually isn’t my kind of thing, but we’ll see.

Source: Purchased; Provided by Author

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

The Sport of Baronets and A Gentleman’s Game by Theresa Romain

The Sport of Baronets by Theresa Romain    A Gentleman's Game by Theresa Romain

Romain is another Regency author whose titles and covers have that wallpapery vibe.  But like Jeffries, Romain has the kind of character-driven stories that push every one of my buttons.

Her latest series centers on horse racing. I love it when authors give their characters hobbies and obsessions, and when unlikely couples are thrown together under high-conflict circumstances, so just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I also love how Romain’s heroines (in all her books, not just this series) always have equal agency in the relationship, regardless of their social status.

Source: NetGalley

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

Once Beloved by Amara Royce

Once Beloved by Amara Royce

I need Royce to write faster. Character-driven stories with unusual — but always realistic — conflicts. Royce isn’t afraid to take risks, and it’s a Book Trance every time.

Source: NetGalley

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

A Woman’s Worth by Audra North

A Woman's Worth by Amara Royce

North tweeted something about her newest novella featuring a single mother and of course I one-clicked immediately.

This trope is a really touchy one for me, and this story got nearly everything right. The heroine is a marketing executive who loves her job and values her career. The initial flirty-sexy times with her enigmatic boss were a bit squirmy, but in good way, and I loved how their relationship developed.

The parenting bits were spot-on. I highlighted a lot of bits about the ex that really resonated with me, and I *loved* that the Other Woman wasn’t a shrewish harpy.

The only thing that bothered me was the timing. Characters jumping head-long into a new relationship immediately after a divorce is one of my eye-twitch triggers. I broke up with Marie Force over it. Authors, do your research and think long and hard about rebound romances.

Source: Purchased

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

Tycoon by Joanna Shupe

Tycoon by Joanna Shupe

Just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

Read this. Trust me.

Source: NetGalley

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

The Silk Series by Cassandra Dean

Silk Series by Cassandra Dean

Olivia Dade made me buy the first in the series. Then I had to get all the others.

Source: Purchased

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

Chasing Jane by Noelle Adams

Chasing Jane by Noelle Adams

A little bonus for reading this far: It’s a freebie!

All of Adams’ novellas are great comfort reads. This one is just fluffy friends-to-lovers cuteness and I loved every word of it.

Source: Purchased

TBR Challenge: RITA-Nominated Inspirationals

I read three again. Because I’m an over-achiever, not because I’m obsessive-compulsive. Shut up.

I chose inspie nominees from the past three years, from three different eras.

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

Betrayal by Robin Lee Hatcher

  • Betrayal by Robin Lee HatcherTitle: Betrayal
  • Author: Robin Lee Hatcher
  • Series: Where the Heart Lives, Book 2
  • Published: Zondervan, November 2012
  • Source: Purchased ($1.99 promo on Amazon)
  • Length: 273
  • Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Widow, Drifter, Western
  • Quick blurb: A drifter helps a lonely widow in 1899 Wyoming.
  • Quick review: Quietly angsty, but a noticeable lack of tension.
  • Grade: B-

He turned his back to the wall of the barn, leaned against it, and closed his eyes. Then he waited. Waited for the last dregs of the nightmare to fade away. Waited to forget the man he used to be. Waited for the fragile peace he’d found in a Savior to sweep over him, even though he didn’t fully understand that Savior yet. Waited.

He was good at waiting. It was a trait he’d learned in prison. If he hadn’t learned it, the cramped space he’d lived in for so many years would have driven him mad.

I’ve read a few by Hatcher before, including the first book in this series, and I enjoy her understated style and the way she makes the faith messages part of the characters’ everyday lives.  This one was a little too understated — it was good, but not different enough from every other Western inspie to make it worth a re-read. There wasn’t much tension beyond the mostly unseen Evil Ex-Brother-In-Law, and the way that conflict fizzled out left me feeling cheated of a Total Drama Moment.

Betrayal was nominated for Best Inspie of 2012, but lost to one of my top favorite books of all-time DIK forever, Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden.

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

Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler Younts

  • Promise to Return by Elizabeth Byler YountsTitle: Promise to Return
  • Author: Elizabeth Byler Younts
  • Series: The Promise of Sunrise, Book 1
  • Published: Howard Books, October 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 320
  • Tropes: World War II, Amish
  • Quick blurb: A young Amish couple’s faith in God and each other is severely tested during World War II.
  • Quick review: Spiritual conflict and romantic angst to the NTH DEGREE.
  • Grade: C

“The way I see it is that God usually has us on this narrow path where we can only see the step right in front of us. Then sometimes,” he paused and looked away again, “sometimes I feel like He opens a huge door or a field or, I don’t know, opens something that shows me how big His plans are, and suddenly I have all this room to move around. Sometimes it’s way off the path I expect. Do you know what I mean?”

I feel ridiculous whining about being depressed by a book about World War II, but jeepers, there was nothing uplifting about this inspie. The romance is achingly lovely, the spiritual conflict is heartbreaking, and the ending made me weepy. It’s really well-written, it’s completely different from every other inspie I’ve read, and it’s fully deserving of a RITA nomination. But I did not enjoy reading it it — the angsty dreariness was relentless.

Believe it or not, this was the first traditional Amish romance I’ve ever read (not counting the m/m series by Keira Andrews, which is utterly brilliant). Of all the weird shit I read (I work for Riptide, remember), I avoid Amish stories, mostly because I feel like (a) I’m violating some unknown person/character’s much-valued privacy and (b) someone is making money off their faith without their consent. I didn’t feel quite as squicky about this one because the author grew up in an Amish family and I felt she wouldn’t be exploitative.

For whatever reason, Promise was one of only two inspies nominated last year — the winner was the contemporary Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano.

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

Hope at Dawn by Stacy Henrie

  • Hope at Dawn by Stacy HenrieTitle: Hope at Dawn
  • Author: Stacy Henrie
  • Series: Of Love and War, Book 1
  • Published: Forever (Grand Central), June 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384
  • Tropes: World War I, Iowa, Small Town
  • Quick blurb: A young schoolteacher finds herself facing unexpected drama when she falls in love with a German-American farmer in World War I.
  • Quick review: I just bought all the sequels. At full price.
  • Grade: B+

“Perhaps your real question is not how to stand for goodness, but when. Am I right?”

After reading Promise to Return, I was really iffy on another wartime homefront weepfest, but then I realized Hope was SET IN IOWA and I COULDN’T NOT READ IT. I only cried a little.

The basic premise is similar to Promise: the onset of war forces an insular community to interact with the outside world. In this case, the conflict is prejudice and discrimination against German-Americans during World War I — prohibitions on speaking German, “vigilance committees,” extortion to buy war bonds to prove patriotism. The pacing is much  better than Promise, with some high points to balance out the angst.

I’m giving it a B+ instead of an A because despite my love for it, I couldn’t stop thinking that whatever German-Americans were facing in 1918 Iowa, it was nothing compared to the horrors to come.

I read Henrie’s debut during the Summer of Harlequin, but didn’t realize it was the same author. Hope is the only current RITA inspie nominee I’ve read so far, but I just bought Huckleberry Summer despite the ridiculously dopey title and cover because it’s about a big slobbery dog and the hero is an environmental protester who chains himself to trees. I had to move the ARC of For Such a Time by Kate Breslin to the DNR-DNR and WTF-UGH-BLAH-ICK-STFU shelves because apparently I did not read the blurb closely before requesting.

TBR Challenge: More Than One – Carla Kelly Harlequins

These challenges make me feel like an overachiever because they totally enable my hoarding/binging tendencies. I’ve been sitting on SEVENTEEN (17) (no lie) Carla Kellys for years because I knew that once I started, I’d have to read them all. So I did. And it was gooooood.

I’m only going to do the Harlequins in this post — more on the Signets next time! (And yes, I’ve read all of Kelly’s other Harlequins. I’m a capital-F Fangirl.)

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla KellyHer Hesitant Heart

  • Title: Her Hesitant Heart
  • Published: Harlequin Historical, January 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 282
  • Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Scandal & Gossip, Beta Hero, Military Man, Widower, Schoolmarm
  • Quick blurb: Newly divorced schoolmarm finds refuge teaching at remote army fort.
  • Quick review: Great setting and perfect pacing, but the angst needed a bit more balance.
  • Grade: B+

“I can’t tell you how nice it was to open my front door and take a whiff of someone cares.”

Nobody does historical military romance better than Carla Kelly. She has an exquisite knack for world-building that has me THERE every single time, and this book was no exception. The only thing that knocked it down to a B was the uneven angst balance — it was all on the heroine, with the stalwart hero basically standing around waiting to display his stalwartiness. Continue reading

RANTYPANTS: Looking for Trouble by Victoria Dahl

  • Looking for Trouble by Victoria DahlTitle: Looking for Trouble
  • Author: Victoria Dahl
  • Genre(s): Contemporary
  • Publisher: Harlequin HQN, July 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Secretly Sexy Librarian, Tattooed Biker Bad Boy, Small Town, Mental Illness
  • Grade: D

In case you missed it in the title, beware of the RANTYPANTS. This will be apparent in the abuse of italics, bold, ALLCAPS and other means of beating you over the head with my emotional emotions.

Also, spoilers.

I’ve been stewing about this book for weeks, trying to distill my thoughts — and emotional emotions — into coherent, logical analysis. Which is pretty ironic, considering….

I am really disappointed with the author, and with Harlequin. The basic story is quintessential Dahl — misunderstood tattooed bad boy biker and misunderstood secretly sexy librarian kept apart by second-generation small town rumors. Yeah, it’s got Dahl’s trademark wicked chemistry and smoking-hot sexytimes.

But it also has a seriously offensive portrayal of mental illness. Take a wild guess which character is mentally ill. That’s right — the villain. The hero’s mother. She’s obsessive. She’s paranoid. She’s a stalker.

And guess what? She’s a whack-job because she’s bitter about being dumped by her husband twenty years earlier. Everyone in town knows that. Duh.

Yes, the hero and his brother know she’s a whack-job. But do they do anything about it? Of course not. Because that would eliminate the lazy-ass villainy that passes for conflict. They know their mother is supposed to be on meds. They know she has a therapist. But instead of caring enough about their obviously distressed mother to you know, actually get involved, the hero and his brother shrug off her self-destructive and increasingly erratic behavior. Why should they bother? It’s so much easier story-wise to send the therapist on a Very Convenient Extended Vacation (with no on-call backup, of course) and give the misunderstood bad boys a tragic past and embarrassing parent to angst about.

But wait — there’s more!

The resolution. Ugh. Not just UGH. More like the ARE YOU SERIOUS??? OH FFS kind of WTFery. Please note the triple ugh use of italic, bold AND allcaps.

It’s just a vitamin deficiency. Yes, really. You know – like a real medical problem.

<INSERT CAPSLOCK OF RAGE AND RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION HERE>

A short hospital stay for some Vitamin B injections and the Evil Psychotic Villainess is cured. She writes an apologetic letter to the editor of the local newspaper — yes, really — and all is forgiven.

Because — duh — someone with mental illness needs to apologize. And be forgiven.

I need to go now. The Xanax is calling. And fuck you if you think I need to apologize for it.

One-Quote Review: A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

A Notorious Countess Confesses by Julie Anne Long

  • Title: A Notorious Countess Confesses
  • Author:  Julie Anne Long
  • Series: Pennyroyal Green, Book 7
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Avon, October 2012
  • Source: Edelweiss ($5.99 ebook)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Hot Vicar, Soiled Dove, Widow, Small Town, Beta Hero, Smartass Heroine
  • Quick blurb: A newly widowed former courtesan asks a handsome village vicar to help her make friends.
  • Quick review: A worthy addition to the series, but not one of Long’s best.
  • Grade: B

Yes…yes! He felt a twinge of something! It was coming now!

He scrawled:

I kissed her I kissed her I kissed her

Well.

As a sermon, it was a failure, but his parishioners would doubtless find it edifying.

Notorious Countess worked much better for me than the previous book in the series. (Where in the hell did those people come from and why should I care? And I didn’t care, because I don’t remember anything about it beyond the cheesy title). This one is a bit more fairy tale-ish than her other books, but Long still manages to pull off the tricky balance of broad humor and intimate yearning.

Another romance novel art that Long consistently does really, really well is showing, not telling, how her hero and heroine fall in love. It might be insta-lust or even insta-love, but by the time the first kiss happens, we know why her characters are drawn to each other.

I also appreciated that both the vicar and the courtesan did a lot of self-reflection and said some very hurtful but honest things to each other. HOWEVER…I was disappointed in how their interactions with the rest of the village were perfectly scripted to make them always come out on top of the uncomfortable situations.

And despite my recently admitted weakness for Grand Gestures, this ending was WAY too Love, Actually, with shamefaced parisioners standing up and spouting Magical Bible Verses like the LA wedding guests with hidden trumpets and trombones.

The Summoning of the Siblings bit was good, though — enough to make up for the goats and bring this up from a B- to a solid B.

[NOTE: I read an ARC, so I forced myself to ignore the dreadful editing fails. If that kind of WTFery had shown up in a published version I paid for, the grade would have been much, MUCH lower. Even so, my respect for Avon Books is diminished once again.]