Janna MacGregor Q&A and Giveaway!

Apr. 24th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Amanda

The Bad Luck Bride
A | BN | K | iB
Author Janna MacGregor is releasing her debut Regency romance, which features a hero out for revenge and a fake relationship! Doesn’t that sound all kinds of catnippy? The book, Bad Luck Bride, comes out May 2, 2017 and is the first book in The Cavensham Heiresses series. Here’s the description:

All were shocked at the announcement of the “cursed” Lady Claire Cavensham to Lord Alexander Hallworth, the Marquess of Pembrooke, especially since she is already engaged to another unfortunate Lord. Perhaps she will make it to the altar this time with one of these fine gentlemen! Could her run of bad luck finally be at an end? It’s highly doubtful in this writer’s humble opinion. —Midnight Cryer

No one is left breathless at the imperious pronouncement of her engagement to Lord Pembrooke more than Claire. She hardly knows the dangerously outrageous man! But after three engagements gone awry and a fourth going up in glorious flames, she isn’t in a position to refuse…especially once she realizes that Lord Pembrooke makes her want to believe she’s not a bad luck bride anymore…

Alexander requires the hand of his enemy’s fiancée in marriage in order to complete his plans for revenge. It’s his good fortune that the “cursed” woman is desperate. However, what begins as a sham turns into something scandalously deeper. The beguiling lady has no business laying claim to his heart. But as a mission of revenge turns into fiery passion, Alexander wants nothing more than to break Claire’s curse…and lead them both to their hearts’ desire.

Sarah had a chance to interview Janna about romance and her writing experiences!

Sarah: Was there a book or an author who inspired you to try writing your own romance?

Janna: After a long sabbatical from reading romance – I know it’s sacrilege – I discovered and absolutely fell in love with the romance novels of Eloisa James and Maggie Robinson. Lucky me, I became friends with both of them. They must have realized I had a story within me as they urged me to write a romance. At first, I was completely against the idea. I thought of myself mostly as a blogger-wanna-be. In truth, I wanted to be Smart Bitches Trashy Books. The SBTB community was so welcoming and the reviews opened all sorts of new genres, books and authors to me.

In 2013, I attend the RT Convention in Kansas City just to see what a romance reader convention entailed. I signed up for a Cherry Adair plotting class thinking it would give me a better understanding of what made a romance so special. By the end of the convention, I had the idea for the Cavensham family, and a rough outline of my story. Within the month, I had the entire book outlined, and wrote it within six weeks.

Sarah: How long have you been a romance reader?

Janna: I fell in love with romance books as a teenager. My first Regency romance-*gasp* – was The Impetuous Duchess by Barbara Cartland. That’s all it took! I’ve been reading Regencies and contemporaries and paranormals throughout the last forty some years. I’m happy to say that my love for everything romance only flourished.

Sarah: What are you working on now?

Janna: I’m plotting the fourth book in The Cavensham Heiresses series. It’ll take me about a month to really have an understanding of my characters and the story. Only then will I start writing. Recently, I finished the third book. For right now, the title is tentatively The Bride’s Own Luck. Of course, my fabulous editor may have another suggestion.

Can you believe she wrote this book in six weeks? There must have been some intense writing hours and some drive to accomplish that!

Janna also has a giveaway for all of you lovely readers!

There will be three (3) prize packs:

  • Grand prize: Coach Large Sierra Satchel (37218) in Turquoise with a copy of The Bad Luck Bride

A blue Coach purse with a copy of The Bad Luck Bride

  • 1st runner up: UK thistle seal and wax with a copy of The Bad Luck Bride

A red wax seal set with a copy of The Bad Luck bride

  • 2nd runner up: An 18 inch string of pearls with a copy of The Bad Luck Bride

A string of pearls and a copy of The Bad Luck Bride

Winners get choice of digital or paper finished copies.

To enter to win, leave a comment and tell us your favorite historical romance trope!

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 dreading your marriage of convenience to a stuffy earl or maybe a scandalous duke. Please brace yourselves for any unresolved sexual tension or meddling secondary characters. Comments will close Friday April 28, 2017 around noon ET, and winners will be announced shortly thereafter.

Good luck to everyone!

Vid/AMV recs?

Apr. 23rd, 2017 10:42 pm
oyceter: teruterubouzu default icon (Default)
[personal profile] oyceter
Thinking of putting together a playlist for the Wiscon Vid Party on morally ambiguous and ambitious women. Anyone have recs for vids or AMVs that showcase power-hungry women? POC characters or characters from games or anime preferred. I'd especially love something on Kuvira from Legend of Korra, Lady Eboshi from Princess Mononoke or Kushana from Nausicaa.

Also, I am feeling old... where does one go to look for vids nowadays? I did find a fair amount of Kuvira vids on YouTube, but nothing I liked so far, and animemusicvideos.org's search is incredibly frustrating.

Currently on the list: [personal profile] feedingonwind's A New Day (Mariah, Luke Cage), [personal profile] shati's Hope on Fire (Mishil, Queen Seondeok), [personal profile] starlady's Shuang Nu (Wu Zetian, Detective Dee).

Buenos Aires Book Fair Schedule

Apr. 23rd, 2017 04:51 pm
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[personal profile] jimhines

I’m mostly recovered from Minicon…which is good, because on Tuesday, I leave for the Buenos Aires Book Fair!

Wednesday will be a day of recovery and looking around. Thursday afternoon I’ll be doing some press interviews at El Ateneo, one of the most gorgeous bookstores in the world.

Assuming they can pry me out of there, I’ll be doing an interview Saturday afternoon at the Book Fair, followed by a book signing. Later that evening I’ll be participating in the Bloggers Meeting as well.

Sunday, there’s a meet and greet at the bookstore, and then it’s back to the hotel to pack and prepare for the flight home on Monday.

It should be an exciting week. I’m looking forward to meeting my Latin American publisher, and I love that my official schedule has notes like “Embassy driver will pick you up from the airport.” And of course, it will be awesome to meet readers and fans from Argentina!

Blogging and email and such will probably be pretty light, but I should have plenty of pictures to share when I get back. Don’t break the internet while I’m gone, okay?

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Culinary

Apr. 23rd, 2017 08:20 pm
oursin: Frontispiece from C17th household manual (Accomplisht Lady)
[personal profile] oursin

During the week, a loaf of Khorasan (kamut) flour.

Got in too late on Friday evening to make rolls for Saturday breakfast, so we had toast instead.

Today's lunch: fillets of lemon sole clear-simmered and served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce and ginger paste (these were a little bland and mushy. which may be because previously frozen, rather than fresh?); served with sticky rice with lime leaves, samphire steamed and tossed in butter, sugar snap peas roasted in pumpkin seed oil and splashed with bramble vinegar, and padron peppers (which Waitrose now stock, apparently).

Probably bread-baking during the week.

“Wild in Rio” by Lyssa Kay Adams

Apr. 23rd, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer

C+

Wild in Rio

by Lyssa Kay Adams
July 28, 2016 · LKA Publishing
NovellaRomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Kim W. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Romance Novella category.

The summary:

A WILD LONGING…
Ever Beckinsale is as competitive as any other athlete in Rio, but the American equestrian has at least one more reason than most for pursuing gold. If she can win, she’ll finally have the leverage she needs to live her life according to her own terms and to escape the stifling expectations of being the daughter of one of America’s richest families.

But she’ll still have one last unfulfilled dream—finding the mysterious stranger who showed her an unexpected kindness two years ago and gave her the courage to fight for what she wanted.

A WILD DESIRE…
Irish boxer Padraig O’Callahan prides himself on being able to size people up in a glance, so it shakes him to the core when he discovers that the mystery woman who stole his heart two years ago in Ireland is not only an athlete in Rio, she’s also a bona fide heiress. That makes her one hundred percent off-limits in his book. The last thing he needs distracting him from winning the gold is a spoiled little rich girl who apparently conned him into believing she needed his help.

But as soon as he pushes Ever away, he realizes his mistake. There’s more to her than meets the eye, and he wants her body and soul.

A WILD LOVE…
When an unexpected encounter turns into an unforgettable night, can Padraig convince the skittish Ever to take a chance on him? Or will winning the gold mean losing a chance at one wild love?

Here is Kim W.'s review:

I will admit that my first reaction to the book summary was, “Cutting Edge in Rio!” which…might have been jumping to some erroneous conclusions. This is a tricky one for me to review, because while “Wild in Rio” is a miss for me, the writing quality is good and I can see it being a hit for a lot of people.

In the prologue set two years before the events of the novella, Padraig comes across Ever crying by the bay in his hometown in Ireland. Comforting her, Padraig gives Ever his Claddagh ring, a symbol of friendship that we later learn was a gift from his now-incarcerated brother. It’s an important connection in which they each feel, for the first time, that someone sees them and cares about them for who they are. It’s also the briefest of moments, neither learning the other’s name.

When we fast-forward to the Rio Olympics, Ever and Padraig are both looking to prove themselves. Ever has given up everything for horse-jumping, and needs to prove to her emotionally distant parents that her commitment is worth something. Padraig blew his chances during the London Olympics by partying, and feels he owes it to his brother and his coach to win this time. Neither character feels like they really belong, and both have huge hang-ups around money that ultimately create much of the tension in their relationship: everyone believes Ever bought her way into the Olympics, and Padraig’s lower-class background makes him equally defensive about his skills.

In this sense, “Wild in Rio” is an opposites-attract romance, but I think it would be fairer to say that it’s a love-at-first-sight/love-as-destiny story. In spite of their brief first encounter in Ireland, both Ever and Padraig have been looking for and fantasizing about each other every day for the last two years. When they find each other again, things move quickly. “Intense” is the word I would use – these are two people with INTENSE emotions. People fall apart, chests break open and cave in with emotion, souls shatter. They feel all the feels (and yes, they occasionally call them “feels”). The first-person present tense writing style further contributes to this continual sense of forward momentum and intensity.

For example, alone on a shuttle bus on their second night in Rio, Padraig apologizes for prejudging Ever and not recognizing her loneliness. Ever reacts:

Lonely. The word crashes through my body and breaks things. I’ve spent my entire life drowning in the unwanted fish bowl that is my family – exposed and dissected at every turn – but I’ve never felt as bare as I do right now under the spotlight of that one word. Because no one, not until now, has ever looked deeply enough to realize I’m swimming alone.

…My lips suddenly crave his like an addict looking for a fix. My one remaining sane brain cell warns that giving in might be just as destructive as taking a hit, because Lord knows, the withdrawal will kill me. But I can’t help it. I let my eyes drift closed as he lowers his head. …

“I have dreamed about kissing you for two years,” he whispers, his voice taut and tender at once.

This is where I think “Wild in Rio” would work for a lot of people, but not me. I tend to like romances that develop over time (except for forced proximity – oh my God, give me a snowstorm or road trip romance any day of the week). The intensity and acceleration of Ever and Padraig’s romance, combined with their many personal and familial issues, made it paradoxically harder for me to identify with them. At times, their reactions and language struck me as immature (“OMG. What. The Hell. Am I Doing? I really am almost making out in the middle of the bus”). I haven’t read much New Adult Romance, but I think “Wild in Rio” would fit, as the characters often felt more like college students than people in their mid- to late-twenties.

After one night together, they’re both thinking in terms of forever, and Padraig moves into Ever’s apartment almost immediately. When conflict re-enters the story in the third act, I was hoping that it would stem from their insta-love. That is, Ever and Padraig have built each other up in their minds over the last two years. How do they overcome this fantasy and infatuation? Where is the line between intense passion and lasting love? How do they negotiate a relationship when they can no longer spend every day holed up in the insular world of their Olympic village apartment? Does either of them ever get scared? Instead, the conflict focuses on the insecurities they have around money – interesting, too, although I think some of these other issues could have been more deeply explored.

I also felt that the Olympics as a setting was underutilized in the novel. There’s very little description of Rio itself, either the city or the Olympic village. We barely see Ever and Padraig in competition or training. I rarely had the sense that either character was personally invested in winning a medal for him- or herself, or in representing their team/nation.

With all that said, I do think this is a strong novella that would appeal to a lot of contemporary romance fans, in spite of it leaving me feeling “eh.” I think Adams does a fantastic job making me believe that these characters would come at their relationship with intensity: they are physical and sensual, which fits with their athleticism, and they’re both starved for affection and approval. And while I didn’t love the stream-of-consciousness first-person narration (especially during sex scenes…girl, finish what you’re doing and then tell me about it, okay?) Adams writes with appealingly lush details and surprising metaphors that I think are a real strength of her writing.

I know it’s not rational, what I feel for him.

…Screw rational.

Is there anything rational about a tornado? A shooting star? A Banyan tree? No, because they’re vibrant and loud, sudden and bright, messy and upside down.

Just like us.

Beautiful. Perfect. Rare and unbelievable. But not rational.

With Padraig, I don’t want rational. I want the tornado.

Clearly, Adams is very consciously writing a whirlwind romance, and I think the novel definitely works – even if it doesn’t work for me.

So things happened this week

Apr. 23rd, 2017 08:42 am
hrj: (Default)
[personal profile] hrj
 My minute-by-minute social media discussions are scattered all over the place, so I can forget what I've posted where. Here are a few things that happened during the last week:

Shira Glassman went live with a gorgeous fan-art promotional post for the Alpennia books that she commissioned. I feel immensely honored and flattered that my fans think so highly of my books as to do things like this.

My queer-Mabinogi short story "Hyddwen" was accepted by Podcastle.org. I'm overjoyed that it's going to get the audio-publication treatment, like the first story in the series (Hoywverch) did, because it's written very deliberately in an oral storytelling style. Selling it means that it's time to start writing the third story in the series. (Like the original Mabinogi, it's planned to have four branches. I have the basic skeleton of the plots for 3 & 4 outlined, but there are still a lot of details to noodle.)

The Golden Crown Literary Awards 2017 shortlists came out and Mother of Souls did not make the shortlist for the Science Fiction and Fantasy category. (Daughter of Mystery and The Mystic Marriage were both shortlisted but neither of them won--there are three winners in each category.) In one sense, this is not at all surprising, because the Goldies are--in their essence--awards for the best lesfic novels, and I don't write lesfic in the genre sense. But it's still disappointing.

On Wednesday, I came home from work to discover my front door kicked in and my house ransacked, including having my safe ripped out of its fastenings and pick-axed open. Mysteriously (but tellingly) I have not identified anything that was actually stolen (including the two older laptops that were stored in the safe, or any of the jewelry that was left strewn across the bed). My hypothesis is that the burglars were under the vastly mistaken impression that there might be drugs in the house, given the nature and scope of the apparent search activities. But given that one of the major reasons for moving out of Oakland seven years ago was being tired of regular burglaries, I'm furious and shaken and resigned.

Historical Romances & Princesses

Apr. 23rd, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

It Takes Two to Tangle

RECOMMENDED: It Takes Two to Tangle by Theresa Romain is $1.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble! This is the first book in the historical romance Matchmaker TrilogyElyse reviewed this book (Grade: B) and liked the heroine a lot:

If you’re a Regency fan who likes unconventional heroines, pick this book up for sure. If you like the Tragically Wounded Hero, like I do, pick it up. If you need your hero to really have his shit together, you may want to avoid it. Henry gave me heartburn sometimes, but the great conflict, and a kick ass heroine, kept me reading.

Wooing the Wrong Woman…

Henry Middlebrook is back from fighting Napoleon, ready to re-enter London society where he left it. Wounded and battle weary, he decides that the right wife is all he needs. Selecting the most desirable lady in the ton, Henry turns to her best friend and companion to help him with his suit…

Is a Terrible Mistake…

Young and beautiful, war widow Frances Whittier is no stranger to social intrigue. She finds Henry Middlebrook courageous and manly, unlike the foppish aristocrats she is used to, and is inspired to exercise her considerable wit on his behalf. But she may be too clever for her own good, and Frances discovers that she has set in motion a complicated train of events that’s only going to break her own heart…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Never Deceive a Duke

Never Deceive a Duke by Liz Carlyle is $2.99! This is the second book in the Neville & Family Friends series, but it can be read as a standalone. Some readers felt the writing was too modern for the setting, while others liked the tortured hero. Also, some of the reviews mentioned that the hero is Jewish. It has a 3.7-star rating on Goodreads.

They call her the porcelain princess…

With her fragile beauty and regal bearing, the Duchess of Warneham knows how to keep her admirers at a distance. Twice wed and twice widowed, Antonia has vowed never again to marry; never again to surrender her freedom. But when her husband’s death is deemed suspicious, and his long-lost heir returns to seize control of the dukedom, she finds that fate has placed her future in yet another man’s hands—but not just any man.

They call him a cold-hearted bastard…

Deep in London’s docklands, Gareth Lloyd runs Neville Shipping with an iron fist. Unrecognizable as the starving orphan who was abandoned by his family and sent an ocean away from home, Gareth has put his troubled past behind him. That is, until the Duke of Warneham is murdered, and Gareth turns out to be the dynasty’s last living heir. Wrenched from his solitude, Gareth neither wants nor needs the honors and obligations of nobility—especially the Duke’s all-too-tempting widow…Or does he?

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Desiring Lady Caro

Desiring Lady Caro by Ella Quinn is $1.99! This is a historical romance with a Venetian setting. Reviews on Goodreads say this is a pretty fast-paced romance and that there’s a road trip element! Though trigger warning because it seems part of the heroine’s backstory includes rape.

Haunted by her past, Lady Caroline Martindale fled England for the solace of her godmother’s palazzo in Venice. But if Caro was hoping to escape the charms of marriage-minded men, she’s come to the wrong place. And she’ll resort to extreme measures to spurn the advances of a dangerously determined Venetian marquis…

Though most of his friends have married off, Gervais, Earl of Huntley, remains bent on eluding the parson’s mousetrap. But his convictions begin to falter when he arrives in Venice and meets his match in the alluring Lady Caro. What began as a hastily concocted lie to save her from the marquis may become a chance for them both to relinquish their fear – and embrace what they can no longer deny…

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Princesses Behaving Badly

Princesses Behaving Badly by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie is $1.99! This nonfiction is all about…princesses behaving badly. Many thought this was a great premise, but it failed on execution, given that some of the princesses were more myth than reality. Have you read this one?

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

Add to Goodreads To-Read List →

This book is on sale at:

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Four years ago today

Apr. 23rd, 2017 10:35 am
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
A very thin, very dirty stray cat turned up at Jasmine's condo complex, asking for food and shelter.

“Wild in Rio” by Lyssa Kay Adams

Apr. 23rd, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer

C-

Wild in Rio

by Lyssa Kay Adams
July 28, 2016 · LKA Publishing
NovellaRomanceContemporary Romance

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

The summary:

A WILD LONGING…
Ever Beckinsale is as competitive as any other athlete in Rio, but the American equestrian has at least one more reason than most for pursuing gold. If she can win, she’ll finally have the leverage she needs to live her life according to her own terms and to escape the stifling expectations of being the daughter of one of America’s richest families.

But she’ll still have one last unfulfilled dream—finding the mysterious stranger who showed her an unexpected kindness two years ago and gave her the courage to fight for what she wanted.

A WILD DESIRE…
Irish boxer Padraig O’Callahan prides himself on being able to size people up in a glance, so it shakes him to the core when he discovers that the mystery woman who stole his heart two years ago in Ireland is not only an athlete in Rio, she’s also a bona fide heiress. That makes her one hundred percent off-limits in his book. The last thing he needs distracting him from winning the gold is a spoiled little rich girl who apparently conned him into believing she needed his help.

But as soon as he pushes Ever away, he realizes his mistake. There’s more to her than meets the eye, and he wants her body and soul.

A WILD LOVE…
When an unexpected encounter turns into an unforgettable night, can Padraig convince the skittish Ever to take a chance on him? Or will winning the gold mean losing a chance at one wild love?

Here is Isabelle's review:

While sports romance isn’t my preferred subgenre, I jumped at the chance to read “Wild in Rio” by Lyssa Kay Adams. A romance set at the Olympics? I adore the Olympics!

An aside: have you ever had a deep realization that arrived about 20 years later than it should have? Here’s one of mine. Growing up, the only sports I eagerly watched on television were tennis and the Olympics, and I still love them both. Why just these two? It didn’t occur to me until I was watching the 2016 Summer Games. Where else could I reliably see women kicking ass at sports on TV when I was a kid? You’ve heard it before, and I’ll say it again: representation matters.

Back to “Wild in Rio.” By way of synopsis, this novella, like my aforementioned epiphany, takes place during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The prologue happens two years prior in an Irish park, with a brief but memorable chance meeting of our hero Padraig, a rough-and-tumble Irish boxer, and our heroine Ever, a wealthy American equestrian. Little did they know they were both Olympic-caliber athletes who would reunite in Rio. And little did they know that fortnight would be their time for emotions far stronger than just the fabled joy of victory and agony of defeat.

If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to approach this book like an Olympic judge and examine the different facets: the artistry, the level of difficulty, and the execution. I think of artistry as the set of stylistic choices the author used. For example, she wrote the book in present tense, which, I’ll be honest, just grates on me. Marks off from the picky American judge.

She also used first person narration, shifting between the hero and heroine’s point of view, another artistic choice I don’t personally prefer in romance. Successful romance requires a delicate balance between internal struggles and external action. This book faltered with the depiction of external action. Some Big Things (one might even say Olympic Things) happen to our characters near the end of the book. Because of the shifting point of view, the reader simply isn’t there to witness them or understand how the character involved feels. We only find out what happens secondhand, through the other point of view. What a wasted opportunity. To really empathize with a character, I want to go through their most devastating and triumphant moments with them.

So let’s talk tropes, those familiar stylistic choices that can really help you know whether you’re likely to enjoy a romance. This book may be for you if you dig the following tropes:

  • Love at first sight. That chance meeting in the park was fateful, y’all.
  • A bad boy/ good girl match up. But only a little. It’s got more of a poor boy/rich girl vibe.
  • Relatedly, a rich girl with terrible rich parents who is yearning to breathe free.
  • Meaningful slow dancing. (Guilty as charged! No wonder I’m more of a historical girl.)
  • Horses as a prelude to sex. (It really is a trope, don’t you think?)
  • Fingerbanging on public transit. (OK, I’ll admit that’s not really a trope.)

So how about level of difficulty? I always think writing good romance is tremendously difficult, and writing a potent short romance seems extra challenging. The length necessitates condensing both character development and plotting. Indeed, our hero and heroine fall in love at breakneck speed, a pace that never felt authentic or earned to me. Moreover, a short novella can mean sacrificing world building and side plots, which is a shame. How I would have loved to have seen more of Rio, more of the Games, more of the international cast of characters who could have provided fun opportunities to reveal the rich, quirky details of Padraig and Ever and their relationship. Also, because I’m an Olympics nerd, I genuinely would have liked some insight into boxing and equestrian events, which I didn’t get.

Instead, if this romance were caught on film, it would be mostly tight shots of our hero and heroine. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as that hyperfocus packs some emotional wallop. In a satisfying romance, the couple needs to emerge from a Dark Time, the True Test of whether the hero and heroine can put to use what they’ve each learned about themselves through their relationship. The Dark Time in this book, which stemmed largely from the poor/rich dynamic, seemed ultimately quite trivial. I mean, I feel you, Padraig, I hate rich people too, but it’s really not that hard to make an exception. In the end, I didn’t sense real growth from either Padraig or Ever.

Onto execution. As far as I can tell, this book is self-published, and I found some editing issues that were frankly distracting. Most notably, Padraig’s Irish brogue seemed questionably executed and inconsistently applied. Don’t get me wrong; I love me a brogue. But do I want his speech to be written in dialect? Reasonable people can disagree, but I find too much dialect can send me to a Lucky Charms leprechaun place in my head, which is decidedly not sexy. (See also: Scottish burrs and Groundskeeper Willie.)

Ultimately, execution comes down to answering some fundamental questions: are the main characters compelling people individually, do they have an unmistakable chemistry together, and do they fight for their happy ending? It’s not a screaming “no” across the board from me, it’s more like “eeeehhhh, not really.”

To keep this extended metaphor going, this book did not receive high enough marks to medal at my Romance Olympics. But like many of my favorite Olympic events, the judging is subjective. If you are more tolerant of romances where the love comes easily, where the author doesn’t really torture her characters before giving them that HEA, and where there’s plenty o’ feckin’, this might be a book for you.

(no subject)

Apr. 23rd, 2017 12:25 pm
oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)
[personal profile] oursin
Happy birthday, [personal profile] damnmagpie!

Movie Review: Gifted

Apr. 23rd, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl

Chris Evans, one of the Top Chrises in the world, has made some very interesting choices in projects. This is a tiny, independent movie about family and genius and how do you help a kid who is ridiculously smart also manage to be a happy and healthy kid?

Chris Evans plays Frank Adler, a guy who repairs boats in Florida while raising his seven-year-old niece, Mary. Mary gets sent to school to get some socialization and make friends, and after some hiccups, begins to do well… until her grandmother Evelyn (Frank’s mom, played by Lindsay Duncan) gets wind of her magnificent brain and math skills, and tries to take her away to make sure she reaches her potential. Frank is certain that his sister, Mary’s mother, would have wanted her to have a normal childhood, and things get ugly.

Yeah, I cried a little.

Mary is one of those smart, precocious kids you see all the time, and she could be super annoying, but McKenna Grace layers in enough charm and snark so that she can carry this role. She gets a chance to be a bratty little shit, and run around like a little perpetual motion machine on the beach, and love her one-eyed cat (his name is Fred, and he’s the best cat in the world), all while learning differential equations and doing what every kid is doing: figuring out who she is and what her place in the world is. Grace has an excellent, natural rapport with Evans, willing to use him as a jungle gym and yell and cajole and snuggle.

Quick note about the cat: He’s a very patient cat, and a very sweet cat who likes going on boat rides and hanging on the beach, and there is a moment where the cat is in peril, BUT HE SURVIVES. HE’S FINE.

This movie is about trying to figure out what to do with a kid who is super smart. How to mold them into decent human beings with empathy (even when they think their peers are annoying and slow) and at the same time, give them enough challenge to keep them interested in school. Mary’s first day in regular school didn’t go well, because she’s way beyond basic arithmetic, and things are rocky for a while while Mary and Mary’s teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate) work out their relationship. Things come to a head when Mary beats the shit out of an older kid who picked on one of her classmates. (She doesn’t say “Of course I stood up for the kid because my uncle is Captain America,” but the visual is there.)

While Mary has been raised and shaped by her uncle – a man with her best interests at heart, always being worried that he’s not enough for her – it’s her relationships with women that help finesse the edges. Roberta, her neighbor (played by Octavia Spencer, and I’ll get to this part), adores Mary like her own kid. Bonnie, who naturally falls for Frank’s forearms,  also just wants to be the best teacher for Mary she can be. Her Grandmother (not “grandma,” never “grandma”) Evelyn, thinks that Mary’s mother’s math talent was ultimately wasted, and doesn’t want the same to happen to Mary. But it all comes down to Mary’s mother. She died long before this story began, but her ghost is in everyone’s mind, because they’re all wondering and interpreting the same question: what did she want for her kid?

I think this movie delivers an excellent message, that raising a kid who is a good person and good citizen and has a happy life should be the ultimate goal. “Best interests of the child” isn’t that easy to figure out, either. Sure, Grandmother has a big house and a piano and all of these things, but Frank understands Mary in a way that no one else does.  Even if the kid is super smart, she still has the emotional maturity of a seven-year-old. So, even if you can explain why someone wants to take her away from the life she knows, there are levels at which she won’t understand it. “Grown ups decided this disruption to your life is the best thing for you” is hard, no matter how smart you are.

The main frustration I had with Gifted is the ultimate waste of Octavia Spencer. Her role is functionally a Mammy archetype, designed to support and raise the white leads, and there’s very little Roberta does besides give Frank advice and be a mother figure for Mary. She has no inner life. And Octavia Spencer is great, because she’s a fantastic actress and a goddamn professional and will ALWAYS elevate the work. But she gets a lot of these roles, and thank god she gets other, stronger roles like Dorothy Vaughan, because she deserves way better.

I really enjoyed this film, frustrations aside. I think that Evans has made a lot of interesting choices with his career beyond the MCU. I loved Jenny Slate in Parks and Recreation, so seeing her in a completely different role is great. I was actually surprised to see that Mckenna Grace plays the annoying kid in Designated Survivor (the Kiefer Sutherland political thriller drama on NBC), and on DS, I find her character to be insufferable, but here she’s a delight. Gifted is emotional and will hit you square in all your feels, so prepare to cry, and bring tissues to share.

Gifted is in theaters now and tickets (US) are available at Fandango and Moviefone.

I have the sad

Apr. 22nd, 2017 02:23 pm
james_davis_nicoll: (Default)
[personal profile] james_davis_nicoll
By checking the dates of successive Strange Horizon counts, I see the trend is for the release date to be later than the one before. I was hoping for April but mid-May may be more reasonable.

His Stolen Bride by Barbara Dunlop

Apr. 22nd, 2017 06:00 pm
[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by Guest Reviewer

C

His Stolen Bride

by Barbara Dunlop
July 1, 2016 · Harlequin Desire
NovellaRomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Catherine Heloise. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Short Contemporary Romance category.

The summary:

To love, honor and abduct a beautiful bride… Only from New York Times bestselling author Barbara Dunlop. 

Will you take this woman?” Yes. As a favor to his estranged father, investigator Jackson Rush agrees to kidnap Crista Corday from her high society wedding. His job is to stop her marriage to a con man, not seduce the alluring Crista himself. But two days together, on the run from her fiancé’s shady family, obliterate every rule…

Crista has no idea of the danger drawing near. Jackson can’t reveal it without divulging who really sent him. And that’s a risk that could cost him everything…unless Crista will put herself under his passionate protection forever.

Here is Catherine Heloise's review:

I picked this book to review because I’ve seen my share of kidnapped brides in historicals, where the premise can be more or less convincing and usually involves feuding families, Scotland and/or fake highwaymen. These are all fun things, but they are a little harder to squeeze convincingly into a contemporary novel set in America. I wanted to know what excuse Ms Dunlop was going to come up with for this kidnapping, and whether she could make it work.

The answer to my first question was – he kidnaps her for her own good, of course! I should have seen that one coming. But yes, it turns out that Crista, our heroine, is secretly (so secretly that even she doesn’t know about it) the heiress to a diamond mine, and Vern, the man she is about to marry, is from a criminal family and is bent on getting his hands on the loot. Also, he has a mistress, just in case there was any doubt in your mind about him being Bad News. So Jackson, who has found out about the diamonds from Crista’s father and the mistress from gossip among the groomsmen, kidnaps her to stop this happening.

If you are wondering why Jackson seized on this particular solution to the problem of Crista’s impending wedding, you are not alone. To be fair, Dunlop does a good job of setting this up so that it is not an entirely irrational response to the situation – Jackson only finds out about the mistress thing a few minutes before the ceremony, so he really doesn’t have a lot of time to come up with a better idea, but when it comes down to it, this is his reasoning:

Then, unexpectedly, she twisted her head to look back again. He felt that same rush of emotion tighten his chest cavity. He knew with instant certainty that she deserved better than Vern. It might be none of his business, but surely she wouldn’t tolerate a husband who’d sneak off and sleep with a string of mistresses.

So obviously Jackson waits until the bridesmaids enter the church, and then abducts Crista. What other option does he have?

Crista, understandably, does not take kindly to this, and I did like her repeated and quite smart attempts to escape early in the book, though it must be said that jumping into the sea in her wedding dress was a rather questionable decision. Perhaps it’s just because I’m an Australian and have had it drummed into me since early childhood that clothes get super heavy in water, and can drag you down fast (one of the first set of ‘water awareness’ tasks they make you do as a very young child is to jump into the water with all your clothes and shoes on over your bathers, and you have to get them off as fast as you can so that you can get back up to the surface. This leaves you with a VERY visceral impression of why it is a bad idea to jump into the water with your clothes on if you can possibly help it. But maybe people in other countries don’t do these sorts of lessons?), but how could she not realise that swimming in a wedding dress was never going to work?

Her other attempts are smarter, and keep Jackson nicely on his toes during the first part of the book, without making him look stupid – always a tricky balance to maintain. The attraction between them is pretty instantaneous, and while I didn’t entirely buy this, I think that was more about my cynicism rather than a fault in the writing. And I do like both Crista and Jackson, and the secondary characters, very much.

Which brings me to my second question – can Ms Dunlop make this work. And the answer is…mostly. Dunlop definitely knows how to write engaging characters and to keep you turning pages. I liked Crista and Jackson, and wanted them to be together, and while I was reading their story, I was completely engaged in it. The trouble is that whenever I took a break from reading and wasn’t caught up in the spell of the story, I found myself going, wait, what, that doesn’t make sense. The story doesn’t hold together very well if you actually step back and try to analyse it.

I mean, Crista and Jackson are under a lot of pressure throughout the book, and that is not going to lead to smart decision-making, but still, some of their choices are far stupider than they need to be, and all too often, it’s the plot that requires them to be stupid. For example, Crista’s leap into the sea in her wedding dress may be dim, but it’s a great way to get Jackson’s hands on her body (she can’t get out of that wet dress on her own!), thus providing a moment of sexual tension. And Jackson’s decision to keep on not telling Crista about the diamond mine and only get around to it five minutes after he first seduces her is a fantastic way to make Crista immediately distrust him and think here’s someone else who is only after her money.

Also, I couldn’t help noticing that Jackson really makes the decision to kidnap Crista very much on the spur of the moment, and that his employees and colleagues don’t really question this, except in a somewhat jovial manner. Given the blatant illegality of this, I feel they should be objecting rather more strenuously.

It’s all a little odd, especially as when the plot isn’t demanding that the characters behave stupidly, they are actually quite mature and sensible. Crista is smart enough to realise that this situation is deeply strange and that making life-changing decisions without thinking them through is a bad idea, so she deliberately steps back and tries to give herself time and the opportunity to seek advice. Jackson, who is a private investigator, does seem to be quite good at thinking ahead and being strategic, when his hormones aren’t involved. And yet they both take far too many opportunities to do dim things.

Another thing that bothered me was a minor structural issue, or maybe just a missed opportunity. A character is introduced early in the book who has a great deal of potential to confuse matters nicely and provide all sorts of useful conflict.

Show Spoiler
Vern’s brother tries to warn Crista off marrying Vern and appears to be on her side at the start, and I was waiting for him to come back and either a) try to marry Crista himself; b) turn up, re-insinuate himself into Crista’s good graces and then betray her; or c) try (and maybe even succeed) to rescue Crista when Vern turns nasty later in the book. 

But alas, we never see him again after that first scene. And this is doubly frustrating, because given the ways Ms Dunlop has to contrive things to keep the conflict going at various points in the book, it seems positively wasteful not to make use of this eminently useful character. (Is she saving him for another book?)

I’m giving this book a C, because it was a fairly enjoyable read, but not a memorable one. It’s the sort of book you read while you are on holiday when you want to amuse yourself without having to engage your brain too much, but which you have forgotten by the time you return home. The hero and heroine are both decent people, there is no extreme violence or anything else to give you nightmares, and you aren’t left secretly wishing that the heroine would elope with the best friend or something. But there isn’t a lot to it. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it, and I don’t have any particular inclination to read it again.

oursin: The stylised map of the London Underground, overwritten with Tired of London? Tired of Life! (Tired of London? Tired of Life!)
[personal profile] oursin

And I was already out of charity with charity shops after the preceding one I'd been in had completely run out of change and kept me hanging around while, I suspect, they nipped next door to see if anyone could change a tenner.

And then I went into another one and found two books I was prepared to take a punt on at that sort of price, and moseyed up to the cashdesk with the exact money in hand, and found myself stuck behind that situation which is someone who is apparently in the process of paying for something - i.e. there is a something on the counter and the volunteer behind it is looking noticeably patient, while the person whom we presume to be making the purchase is making a great production of finding their purse.

And when this is finally brought to light, they spot something else on a counter display that they think they might like -

And really, I would have fumed a whole lot more, had it not been that this extended delay in making my own purchase gave me ample opportunity to admire the elaborate and beautiful henna patterns on the volunteer's hands and forearms - quite spectacular.

[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by Guest Reviewer

B

Christmas on Crimson Mountain

by Michelle Major
December 1, 2016 · Harlequin Special Edition
RomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Megan S. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Short Contemporary Romance category.

The summary:

LOVE ON THE MOUNTAIN

Peace and quiet—that’s all Connor Pierce wanted from the rented cabin on Crimson Mountain. Yet the caretaker turned out to be lovely April Sanders—a total distraction. As were the two little girls she was caring for. Connor’s plan to forget his painful past soon detoured into giving the ladies a Christmas to remember.

Being named guardian of two motherless girls has upended April’s world. Add to the mix a mysterious, brooding writer claiming he wanted to be left alone while going out of his way to bring a little joy to the girls, and she has quite the quandary. April had counted herself out of a happy ending. But maybe Santa still had a few surprises up his merry old sleeve…

Here is Megan S.'s review:

There’s a lot of tugging at heartstrings in Michelle Major’s Christmas on Crimson Mountain. I hadn’t read anything by Major before, let alone any other books in this series, and I found it enjoyable and readable as a standalone. There were a handful of previous protagonists who drifted in to dutifully display their successfully-paired-off status, but I didn’t find it flagrantly obtrusive or detracting from the central romance.

Which is good, because April and Connor have a lot of emotional backstory to deal with. April is a cancer survivor whose husband abandoned her while she was undergoing chemotherapy. Now, she prizes her independence and self-sufficiency, but she’s scared to get close to other people again, and her experiences have left her insecure in her ability to love and be loved. She’s the caretaker (which apparently also means personal chef and meal server, which kinda surprised me) of the cabin rented by novelist Connor, who is attempting to complete an overdue manuscript. He lost his wife and young son in a terrible car accident, and he has survivor’s guilt as well as PTSD from the incident. He’s in better physical health now–his initial grieving instinct was to drink his pain away–but he’s still purposely sabotaging his emotional health.

April is in denial about how stuck her life’s been following her divorce, and Connor is in the opposite of denial about his grief and his sorrow. He’s stuck because he can’t forgive himself for surviving and couldn’t forgive himself if he were to be happy. It’s an interesting dynamic, and I felt sympathetic as April and Connor attempted to excavate their best selves–and helped each other with that task. I don’t have personal experiences akin to theirs, but Major took care to make their emotional struggles understandable and compelling.

While I didn’t think the angst too overwrought, it was certainly wrought, and I did sometimes find it one-note. Changes in characters sometimes felt lurchy rather than smooth or as subtle as they could have been. Connected to this problem, there was sometimes a vaguely paint-by-numbers feeling to their emotional and romantic development; when characters chose to be brave, and when they chose to retreat, too frequently felt dictated by the schedule of obligatory structural conventions. My personal preference would have been less of the immediate physical attraction, too, mostly because the emotional attraction that eventually developed between the two characters was far more interesting. It read like Connor’s immediate physical attraction to April (and his dislike of experiencing it) was added to the justification of his grief to help excuse how unpleasantly passive-aggressive he could be to her in the earliest chapters, which I didn’t enjoy. Even considering how depressed he was and the self-awareness that he uses rudeness as a shield, it still made me anxious to read.

What initially interested me in this book was April’s situation: she’s been named the guardian of the two young daughters of an old friend who died of cancer. April spends most of the book circling around her fears over whether to agree to this unexpected development: her cancer has been in remission for years, and she’s very good at caring for others, but she’s not confident about accepting love or seeking anything permanent. She doesn’t think she’s the best choice for the girls. Not when they have living blood relatives who could take the girls in: the catch is that the girls’ prickly aunt only wants cute and cuddly almost-five-year-old Shay, and not sulky and traumatized twelve-year-old Ranie. Frustratingly, it takes April most of the book to fully commit to becoming the girls’ guardian, but the right decision is obvious. She just has to braven up for it. As for Shay and Ranie, I found them believable and enjoyed what they brought to the story. In a book about grief and loss, having four characters with different levels of understanding and coping was very poignant.

One of the most interesting parts of the book was the push-and-pull interaction between surly, grieving, had-to-grow-up-fast preteen Ranie and surly, grieving, missing-his-family Connor. They bond over their desire to strip away the b.s. over what they’re going through, and unsurprisingly, the two of them forge a cautious respect of their own and provide a fairly predictable book with some moments of unpredictability. At a Christmas party, Connor demonstrates how he eventually turns out to be a complicated role model for her, after he suggests Ranie try writing down her thoughts, and she presses him on that:

“Did you keep a journal after your wife and son died?”

“I kept a tight grip on the liquor bottle.”

She barked out a laugh. “I don’t think you’re supposed to admit that to a kid.”

“You like real, remember.” He put a hand on her back, not quite a hug, but letting her know she wasn’t alone. “Losing a family member changes you. It’s a hole that can’t be filled.” He believed the words, but lately the hole inside him hadn’t felt so cavernous.

“I think it takes time,” Ranie told him. “At least that’s what the adults say.”

“They say that because they’re afraid of your sadness, and hope is an easy thing to offer.”

Her blue eyes flicked to him, and he cursed himself. What the hell was wrong with his mood? He wasn’t supposed to be bringing down a twelve-year-old girl with his own baggage. That was a total jerk move.

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “Don’t pay any attention to me.”

“April’s pretty good at filling holes,” she said softly.

“Yep.” He looked to where April stood, the circle of friends surrounding her bigger than it was a few minutes earlier. She touched the woman in front of her on the cheek and then wrapped her in a tight hug. His heart sped up. “She gives good hugs, too.”

Ranie groaned. “Eww. Don’t corrupt me.”

I harbor fantasies that Christmas can bring people together in community and in chosen families, so I’m attracted to Christmas-set romances in a way I know other readers–some from other religious backgrounds, with other cultural traditions and other experiences–are not. When Christmas gets used as an emotional force shifting the characters, that’s a shorthand I’m eager to believe in, but it’s not universally appealing and it doesn’t necessarily make for a strong book as a whole. In the case of Christmas on Crimson Mountain, Christmas serves as a secularized default backdrop, and it creates a few nice moments. The gift that the girls make for April and Connor was sweet, and what it represents in terms of the girls’ hopes for a family, and how that symbol continues through the end of the book, was lovely as well. Christmas songs play a part, and I also quite enjoyed little Shay’s insistent questions about just how Grandma can get run over by a reindeer.

Even considering the perfunctoriness that the book didn’t completely escape, this is still an above-average category romance, and I’d particularly recommend it to readers who want an emotional story set at Christmas.

also, while I am signal-boosting

Apr. 22nd, 2017 10:21 am
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[personal profile] kate_nepveu
Don't back that Kickstarter for a short film about slash fandom, because it's co-written and edited by Franzeska Dickson, who is not a person to be given a platform to talk about race in fandom.

Twitter threads: one, two, or I could just say "wrote that digustingly racist 16k meta (AO3-locked) last year", and a lot of you will know what I mean. Note that the second threads has screencap excerpts of the meta.

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