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Posted by Carrie S

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is bad.

It is so bad that it made me actually angry.

It is so bad that I got bored and would have left were it not for my viewing companion who insists on never leaving a movie. Never have I been presented with something so visually enticing that is also so very, very boring.

When my husband came home and asked me what the movie is about, I told him that despite having spent two hours and seventeen minutes watching it I was not sure how to answer that question. I shall try to answer it for you, Dear Bitches, because that is My Job.

Valerian is loosely based on a comic book series called Valerian and Laureline, which is full of fun, humor, and excitement and, unlike this movie, totally devoid of workplace sexual harassment. In the movie, Valerian and Laureline are agents for some human military organization. They do daring things for reasons that are unclear. Eventually they have to save a group of pearlescent humanoids (whom I hereby name The Pearl People) whose planet was destroyed by an Evil Military. The plot is sort of like Avatar, only less subtle in its message (image that for a moment) — not that a message of “It’s wrong to commit genocide” is a bad message. It’s just obvious. Along the way there are a million tangents, none of which make any sense.

Valerian and Laureline looking confused
They don’t understand what’s happening either.

I truly thought that all I required from this movie was that it be pretty, but it turns out that I have to be able to care about someone or something in the movie to be entertained. Valerian is being compared to The Fifth Element and to Jupiter Ascending, two brilliantly beautiful movies that were as otherwise as dumb as a bag of hair.

However, The Fifth Element had the criminally underrated Milla Jovovich as Leeloo, a character who was both funny, a little scary, and incredibly endearing, and it had funny, memorable moments that have made it a long-term favorite.

Leeloo from The Fifth Element
Leeloo from The Fifth Element

Note: At this point, my dear friend Heather, who copy edits my posts, stepped in to say, “What? The Fifth Element wasn’t dumb – it was AWESOME. It was complex. It had MOOL-TI-PASS. It’s one of my favorite movies.” Discuss amongst yourselves.

Meanwhile, Jupiter Ascending was, empirically speaking, a terrible movie, but the actors hurled themselves into it with so much energy that it was fun. Of course mileage will vary here, but Mila Kunis attacking cleaning toilets and shooting bad guys with equal verve made the movie so bad it was wonderful.

In this movie there’s nothing to care about, although I was fond of The Pearl People because they seemed to be nice to each other. Valerian is supposed to be a rogue who later has a conflict where he’s all, “I’m a soldier and I follow orders” which…what? Since when? He’s supposed to be charming but alas he is not. He’s supposed to be hiding vulnerabilities but he must be hiding them pretty damn well. He’s not a brooding bad boy or a charming rogue. He’s just a very bland jerk.

Laureline seems to be going for deadpan but it just comes off as kind of dead. The bits that are clearly supposed to funny aren’t. There’s no excitement because there’s no reason to care about the outcome. It’s a romance, but the stars have no chemistry, not to mention the fact that Valerian basically sexually harasses Laureline all the time.

Fun fact: The Pearl People are introduced in an idyllic scene in which a character wakes up, pets her adorable pet, goes outside to the beach, and twirls around like a Disney Princess. My daughter leaned over and whispered, “If she starts singing, I swear to God…” Sadly, she did not sing, she just wafts about emanating “I’M SO HAPPY I’M CLEARLY DOOMED” signals.

The only people in this movie that seem to be having a great time are Ethan Hawke and Rihanna. Rihanna does a whole pole dance thing during which we can contemplate how hot she is (empirically speaking – very hot) but given that Rihanna is playing a sex slave named Bubbles, what the fucking hell with the sexy dance, people? Also, in the future, are we really going to have the exact same sexy nurse and sexy schoolgirl fetish outfits that you can buy today around Halloween? SEX SLAVERY IS NOT SEXY. It will shock no one to hear that Bubbles, who describes herself as an illegal immigrant, makes an epic sacrifice so that Valerian can get in touch with his feelings.

This is a movie in which a character has to stick a giant jellyfish onto her head for Reasons and is subsequently kidnapped by rainbow butterflies. You guys know I love shit like that, right? There’s a pirate named Bob who has a submarine. There are killer robots. The fact that someone put all this money and time and passion into a project which includes all these wonderful elements and then somehow made it boring enrages me. I feel personally offended.

I’m going to give this movie a total pass on the basic laws of physics and astronomy and biology, but I still have questions. For starters, why must Laureline’s boobs, whether in a bikini top or in the stupidest armor ever, constantly be in the center of the screen (compare to how women’s faces are in the center of the screen in Mad Max: Fury Road). Why are two agents who are supposed to be great at working with aliens so fucking racist all the time? Why does everyone, even CGI characters, seem slightly sedated? Why aren’t Valerian and Laureline even a little bit upset that their colleagues are eaten by a giant space dog?

Here’s my advice. Save your two hours. Time is precious. Watch the teaser trailer, which is incredible and also short. Look at images online. Check out a behind-the-scenes art book. Read the comics. Also, if you can, watch the opening of the movie, which takes the viewer through the early days of space exploration by humans to the time period in which Valerian is set. This sequence is simple, yet cleverly done, and truly moving. It also manages to convey a lot of information simply. If only the rest of the movie had accomplished the same.

Valerian is in theaters now. Tickets (US) are available at Fandango and Moviefone.

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Posted by Carrie S

I have one thought about the trailer for the upcoming movie Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and that thought is: “Dat is purty.” I’ll be reviewing the movie, and I know it’s important to approach the film with an open mind. However, I strongly suspect that my movie review will also boil down to: “Dat is purty.” In keeping with this theme, my review of the first Valerian graphic novel The City of Shifting Waters, originally printed in installments starting in 1968, is “Dat is purty.” Also, this comic is seriously and delightfully insane.

Valerian and Laureline is a French comic book series that was first published in 1967 and ran until 2010. The City of Shifting Waters is the second story arc, but the first to be collected in graphic novel form. This story is without a doubt the most late 1960’s thing in the history of all late 1960’s things (Laureline literally wears flowers in her hair), but it’s also eerily appropriate to 2017 since it deals with global warming (caused by the explosion of a hydrogen bomb depot at the North Pole) and a flooded, tropical, abandoned New York City.

I’ll let Valerian’s boss explain the plot:

Galaxity’s only political prisoner, the dangerous Xombul, has escaped. That madman who wanted to dislocate our society to become its dictator is now free. The worst thing is that he got his hands on one of our spatio-temporal ships and is moving around history freely. If he gets it into his head to modify our past, our civilization’s very existence is uncertain…He showed up in New York in 1986…and you’re going to follow him there.

Either phrases like “spatio-temporal ships” are music to your ears or they aren’t, and if they aren’t, this is not your series. It seems that the years from 1986 to the 24th century are “a mysterious era.” Most of civilization was wiped out in the disaster caused by the hydrogen depot’s demise (which happened in 1986). So Valerian and Laureline, two spatio-temporal agents, have to head into the unknown of past Earth to capture Xombul. This involves a tsunami, killer robots, and a guy named Sun Rae who runs a criminal organization and plays the flute. At one point Laureline gets shrunk (she gets better), and at another point everyone ends up running through Yellowstone National Park while yelling, “THE ROBOTS ARE COMING!” It’s space opera crossed with, one suspects but cannot confirm, a lot of LSD.

The art is both busy and stunning. Prepare yourself for sensory overload. The images of a New York strangled with vegetation are haunting. The hovercraft escape from New York looks and feels like it’s actually in motion. Yellowstone is a hellscape of bubbling lava. Youdon’t get nuanced facial expressions, but you do get exquisitely detailed and surrealistic landscapes.

page from Valerian showing an overgrown New York City

This is not a romance comic. Valerian and Laureline have a strictly platonic relationship and as far as I know their relationship stayed that way all the way through the comic’s run. According to Wikipedia, the longer the comic ran the more progressive it became. “The City of Shifting Waters” has a shrinking, furious Laureline saying “This kind of thing always happens to the girls!” but it also gives her a lot to do, including being a crack shot. According, again, to my beloved Wikipedia without which I’d have no career, Laureline advances from sidekick to a more equal footing in “The Land Without Stars.”

I can’t review the entire series based on one story arc, because the series evolved over time. What I can say is that “The City of Shifting Waters” is goofy fun in the old Buck Rogers sense. The plot isn’t very interesting (they chase a bad guy), and the characters are pretty basic, but the visuals are incredible. It’s a joyride through space and time made excellent by fine art!

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Posted by Amanda

UPDATE: All the downloads have been claimed! Thanks again to the team at Avon and we hope you found a good book (or two) for the weekend!

The Avon Publisher Booksigning (“The Avon Open House”) at RWA 2017 is from 8:30 to 9:30 am today. Our friends at Avon Romance have arranged a superb surprise for those of you who love romance but aren’t attending the 2017 RWA conference.

Are you ready for what it is?

Instafreebie copies of many of the Avon e-books at their Open House event! That’s right! Free e-books! However, be warned that copies are limitedFor many of the books, there are 500 digital copies available, save for the below Susan Wiggs title, which is capped at 100 digital copies.

Readers can download as many of the individual listed books as they like, until supplies run out.

Everyone can be part of Avon’s RWA book signing, which is so cool. Thank you, Avon, and especially Pam and Caro for all the awesomeness.

Go forth and get you some books!

Fall with Me by Jennifer ArmentroutFALL WITH ME by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Eleven months ago, bartender and weird-shirt-wearing extraordinaire Roxy and Officer Reece Anders had a one night stand. Well, kind of. She’s been in love with him since she was fifteen, and he wishes that night they shared never happened. She’s sworn him off forever, but the past and future collide, forcing her to rely on the one man who broke her heart not once, but twice.

Her best friend since birth has been in a long-term care facility since he became a victim of a hate crime years ago, and the person who put him in there is out of prison and wanting to make amends with him and Roxy. She’s not sure she has room for forgiveness in her and when she begins to receive frightening messages and is on the receiving end of escalating violence, she thinks she knows who is to blame. The man who already destroyed one life already.

But Reece isn’t convinced. The threats are too personal, and even if Roxy doesn’t believe him, he’s not willing to let anyone hurt her. Including himself. He’s already messed up more than once when it comes to Roxy and he’s not going to let history repeat itself.

I Married the Duke by Katharine AsheI MARRIED THE DUKE by Katharine Ashe

Three very different sisters beguile society with their beauty and charm, but only one of them must fulfill a prophecy: marry a prince. Who is the mystery Prince Charming, and which sister will be his bride?

On the way to marry a prince in a castle, a lady should never:

1. Bribe an infuriatingly arrogant and undeniably irresistible ship captain,
2. Let him kiss her senseless on a beach,
3. Battle thieves at his side,
and
4. Exchange wedding vows with him, even under the direst circumstances.

But daring, determined Arabella Caulfield isn’t just any lady. And Luc Westfall is no typical ship captain. He’s the new Duke of Lycombe, and to defeat a plot that could destroy his family he must have an heir. Now he knows just the woman for the job . . . and he’s not above seduction to turn this would-be princess into a duchess.


Love Me If You Dare by Toni BlakeLOVE ME IF YOU DARE by Toni Blake

When the question is love, the answer is always yes…

Camille Thompson is the best at what she does—closing deals. That’s why real estate developer Vanderhook has sent her to Coral Cove, Florida, where the stubborn owner of the Happy Crab Motel is refusing to sell. Camille’s never had a problem turning a “no” into a “yes,” but then she’s never been so captivated by a man’s sexy smile before.

Laidback Reece Donovan likes life simple. No amount of money—or any other temptation Camille can offer—will convince him to give up the one link to his past. Of course, it would be easier without the powerful chemistry raging between them.

As a fragile romance begins to grow, can Reece trust Camille with his secrets? And when promises are broken, along with hearts, can the charm of Coral Cove help bring them back together?

A Study in Scoundrels by Christy CarlyleA STUDY IN SCOUNDRELS by Christy Carlyle

Sophia Ruthven is the epitome of proper behavior. On paper at least, as long as that paper isn’t from one of the lady detective stories she secretly pens. She certainly isn’t interested in associating with the dashing Jasper Grey, the wayward heir to the Earl of Stanhope, and one of the stage’s leading men. But when she learns Grey’s younger sister Liddy has gone missing, she can’t deny her desire to solve the mystery…or her attraction to the incorrigible scoundrel.

Responsibility isn’t something Grey is very familiar with. On the boards and in the bedroom, he lives exactly how he wants to, shunning all the trappings of respectability and society. Grey knows he should avoid the bewitching Sophia, but he’s never been able to say no to what he wants. And having Sophia in his arms and his bed is quickly becoming the thing he wants the most.

As Sophia and Grey’s search for Liddy continues across the English countryside, can this scoundrel convince a proper lady that he’s actually perfect for her or will their adventure leave them both heartbroken?

Lord Dashwood Missed Out by Tessa DareLORD DASHWOOD MISSED OUT by Tessa Dare

A snowstorm hath no fury like a spinster scorned!

Miss Elinora Browning grew up yearning for the handsome, intelligent lord-next-door…but he left England without a word of farewell. One night, inspired by a bit too much sherry, Nora poured out her heartbreak on paper. Lord Dashwood Missed Out was a love letter to every young lady who’d been overlooked by gentlemen—and an instant bestseller. Now she’s on her way to speak in Spindle Cove when snowy weather delays her coach. She’s forced to wait out the storm with the worst possible companion: Lord Dashwood himself.

And he finally seems to have noticed her.

George Travers, Lord Dashwood, has traveled the globe as a cartographer. He returned to England with the goal of marrying and creating an heir–only to find his reputation shredded by an audacious, vexingly attractive bluestocking and her poison pen. Lord Dashwood Missed Out, his arse. Since Nora Browning seems to believe he overlooked the passion of a lifetime, Dash challenges her to prove it.

She has one night.

The Fixer by HelenKay DimonTHE FIXER by HelenKay Dimon

He’s known only as Wren. A wealthy, dangerously secretive man, he specializes in making problems disappear. A professional fixer, Wren hides a dark past, but his privacy is shattered when Emery Finn seeks him out—and what she wants from him is very personal.

Some people disappear against their will. Emery’s job is to find them and bring closure. Wren is the only person who can help solve Emery’s own personal mystery: the long-ago disappearance of her cousin. Just tracking down the sexy, brooding Wren is difficult enough. Resisting her body’s response to him will prove completely impossible.

Anonymity is essential to Wren’s success, yet drawn by Emery’s loyalty and sensuality, he’s pulled out of the shadows. But her digging is getting noticed by the wrong people. And as the clues start to point to someone terrifyingly close, Wren will have to put his haunted past aside to protect the woman he loves.

Twisted by Cynthia EdenTWISTED by Cynthia Eden

In the second seductive LOST novel from New York Times bestselling author Cynthia Eden, an obsessed Last Option Search Team agent goes looking for trouble—and finds her in the Big Easy.

Dean Bannon comes to New Orleans for one reason only: to track down a missing sixteen-year-old girl. That’s before he meets the drop-dead gorgeous con artist who makes him want to lose his legendary control.

With her past, Emma Castille doesn’t claim to be psychic. She just notices things other people don’t. Like the fear in a runaway’s eyes—or the pain in an ex-FBI agent’s heart. Her chemistry with Dean is blistering, but Emma follows her passion . . . not someone else’s orders.

Then a madman breaks into Emma’s home and leaves a twisted message: You’re next. Now Dean refuses to let her out of his sight until he pries every last secret from her full, sexy lips. And suddenly Emma’s aching to give him everything he wants.

Here and Now by Cheryl EtchisonHERE AND NOW by Cheryl Etchison

The Rangers of the 1st/75th fight hard, train hard and play hard. They are physically strong and mentally tough, disciplined and courageous. But all their military training hasn’t prepared them for falling in love.

Former Ranger Medic Lucky James feels right at home working long night shifts in the ER, but less so during the day, when his college classes are filled with flirtatious co-eds. When his 19-year-old chem lab partner shows up at his work with dinner for “her Lucky,” he quickly enlists the help of Rachel Dellinger, a nurse and fellow third shift “vampire”.

Rachel is a people pleaser at heart, but she’s finally decided enough is enough when it comes to her on-again, off-again boyfriend. When Lucky begs Rachel to help him ward off the advances of his teenager pursuer, she blackmails him into helping move her things out of the apartment she shared with her ex into a place all her own.

From there a friendship is born between two people just trying to make it through the night. Neither are living in the past or planning for the future. Until one day changes everything.

Why Do Dukes Fall in Love by Megan FramptonWHY DO DUKES FALL IN LOVE by Megan Frampton

In Megan Frampton’s captivating new Dukes Behaving Badly novel, we learn the answer to the question:

Why do dukes fall in love?

Michael, the Duke of Hadlow, has the liberty of enjoying an indiscretion . . . or several. But when it comes time for him to take a proper bride, he ultimately realizes he wants only one woman: Edwina Cheltam. He’d hired her as his secretary, only to quickly discover she was sensuous and intelligent.

They embark on a passionate affair, and when she breaks it off, he accepts her decision as the logical one . . . but only at first. Then he decides to pursue her.

Michael is brilliant, single-minded, and utterly indifferent to being the talk of the ton. It’s even said his only true friend is his dog. Edwina had begged him to marry someone appropriate–—someone aristocratic . . . someone high-born . . . someone else. But the only thing more persuasive than a duke intent on seduction is one who has fallen irrevocably in love.

I Do by Rachel GibsonI DO! by Rachel Gibson

In New York Times bestselling author Rachel Gibson’s newest novella, Vince Haven and Sadie Hollowell are headed to the altar, and all their friends are headed to Lovett, Texas, to join them for the party of the year.

But Becca Ramsey doesn’t have time for all that. Fresh out of beauty school, Becca’s all business . . . and the last thing she needs is bad boy Nate Parrish anywhere in her life.

In the past, Nate was trouble. He’s been trying to repair his reputation—heck, he’s even got just one girlfriend. The problem is, she isn’t Becca. Now Nate’s in a whole lot of hot water. He needs to get Becca from “I won’t” to “I do” . . . but how can he do that when she won’t even say “I might”?

A Son's Vow by Shelley Shepard GrayA SON’S VOW by Shelley Shephard Gray

Three months ago, everything changed for Darla Kurtz and her family. Darla’s father was responsible for a terrible fire at Charm’s lumber mill which killed five Amish men. And though he, too, lost his life, the town of Charm hasn’t looked at her family the same since. Even Lukas Kinsinger—with whom Darla used to have a close friendship.

Now her brother’s anger at the town is spilling over onto Darla, and she has the bruises to prove it. The accident already cost five lives, but if something doesn’t change soon, Darla fears it will cost her—and her family—even more.

Lukas Kinsinger wants to mourn the loss of his father, but he can hardly find the time to breathe. Suddenly the head of his father’s lumber mill and responsible for taking care of his three siblings, he’s feeling the pressure. He has also never felt more alone—especially with the new tension between he and Darla. But when he learns of her troubles at home, Lukas knows he can’t simply stand by and watch. Someone has to help her before another tragedy occurs.

As Lukas and Darla attempt to repair their families, they discover something deeper than friendship growing between them. But will Lukas and Darla’s love be accepted after so much loss? Or will the pain of the past overcome any chance of future happiness?

CATCH A FALLING HEIRESS by Laura Lee GuhrkeCATCH A FALLING HEIRESS by Laura Lee Guhrke

She’s an American heiress. He’s a devilish earl. When these two collide, the sparks ignite a shocking scandal in USA Today bestselling author Laura Lee Guhrke’s unforgettable Victorian-era romance.

Linnet Holland wants nothing to do with fortune hunters. No, she’s determined to marry a man who loves her. But just as she’s about to accept the perfect marriage proposal from the man she wants, the rakish Earl of Featherstone interrupts and ruins everything, including her reputation, with his smoldering kiss.

Jack Featherstone knows all about Linnet’s “intended”, and he’s determined she won’t fall prey to that villain as other women have in the past. But when his attempt to save Linnet ruins her instead, he knows he has to make things right. So he sets out to win this golden beauty . . . and prove to her that being ruined by him was the best thing that could have happened to her.

FALLING INTO BED WITH THE DUKE by Lorraine Heath

In the first in a dazzling new series, New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath introduces the Hellions of Havisham—three charismatic rogues destined to lose their hearts…

After six unsuccessful Seasons, Miss Minerva Dodger chooses spinsterhood over fortune-hungry suitors. But thanks to the Nightingale Club, she can at least enjoy one night of pleasure. At that notorious establishment, ladies don masks before choosing a lover. The sinfully handsome Duke of Ashebury is more than willing to satisfy the secretive lady’s desires—and draws Minerva into an exquisite, increasingly intimate affair.

A man of remarkable talents, Ashe soon deduces that his bedmate is the unconventional Miss Dodger. Intrigued by her wit and daring, he sets out to woo her in earnest. Yet Minerva refuses to trust him. How to court a woman he has already thoroughly seduced? And how to prove that the passion unleashed in darkness is only the beginning of a lifetime’s pleasure?

STEPPING TO A NEW DAY by Beverly JenkinsSTEPPING TO A NEW DAY by Beverly Jenkins

NAACP nominee and USA Today bestselling author Beverly Jenkins returns to the town of Henry Adams with a story of family, friendship, love, and second chances.

In Henry Adams, Kansas, you can’t start over without stirring things up . . .

Many a good woman has had to leave a no-good man, but how many of them took a back-seat to his 600-lb. hog? On her own for the first time, Genevieve Gibbs is ecstatic, even if certain people preferred the doormat version of Ms. Gibbs. Finding someone who appreciates the “new” her has only just hit Gen’s to-do list when T.C. Barbour appears in her life.

A tiny Kansas town is a far cry from his native Oakland, California, but it’s just the change T. C. needs. While helping his divorced nephew acclimate to single fatherhood, T. C. lands a gig driving a limo for the most powerful woman in Henry Adams. It’s a great way to meet people—and one in particular has already made the job worthwhile. All it takes is a short trip from the airport for Genevieve to snag T.C.’s attention for good.

But it wouldn’t be Henry Adams without adding more drama to the mix. When Gen’s ex Riley returns with his hog in tow, it sets off a chain of events that can ruin everything—unless the residents pull together once again to save the day.

ALL CHAINED UP by Sophie JordanALL CHAINED UP by Sophie Jordan

There are bad boys and then there are the men of Devil’s Rock . . .

Some men come with a built-in warning label. Knox Callaghan is one of them. Danger radiates from every lean, muscled inch of him, and his deep blue eyes seem to see right through to Briar Davis’s most secret fantasies. But there’s one major problem: Briar is a nurse volunteering at the local prison, and Knox is an inmate who should be off-limits in every way.

Knox feels it too—a shocking animal magnetism that drives him to risk his own life to protect Briar’s. Paroled at last, he tries to resist her. She’s too innocent, too sweet, and she has no idea what Knox is capable of. But a single touch can lead to a kiss—and a taste . . . until the only crime is denying what feels so right . . .

RIDE HARD by Laura KayeRIDE HARD by Laura Kaye

Brotherhood. Club. Family.

They live and ride by their own rules.

These are the Raven Riders . . .

Raven Riders Motorcycle Club President Dare Kenyon rides hard and values loyalty above all else. He’ll do anything to protect the brotherhood of bikers—the only family he’s got—as well as those who can’t defend themselves. So when mistrustful Haven Randall lands on the club’s doorstep scared that she’s being hunted, Dare takes her in, swears to keep her safe, and pushes to learn the secrets overshadowing her pretty smile.

Haven fled from years of abuse at the hands of her criminal father and is suspicious of any man’s promises, including those of the darkly sexy and overwhelmingly intense Ravens’ leader. But as the powerful attraction between them flares to life, Dare pushes her boundaries and tempts her to want things she never thought she could.

The past never dies without a fight, but Dare Kenyon’s never backed down before . . .

MAKING THE PLAY by TJ KlineMAKING THE PLAY by TJ Kline

T.J. Kline launches a brand new series with the charming story of a NFL player who finds love when he least expects it…

Grant McQuaid has dedicated his entire life to his football career. Now an injury threatens his place on the team and he’s forced to return home to rehabilitate. But when he meets his “biggest fan,” a precocious, blue-eyed, hearing impaired boy named James—and his beautiful mother, Bethany—Grant begins to question whether football is the future he still wants.

Bethany Mills has been doing just fine since her husband walked out on them… and she definitely doesn’t need another man to disappoint her—or her son. But when James runs into his hero at the park, Bethany admits there is a void in her son’s life that she just can’t fill. Her attraction to the handsome football star is undeniable, but a man in the limelight is the last thing she wants for herself, or James.

Grant doesn’t want to subject Bethany to the chaos of dating a professional athlete. But the more time he spends with her and James, the harder it is to resist making a play for her heart…

SCANDAL TAKES THE STAGE by Eva LeighSCANDAL TAKES THE STAGE by Eva Leigh

Eva Leigh’s smart and sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues, with a playwright and a Viscount . . . together they may create a scandal worthy of the stage, but can their love last after the final curtain falls?

Successful playwright Maggie Delamere has no interest in the flirtations of noblemen like Cameron, Viscount Marwood. She once paid dearly for a moment of weakness . . . and vows to rebuff the wildly persistent—and irritatingly handsome—scoundrel at every turn. But when pressure to deliver a new play hampers her creativity, an invitation to use his country estate as a writer’s retreat is too tempting to resist…

For years, Cam has admired Maggie’s brilliant work, and he can’t pass up the opportunity to discover if the beautiful, mysterious playwright is as passionate and clever as the words that flow from her quill. He’s never offered a lady his bed without being in it, but if it means loosening Maggie’s pen—and her inhibitions—he’ll do exactly that.

But soon Cam’s plans for seduction become a fight for Maggie’s heart. He’s more than the scandalous, carefree rake society believes him to be . . . and she’s the only woman who has ever noticed.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF SCANDAL by Caroline LindenLOVE IN THE TIME OF SCANDAL by Caroline Linden

USA Today bestselling author Caroline Linden’s third novel in her Scandalous series brings together a feisty heiress, a notorious rake, and a shocking book that could bring one woman the utmost despair—or the greatest pleasure…

Penelope Weston does not like Benedict Lennox, Lord Atherton. He may be the suave and charming heir to an earl, as well as the most handsome man on earth, but she can’t forget how he abandoned a friend in need—nor how he once courted her sister, Abigail. He’s the last man she would ever marry. If only she didn’t feel so attracted to the arrogant scoundrel…

Once upon a time, Benedict thought he and Penelope got along rather well. Though he needs a wealthy bride to escape his cruel father’s control, spirited Penelope just doesn’t suit his plans for a model marriage—until a good deed goes awry, and scandalous rumors link his name to Penelope’s. She might not be the quiet, sensible wife he thought he wanted, but she is beautiful . . . beguiling . . . and far more passionate than he ever imagined. Can a marriage begun in scandal become a love match, too?

ALONG CAME LOVE by Tracey LivesayALONG CAME LOVE by Tracey Livesay

When a silly, impulsive decision lands free-spirited India Shaw behind bars in San Francisco, she has no choice but to call the only person she knows in the unfamiliar city—the very man she abandoned after a steamy two-day fling. The fact that she’s pregnant with his child is something she’d rather not divulge.

Tech executive Michael Black never thought he’d hear from the quirky beauty after she left his bed four months ago, much less be called upon to post bail. He’s got his hands full with a corporate merger that could make or break his career, but his honorable nature—and an overwhelming need to see her again—means he can’t just leave her in jail. And when India reveals the truth about her pregnancy, Mike insists she stay with him until the baby is born.

India doesn’t want to depend on him for anything, but their constant proximity stirs up feelings she can’t ignore. She’s never desired a family before and she knows a future with Mike isn’t possible . . . but then along came love to shake up all her plans.

Hot in Hellcat Canyon by Julie Anne LongHOT IN HELLCAT CANYON by Julie Anne Long

A broken truck, a broken career, and a breakup heard around the world land superstar John Tennessee McCord in Hellcat Canyon. Legend has it that hearts come in two colors there: gold or black. And that you can find whatever you’re looking for, whether it’s love . . . or trouble. JT may have found both in waitress Britt Langley.

His looks might cause whiplash and weak knees, but Britt sees past JT’s rough edge and sexy drawl to a person a lot like her: in need of the kind of comfort best given hot and quick, with clothes off and the lights out.

Her wit is sharp but her eyes and heart—not to mention the rest of her—are soft, and JT is falling hard. But Britt has a secret as dark as the hills, and JT’s past is poised to invade their present. It’s up to the people of Hellcat Canyon to help make sure their future includes a happily ever after.

THE DEBUTANTE IS MINE by Vivienne LorretTHE DEBUTANTE IS MINE by Vivienne Lorret

From the Season Standard: “A true Season’s Original embodies the class, grace, and style of the ton. Such an honor ensures the recipient her pick of eligible suitors…”

Lilah Appleton’s prospects are looking dim. With one last chance to find a titled husband before she’s forced to wed her wretched cousin, she must make this Season count. Plain, forgettable Lilah must become the Season’s Original. Desperate, she seeks help from the devilishly charming, untitled, and thoroughly unsuitable Jack Marlowe. All she must do now is resist the tempting rogue…

Bastard son and self-made man, Jack Marlowe loathes the aristocracy. When he meets Lilah, he expects her to be like all the other greedy husband-hunters. But she’s far more dangerous. Her alluring smiles and sharp tongue intrigue him. Before he knows it, he agrees to help her find a husband, revealing tricks to ensnare any man. The only problem is, his plan works too well—on him.

When Lilah becomes the belle of the ball, Jack realizes he may lose her forever—unless he can take a chance on love and claim his debutante…

MATCH OF THE CENTURY by Cathy MaxwellTHE MATCH OF THE CENTURY by Cathy Maxwell

In New York Times bestselling author Cathy Maxwell’s glittering new series, wedding bells are ringing… until the return of a rake throws a bride’s plans—and heart—into a tailspin…

Every debutante aspires to snag a duke. Elin Morris just happens to have had one reserved since birth. But postponements of her marriage to London’s most powerful peer give Elin time to wonder how she will marry Gavin Baynton when she cannot forget his brother, Benedict.

Already exasperated at being yanked from the military to meet “family obligations,” now Ben must suffer watching his arrogant sibling squire the only woman he has ever loved. Joining the army saved Ben from sinking into bitterness, but seeing Elin again takes him back to the day they surrendered to their intoxicating desire.

As the wedding draws near, Elin tries to push Ben far from her thoughts. When danger brings them together, there is no denying their feelings. But can Elin choose love over duty?

MATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Susan Elizabeth PhillipsMATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

You met quarterback Kevin Tucker in Nobody’s Baby but Mine. Now get ready to meet his shark of an agent, Heath Champion, and Annabelle Granger, the girl least likely to succeed.

Annabelle’s endured dead-end jobs, a broken engagement . . . even her hair’s a mess! But that’s going to change now that she’s taken over her late grandmother’s matchmaking business. All Annabelle has to do is land the Windy City’s hottest bachelor as her client, and she’ll be the most sought-after matchmaker in town.

Why does the wealthy, driven, and gorgeous sports agent Heath Champion need a matchmaker, especially a red-haired screw-up like Annabelle Granger? True, she’s entertaining, and she does have a certain quirky appeal. But Heath is searching for the ultimate symbol of success — the perfect wife. And to make an extraordinary match, he needs an extraordinary matchmaker, right?

Soon everyone in Chicago has a stake in the outcome, and a very big question: When the determined matchmaker promised she’d do anything to keep her star client happy . . . did she mean anything? If Annabelle isn’t careful, she just might find herself going heart-to-heart with the toughest negotiator in town.

SECRETS OF NANREATH HALL by Alix RickloffSECRETS OF NANREATH HALL by Alix Rickloff

This incredible debut historical novel—in the tradition of Beatriz Williams and Jennifer Robson—tells the fascinating story of a young mother who flees her home on the rocky cliffs of Cornwall and the daughter who finds her way back, seeking answers.

Cornwall, 1940. Back in England after the harrowing evacuation at Dunkirk, WWII Red Cross nurse Anna Trenowyth is shocked to learn her adoptive parents Graham and Prue Handley have been killed in an air raid. She desperately needs their advice as she’s been assigned to the military hospital that has set up camp inside her biological mother’s childhood home—Nanreath Hall. Anna was just six years old when her mother, Lady Katherine Trenowyth, died. All she has left are vague memories that tease her with clues she can’t unravel. Anna’s assignment to Nanreath Hall could be the chance for her to finally become acquainted with the family she’s never known—and to unbury the truth and secrets surrounding her past.

Cornwall, 1913. In the luxury of pre-WWI England, Lady Katherine Trenowyth is expected to do nothing more than make a smart marriage and have a respectable life. When Simon Halliday, a bohemian painter, enters her world, Katherine begins to question the future that was so carefully laid out for her. Her choices begin to lead her away from the stability of her home and family toward a wild existence of life, art, and love. But as everything begins to fall apart, Katherine finds herself destitute and alone.

As Anna is drawn into her newfound family’s lives and their tangled loyalties, she discovers herself at the center of old heartbreaks and unbearable tragedies, leaving her to decide if the secrets of the past are too dangerous to unearth…and if the family she’s discovered is one she can keep.

MONTANA HEAT- PROTECTED BY LOVE by Jennifer RyanMONTANA HEAT: PROTECTED BY LOVE by Jennifer Ryan

It was more than another blind date . . .

It was DEA Agent Caden Cooke’s third chance to impress beautiful chef Mia Martin. He’d already stood her up twice, and was shocked she was even giving him another chance. For Caden, taking down the bad guys is important, but Mia’s made it clear there’s no excuse for his bad behavior. So he’s vowed to make it worth her while with an apology he’s cooked up just for her.

From the moment they meet, it’s clear this isn’t just another fix up. The sparks flying between them are undeniable; the tension is electric. Then, suddenly, the best moments of their lives turn treacherous when a drug dealer set on revenge puts their lives in danger. And Mia and Caden quickly realize they will do anything to protect the other—and live for the love neither of them expected.

THE SOLDIER'S SCOUNDREL by Cat SebastianTHE SOLDIER’S SCOUNDREL by Cat Sebastian

A scoundrel who lives in the shadows

Jack Turner grew up in the darkness of London’s slums, born into a life of crime and willing to do anything to keep his belly full and his siblings safe. Now he uses the tricks and schemes of the underworld to help those who need the kind of assistance only a scoundrel can provide. His distrust of the nobility runs deep and his services do not extend to the gorgeous high-born soldier who personifies everything Jack will never be.

A soldier untarnished by vice

After the chaos of war, Oliver Rivington craves the safe predictability of a gentleman’s life-one that doesn’t include sparring with a ne’er-do-well who flouts the law at every turn. But Jack tempts Oliver like no other man has before. Soon his yearning for the unapologetic criminal is only matched by Jack’s pleasure in watching his genteel polish crumble every time they’re together.

Two men only meant for each other

ONE SNOWY NIGHT by Jill ShalvisONE SNOWY NIGHT by Jill Shalvis

New York Times bestselling author Jill Shalvis returns to Heartbreaker Bay with a fun and festive holiday novella!

It’s Christmas Eve and Rory Andrews is desperate to get home to the family she hasn’t seen in years. Problem is, her only ride to Lake Tahoe comes in the form of the annoyingly handsome Max Stranton, and his big, goofy, lovable dog Carl.

Hours stuck in a truck with the dead sexy Max sounds like a fate worse than death (not), but Rory’s out of options. She’s had a crush on Max since high school and she knows he’s attracted to her, too. But they have history… and Max is the only one who knows why it went south.

They’ve done a good job of ignoring their chemistry so far, but a long road trip in a massive blizzard might be just what they need to face their past… and one steamy, snowy night is all it takes to bring Max and Rory together at last.

FAMILY TREE by Susan WiggsFAMILY TREE by Susan Wiggs

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes a powerful, emotionally complex story of love, loss, the pain of the past—and the promise of the future.

Sometimes the greatest dream starts with the smallest element. A single cell, joining with another. And then dividing. And just like that, the world changes.

Annie Harlow knows how lucky she is. The producer of a popular television cooking show, she loves her handsome husband and the beautiful Los Angeles home they share. And now, she’s pregnant with their first child. But in an instant, her life is shattered. And when Annie awakes from a yearlong coma, she discovers that time isn’t the only thing she’s lost.

Grieving and wounded, Annie retreats to her old family home in Switchback, Vermont, a maple farm generations old. There, surrounded by her free-spirited brother, their divorced mother, and four young nieces and nephews, Annie slowly emerges into a world she left behind years ago: the town where she grew up, the people she knew before, the high-school boyfriend turned judge. And with the discovery of a cookbook her grandmother wrote in the distant past, Annie unearths an age-old mystery that might prove the salvation of the family farm.

Family Tree is the story of one woman’s triumph over betrayal, and how she eventually comes to terms with her past. It is the story of joys unrealized and opportunities regained. Complex, clear-eyed and big-hearted, funny, sad, and wise, it is a novel to cherish and to remember.

Remember, these downloads are available for a limited time and in limited quantities!

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Posted by Amanda

It’s cocktail time! And boy, do I need it. I will give you a small warning that this drink includes Fireball Whiskey, which can be a pretty divisive component. However, I promise that it works and the cinnamon isn’t too overpowering.

The drink inspiration this month comes from Club Deception by Sarah Skilton. I picked this book, at first, based on the cover alone. It’s so striking, isn’t it?

When I read the description and realized it was about the women running the show behind their male counterparts in the world of magicians, I made vicious grabby hands until someone gave in and allowed me to have an ARC.

Club Deception
A | BN | K | iB
What I loved about this book is that it’s about two women, Jessica and Claire, who have two different experiences with the magician community, and I wanted this drink – Now You See Me – to be a marriage between the two heroines’ personalities.

So let’s talk about the two of them. Jessica is recently married to a magician. She’s new to the WAGS (widows and girlfriends) of the magician scene. When she first meets Claire, Jessica smells like peaches, her nails are painted in a peachy hue, and she’s wearing a peach-colored dress. Of course, that meant I had to include peaches in some way.

Meanwhile, Claire is amazing. She’s the HBIC (head bitch in charge). She’s a little bitter and jaded, having created her philandering husband’s routines. Claire has stage fright, which has kept her from becoming a magician in her own right. She knows some pretty cool lighter tricks using a flame (cue Fireball) and she tries to hide the fact she’s from North Carolina (my iced tea component) and not California. The drink is sweet with a kick of cinnamon and spice at the very end.

It’s also way stronger than I thought. It left me feeling a bit buzzed, even after scarfing down a Lunchable beforehand.

The book has plenty of mystery, some romance, a badass feminist magician, and SCANDAL!

To make things even better, we have three (3) copies to give away courtesy of the amazing team at Grand Central Publishing.

Ingredients for a Now You See Me drink

 

 

Shopping list:
Fireball Whiskey
Peach liqueur
Peach iced tea

Proportions:
2 oz peach iced tea
1 oz Fireball Whiskey
1 oz peach liqueur

Simply put all the ingredients into a shaker full of ice. Shake! Then pour into a chilled glass.

Modifications and notes:

  • I personally felt that 1 oz of Fireball was just enough. You can taste it mostly at the end of each sip, but it’s not overpowering. If, however, you’re super sensitive to the taste, use a little bit less. I was worried the peach flavored ingredients would make the drink too sweet, but the cinnamon really cuts that.
  • In terms of peach liqueur, I just grabbed the first thing I found. If you have a favorite brand, feel free to use it.
  • Same goes with tea! I, unfortunately, no longer live in the South and don’t have access to the amazingly tasty array of Publix brand iced teas.
  • If you’d rather serve it over ice, go ahead. Regardless, I definitely recommend having the drink nice and cold.

A honey-hued drink in a martini class next to a copy of Club Deception

Now it’s giveaway time! To enter, list what awesome or unconventional profession you want to see a future heroine have.

Standard disclaimers apply: We are not being compensated for this giveaway. Void where prohibited. Open to US residents where permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18 and willing to pick a card, any card. No sawing anyone in half, unless you have prior consent. Please drop off your rabbits in hats at the coat check. Comments will close Sunday July 30, 2017 around noon ET, and winners will be announced shortly thereafter.

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Posted by Amanda

The RITAs are officially over! Before we get to the winners and a brief livestream recap, I personally want to thank every single one of you who participated. This is the first year where we’ve reviewed all of the nominees! How awesome is that? Seriously, this Challenge wouldn’t be anything without this lovely, thoughtful community of readers. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

If you missed the livestream of either the Golden Heart or RITA Award ceremonies, they’re available on YouTube! You can view the Golden Heart ceremony here.

To watch the RITA Awards, you can either click this link or watch the embedded video below. Some highlights include author Angie Fox’s missing pants, Jill Shalvis reaching 100 books written, and Beverly Jenkins’ amazing speech for receiving the 2017 Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Have some tissues handy!

ROMANCE NOVELLA FINALISTS

Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan – WINNER
Site grade: B+ from Carrie S
Grade from PamG: B

“The Husband Maneuver” by Karen Witemeyer in With This Ring 
Grade from Phyllis L: B-
Grade from Darbi: B-

Let It Snow by Jeanette Grey
Grade from TheoLibrarianD

“Let Us Dream” by Alyssa Cole in Daughters of a Nation
Site grade: A from Redheadedgirl
Grade from ppyajunebug: A-

Searching for Mine by Jennifer Probst
Grade from Phyllis L: C
Grade from Jillian Boyd: DNF

Tycoon by Joanna Shupe
Site grade: B+ from Redheadedgirl
Grade from NerdalisqueB

Wild in Rio by Lyssa Kay Adams
Grade from IsabelleC-
Grade from Kim W: C+

 

SHORT CONTEMPORARY FINALISTS

APB: Baby by Julie Miller
Grade from Jenica H: B
Grade from Erica: C

Breaking Good by Madeline Ash
Grade from Catherine Heloise: B+

Christmas on Crimson Mountain by Michelle Major – WINNER
Grade from Megan S: B
Grade from Allison H: B-

Falling for the Rancher by Tanya Michaels
Grade from ClaireC: B
Grade from Kat M: C

Far from Home by Lorelie Brown
Grade from LauraL: B+
Grade from Vasha: B+

His Stolen Bride by Barbara Dunlop
Grade from Catherine Heloise: C
Grade from Lori A: D

A Malibu Kind of Romance by Synithia Williams
Grade from Heather S: C

Overwhelming Force by Janie Crouch
Grade from Panda Queen: B

Searching for Disaster by Jennifer Probst
Grade from HeatherT: D
Grade from Darbi: D

Two Doctors & a Baby by Brenda Harlen
Grade from NinjaPenguin: DNF
Grade from K.N.O’Rear: C+

 

SHORT HISTORICAL FINALISTS

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare
Site grade: A from Elyse
Grade from Winnay: A-

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt
Site grade: A from Elyse
Grade from cbackson: B-

A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen – WINNER
Grade from TruusjeB-
Grade from MiddleClassManhattan: B+

Left at the Altar by Margaret Brownley
Grade from Phyllis LB-
Grade from B. Bradley: D+

The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries
Grade from Fangirl MusingsA
Grade from ClaudiaA: B

Taming the Highlander by May McGoldrick
Grade from OmphaleC
Grade from ChristineC-

 

MAINSTREAM FICTION WITH A CENTRAL ROMANCE FINALISTS

The Color of a Promise by Julianne MacLean
Grade from CocoB-
Grade from Catherine HeloiseB-

The Depth of Beauty by A. B. Michaels
Grade from Erika S: DNF

The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel – WINNER
Grade from Turophile: B-
Grade from ReneeGC-

Now That It’s You by Tawna Fenske
Grade from HeatherMarieB
Grade from Another KateC-

 

MID-LENGTH CONTEMPORARY FINALISTS

Back in the Saddle by Karen Templeton
Grade from Meagan M: C+
Grade from Mandi: C+

Barefoot at Midnight by Roxanne St. Claire
Grade from Erica: DNF
Grade from TurophileC

Carolina Dreaming by Virginia Kantra – WINNER
Grade from ClaireC: C+

Fast Connection by Megan Erickson and Santino Hassell
Grade from QOTUA-
Grade from cleoB+

Lone Heart Pass by Jodi Thomas
Grade from Kate K.F: C
Grade from IbyD

Off the Hook by Laura Drewry
Grade from Lindsey RC-

Once and For All: An American Valor Novel by Cheryl Etchison
Grade from JayneHB-

Tell Me How This Ends by Victoria De La O
Grade from NoeRD: C+
Grade from Erica: F

The Turning Point by Marie Meyer
Grade from JahnaviS: B-
Grade from Another Kate: B

Wanderlust by Roni Loren
Grade from KBC

 

YOUNG ADULT ROMANCE FINALISTS

Affective Needs by Rebecca Taylor
Grade from Faellie: B+
Grade from Coco: B

The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt
Grade from PamGC

The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout – WINNER
Grade from CocoA-

Summer of Supernovas by Darcy Woods
Grade from HeatherMacB

 

ROMANCE WITH RELIGIOUS OR SPIRITUAL ELEMENTS FINALISTS

Close to You by Kara Isaac
Grade from HopeC-

Keeper of the Stars by Robin Lee Hatcher
Grade from Julia S: C+
Grade from Iola: B

My Hope Next Door by Tammy L. Gray – WINNER
Grade from SamanthaD

Trust My Heart by Carol J. Post
Grade from LauraL: B-
Grade from DonnaMarie: C-

 

PARANORMAL ROMANCE FINALISTS

Bayou Shadow Hunter by Debbie Herbert
Grade from Dominika: C
Grade from Ms. G: B-

The Beast by J R Ward
Grade from DanicaB

The Champion of Barésh by Susan Grant
Grade from EllieMB+

Enchanted Warrior by Sharon Ashwood
Grade from Leanne H: B-
Grade from Spice: D

Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella
Grade from Samantha D: DNF
Grade from Mina Lobo: B

The Leopard King by Ann Aguirre
Grade from cbackson: DNF
Grade from Roo: A-

The Pages of the Mind by Jeffe Kennedy – WINNER
Grade from Malin: B-
Grade from PamG: A

Where the Wild Things Bite by Molly Harper
Site gradeB- from Amanda
Grade from PamGB

 

BEST FIRST BOOK FINALISTS

Alterations by Stephanie Scott
Grade from LibrarianJessi: C+

Before Goodbye by Mimi Cross
Grade from LeighC+

Close to You by Kara Isaac
Grade from BluetomartoB-

The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt
Grade from Meagan MD

Once and For All: An American Valor Novel by Cheryl Etchison – WINNER
Grade from Beth R: B

Summer of Supernovas by Darcy Woods
Grade from Shannon B: A

 

ROMANTIC SUSPENSE FINALISTS

All the Dead Girls by Rita Herron
Grade from chezamandaF
Grade from Shannon BC

Atone by Beth Yarnall
Grade from Shana: D+
Grade from RooD-

Field of Graves by J. T. Ellison
Grade from Pepper CB-

Killer Countdown by Amelia Autin
Grade from HollyS: B-
Grade from ShanaC

Mr. and Mr. Smith by HelenKay Dimon
Grade from JayneH: B+
Grade from Malin: B-

One Minute to Midnight by Nico Rosso
Grade from BoxerLover2: B
Grade from Catherine Heloise: A

Repressed by Elisabeth Naughton – WINNER
Grade from JayneH: B+
Grade from The Other Kate: B

Tall, Dark and Damaged by Sarah Andre
Grade from ShoppermomB+

 

LONG CONTEMPORARY FINALISTS

Always a Bridesmaid by Lizzie Shane
Grade from NeonailsB-
Grade from Jillian BoydB+

Hot in Hellcat Canyon by Julie Anne Long
Grade from HeatherMac: A
Grade from Crystal Anne with an E: B+

Make Me Sin by J. T. Geissinger
Grade from JahnaviS: DNF
Grade from Julia SB+

Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morgan – WINNER
Grade from IsabelleB-

Pansies by Alexis Hall
Grade from PamG: A-
Grade from HeatherT: B-

Snowfall on Haven Point by RaeAnne Thayne
Grade from Scifigirl1986A-

Tender Is the Night by Barbara Freethy
Grade from Scifigirl1986: C-

 

EROTIC ROMANCE FINALIST

The Dirty Secret by Kira A. Gold
Grade from HeatherTC+

The Master by Tara Sue Me
Grade from garlicknitter: B+
Grade from Jillian Boyd: A

Off the Clock by Roni Loren – WINNER
Site gradeB+ from Amanda
Grade from Meg: B+

Ravenous by M. S. Force
Grade from NotoriousDNF

Three Sweet Nothings by Nikki Sloane
Grade from VeronicaMcD: B-
Grade from Nerdalisque: F

 

LONG HISTORICAL FINALISTS

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase
Site grade: B from Carrie
Grade from MiddleClassManhattanA

How I Married a Marquess by Anna Harrington
Grade from Fangirl Musings: B+
Grade from NoeRD: B-

No Mistress of Mine by Laura Lee Guhrke – WINNER
Grade from Shoppermom: B-
Grade from ReneeG: B-

Susana and the Scot by Sabrina York
Grade from Robin R: B
Grade from HeatherT: B-

Did you watch the RITA livestream? What you’d think? Were you surprised by any of the winners?

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Posted by SB Sarah

Sarah, Elyse, Carrie, and RedHeadedGirl gather to talk about successful recommendations we’ve made to new and curious readers interested in trying romance. From curating a broad selection of books as an introduction to specifically pimping books we know have a multi-level appeal, we talk about our favorite recommendations, books that seem to entice many different readers, and which books we love just for sheer crazy sauce. We also discuss how many readers are introduced to romance by a person who gives them a brown paper bag full of books. “Bag full of books” is among our favorite word combinations.

And because we’re, well, us, we talk about weird sex scenes we’ve read, wonderful and funny sex scenes we’ve loved, managing chronic pain and reading BDSM stories, and interesting female inventors in history. Plus, we discuss at length (heh) the expectations of tentacles, and what new books we’re going to end up recommending frequently.

Note: Elyse is a little fuzzy, and I think she might have been in a wind machine.

Listen to the podcast →
Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

We also mentioned:

The RWA Signing! July 29, 2017, from 3:00 – 5:00pm! 

Hundreds of romance authors in one place, and all proceeds of book sales go to literacy organizations. Some of your favorite authors are likely to be there, like Alyssa Cole, Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Julie James, Cecilia Tan, Beverly Jenkins, and Jill Shalvis. And, for the first time, I’ll be signing, too – yay!

The signing is at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Pacific Hall. Saturday, July 29th from 3-5pm. And if you come and find me (I’m in the Ws near the cashiers) and mention the podcast, I have a special sticker for you – if you’d like one.  Get all the details at:  https://www.rwa.org/literacy.

And here’s Orville, Executive Sound Engineer, helping me with recording this episode:

Orville, my very large orange tabby, sprawled out across my desk with my computer, keyboard, and soundbox and mic on the desk around him. he's very very large

If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us at PodcastPickle and on Stitcher, too. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

Thanks to our sponsors:

More ways to sponsor:

Sponsor us through Patreon! (What is Patreon?)

What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at sbjpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.

This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “Queens.”

You can find their two album set with Caravan Palace and Panic on Amazon and iTunes. And you can learn more about Caravan Palace on Facebook, and on their website.


Podcast Sponsor

This episode is brought to you by Too Scot to Handle by Grace Burrowes. This New York Times bestselling series with its “heartfelt emotions, humor and realistic, honest characters [is] a fan favorite,” raves RT Book Reviews.

In this second book of the Windham Brides series, Burrowes delights Regency romance readers once again with an irresistible rough-around-the-edges Scot who takes on saving an orphanage to win over the fiery, intelligent woman who captures his heart.

As a captain in the army, Colin MacHugh led men, fixed what was broken, and fought hard. Now that he’s a titled gentleman, he’s still fighting-this time to keep his bachelorhood safe from all the marriage-minded debutantes. Then he meets the intriguing Miss Anwen Windham, whose demure nature masks a bonfire waiting to roar to life. When she asks for his help to raise money for the local orphanage, he’s happy to oblige.

Anwen is amazed at how quickly Lord Colin takes in hand a pack of rambunctious orphan boys. Amazed at how he actually listens to her ideas. Amazed at the thrill she gets from the rumble of his Scottish burr and the heat of his touch. But not everyone enjoys the success of an upstart. And Colin has enemies who will stop at nothing to ruin him and anybody he holds dear.

As Tessa Dare puts it, “Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure.” Don’t miss Too Scot to Handle, on sale wherever books are sold this Tuesday, July 25th.

Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes, via PodcastPickle, or on Stitcher.
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Posted by Amanda

This year, RWA is live-streaming the festivities once again at 7:00pm EDT this Thursday, July 27th! We hope you’ll be watching along with us and cheering on your favorite books from last year.

Earlier this afternoon, The Ripped Bodice accepted the award for the 2017 Steffie Walker Bookseller of the Year! Congrats to Leah and Bea! You can see their acceptance speech here.

If you’d like to look through the books up for a RITA this year, check out the reviews from this year’s RITA Reader challenge! Here they are broken down by genre:

Romance Novella
Short Contemporary
Short Historical
Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance
Mid-length Contemporary
YA Romance
Romance with Spiritual or Religious Elements
Paranormal Romance
Best First Book
Romantic Suspense
Long Contemporary
Erotic Romance
Long Historical

If you’d prefer the quick and dirty overview, we’ve compiled all of the grades this year in a spreadsheet. Be sure to click on the GRADES tab at the bottom of the sheet.

Check back tomorrow with a more in-depth breakdown of the reviews, grades, and the winners in each category!

Which books do you think will take home an award? Any betting pools going on?

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

A-

The Problem with Forever

by Jennifer Armentrout
May 17, 2016 · Harlequin Teen
Science Fiction/FantasyComic

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Coco. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the YA Romance category.

The summary:

For some people, silence is a weapon. For Mallory “Mouse” Dodge, it’s a shield. Growing up, she learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime.

Now, after years of homeschooling with loving adoptive parents, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at public high school. But of all the terrifying and exhilarating scenarios she’s imagined, there’s one she never dreamed of—that she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day.

It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet the deeper their bond grows, the more it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with the lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory faces a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants, and the truths that need to be heard.

Here is Coco's review:

I picked up this last-minute review of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s The Problem with Forever last week because I felt like doing one more of these RITA reviews when the opportunity came, but, well, it was a push to get it done and written before the deadline! I hadn’t read the book—as YA isn’t normally my happy place within the romance genre, despite the odd fact that I reviewed another YA RITA earlier this year—but I thought it’d be fun, and then life happened, and it didn’t go quite according to plan. Instead of a leisurely full seven days to read and write a simple review, I, of course, didn’t get the time to do it until two days ago. Luckily, reading it quickly wasn’t a problem as I was drawn into the story by the midpoint and raced to finish it.

A gif of a cat flopping pages of a book

At the beginning, however, I was dubious. I thought it was going to be another melodramatic YA story chock-full of painful childhood experiences, which were then overcome quickly at the end by the power of young L-O-V-E. You know. And, I think it’s far to say, there is an element of that in this story that might turn off some readers. (When I was adding the TWs, I was like, damn, this story sounds majorly dramatic!) But—BUT—it’s not that simplistic. I was ultimately submerged in the story and impressed by the author’s commitment to talking about the long-term effects of childhood neglect and abuse. I’d say it’s a pretty even mix of a coming-of-age story with a YA romance. I wasn’t familiar with the author, but she appears pretty prolific, and has done a mix of independent press, self-publishing, and major pub houses (like this one from Harlequin Teen); she writes predominantly YA, YA fantasy, and New Adult. I like to find out a little bit about authors, and while I didn’t have the time to do that here, I liked the impression I got of her simply from her Acknowledgements section, especially when she refers to the way in which someone else “adeptly dubbed this book one of my horcruxes even though the last time I checked I didn’t commit a great evil. I think.” It makes me think that this story was important to her, and I like the idea of authors putting little pieces of their souls into their books—but, you know, without the evil part.

In The Problem with Forever, Mallory (“Mouse”) and Rider (…of course his name is Rider) spent several years together (maybe, like, from ages 4-13?) in the same unsafe foster home. The foster sibling thing wasn’t emphasized that much—helped in part because the house was so dysfunctional that they were nothing like a family—and instead their relationship was framed in terms of friendship.

Perhaps most importantly, Mallory’s survival mechanism was to be as silent as possible and to hide alone to avoid the wrath of the foster “parents”, whereas Rider sought to attract (negative) attention in hopes of protecting Mallory.

They are eventually separated as tweens and lose track of each other. Mallory ends up adopted by two doctors (in a rather miraculous turn of events) and begins the hard work of dealing with her trauma, seeing a psychiatrist and a speech therapist, and working through (but, thankfully and more realistically, not simply overcoming everything) her issues, the most tangible of which is her difficulties around people and with speech. This was fairly well fleshed out, considering it’s a romance and can’t focus entirely on her recovery. After homeschooling for a few years, she wants to try high school for her senior year in order to see if she would be able to eventually handle college. On her first day at school, she sees Rider again for the first time in three (or four?) years. Despite the fact that he tried to find her, and she asked her foster parents about him, they never reconnected or even knew if the other one was still alive. But, luckily, they’re in the same speech class!!! Bam! Insta-romance-plot-development!

A gif from the TV show Castle with the caption Don't ruin my story with your logic

I appreciated how Armentrout eventually complicated the early depiction that Mallory (and the reader) had of Rider. At first, Mallory views him merely as a White Knight figure but she ultimately realizes he has self-destructive tendencies and doesn’t see his own self worth, which led to behaviors that one might mistake for heroic but, with maturity, she could recognize as potentially problematic. This is an example of the tightrope that Armentrout walks when playing with both traumatic storylines and classic bad-boy-saves-shy-girl tropes.

There are a few other instances of life-and-death drama (including a fatal shooting and a potentially life-altering disease) that serve as turning points in our protagonists’ lives, and I feel somewhat conflicted about their treatment. I think one is handled with more care than the other, but they still felt at times like literary devices to spur changes in the characters. But, then again, things that happen to other people obviously can have a big impact on us, especially at that age, when it’s easy to turn everything into something about yourself.

There are some moments of awareness that touch on class and race and the incredible role luck (good and bad) can play in determining young people’s lives and their prospects. I wish she would have gotten more into those issues and be more explicit with regard to the drugs and gun violence present in many young people’s lives, but I didn’t have a huge problem with Armentrout’s depictions and at times oblique explanations.

Armentrout uses is Margery Williams’ 1922 classic, The Velveteen Rabbit—which is available to read online here, in case you’ve forgotten this harrowing children’s story—to nice effect (or it might seem overly saccharine and unrealistic, depending on your point of view and if you’ve been sucked into her world). The story is a common refrain throughout the book and is used when developing Mallory’s and Rider’s backstories, their relationship, and each one’s personal growth.

A quote from The Velveteen Rabbit about how something that's real can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.

 

The other theme that occurs throughout the book, and the titular inspiration, is the concept of forever and its connotations. Again, the story begins somewhat simply as Mallory remembers how Rider said he’d always protect her—forever—which doesn’t happen. Again, by the end of the story, I was somewhat impressed with Armentrout’s ability to deepen Mallory’s understanding of what all “forever” implies, both good and bad.

Forever was something we all took for granted, but the problem with forever was that it really didn’t exist… Then there was me. I’d thought I’d be stuck the way I was for forever, always scared, always needing someone to speak up for me. I’d learned to cope with my fears, found my voice, and realized that Carl and Rosa would love me even if I wasn’t perfect. Forever wasn’t real. And I guessed, for me, that I was lucky it wasn’t. But for others, I wished it was real, that they had forever.

As soon as I returned to find a few quotes pertaining to Mallory’s self-realizations in the latter half of the book, I felt a little dubious about their effect as, once again, I wondered it was too over-the-top. But, to Armentrout’s credit, when I was reading, I didn’t have those doubts; I was fairly engrossed and simply present in the world she’d created. It’s only looking back that I question myself and the somewhat dramatic prose, like “Forever wasn’t a problem. Forever was my heartbeat and it was the hope tomorrow held.” Dramatic, yes. But, shit, I mean, she’s not wrong?! And only teens can get away with the kind of bold and sweeping statements.

A gif from Ferris Bueller's Day Off with the caption - so it's a little childish and stupid, but then so is high school

Even though now I tend to look back at that time of life, and teen characters in fiction, with a somewhat more jaded and indulgent half-smile, I still kind of love teens and young adults for this very reason.

And Armentrout does lighten the tone at times. For instance, she has Mallory observe that “our story was something straight out of an Oprah special or an ABC Family movie” and later Mallory quips that Rider looked “good in the way I didn’t know a teenage boy could look. Like they did on TV, when played by twenty-five-year-olds.” And Ainsley, Mallory’s one real friend before starting at the public high school, rants about another boy, “Do you know, one of his friends last week actually argued with me about that? He was all like, let me wannabe mansplain this to you while incorrectly explaining the First Amendment.” I’m not sure this is how teens talk, but I liked it and it was nice break from the intensity.

And though I don’t tend to want to read YA romance too often, a good author can pull me back into that mindset.

And it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I mean, it doesn’t last forever.*

A gif from The Sandlot of a man enunciating every syllable in forever

*C’mon, you knew I had to do it!!!

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Posted by Amanda

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation

RIPPED BODICE RECOMMENDED: The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is $2.99! This has romance, a bit of mystery, and some historical elements. On a podcast episode with Bea and Leah of The Ripped Bodice, Leah mentioned that she recommends this book pretty frequently. Have you read this one?

Deciding that true romantic heroes are a thing of the past, Eloise Kelly, an intelligent American who always manages to wear her Jimmy Choo suede boots on the day it rains, leaves Harvard’s Widener Library bound for England to finish her dissertation on the dashing pair of spies the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. What she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: a secret history that begins with a letter dated 1803. Eloise has found the secret history of the Pink Carnation the most elusive spy of all time, the spy who single-handedly saved England from Napoleon’s invasion.

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, a wildly imaginative and highly adventurous debut, opens with the story of a modern-day heroine but soon becomes a book within a book. Eloise Kelly settles in to read the secret history hoping to unmask the Pink Carnation’s identity, but before she can make this discovery, she uncovers a passionate romance within the pages of the secret history that almost threw off the course of world events. How did the Pink Carnation save England? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly find a hero of her own?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

Blood of the Earth

Blood of the Earth by Faith Hunter is $2.99! This urban fantasy novel is the first in the Soulwood series, which seems to be a spin-off of Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series. It was also recommended during our SBTB Reader Recommendation Party at RT 2017. I remember because I immediately added it to be TBR pile.

Set in the same world as the New York Times bestselling Jane Yellowrock novels, an all-new series starring Nell Ingram, who wields powers as old as the earth.

When Nell Ingram met skinwalker Jane Yellowrock, she was almost alone in the world, exiled by both choice and fear from the cult she was raised in, defending herself with the magic she drew from her deep connection to the forest that surrounds her.

Now, Jane has referred Nell to PsyLED, a Homeland Security agency policing paranormals, and agent Rick LaFleur has shown up at Nell’s doorstep. His appearance forces her out of her isolated life into an investigation that leads to the vampire Blood Master of Nashville.

Nell has a team—and a mission. But to find the Master’s kidnapped vassal, Nell and the PsyLED team will be forced to go deep into the heart of the very cult Nell fears, infiltrating the cult and a humans-only terrorist group before time runs out…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

Dare to Run

Dare to Run by Jen McLaughlin is $2.99! This is the first book in the Boston-set Sons of Steel Row series. The heroine is a bartender and the hero has criminal ties, which I know isn’t for everyone. Readers loved the pacing and action, but wanted the heroine to have more of a backbone. It has a 3.7-star rating on Goodreads.

The New York times bestselling author of the Out of Line Novels takes readers to Boston where one gang of criminals knows how being bad can be so good…
 
She knows what he’s like on Boston’s mean streets. Now she’s going to find out if he’s got some heart.

Lucas Donahue is not ashamed of his criminal past, but after a brief stint in prison, he’s ready to go legit and live a normal life. The problem is, no one leaves the gang without permission—even if he is one of the boss’s top men. Plus someone’s placed a hit on him. And then there’s that feisty little bartender who’s going to cause him even more trouble.

Heidi Greene knows to keep her distance from a ladies’ man like Lucas—even if she can’t keep her eyes off him. When he rescues her from an attack in the alley outside her bar, she’s forced to stay by his side for safety. But the longer she spends time with him, the greater her chances are for getting hurt in more ways than one.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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amazon

 

 

 

The Last Man on Earth

The Last Man on Earth by Tracy Anne Warren is $2.99! This is a contemporary workplace romance set in the world of advertising. Readers loved the antagonism between the heroine and hero, but found the hero was a bit of a jerk overall. It’s the first book in The Graysons series.

From New York Times bestselling author Tracy Anne Warren comes a sexy and romantic new contemporary series about corporate combat in the boardroom and under-the-covers passion in the bedroom……

Idealistic good girl Madelyn Grayson believes in doing what’s right. Even as a high-powered executive in the mad world of advertising, she doesn’t cut corners, making her ad campaigns sizzle without having to burn anyone along the way.

Rival exec Zack Douglas never wastes an opportunity to land the next big deal—especially when it benefits him. A bad boy with a reputation to match, he has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to get ahead, no matter who gets in the way.

When a hot promotion pops up at their company, both Zack and Madelyn wind up on the short list for the position. But as the two square off, they discover that being heated rivals in the office makes for scorching bed play behind closed doors. Will Madelyn’s steamy, secret affair with Mr. Vice make her compromise her ideals—or worse, lose her heart?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Posted by SB Sarah

Here at Bitchery HQ, we are constantly recommending books, music, and podcasts to one another, and it occurred to me that our podcast recommendations, both for particular episodes and for entire series might be of interest – and that you probably also have episodes and shows you like, too. So, hey, there, new feature!

Seriously, this is one of the things I love about blogging: New idea? Cool! Run it up the flagpole, see who salutes.

Actually, let’s be honest: “Run it up the flagpole, see who salutes” is how I do most things creatively. It’s like the cousin to, “I can’t be the only one who finds this freaking fascinating, right?

Now, I can’t recommend my own show (HA YES I CAN It’s right here) but in part because I host and produce a podcast, I listen to a ton of others. Here are some episodes and new shows I’ve really enjoyed while walking the dogs or cross stitching.

By the Book - Podcast By the Book is a new-ish show from Panoply wherein the hosts, Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer, try a different self-help book for two weeks and record their results with interviews, candid conversations with their spouses, and a post-book conversation between the two of them. There’s also an epilogue for each where they respond to reader and listener feedback.

One episode in particular that was deeply touching for me was their focus on French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano. The conversation dealt with self-harm, eating disorders, and Greenberg and Meinzer’s relationships with their own bodies, and the epilogue was equally affecting for me. It also created a new guideline for their show: no more diet books. That episode is available at Panoply’s website, on Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your fine podcasting programs.

Still Processing Podcast header with photographs of the two hosts back to backStill Processing is a podcast from the NY Times, hosted by Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham. They discuss culture, current events, music, television, BBQ, and the ways in which the media they consume affect them. From the description: “Still Processing is where they try to understand the pleasures and pathologies of America in 2017.” It’s terrific.

One episode that resonated with me is their recent discussion, “We Revive Tupac and Side-Eye Sofia Coppola.” You can listen on the NYT website, on Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

RedHeadedGirl, who has her own podcast, Anglofilles, recommends the Dunkirk episode of Stuff You Missed in Historyand says that pretty much every episode is great.  You can listen on Stitcher or at the podcast website.

Amanda says, “I’ve been loving The Daily! It’s produced by The New York Times and focuses on one or two current events, complete with interviews with the people who cover said events at the NYT. It’s Monday-Friday and is usually less than a half an hour. Because it focuses on current events, there’s no pressure to go back and listen to the archives. Unless you really want to!” It’s available on Stitcher and at the NYT podcast page, too.

Elyse recommends Knit 1 Geek 2 which she reviewed here. We also interviewed Super Karen, one of the co-hosts, in a recent Smart Podcast Trashy Books episode.

Friendshipping with Jenn and TrinAnd finally, my never-ending perennial recommendation to anyone who loves uplifting, funny, and engaging podcasts to try: Friendshipping with Jenn and Trin.

Every time there’s a new episode I squee, and my Thursday afternoon or Friday dog walks, depending on weather and download times, are my favorites. They take questions from listeners about friendship problems, they have the best theme song, and they offer advice from a place of incredibly warm empathy and kindness. It’s one of my very, very favorites, and I’m so happy I found it.

What about you? What podcast episodes or programs do you love? Any that you’ve just discovered? (And would an entry on how you listen to podcasts be helpful? Let me know in the comments and I’ll put one together!)

 

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Posted by Carrie S

C+

Max Seventeen

by Kate Johnson
October 31, 2017 · Kate Johnson
RomanceYoung Adult

Max Seventeen is a science fiction romance that has a lot of problematic elements (several of which ambushed me near the end of the book). On the other hand, it has an action heroine of color, a rickety spaceship with a motley (and diverse) crew, and mosasaurs. Once I started the book I couldn’t stop reading it, and every time I said to myself, “Wait, WHAT?” another mosasaur or some other shiny plot device popped up to distract me.

Our story begins with a trial and a heist.

Our heroine, Max, is busted for various crimes and sentenced to one year of slavery. She winds up shoveling fuel into a train engine. Meanwhile, our hero, Riley, signs on to a rickety spaceship (the Eurydice) as engineer in order to escape from being a soldier with The Service, a military group. After Riley and the rest of the crew rob the same train that Max is on, Max ends up on the Eurydice as Riley’s property. It’s all very complicated, but basically, there are technical reasons why Riley can’t free Max until her year of servitude is over. The ensuing plot includes, but is not limited to:

  • Found family
  • A lot of explicit sex and violence
  • Dry humor
  • Competence porn
  • Potentially triggery descriptions of child abuse and rape
  • Children, mosasaurs, and many adults in peril
  • Discussion about consent
  • The defeat of a massive conspiracy
  • A plot twist I truly did not see coming

The first two-thirds of the book contain some content that I was ambivalent about. I honestly could not tell if this book is sex-positive or slut shaming. Sometimes Max’s joyful tendency to sleep with every willing person she can find comes across as a celebration of her agency and seize the day mentality, but she also worries that people see her as a toy, and her eventual decision to be monogamous is portrayed as a sign of her increasing self-esteem. Sometimes sex work is portrayed sympathetically, but sex workers are also portrayed as disloyal and dishonest (although frankly, so is everyone else).

The book does a better job when it comes to the problem of power imbalance between Riley and Max. Riley refuses to have sex with Max for quite a while because even though he is only Max’s owner in the technical sense he still (rightly, in my opinion) believes that Max can’t truly consent because of the power imbalance. When they finally do have sex, Max has consented verbally and specifically over and over again, but she calls Riley out later when he refers to them as equals. While Max insists that she has enough agency and control to honestly consent to sex, she also points out that as long as Riley owns her she can’t be, and isn’t, his equal in their relationship. Although they establish a relationship while she’s still serving out her sentence as a slave, there’s always an understanding that they won’t, and can’t have a true HEA until she’s free.

One of the interesting things about these characters is that Riley has been both falsely accused of rape (one of my least favorite tropes EVER) and a victim of rape. He was raped by a female military superior who threatened to ruin his career if he didn’t sleep with her. Meanwhile, Max is the survivor of a rape in which she was physically overpowered. Given their experiences, it makes sense that Riley is so alert to the idea of rape stemming from an abuse of power whereas Max is comfortable with power structures (she ignores them) as long as she feels physically safe.

In the last third of the book, a few of my very least favorite tropes pop up out of nowhere and Riley acts like a jerk. Seriously, it’s as though a different author jumps in, seizes the story for about 50 pages, and then jumps back out. Spoilers regarding Riley’s behavior:

Show Spoiler
Riley figures out that Max is pregnant before she does. She has an abortion and he is furious that she didn’t consult him.  Then he pulls a power play with regard to owning her.

Just as I was about to toss the book aside, we suddenly find ourselves in a science fiction Regency novel and of course I had to see how that went. Everything sort of magically resolves itself, and there’s going to be a sequel which I will inevitably read in one glorious, confusing day. The sequel, Firebrand, came out on July 4, 2017.

Clearly I had a rocky journey with this book, and yet it’s amazingly fun. There’s constant action and intrigue. Max and Riley are both very good at what they do (she’s a programmer and he’s an engineer). There’s a wild, madcap quality to the story, fueled by Max’s high energy, her unpredictable behavior, and the science fiction setting, which is like a crazed mash-up of Firefly, The Expanse, Mad Max, and Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s a ton of humor, from slapstick to wry, like Max’s lament when she realizes she’s about to be fed to a mosasaur:

“Fuck it! I was going to die old, in bed, surrounded by five young men.”

In case you are wondering about the mosasaurs Max later explains:

Actually, interesting biological sidebar, apparently they aren’t mosasaurs, really, because they died out on earth millions of years ago, but no one knows what they are so that’s what they call them.

I read this book in May and for various reasons I didn’t sit down to review it for several weeks. What stuck in my head weeks after finishing the book was the character of Max careening defiantly through life. Max is hyper-vigilant, violent, uncouth, and wonderful. She’s determined to enjoy life even though she has suffered. Even though she and Riley get a happy ending, they also both have serious issues that they will probably always need to deal with, and I found that to be realistic and honest. She has a shaved head and when Riley first meets her she’s covered in sewage and yet she is irresistible (after having had a bath) because she has so much energy.

I loved this character and I enjoyed the book, even though I’m still not sure if it was a liberating read or problematic as hell. Am giving it a C for the major problems that I couldn’t escape, such as the inconsistent portrayal of sex workers and of Riley’s attitude in the last third of the book, but a ‘+’ for solid and energetic writing and a fun, creative, exciting story.

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Posted by Amanda

The Rec League - heart shaped chocolate resting on the edge of a very old bookI was shocked – SHOCKED – when Reader Jessica left a comment about virgin hero recommendations and my deep dive through the SBTB archives turned up nothing.

Of course, there are some obvious choices and probably a handful of lists on Goodreads, but personal recommendations of books you’ve loved and why go much further, don’t you think?

Redheadedgirl: There’s a virgin hero in one of the stories in the Rogue Desire anthology ( A | BN | K | G ).

Amanda: Also…the anthology is currently 99c. Just thought you all wanted to know.

Elyse: When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James ( A | BN | K | G | iB )

Amanda: I don’t think I know of any virgin heroes, but I’ve read a few sexually inexperience heroes that I really loved. The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan ( A | BN | K | G | iB ) has a man-bunned, NFL hero who has never had penetrative vaginal sex. His first sexual experience was traumatic for him, so trigger warning for that.

There’s also Ripped by Edie Harris ( A | K | G | iB ). The hero (if I recall) has only had sex once. He’s a grumpy lawyer and the heroine is a British assassin.

I know you have virgin hero recommendations! Let us have ’em!

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

C

The Distance from A to Z

by Natalie Blitt
January 12, 2016 · HarperTeen
RomanceScience Fiction/Fantasy

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by PamG. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Best First Book, YA Romance category.

The summary:

Seventeen-year old Abby has only one goal for her summer: to make sure she is fluent in French—well, that, and to get as far away from baseball and her Cubs-obsessed family as possible. A summer of culture and language, with no sports in sight.

That turns out to be impossible, though, because her French partner is the exact kind of boy she was hoping to avoid. Eight weeks. 120 hours of class. 80 hours of conversation practice with someone who seems to exclusively wear baseball caps and jerseys.

But Zeke in French is a different person than Zeke in English. And Abby can’t help but fall for him, hard. As Abby begins to suspect that Zeke is hiding something, she has to decide if bridging the gap between the distance between who she is and who he is, is worth the risk.

Here is PamG's review:

I am not a big fan of YA. Oh, the books are fine, but as a genre label, YA is meaningless. Meant as a marketing ploy, I think this faux genre is just an excuse for lit snobs to be dismissive of some of the truly magnificent literature for young people. Unfortunately, The Distance from A to Z would not provide a great argument against the genre label. It’s totally YA.

Abby is the storyteller of Distance. She’s going into senior year in her Chicago high school and is spending her summer at a college in New Hampshire where she’ll be taking an intensive eight week course in intermediate French. Abby adores the French language as passionately as she hates all things baseball. Her family are baseball maniacs (Cubs fans), but she has long since eschewed the masochism for the joys of French. Needless to say, she meets the requisite cute guy on day one and is revolted by his baseball shirt and cap. The rest of him, on the other hand, is pretty damned pretty, from the golden curls peeking out from under the hat to the hot athletic bod beneath. Nice to know sports are good for something.

Zeke (get it, get it?) is also taking the intermediate French course, much to Abby’s surprise. What’s more, he’s better at it than she is. As the only two high school students in the course, the two of them are forced to work as partners and frequently find themselves in proximity almost as close as a mountain cabin in winter. Abby pre-judges Zeke based on his athletic wear and he doesn’t hesitate to call her on it. Their subsequent exchanges are pretty entertaining.

Aside from Abby and Zeke, the most developed character is Alice, Abby’s roommate. Alice is a talented and superbly disciplined poet, who is taking an intensive poetry seminar. She entrances Abby from their first encounter.

She’s using a fountain pen.

I think I’m in love.

“Sec,” she whispers, more to herself than me.

I’ve found my spirit animal.

I know this moment for her like it’s mine. I know the feeling of being so deeply invested in something that the idea of forcing yourself out feels like a tooth extraction. Like the tight grip of a book you don’t want to put down.

Alice suffers from a fairly severe anxiety disorder. Abby adores her on sight, but still needs to be schooled in how to respond to Alice’s anxiety issues. Actually I kind of adored her on sight myself. Within her comfort zone, she totally kicks ass. More on this later.

I had problems with both Abby and Zeke. That’s probably why Alice seemed so refreshing. She was more mature than any of the other characters. Perhaps part of my problem with A & Z is that they do act like total teenagers. Abby narrates so we get her point of view much more than Zeke’s. Done well, I like first person POV and I think it can convey quite a lot about other characters. Unfortunately, the inside of teen’s head may be a little too self-absorbed to convey those telling details about the people surrounding her. Of course Abby’s single minded focus makes her interesting but also annoying. Loving French language and culture is appealing, but her loathing for baseball gets old. Once she loved it, but too many people have let her down over baseball. So–boom!–she hates it, my preshussss. She develops a bit of self awareness later in the book, but maturation should be a process, not a revelation in the last couple of chapters. At one point someone calls her mean, and she’s all “Who? Me?” And she isn’t mean. What she is is thoughtless. See “self-absorbed” above.

Abby is attracted to Zeke, but as they work together she begins to separate his personality into two distinct Zekes. There is French speaking Zeke who is quite delightful and whom she really begins to care for, and English speaking Zeke who’s kind of a major toque de derrière. Much of Abby’s narrative consists of her internal dithering about which is the real Zeke and do they have any sort of chance as a couple. This waffling got extremely tedious. Of course, Zeke has a Big Secret which later explains his dual personality, though in less detail than is warranted by his hot and cold running behavior. Trouble is, his big secret is so blatantly obvious to the reader that the big reveal makes your eyes roll like a ground ball on a T-ball field. So what is Zeke’s peculiar behavior?

Possible Spoiler
He has some physical issues that he won’t talk about. He’s addicted to his phone and keeps his conversations extremely private. He makes mysterious trips into Boston on a regular basis. He slowly unveils the reasons for some of these things, so when it’s finally revealed, you just want to go “Oh, puleeze.”

However, none of this explains why Zeke is so frequently spotted with girls hanging off of him. Abby tends to be mildly shut shamey in her response to college girls Stephie and Chloe, rather than putting the blame where it belongs, squarely on Zekey. One of my favorite scenes, featuring Alice, takes place when both girls are in their dorm room and Stephie is using her feminine wiles on Zeke in the hall right outside their door.

“Oh yes,” she whispers, her voice all breathy. Though unfortunately for me and Alice, the fact that she’s directly in front of our door means that even if she was in our room we couldn’t possibly hear them more clearly.

“Please kill me, ” I mouth to Alice, conscious that if we can hear them from in here, they can hear us from out there.

“Your Zeke?” she mouths.

I think of shaking my head because there’s no my Zeke, but that seems like splitting hairs.

Alice presses her lips together and then opens them wide. “Abby!” she shouts. “I’m not going to hang out in the common room and wait for you guys to finish making out. I want to go to sleep, and I’d rather be able to do it without listening to you guys suck face all night.”

Her speech is so shocking, from the lie to the fact that it’s Alice bellowing it out, that I don’t even think to stop her until she’s looking at me triumphantly.

“And I can’t believe you guys are watching that movie together . I mean, get a room. Not my room. A room where you can be alone.”

“Alice!” I squeak, not knowing whether to high-five her or slap my hand over her mouth.

“Rawr”, I hear Cloy Voice say, which makes me want to go out there and pull her off of Zeke. Because what kind of girl says rawr in real life?”

“C’mon, we should get out of here,” Zeke says, and he doesn’t sound nearly as flirty and happy as he did before.

And suddenly I’m quite sure that as utterly humiliating as Alice’s speech was, high-fiving her wasn’t nearly enough to thank her.

So I tackle-hug her instead.

I got a kick out of this scene and there were others I really enjoyed.

However, one in particular I absolutely hated. In one of her off-again phases with Zeke, Abby decides to go out with some of the other kids in the program, most of whom are college age. Since she’s feeling defiant, she accepts drinks from a seemingly bottomless flask that gets passed around. Unsurprisingly, she gets falling down drunk and Zeke finds her with some clown’s hand on her thigh and rescues her. My problem with the scene is that it’s completely gratuitous, adds nothing to the story except to give Zeke an opportunity to “rescue” Abby. This scene and A’s inability to figure out Z’s Big Secret pushed her into TSTL territory a couple of times. Then when she did discover Zeke’s secret, she reacts explosively–as one does–and accuses him of lying to her. Didn’t happen. True, he didn’t tell her. For reasons. But he didn’t lie. Yes, there’s that whole omission thing, but I felt she accused him of lying to ramp up the drama and justify her extreme reaction. Earlier in the story, she was devastated because Zeke called their first kiss a “mistake” when in point of fact, she interpreted what he said as mistake. As written, he didn’t actually say that. Be pissed, but be pissed about what happens.

Needless to say, our young lovers achieve their HEA which, considering that they are high school students, one based in Chicago and one in San Diego, is more of an HFN, Unfortunately, by the end of the book, I didn’t have the energy to really care any more. Hence, the C grade. Might have been C+ if I were sixteen. (I didn’t like baseball either.)


The Distance from A to Z by Natalie Blitt received a D in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

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Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.It’s Wednesday Links time! Which is news to me, because it certainly doesn’t feel like a Wednesday. RWA 2017 is kicking off in Orlando. If you’re attending, make sure you say hello to Sarah who is also there!

A GoFundMe campaign is underway to turn Beverly Jenkins’ Deadly Sexy into a feature film:

The making of Deadly Sexy is a significant step for all authors. It will give hope to those who dream of having their book made into a film. It also open doors of opportunity for actors and crew members who desire a chance to show their skills during the production. It also gives independent film makers a chance to show the advancement of our products to the masses.

Jenkins is also receiving the RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award this year!

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han was  a previous SBTB Book Club pick and now it’s being made into a movie!

 


Frixion click pen in blue

Frixion Erasable Pens

I love these pens far more than is probably natural. They write smoothly, they erase for real (yes, way!), and they come in a bunch of colors. I have one with me at all times.


Leah of The Ripped Bodice made an appearance on the TV game show Hollywood Game Night. You can check out her appearance here.

Thanks to Reader Suzanne for letting us know about this Gothic romance comic anthology on Kickstarter. Here’s what she said:

Gothic Tales of Haunted Love, a new comics anthology currently funding on Kickstarter, is updating the gothic romance genre with tales that are diverse and not-rapey, but still dark and spooky. The full-color book will contain 200 pages of new comics, some licensed Lou Marchetti prints (he’s the guy who did all those MM paperback covers), and a Korean gothic comic from the 70’s. You can find more about the anthology, the creators, and lots of sample art over at their Kickstarter page.

All right, who’s interested?

Lastly, I recently watched this trailer for Bright. It’s an urban fantasy movie coming to Netflix on December 22. It starts Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, and Lucy Fry. After watching it, some say it’d work better as a series and I’m inclined to agree, but it still looks pretty damn fun.

Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

Don’t miss a thing with Daily SBTB updates!

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Historical Romances on Sale!

26 July 2017 15:30
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Posted by Amanda

The Infamous Heir

The Infamous Heir by Elizabeth Michels is 99c! This is book one in the Spare Heirs series. It features a prize-fighting hero who suddenly takes over his brother’s title of nobility. Readers wanted more chemistry between the hero and heroine, but many really loved the hero. I mean, based on the book’s description, who wouldn’t?

The Spare Heirs Society Cordially Invites You to Meet Ethan Moore: The Scoundrel

Lady Roselyn Grey’s debut has finally arrived, and of course, she has every flounce and flutter planned. She’ll wear the perfect gowns and marry the perfect gentleman…that is, if the formerly disinherited brother of the man she intends to marry doesn’t ruin everything first.

Ethan Moore is a prize-fighting second son and proud founding member of the Spare Heirs Society-and that’s all he ever should have been. But, in an instant, his brother’s noble title is his, the eyes of the ton are upon him, and the lady he’s loved for years would rather meet him in the boxing ring than the ballroom.

He’s faced worse. With the help of his Spare Heirs brotherhood, Ethan’s certain he can get to the bottom of his brother’s unexpected demise and win the impossible lady who has haunted his dreams for as long as he can remember…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

More Than a Stranger

More Than a Stranger by Erin Knightley is $2.99! This historical romance is the first book in the Sealed With a Kiss series. It features a friends to lovers, off limits romance. There is a mystery element to the romance. Some enjoyed it, while others felt it didn’t work as well.

When his family abandoned him at Eton, Benedict Hastings found an unexpected ally in his best friend’s sister. Her letters kept him going—until the day he had to leave everything behind. Years later, Benedict has seen his share of betrayal, but when treachery hits close to home, he turns to his old friend for safe haven….

After five torturous years on the marriage circuit, Lady Evelyn Moore is finally free to live her life as she wishes. So when her brother shows up with a dashing stranger, she finds herself torn between her dreams…and newfound desires. Despite his determination to keep Evie at a distance, Benedict cannot deny the attraction that began with a secret correspondence. Yet as they begin to discover one another, the dangers of Benedict’s world find them, threatening their lives, their love, and everything they thought they could never have…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

Taming a Wild Scot

Taming a Wild Scot by Rowan Keats is $2.99! This is the first book in the Claimed by the Highlander series. Readers really liked the healer heroine, but other readers wanted more chemistry between the hero and heroine. Have you read this one?

In the Highlands of Scotland, plays for power are fought without rules, treachery and intrigue hold court, and, in one woman’s heart, danger stirs as relentlessly as passion…

Wrongfully accused of murder and left to die in a hellish Highland dungeon, Ana Bisset has lost all hope of freedom. But the beautiful healer’s luck takes an unexpected turn when a hooded stranger appears as her rescuer. After a harrowing escape, Ana settles alone in a quiet village where no one knows her past or her reputation. The last thing she ever expects is to meet her mysterious savior again…

Niall MacCurran is no hero, but a warrior on a dangerous mission to expose a threat to the realm. After his decision to free Ana, he now realizes that it is he who needs her help—willing or no—to advance his quest. But his growing feelings for the delicate yet resilient beauty soon jeopardize their safety—and not even Ana’s healing gifts may be enough to protect their love, or their lives.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

Earls Just Want to Have Fun

Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen is 99c! This was a 2016 RITA nominee and the first book in the Convent Garden Cubs series. Some readers found the plot and characterization a little improbable, while other readers said the romance had a good balance of light moments and darker emotions. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads.

His heart may be the last thing she ever steals…

Marlowe is a pickpocket, a housebreaker-and a better actress than any professional on the stage. She runs with the Covent Garden Cubs, a gang of thieves living in the slums of London’s Seven Dials. It’s a fierce life, and Marlowe has a hard outer shell. But when she’s alone, she allows herself to think of a time before-a dimly remembered life when she was called Elizabeth.

Maxwell, Lord Dane, is intrigued when his brother, a hired investigator, ropes him into his investigation of the fiercely beautiful hellion. He teaches her to navigate the social morass of the ton, but Marlowe will not escape so easily. Instead, Dane is drawn into her dangerous world, where the student becomes the teacher and love is the greatest risk of all.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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and

amazon

 

 

 

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

Squee

Strawberry Summer

by Melissa Brayden
April 18, 2017 · Bold Stroke Books
RomanceContemporary RomanceYoung Adult

NB: Please welcome Tara Scot with another squee-worthy review! Check out her previous squees of The Liberators of Willow Run and Courting the Countess.

Tara reads a lot of lesbian romances. You can catch her regularly reviewing at The Lesbian Review and Curve Magazine and hear her talk about lesbian fiction (including romance) on her podcast Les Do Books. You can also hit her up for recommendations on Twitter (@taramdscott).

If you were to ask me for a good place to start reading lesbian romance, Melissa Brayden would be at or near the top of my list. With almost 10 novels and novellas, her backlist is totally glommable without being daunting, and it’s full of fun, flirty dialogue, amazing kissing, and just enough angst to keep things interesting. Her book Kiss the Girl has been one of my very favourite romances since it came out a few years ago, and her latest offering, Strawberry Summer, is so damn good that it blows that whole backlist out of the water.

Margaret Beringer is so not one of the cool kids in her high school. If she can just stay unnoticed by her classmates and make it a few more weeks until summer break, she’ll only have one year left before she can take off for college. Courtney Carrington comes to her history class for the first time just as Margaret is about to give a presentation (the most terrifying of endeavors for a kid striving for invisibility) and somehow notices her. Courtney doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal to jump the popularity divide between Margaret and her classmates, and never cares that Margaret’s a farm kid and not one of the elite.

Courtney is quickly moved back out of town by her mother before she and Margaret can do more than kiss, but she gives her the parting gift of the new name, Maggie, and the promise of friendship with some of those previously unreachable classmates. When Courtney comes back the next summer, their chemistry is stronger than ever and they fall into a relationship so beautiful that it manages to survive each year as they part for separate colleges, only to meet up again in the summers. But their breakup and its circumstances leave Maggie closed off, with scars that she isn’t willing to examine too closely as she trudges ahead with the rest of her life. Five years later, the last thing she expects or wants is to see Courtney back in Tanner Peak, especially when it turns out that there’s something still there—no matter how hard she tries to push those feelings aside.

Strawberry Summer is told in the first person from Maggie’s perspective, which I know isn’t everyone’s favourite, but is a perfect narrative choice for this book. When Maggie and Courtney are in high school, it feels like a YA story. When they’re in their college years, it feels like a new adult romance with all the sexiness and freshness of young love that can be expected from that genre. And when they reunite for that second chance in their late twenties, it feels like a contemporary romance between two fully formed adults. And yet, because Maggie is guiding us through all of it, the story never feels disjointed. We’re just seeing the style adjust naturally alongside Maggie as she matures and grows from that lonely, awkward girl to the successful, confident, and eventually even happy woman she becomes. The only drawback is that we never get Courtney’s perspective and everything she does is interpreted through Maggie’s eyes. Even that didn’t bother me too much because Courtney is demonstrative and shares enough of what she’s thinking and feeling that we can have a complete idea of who she is as a person and a partner.

Second chance romances are also a bit of a mixed bag for me, especially when we’re taken all the way through the original romance. I find them to be much angstier than many other romances, often even unpleasant, because the whole point is to join a couple as they reunite after a painful separation and a whole bunch of time apart. Knowing all of that, I kind of went into this book with a hand over my eyes and that turned out to be totally unnecessary. The second chance aspect worked for me because, when those painful circumstances happened, they didn’t feel gratuitous and they made sense. Being taken from first meeting to friendship to lovers to breakup to reuniting and (finally!) makeup isn’t just about the romance between Maggie and Courtney. It’s also about them coming of age, figuring out who they are as adults, and becoming those people in a way that makes sense for themselves, rather than each molding to become the right person for the other.

Strawberry Summer is the perfect book to pick up as we’re looking forward to the longer, hotter days ahead. It’s a tribute to first love and soulmates and growing into the person you’re meant to be. I feel like I say this each time I read a new Melissa Brayden offering, but I loved this book so much that I cannot wait to see what she delivers next. This is a book I will read over and over again, enjoying each stage of their lives just as much every time.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

F

Three Sweet Nothings

by Nikki Sloane
December 12, 2016 · Shady Creek Publishing
GLBTRomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Nerdalisque. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Five years ago, we’d been together and on fire, but the flames burned us both. Now she’s back in my life and is all my wildest fantasies in the flesh.

I want her. The desire is too powerful to argue against, but I’m not interested in what we had. This is an arrangement about pleasure and finding out who we are behind closed doors. There won’t be talk of love or any sweet nothings whispered by either of us.

This time, I’ll control the heat between us and make sure neither of our hearts get too close to the flames.

Here is Nerdalisque's review:

Three Sweet Nothings opens with Kyle getting himself off to a memory of his ex, Ruby (because she’s SO much better than porn). Specifically, he’s recalling a time when he and drunk Ruby fooled around with another girl. This has been his go-to image for five years since their ugly breakup. And based on this single memory, Kyle is absolutely certain that “a filthy freak hid behind that deceptive, good girl front.” (Yes, Ruby’s curious about kink, but thinks her interest is “dirty” and “wrong.”)

Lo and behold, Kyle and Ruby, both lawyers, end up on opposite sides of a high-profile divorce case. She’s still angry with him, and crashes a New Year’s Eve party to confront him. They go off to the hotel’s rooftop pool to talk. Turns out, if they had just used their words five years ago, they wouldn’t have wasted all that energy hating each other. So, Ruby – who’s just “slammed” some wine (#drinking again) – decides to kiss Kyle. Like you do. And (surprise), they end up (fully clothed) in the pool having rough sex and the best orgasms EVER!!!

A few days later, wannabe Dom Kyle contacts Ruby and uses sex to manipulate her into signing a contract agreeing to a purely sexual relationship – no love, no emotions. Because that always works. The rest of the book is them having various kinds of porny sex in various places with various props and even another couple (*gasp*). Then there’s another misunderstanding because they fail to use their words again. But, twue wuv prevails and there’s an HEA. Sort of.

(BTW, there may have been some character growth, but honestly, I didn’t care enough to pay that close attention.)

This book didn’t work for me for a number of reasons. First, it’s written in alternating first-person POV. Not only does that make it all tell, not show, but I didn’t like the characters’ voices. For example, Ruby, at one of her meetings with Kyle, thinks: “A handshake? For real? I gave his dick a handshake with my vagina just a week ago.” Ew.

Second, Kyle, is a conceited, manipulative alpha-hole with a big red flag in his history. In the five years post-Ruby, he’s had a relationship with one woman – his boss. When he tried some do-it-yourself bondage with her, she freaked out about his “stupid fetish.” She wanted a commitment, and when he turned her down, she black-balled him. Kyle then did something to retaliate (just what isn’t spelled out) that was bad enough that she paid him “hush money,” and he left the city. Um, what? Worst of all, he won’t tell Ruby the whole story. And that is just one example of a third, and major, problem – their lack of honesty. Both of them enter into the sex-only partnership because they want to make the other fall (back) in love with them. That’s especially ironic because the only contract clause Ruby insists on adding is “Total honesty between partners.”

I could go on and on about other problems. They forego using condoms based only on each other’s word that they’re clean. Kyle uses his finger for “full-out [anal] fucking” without any lube. There’s some laughable writing: “violated with frigid winter air,” “the song of my approaching orgasm” (#lolololol). An offensive overuse of ellipses, e.g., “It was . . . erotic” (#facepalm) “She unleased [sic] all these . . . feelings.” (#lmfao) Like so many other things in this book, it was . . . annoying.

So let’s get to the sex. Kyle’s idea of being dominant is doing what he wants all the time – because, of course, he knows what Ruby needs (not “likes,” but needs). For example, when they’re in the pool – their first time together after not speaking for five years – he spanks her in a way he calls “aggressive and backed by a dark desire to punish.” Wow. That’s not healthy. Granted, Ruby apparently likes it, because she tells him to do it again, but he did NOT have her consent.

Again, shortly after Ruby has specifically said, “No thank you. I’m not interested in your partnership offer,” this happens:

I was spun around before I understood what was happening.

My hands flew out and I braced myself on the desktop as he bent me over with a shove. “What are you –“

He was faster than lightning. The sides of my skirt were jerked up over my hips . . .

I tried to right myself and push the skirt down, but . . . his open palm smacked hard against my ass.

I just . . . No. She was trying to stop him. And just because his fingers and dick are magic, and she ends up having an orgasm, that doesn’t make it okay.

If two people have spent five years hating each other, even if they still have pants feelings, they shouldn’t play at D/s. Especially if they haven’t communicated beyond filling out a checklist of things they’d like to try. (Kyle: “Dear God, please check anal.” #eyeroll) (BTW, Kyle lies when he fills his list out.) Supposedly Kyle gets a crash course from an experienced Dom, but it happens off the page. Since Ruby is conflicted about her desires, wouldn’t it have been good for her to talk to a sub? Maybe then she’d have known that the moment before someone penetrates you anally isn’t actually when you should decide on your safe word.

Obviously, this book didn’t work for me. I would have DNF’d it if I hadn’t signed up to review it. (I kind of did anyway, because I skimmed the last few chapters.) But I paid enough attention to identify its problems, some of which – issues of consent, the depiction of a “dominant” male – were really troubling.

I have to give it . . . an F.


Three Sweet Nothings by Nikki Sloane received a B- in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

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Posted by Elyse

Elyse Watches The Bachelorette with Kraken Rum and Coke with a big rose at the bottomToday’s delayed recap is brought to you by Fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia: because pain doesn’t care that you have shit to do.

I actually slept though The Bachelorette last night, but I’ve got it DVR’d and I’m home today with a giant-ass coffee and muscle relaxers.

You think me recapping while drunk was interesting–just wait till the meds kick in.

A woman drinks out of a giant cup of coffee--like bigger than her head

We’re down to three men: Eric, Bryan and Peter. Last week Rachel met everyone’s family, Dean went through the pain of meeting his estranged father on camera after two years separation, and then Rachel let him go.

Last week was pretty fucking depressing.

I’m hoping this week is full of WTFery because I’ll be honest, this season has been kind of a downer.

Now, on with the show!

It’s time for the remaining dudes to meet Rachel’s family. Her sister is eight months pregnant so they are meeting in her hometown of Dallas, rather than the usual practice of flying to an exotic locale.

First up is Peter, who has definitely been more reserved than the other dudes. I personally think Rachel likes him best, but he’s more closed off emotionally than Eric or Bryan. Peter and Rachel shop for a baby gift for her sister and a present for her nephew Allister.

The best part is when Peter picks something out and Rachel gives him the “Um, no” eyes. He’s smart enough to defer to her choice. Good man.

Baby clothes are so friggin adorable you guys. I don’t want kids but I could shop for baby stuff all day long. I’m probably one more muscle relaxer away from knitting Dewey a little baby sweater and hat.

A close up of Peter and Rachel shopping for baby clothes.

Anyway, before they meet her family, Peter pulls her aside and tells Rachel that’s he falling in love with her.

FINALLY.

While speaking with Rachel’s mom, Kathy, Peter admits that he’s not sure he’s ready to propose yet because he and Rachel have basically only spent a few weeks together. He still wants to pursue a relationship with her, but he doesn’t know if he would feel right proposing at the end of the show.

While on the one hand I think this is a totally reasonable approach to their relationship, it’s also not what the show is about, so it’s kind of weird to see him say that. The dudes know when they sign up that the show ends with a proposal (usually).

You aren’t following the process–er, journey–Peter! The Rose God will not pleased! Chris Harrison just sat up in his coffin filled with rose petals, his eyes blazing in fury.

Kathy actually likes Peter’s answer, though. She does tell him that she hopes he takes their dating very seriously, though.

Then in what is literally the best shot of the night, we cut away to Rachel and little Allister playing with her dog, Copper.

Copper is a noble floof and I love him.

Copper, a big fluffy orange dog, sits in a chair . He looks like a chow-mix to me and I'd kiss his face a million times.

At one point Peter sits on the floor and colors with Allister and my remaining ovary explodes.

Peter sits on the floor with Allister while Rachel and Copper watch.

The next day it’s Eric’s turn to meet the Lindsays. Eric admits that he’s never been in love and is last serious relationship was two years ago. Rachel’s sister, Constance, is skeptical that Eric is ready for marriage.

Eric tells Constance that he loves Rachel unconditionally, but isn’t in love yet.

Later Eric asks Kathy if he can have her blessing to propose to Rachel.

But…wait? You just said you weren’t in love yet!

Kathy gives him her blessing anyway.

Rachel, her cousin Andrea, and Eric sit on a couch. Eric and Andrea do a little chair dancing.

Lastly it’s Bryan’s turn. Rachel takes him to brunch with a couple of her girlfriends then on to meet her family.

Almost immediately Bryan tells them that his mom is the most important woman in life, which is not all concerning… Like how is that the first thing you say to new people!? “Hi, I’m Bryan and I love my mom more than  anybody else.” Cue the Starbucks barista trying to write that all on a cup.

Kathy asks who would get his priority, his wife or his mom. Bryan kind of stumbles during his answer and it’s clear Kathy isn’t impressed.

Right away there’s some tension between Bryan and Rachel’s family. He’s charming, but in a superficial way. They ask him some pretty direct questions, and when they are skeptical of his answers (like when he says he knew Rachel was the one after just a week), Bryan freaks out and leaves the dinner table.

Rachel is irritated that her family seems to be questioning Bryan more intensely than they did Eric or Peter.

Rachel looks at her mom and says "I am, like, really low-key annoyed."

Bryan tells Constance that he already loves the family and she’s like, “dude, it’s been an hour.”

Bryan apparently loves everything immediately. But not as much as his mom.

Steve Carell from Anchorman says "I love lamp."

Despite all that, Kathy does give Bryan her blessing to propose to Rachel.

So just to recap: we’ve gone from Peter who isn’t sure of his feelings and is playing this close to the vest, to Eric who has never been in love, to Bryan who loves everyone within five minutes of knowing them.

Yikes.

Anyway, the family stuff is over and we can move on to the best part of the episode–Fantasy Suites. This is when Chris Harrison gives the contestants a hand written letter inviting them to sleep with each other.

I did not make that up. It’s a thing that happens.

So they all fly to La Rioja, Spain. We get a shot of Rachel sipping wine THAT SHE DOES NOT FINISH BEFORE LEAVING HER TABLE. Rachel! We never leave a wine behind! Not ever!

The first date goes to Eric. They take a helicopter to San Juan de Gaztelugatxe where they sip champagne.  Later they have dinner, and  Eric tells Rachel he’s in love with her.

They open the handwritten Invitation to Bone from Chris Harrison and head over to the Fantasy Suite. There are a lot of candles in the Fantasy Suite. A LOT. I wonder if some unpaid intern has to go around re-lighting the damn things.

After a commercial break we get the token “morning after” scene where the camera pans to an unmade bed, thereby making sure everyone knows the smexing happened. Then Rachel kisses Eric goodbye so she can go on a date with one of the other dudes and probably sleep with him.

I can’t get over how awkward that must be.

“Great job with the sex! I’m going to go have more of it with people who aren’t you. See you Tuesday!”

The next date is with Peter. They go to a vineyard where they actually finish their wine this time. Once again Peter tells her he’s not ready to propose.

This seems  like  a pretty important conversation, but they are interrupted by a little girl bringing Rachel flowers. I assume Peter planned the whole thing.

A little girl brings Rachel flowers while Peter looks at them with a smile

“She’s asking about commitment! Operation Shirley Temple is a go! I repeat, Operation Shirley Temple is a go!”

He doesn’t get off that easily, though. Over dinner Rachel tells Peter that she didn’t sign up for the show in order to find a boyfriend, she’s looking for a husband. Peter tells her that he considers engagement as seriously as marriage–he wants to be 100% certain he’s ready to be married before he gets engaged.

Rachel is more okay with their engagement still being a “getting to know each other” stage of their relationship.

The episode ends with Rachel tearing up. She feels like they aren’t at the same place and she says, “Tonight, for the first time ever, I’m thinking Peter and I might not work out.”

Then we get the dramatic TO BE CONTINUED

Do you think Peter can come back from this? Are you still watching?

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Posted by Amanda

AppSumo has a sale on Stencil, an image editing program! Lifetime access to Stencil is available for $49.

You can make headers and images for social media and promotional graphics, plus it includes a Facebook 20% text checker to make sure what you make will fly with the FB lords.

There’s also a Chrome extension to easily share links with customized images.

Let Us Dream

Let Us Dream by Alyssa Cole is 99c! This was Redheadedgirl’s favorite story in the Daughters of a Nation anthology. It’s also nominated for a RITA® this year in the Romance Novella category. Ppyajunebug wrote a guest review for our Reader Challenge and here’s what she had to say:

Cole is one of the few authors on my instabuy list – I will buy anything she writes, regardless of genre, pairing, or length. She writes interesting, fully-realized characters with an eye towards how society shapes their experiences and personalities. “Let Us Dream” is no exception to that rule and I, and everyone else who reads it, should be thankful for that.

*This novella originally appeared in Daughters of A Nation: A Black Suffragette Historical Romance Anthology*

Harlem, 1917

After spending half her life pretending to be something she’s not, performance is second nature for cabaret owner Bertha Hines. With the election drawing near and women’s voting rights on the ballot, Bertha decides to use her persuasive skills to push the men of New York City in the right direction.

Chef Amir Chowdhury jumped ship in New York to get a taste of the American Dream, only to discover he’s an unwanted ingredient. When ornery Amir reluctantly takes a job at The Cashmere, he thinks he’s hit the bottom of the barrel; however, working at the club reignites his dream of being a force for change. His boss, Bertha, ignites something else in him.

Bertha and Amir clash from the start, but her knowledge of politics and his knowledge of dance force them into a detente that fans the flames of latent desire. But Bertha has the vice squad on her tail, and news from home may end Amir’s dream before it comes to fruition. With their pasts and futures stacked against them, can Amir and Bertha hold on to their growing love?

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Waking the Bear

Waking the Bear by Kerry Adrienne is 99c! This is a Kindle Daily Deal and the second book, Pursuing the Bear, is a 99c KDD as well. Readers loved the park ranger/bear shifter hero, but others found the dialogue a bit…corny. Trigger warning as well, as the heroine is rebuilding her life following an abusive relationship. It has a 3.7-star rating on Goodreads.

Sexy shifter passion is awakened when two unlikely lovers are challenged by secrets, danger and an unstoppable need to claim one’s mate…

For human Amy Francis, the secluded cabin in Deep Creek is the haven she needs to map out a fresh new start. She never expected her heart to be reawakened by a distraction like Griff Martin, commanding yet gentle, too ferociously sensual to ignore. It’s clear that patrolling the forest is more than a job to Griff—it’s a means of survival. But what Amy doesn’t realize is she’s reawakened the beast within him.

Griff’s dormant hunger is stirred by this intoxicating woman…and threatened by the secret she must never learn. Duty-bound to defend his bear clan against an avenging pride of lion shifters, Griff’s entire world is upended when he meets Amy. His animal need to claim his mate has taken hold, but that very desire could seal her fate as an unwitting pawn in battle.

Now, as a shifter war looms, Griff must decide between letting Amy go or following his most carnal instincts. To have her would change his life…but risk everything he knows and was born to protect.

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Madame X

RECOMMENDED: Madame X by Jasinda Wilder is $2.99! I read this book and while it’s not quite a romance, I really enjoyed it. It’s a unique, dark, and twisted start to a trilogy. I gave it a B+:

Madame X isn’t going to be for everyone…. It’s written in first person. It does end on a cliffhanger. It deals with abuse (trigger warning) – physically, financially, and psychologically. There’s no HEA in this book as it’s an ongoing series following the same heroine. And there are also themes of infidelity.

But, if you’re still with me, it’s also one of the most unique books I’ve read in a while. It sucked me in and broke my heart. The next book cannot come soon enough.

Madame X invites you to test the limits of control in this provocative new
novel from New York Times bestselling author Jasinda Wilder.

My name is Madame X.
I’m the best at what I do.
And you’d do well to follow my rules…

Hired to transform the uncultured, inept sons of the wealthy and powerful into decisive, confident men, Madame X is a master of the art of control. With a single glance she can cut you down to nothing, or make you feel like a king.

But there is only one man who can claim her body—and her soul.

Undone time and again by his exquisite dominance, X craves and fears his desire in equal measure. And while she longs for a different path, X has never known anything or anyone else—until now…

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The Invisible Library

RECOMMENDED: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman is $2.99! This is a fantasy novel that Carrie really enjoyed. She graded it a B+:

While I genuinely loved the characters and concepts of the book, it’s played strictly for fun adventure. This isn’t a philosophical book. There’s some character development, but it’s not huge. It’s basically just an excuse to have smart people fight cyborg alligators in a ballroom and werewolves in a museum. Luckily during the week that I read this book I was stressed out so it was just what I needed. It’s smart, well-written fluff and I ate it up with a spoon. I am avidly waiting for the sequel.

Collecting books can be a dangerous prospect in this fun, time-traveling, fantasy adventure from a spectacular debut author.
 
One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction…

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it’s already been stolen.

London’s underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.

Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself…

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