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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”