Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mini-Reviews: Non-Fiction Round-Up

Thank the Lord for audio books or else my reading slump would be even more dire than it already is.  I've been on a bit of a non-fiction kick of late.  Here's a round-up of the most recent listens:

Leading Lady: Sherry Lansing and the Making of a Hollywood Groundbreaker by Stephen Galloway

Dang if I can remember where I heard about this book now, but it was mostly likely through work-related reading.  I vaguely recognized Sherry Lansing's name, but knew nothing about her and a Hollywood biography sounded appealing.  I ended up liking this book a lot, although some will likely find it problematic.  Lansing started out as an actress and moved through the ranks to become the first ever female studio head (at 20th Century Fox).  Ultimately she retired as CEO of Paramount.  She produced such movies as Fatal Attraction, The Accused and Indecent Proposal - and was instrumental in green-lighting  Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and keeping Titanic afloat.  She ultimately left Hollywood to pursue her philanthropic endeavors (which are varied and vast - she considers former President Carter a mentor).

That being said, readers looking for a feminist read may be disappointed.  Lansing was a ground breaker, but in typical fashion it's not like her and the other female studio execs in Hollywood were all that chummy early on.  There's no backstabbing here - but it doesn't occur to them that there's room for all of them at the table (this is honestly very typical regardless of the field.  Women getting pitted against each other or trying to survive on their own means they don't think to band together).  Also, Lansing has worked with Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson and....has stood by them both. That's an automatic nope for a lot of readers I know.

Final Grade = B

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I don't watch The Daily Show.  I have never watched The Daily Show (outside of the occasional viral clip).  I can't watch political shows.  Even ones that skewer politics.  It just makes me too angry.  So I keep abreast of political shenanigans by reading about them and avoid TV.  Why did I pick up this book?  Well, KristieJ loved it and my Mom bought it and I kept hearing about it - and OK, I was curious.

I really, really enjoyed this.  It's funny and touching and sad and makes you think.  Childhood stories have this amazing universal appeal.  Noah may have been born and raised in South Africa, in the shadow of Apartheid, but the tales of his childhood were amusing and interesting and approachable to this white girl from the American Midwest. 

My only quibble?  The way Noah chooses to end this story.  You end up feeling pure, unadulterated rage for what happened to his mother and what she (and her family) have had to endure.  Yes, it was real life and yes, Noah definitely should have put it in the book, but to end the book with it?  It overshadows the joyful moments and leaves the reader on a "down note."  I would have restructured the book and put that story earlier on.  I'm sure the decision by author and editor was to put it at the end for the greatest emotional impact.  But, quibble.  Go read it. 

Final Grade = B+

Believe Me: A Memoir of Love, Death, and Jazz Chickens by Eddie Izzard

It's seems impossibly stupid of me now, but I went into this expecting a straight-forward memoir.  Instead it was the audio book equivalent of herding cats.  Have you seen Izzard's stand-up?  Basically it was that.  If I heard "footnote," "end of footnote," or "long windy footnote" one time, I must have heard them 6549 times.  He'd start by, presumably, reading his book and then it would be like, "Squirrel!" and off Izzard would go on a tangent.  Some of these tangents apparently are in the print book, and some aren't.  So the audio book does have "exclusive content" - rambling though it may be.

If you're a fan of Izzard's stand-up, this likely won't be a stumbling block for you.  I have liked some of his stand-up, but I'm a bigger fan of his dramatic work (go watch The Cat's Meow and OMG, he's playing Edward VII in the upcoming Victoria and Abdul!).  I wanted more of that.  But in between the ramblings you do learn about Izzard's childhood, the death of his mother, his years spent in boarding schools, the early days of his comedy career and his sheer tenaciousness.  It wasn't what I wanted, but it was still OK.

Final Grade = C

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

#TBRChallenge 2017: The Millionaire Meets His Match

The Book: The Millionaire Meets His Match by Kate Carlisle

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Silhouette Desire #2023, Out of Print, Available Digitally, First book in series.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  Carlisle is a local author and I've corralled her for a couple of library events over the years.  My copy of this book is autographed, so my guess is I probably picked it up at an RWA Conference.  Plus, this is a boss/secretary romance and they're my catnip.  Yes, yes, I know.  I'm part of the problem.

The Review: Carlisle is better known for her cozy mysteries but from 2010 to 2013 she wrote half a dozen books for Desire.  This is the first in a trilogy about three adopted brothers who are doing their darnedest to avoid their mother's matchmaking schemes.

Adam Duke is the CEO of Duke Development, an outfit that specializes in luxury resorts.  He's in the midst of a huge project when his very capable, very indispensable assistant quits.  Just walks out and quits.  Apparently being three months pregnant, planning her wedding, and working around the clock for Adam wore her down to the nub.  The head of HR, who also happens to be his mother's BFF, says don't worry.  She'll get someone from the "floater pool."  Adam thinks this is a terrible idea, even if their floaters are a cut above.  She sends him Trish James, sexy, curvaceous, and a dynamite PA.  He's quite pleased with this new development until he realizes - wait a minute.  His head of HR is his Mom's BFF.  His Mom who keeps harping on marriage and grandbabies and....OMG, is Trish a plant?!

Trish is not a plant.  She's a spy.  She was raised by her grandmother who owned an antique shop in a quaint shopping center.  The other people who owned businesses in that center became like family.  Then the owner died, his kids sold the building to the highest bidder, and that was Duke Development.  They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.  Trish's grandmother had a heart attack and died, and the other business owners are having a rough time.  Trish just KNOWS Duke did something underhanded.  So she uses some connections to get a job, and is using this opportunity as his temporary assistant to dig up some dirt on his "shady" business dealings.

This story is filled with Magical Thinking.  I liked this spin on the boss/secretary trope and I tend to love it when the revenge trope is initiated by the heroine.  Romancelandia is littered with heroes who want to get revenge against the heroine's father - so to have a heroine motivated by revenge puts a different spin on things.  But Trish is just - well, blind.  Look, it sucks that your grandmother's rented shop space gets sold out from under her and torn down - but that doesn't make it illegal.  And there is literally NO whiff, at all, that something sneaky happened here.  The business owners wanted to apply for historic landmark distinction, but they didn't own the building.  And when the owner died, his kids, quite frankly, didn't give two snits.  Take the money and run.  And Duke offered the money.  This sucks - it's not illegal.  But the fact that Trish is SO convinced that something OBVIOUSLY not kosher went down is, well, absurd.

Adam seems like an OK guy until his brothers' paranoia about their Mom (seriously, they seem to think she's the Professor Moriarty of Matchmaking) gets to him.  Then he jumps to all sorts of conclusions about Trish even though he has absolutely no proof.  For his mother to be behind Trish being his new PA would literally mean she pulled off the Tet Offensive of Potential Matchmaking.  It defies logic.  But Adam, supposedly this super smart business dude, totally buys into it and runs with it.  Well he'll show that gold digger Trish!  He's sleep with her, have a grand old time, and then dump her like a hot potato.  THAT WILL TEACH MOM!!!!


None of this works.  It also really strains against the tone of the writing.  Carlisle has a lighter tone and style - a nice change of pace for the Desire line.  There's small touches of humor in this story, even if a lot of that humor fell flat for me because it revolves around Matchmaking Mama.  That said, as unsavory as I found the train of thoughts by both hero and heroine - it could have been more so if this story had been written in a heavier tone.  Like, say, in a traditional Presents style.  The character motivations didn't work for me, but the author's style did make this story readable even as I was frustrated by the authorial story choices.  There were also what I would call traditional elements here that didn't work for me.  The baggage of the adopted brothers to set up the angst for the trilogy.  The virgin heroine.  The fact that Adam ends this story smelling like a rose because even though it was HIS company that tore down Trish's grandmother's business, well - Adam didn't know anything about it and see - he's a really good guy!  Dude.  It would have been way more interesting if Adam had said, "Yeah, I tore that mother down.  I needed the parking space."  But....no.

None of this worked for me but - it was readable.  Faint praise, entering stage right.

Final Grade = C-

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Once Upon a Moonlit Night

Once upon a time Harlequin had a digital shorts line called Spice Briefs and I read a lot of them.  I like to read short anyway, but it's a format that works exceedingly well for me in erotica.  Back in 2009 I read one called Tonight, My Love by Tracie Sommers and it warped my fragile little mind.  A rarity in erotic romance circles, it was an F/F/M story and holy hot Batman!  Then I got to the ending.  An ending I was totally not prepared for.  Harlequin had always claimed that the Spice lines weren't necessarily "romance" - but c'mon, 99% of them were and those that weren't at least skated around the edges.  But Tonight, My Love?  Let's just say it was "erotic horror" and leave it at that.  Needless to say we're talking 8 years since I read it the first time and that story is still burned into my consciousness.

About a year later the author wrote another Spice Briefs, Blame It On the Moonlight, which was a more conservative werewolf story.  I liked it, but then Sommers went back to writing urban fantasy under her Tracey O'Hara name. The rights to both of these short stories have since reverted back to her and she's self-published them as a duology retitled Once Upon A Moonlit Night, which includes an alternate ending for Tonight, My Love.

Once...in a Whitechapel Alley (originally published as Tonight, My Love)

Andrew and Isabelle are a genteel couple who like to bring third parties into their bedroom.  They're cruising the streets of Whitechapel looking for a willing girl when Isabelle spies Lizzie.  A former maid, Lizzie was fired by the mistress of the house when she found out the master was "visiting" the help.  Lizzie is not an experienced prostitute by any means, but she has no money, is hungry and figures she might as well get paid for what the master was taking from her for free.  She's reluctant to go off with Andrew and Isabelle, what with Jack the Ripper on the loose, but they convince her - sending her to sexual heights she never would have imagined.

This is the version of the story that O'Hara slaps with the alternate ending and the romance reader in me likes it.  That said, she keeps the original epilogue in place, which mainly just serves to leave a big ol' question mark.  It's one of those stories where the reader is left with the feeling of "Wait a minute...."  On one hand I like it - because it allows the reader to create the ending they want for the story.  But then, now 8 years removed and totally prepared for the original ending?  I think I prefer that one.  It's just edgier and more shocking.  While I was horrified at the time I read it, looking back I really appreciated it.  I mean, honestly?  It was stunning.  If you can swing with the "erotic horror" thing?  The original ending has more bite and luckily O'Hara includes it at the end of the digital file - so readers get BOTH versions.

Once....in a Midnight Forest (originally published as Blame It On the Moonlight)

Jaz envisioned a romantic getaway to the cabin she inherited from her grandfather with her fiance.  Too bad he brought along his drunken fratbros, their playthings of the moment, and she spied her fiance banging his BFF's latest bimbo of the moment behind the tool shed.  Needless to say, she is unthrilled.  She runs off into the woods, alone, to think.  And that's when a wolf, with strangely human eyes, finds her.  The wolf is Lucas, her first love and the boy who gave her her first kiss.  Sparks immediately fly, hot times in the woods quickly follow, and Jaz learns of a family secret.

This is more of a traditional erotic romance story and it's a fast mover.  Jaz and Luca pick up right where they left off, and O'Hara speeds things along with mind-blowing sex and a soul mates themes.  Yes, yes, Wendy normally hates, abhors and wants to burn all soul mate themes to the ground.  But in this instance at least O'Hara does something interesting with it.  It's not a foregone conclusion.  In other words, the author does not strip her characters of free will.  They have to make the choice to bond together and become soul mates.  And you know what?  That works for me.

These are super short stories and likely won't work for some readers for that reason, but I loved revisiting these.  Erotica works well for me when it's served in bite-size pieces and O'Hara makes interesting choices in both of these stories.  Not for everybody, but if you're looking for some quick heat and to potentially have your mind blown - well look no further.

Final Grade = B

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review: Falling For The Rancher

As I do, every year, I make big plans to read the RITA finalist books that I just so happen to have in my TBR.  Well, I have good intentions at any rate.  What usually ends up happening is that I get distracted by The Shiny.  Oh well.  At least I can say I got around to Falling for the Rancher by Tanya Michaels, which is a finalist in the Contemporary Romance: Short category.

Jarrett Ross was a carefree rodeo cowboy who enjoys the company of many a buckle bunny, until one fateful decision turns his world upside down.  His younger sister, Vicki, came to see him at an event and they had plans to go out to dinner after.  But Jarrett throws her over for the opportunity to spend a few hours in the arms of a willing woman and, while driving herself home, Vicki is hit by a drunk driver.  She's got pins in various body parts and a screwed up pelvis that has her confined to a wheelchair (although doctors are saying she'll walk again with physical therapy).  Adding to Jarrett's guilt?  His father has a heart attack.  He's on the mend now, but his mother wants them to "get away" for a while.  Vicki is out of the woods, outside of the physical therapy she needs - so the plan is they get away, Jarrett holds down the fort, and they find some "help" for Vicki in the interim.

Sierra Bailey has just been fired.  She's a darn good physical therapist, but her drill sergeant attitude and allegations of an "inappropriate relationship" with a patient (there wasn't one) have sealed her fate.  While rounding up references for the resume she now has to dust off, a former client (a rodeo cowboy) tells her about the temporary job at the Ross ranch.  In a town named "Cupid's Bow?"  Seriously?  But beggars can't be choosers and it's an easy out for Sierra - whose mother is making noises of "maybe you should come home and hey, did you know that nice boy so-and-so is single?"  Ugh.  Yeah, Cupid's Bow is looking better every minute.

So we all know where this is going.  Sparks fly - but Jarrett is determined to keep his hands off Sierra because 1) he's her employer 2) his horn dog ways "led" to Vicki's accident and 3) Vicki is barely talking to him now, if he falls into bed with her therapist?  Whoa doggie.  For her part Sierra is determined that this pit stop in Cupid's Bow is temporary.  Jarrett is sexy as sin, but he's not going to leave and she's not cut out for small town life.  Or is she?

Let's get the quibbles out of the way first: this is one of those Big City Girl Chucks It All To Stay In The Cutesy Small Town romances.  This is a fast and emphatic no for a lot of readers.  It's a bit more palatable here only because Sierra isn't really leaving anything behind in The Big City.  I mean, hello?  She's unemployed.  She's single.  She lives in a rented apartment and doesn't have pets.  So, yeah.  Also, part of her duties at the Ross ranch are to cook, since Jarrett spends his entire day either outside working or cooped up in the office doing the books.  The older I get the more annoyed I get with heroines stuck in the kitchen.  At least there's not endless raving about what a great cook Sierra is.  Jarrett and Vicki compliment her, but at least it's not ad nauseum.

Now that we're done with the quibbles, on to the stuff I liked.  OMG, I loved how Sierra was portrayed in relation to her career.  I have a soft spot for heroines that work in medicine, and the pricklier they are, the more I love them.  It turns the Woman As Caregiver stereotype on it's ear.  A lot of women I know in the medical field ARE caregivers, but they also tend to have spines of steel.  A take-charge, don't mess with me, I know this sucks but it's for your own good, spine of steel.  And that's Sierra.  She's a physical therapist, so she's used to patients being short tempered, hating her, or misconstruing the fact that she has to "touch" them (hence those relationship allegations).  I just adored this aspect of her character.

I liked Jarrett, but he wasn't as memorable for me as Sierra.  Lothario Hero who feels guilty about something that wasn't his fault and is trying to mend his ways, but is tempted by the heroine.  Sister Vicki brings with her a compelling secondary story line, a bubbly sorority girl laid low by the accident, lashing out in her pain.  I loved the moments she shared with Sierra - battles waged in sarcasm.

This is book two in a series, so readers should expect a fair amount of secondary characters and some sequel baiting.  For the most part Michaels' keeps that fairly well reined in and doesn't lose sight of her main romance.  This didn't wow me, but it's a good, solid contemporary romance set in a small town universe that didn't annoy me.  So, win.

Final Grade = B

Friday, June 16, 2017

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for June

For those of you participating in the 2017 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, June 21.  This month's theme is Favorite Trope.

This is the month to go rooting around in the TBR to look for your favorite catnip.  Are you a sucker for friends-to-lovers?  Amnesia?  Secret Babies?  Motorcycle Clubs?  Beauty and the Beast?  Whatever gets your motor revving - this is the month to unearth it from the TBR.

But what if you've read every single of your favorite trope in your TBR?  Well, if you don't have a second favorite....remember: the themes are optional!  The whole point of the TBR Challenge is to read something, anything, that has been languishing for far too long.

You can find more information about the challenge, and see the list of participants, on the 2017 Information Page.  (And it's never too late to sign-up!)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review: An Unseen Attraction

An Unseen Attraction by K.J. Charles is one of those books that everyone seems to love - so when I noticed my digital acquisitions librarian ordered it for work, I was keen to check it out.  Which I did.  Twice.  Let me explain. I started reading it but didn't finish it before my check-out expired. So I put myself back on the wait list to check it out a second time.  In between the book went on sale at retailers for 99 cents.  And my reaction?  "Meh, I'll just wait for the work copy to come back around."  

So, yeah.  I couldn't be bothered to spend 99 cents on this, even after I had read the first 5 chapters.  Even I'm not typically that frugal.

Which begs the question, "Why go back and finish it?"  Well, at the time my check-out expired the mystery subplot was finally kicking in - and my interest was starting to pick up.  But, yeah - up until that point?  It was almost a DNF out of disinterest.

Clem Talleyfer is a half-Indian bastard son, so he's grateful to his brother for setting him up running a London lodging-house.  His brother's only stipulation?  That the Reverend Lugtrout has a room, free of charge, for as long as he wishes.  This is a trial for Clem since Lugtrout is a disagreeable drunk who flouts house rules.  The man is an insufferable jackass.  But Clem is dealing with him as best he can.  Besides, it's another of the residents that has him distracted - Rowley Green, a taxidermist who has a shop right next door.  Rowley is a loner, in part because people find his profession rather ghoulish, but also his traumatic past has left him a bit skittish.  However he's drawn to Clem's calm, quiet manner and his devastating good looks.  Naturally a relationship blossoms, only to have the whole thing upended when the odious Lugtrout is found murdered and Rowley's shop is burglarized.

I had a hard time sinking into this story and it's hard for me to put my finger on exactly why.  I suspect it's because there's a fair amount of set-up in the early chapters.  It's Rowley and Clem tap-dancing around each other, going to the theater, Clem fretting over Lugtrout and a lot of taxidermy talk - which frankly I could have done without.  Yes, it's an art form - but dude, some of us find stuffed animals creepy.  And while I appreciate that Charles gives one of her heroes an interesting profession and that she obviously did her research....

I. Don't. Care.

There, I said it.

Frankly I found it a slog to get through.

But once Lugtrout ends up dead, that's when things get interesting.  He was an odious man, but to have his tortured dead body left on the doorstep of the boardinghouse reeks of overkill.  And then to have Rowley's shop burglarized?  I mean, is there a connection?  And if so, what could it possibly be? Adding a touch of Victorian melodramatic intrigue, and the already excellent world-building - this was the part of the story that really cooked for me.  Charles sets up her world-building extremely well, right down to oppressive fog and characters that read too much Wilkie Collins.

There's plenty of s-e-x in this book, but the romance itself is rather sweet - thanks to Rowley's loner tendencies and Clem being somewhere on the spectrum (although the author flim-flams on this too much for my liking.  Am I being fair?  Probably not.  I mean, this was Victorian London - autism didn't "exist" it's just some people were "odd.")  It was also interesting to read Clem's growth over the course of the story.  To a fault, he's kind and patient and will bend over backwards for just about anybody.  But as the danger heightens in the story, Clem discovers his spine and shows some gumption.  Him losing his cool in the later chapters were easily some of my favorite moments in the book.

So we're left with a damning with faint praise reaction.  I liked this, but it didn't rivet me and the mystery was more engaging (again, for me) more so than the romance.  That said, readers should be warned that while this story is wrapped up somewhat tidily, there's some loose threads left dangling in the mystery that will likely carry their way through the next books in the series.  And yep, looks like my digital acquisitions librarian has the next book in the series on order.  Bloody hell, of course I have it on hold.

Final Grade = B-

Thursday, June 1, 2017

#ShallowReaderBingo May 2017

It's time, once again, for ShallowReader Bingo!  I had the best reading month I've had in a long while (5 books!), but dagnabit this was a hard bingo card!  In order to make Bingo I had to get pretty darn creative.

The Bingo Row:

Touch vs. Sight: I Know a Secret by Tess Gerritsen. I'm well aware this suspense novel doesn't come out until August.  However I scored an early copy thanks to NetGalley, and since it's my favorite suspense series at the moment, I couldn't be expected to wait to read it.  The story opens with homicide cop, Jane Rizzoli, entering a new crime scene.  The victim had her eyeballs removed postmortem and the killer left said eyeballs in the victim's open palm.

A Walk in the Park: The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner.  Most of the story takes place in Provincetown, Massachusetts and the characters seem to walk everywhere.

Abstinence: The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince by Mayte Garcia.  Garcia met Prince when she was 16 years old.  They didn't enter into a romantic (or sexual) relationship until she was over 18 and even then, she was still a virgin.

Oooh! That Would Be Grand!: Blood Oath by Melissa Lenhardt.  This historical fiction series is set in the post-Civil War American West, making it grand in scope and epic all the way around.

Bloom: The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner.  A new romance blooms for one of the characters over the course of the story.

Other Squares:

Epic Wardrobe Disaster, May, Do the Shake: The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince by Mayte Garcia.  A May/December romance, Garcia is a belly dancer, and while on tour with Prince she performed in one of her handmade belly dancing costumes that requires special hand cleaning.  Needless to say it was ripe by the end of the tour.

Deja Vu: The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner.  A long married couple on the brink of divorce finds their way back to each other.

Love Triangle: I Know A Secret by Tess Gerritsen.  Jane Rizzoli's mother was left by her husband when he had an affair.  She moved on with another man.  But when her husband came crawling back, she took him back.  She's now regretting that decision.

Close But Not Cigar, Lashings: Blood Oath by Melissa Lenhardt.  Every time the characters think they're safe, the rug gets pulled out from under them.  Lashing because the series has been pretty violent.

Suck It!: The Gangster's Kiss by Ginger Ring.  My TBR Challenge read for the month and not very good.