Monday, January 15, 2018

Top 5 Unusual Historicals for January 2018

So here we are.  It's the first month of a new year which would typically inspire hope and wonder that we haven't already kicked our well-meaning resolutions to the curb.  I started out my 2018 reading like a house on fire thanks to finding the right books at the right time.  However in the past week I've DNF'ed three books in a row and now I'm browsing around grasping at straws (as you do).  The perfect time to go browsing for new historicals! Here's what is catching my eye this month:

Forbidden Night with the Highlander by Michelle Willingham (medieval)
The handsome Highlander who seduced her…

…is the very man she must marry!  
 In this Warriors of the Night story, Lianna MacKinnon seeks to avoid her betrothal to a Norman lord by giving herself to an intriguing stranger. But afterward, she discovers her sensual lover is none other than Rhys de Laurent—her betrothed—in disguise! They’ve already had their wedding night… Now there’s no escaping their marriage vows!

This is the second book in a series and yes, of course I still have book one waiting for me in my digital TBR.  Willingham is basically an autobuy for me, so yes, this will get added to the pile and read...one of these days.

A Delicate Affair by Lindsay Evans (1920s)
Golden Worth is a proud southerner. But when some “good” Georgia boys threaten to lynch him, he runs north to Washington DC to make music and a new life for himself. He doesn’t count on falling for the untouchable Leonie Harper, an aristocratic beauty with a mind for sin. He knows better than to want her, but the Radcliffe-bound girl who’s supposed to be a blushing debutante is anything but. She captivates him, tempting him to want things he once thought were out of reach.  
All too easily, Golden falls into Leonie’s scented embrace, even though he suspects she’s only playing with him until something richer comes along. 
Can this country boy convince a big city girl to take a chance on real love, or will she leave him swinging in the wind?
This is the first novella in a multi-author series with a new story set in a new decade releasing every month during 2018 (a 2010-set romance ends the series in December 2018).  From what I can tell this appears to be Evans' first historical (she's got a number of contemporary category romances under her belt).

Wallflower Most Wanted by Manda Collins (Regency)
THE PICTURE OF ROMANCE  
A dedicated painter, Miss Sophia Hastings is far more concerned with finding the right slant of light than in finding Mr. Right. But when an overheard conversation hints at danger for another local artist, Sophia is determined to get involved. Even if it means accepting help from an impossibly good-looking vicar who insists on joining her investigation—and threatens to capture her heart…  
 Reverend Lord Benedick Lisle knows that Sophia is no damsel in distress. But he won’t allow her to venture into peril alone, either. . .especially since he finds Sophia’s curious, free-spirited nature so alluring. But protecting her from harm is becoming more difficult than the vicar could have expected as he and Sophia confront their fiery mutual passion. Who could have known that the art of love would prove so irresistible?
I know.  Typically this column steers clear of Regency-set historicals but VICAR HERO!!!!!  Ahem.  We need more vicar heroes.  Says Wendy.  Also, Collins is a librarian. 

Tempest by Beverly Jenkins (western)
What kind of mail-order bride greets her intended with a bullet instead of a kiss? One like Regan Carmichael—an independent spirit equally at home in denims and dresses. Shooting Dr. Colton Lee in the shoulder is an honest error, but soon Regan wonders if her entire plan to marry a man she’s never met is a mistake. Colton, who buried his heart along with his first wife, insists he only wants someone to care for his daughter. Yet Regan is drawn to the unmistakable desire in his gaze.  
Regan’s far from the docile bride Colton was expecting. Still, few women would brave the wilds of Wyoming Territory for an uncertain future with a widower and his child. The thought of having a bold, forthright woman like Regan in his life—and in his arms—begins to inspire a new dream. And despite his family’s disapproval and an unseen enemy, he’ll risk all to make this match a real union of body and soul.
This is the third book in Jenkins' current series for Avon.  I love that Colton is surprised that Regan is "far from the docile bride" he was expecting.  Darlin', you're the hero in a Beverly Jenkins romance novel.  You should have been prepared that the heroine wasn't going to be some simpering miss.

 Sunrise Over Texas by M.J. Fredrick (western) reprint
Texas Frontier, 1826  
Kit Barclay followed her husband into the wilds of Texas only to be widowed. Stranded with her mother- and sister-in-law to care for, with no hope of rescue before winter sets in, Kit has only one goal: survival. So when a lone horseman appears on the horizon, and then falls from his mount in fever, Kit must weigh the safety of her family against offering aid and shelter to the handsome stranger.  
Trace Watson has lost everything that ever mattered to him. Trying to forget, he heads to the frontier colony of San Felipe, not caring if he lives or dies. But when he wakes to discover he's being nursed back to health by a brave young widow, he vows to repay her kindness by guiding the three women back to civilization, no matter what the cost.  
Soon, Kit and Trace are fighting the elements, Indian attacks and outlaws—as well as feelings they both thought were long buried...
When I saw this title pop on Amazon I thought, "I'll feature this because it was originally a Samhain title."  Um, yeah.  No, it wasn't.  Imagine my surprise - this was actually originally published by Carina back in 2010.  Anywho - Fredrick obviously got her rights back and I'm more than half in love with this cover.  It's also a western set pre-Civil War which is nearly unheard of (take it from the historical western reader - these are hard to come by!).  A couple of my reading buds really liked this one back in the day and I could of sworn I owned it but a cursory glance in my digital TBR is telling me I don't.  Well, I'm buying it now.

What Historicals are you looking forward to this month?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for January


Hey, hey, hey!  For those of you participating in the 2018 #TBRChallenge, a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, January 17.  The theme this month is We Love Short Shorts!  This means shorter word counts - so novellas, short stories, category length romance novels etc.

Ah, I can hear you thinking...

But Wendy!  I don't like shorter reads!  They always leave me feeling so dissatisfied!  Hey, no problem!  The themes are totally optional.  The goal isn't so much what you read, it's that you pick up a book, any book, that has been languishing in your TBR.

Reminders:

1) If you're participating via social media, remember to use the #TBRChallenge hashtag

and 

2) It is not too late to sign-up!  You can get further details and links to all the blogs participating on the 2018 TBR Challenge Information Page.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Review: Redeemed

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B06ZYRR6DC/themisaofsupe-20
Note: This novella was originally published as part of an anthology entitled Gambled Away (no longer available for sale).  Check your digital TBR before one-clicking.
+++++
 "Suffering a little is always better than forgetting who you are."
I love historical westerns and much to my delight, they've made somewhat of a small resurgence.  Unfortunately the resurgence seems to have largely been felt in the "cozy, small town" areas of Romancelandia.  Now, nothing wrong with this.  I like cutesy historical western towns in Romancelandia.  But my very favorite westerns are the dark, gritty ones.  The Will We Survive Winter? variety of westerns.  And there's just not a lot of those around these days.  So the fact that Molly O'Keefe has been self-publishing dark historical westerns featuring characters still dealing with the aftermath of the Civil War?  I've been all in.  Redeemed is the third book in the series and while I wasn't madly in love with it, there's still a lot to recommend.

Dr. James Madison has fallen far from grace.  He's off the chloroform that he was using to blunt his memories of the Civil War, but like any other drug addict, is still fighting his demons, wrestling with his cravings.  He moved into a brothel where the madam helped to get him clean and he's still there, drifting through life, trying to fight the urge to go back to the little green bottles of oblivion.  Then one day, a distraction wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a mystery arrives.  Helen Winters, a former Union spy.  Her odious "guardian," Charles Park, has her sing two nights while suspended in a bird cage (seriously).  On the third night?  A high stakes poker game where the players compete to win the chance to divest Helen of her virginity - presumably still intact since Charles never loses.

When James meets Helen he immediately deduces that something is rotten in Denmark.  The woman is drugged out of her mind.  Turns out with a combination of morphine and laudanum.  But deciphering the truth of Helen is harder than he imagines.  She says one thing, her body language and eyes say another.  What is the truth and what are the lies that Helen is spinning in the name of self-preservation?

This is a dark book featuring two characters with very dark back stories.  The shadow of the Civil War has featured prominently in this entire series, but nowhere is it more keenly felt than in this book.  James spent the war amputating limbs from young boys begging him not to - that's not just something you get over.  Helen, it turns out, really was a spy.  A beautiful genteel Southern belle who, along with her mother, played a very dangerous game.  James went to chloroform to forget ; Helen had drugs thrust upon her by the villain who has now ensured she's properly addicted. 

This is a compelling read but one that really could have benefited from a longer word count (and I like novellas, as a rule!).  There's just a lot of back-story here that the author doesn't invest a lot of time on.  James has been estranged from his family ever since he ran away to Paris to pursue his medical degree.  There's mention of sisters and a father, who is still alive, but then...nothing.  Helen is from Charleston.  Her father, naturally, fought for the Confederates while she and her mother used their social standing to spy for the Union.  The question here is why.  I need reasons for this.  Was her mother originally from the North?  Did she have abolitionist leanings?  She's married to a Southern man who fought for the Confederates.  How do you go from that to spying for the Union?  This bit of back story is never fully addressed.

Because of this, and the fact that the "truth" of Helen takes a little time to ferret out, the romance itself is slow going.  It does eventually show up in the later chapters, when an actual "courtship" begins and that immediately elevated this from a good, solid B grade to a B+.  Because the courtship stuff is wonderful.  I'm not going to lie, it truly is - complete with exchanging of letters.  Also, by this point, James is beginning correspondence with doctors on the subjects of addiction (on the rise thanks to the introduction of the syringe) and "soldier's heart" (what we now call PTSD).

I liked this, but didn't love it.  There were elements here that I thought were extremely well done, and O'Keefe is a fine practitioner of dark, gritty westerns (of which there are sadly few these days).  The only "bad" thing I can say about this novella is that I wanted more - which really, by way of criticism, isn't all that bad.  O'Keefe has created an interesting, multifaceted world with this series and she easily has room for more books.  Here's hoping she entertains the idea.

Final Grade = B+

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Review: Wait For It

Because the alternative - that this gorgeous, rich man was somehow attracted to me - was a fairy tale.  And fairy tales were just shitty stories that no one really believed.
There's this long standing tradition in Romancelandia that readers like to call "glomming." (I'm going to credit this term to All About Romance because that's where I first heard it).  Anyway, it's the practice of discovering a new author and then going on a merry chase to acquire backlist in order to go on a reading binge.  I'm very good at acquiring the backlist thing.  The reading a bunch of books by the same author in a row?  Not so much.  Call it fear of burnout.  But, you see, I had a major book hangover after Burn Down the Night and frankly, Wait for It is the last book in this particular series by M. O'Keefe.  So despite my trepidation over the hero (who I found to be a flaming a-hole in the previous books in the series) - I tucked in to start reading.

And finished the book in a matter of hours.  I may need to go lay down for a bit after finishing this blog post...

Tiffany is 26-years-old, has three kids and an abusive husband who won't stay gone.  She finally got the courage to leave him a year ago.  Packed up the kids and moved to a dumpy apartment.  But, naturally, Phil came sniffing back around, she called the cops, and things got ugly.  Her and the kids scampered down the fire escape, got in the car, and went to her friend Annie's (see Everything I Left Unsaid and The Truth About Him).  What she didn't plan on?  That Annie and her husband would be throwing a Christmas party.  Oh, and that her asshole brother-in-law, Blake Edwards, would be there.

A while back Blake found out about Tiffany.  The entire family has cut Phil out of their lives, so the fact that the man had a wife he liked to beat up on and three kids he enjoyed terrorizing was unknown to them.  Blake has spent his entire life cleaning up after Phil and something inside him breaks.  He finds out about Tiffany and automatically assumes the worst.  In one of the best scenes I've ever read in a romance novel, he pays her off to make her "go away."  Blake is the kind of guy who used to have nothing and now has money - so to his way of thinking?  Money solves everything and keeps life from getting emotionally "messy."  Tiffany had stayed gone, until she literally had no other option.

This sets off a chain of events.  Blake, in a moment of clarity, realizes that he may have been wrong about her.  It probably helped when he saw her three kids in the back seat of her crappy Toyota.  He knows all too well what his brother is capable of and he sees this as another mess.  A problem to solve and make better.  But it's very complicated.  There's guilt, there's baggage, and then there's the fact that he likes Tiffany.  He really likes her.

How big of an ass was Blake in the earlier books in the series?  Let me put it this way - I found Max, the head of a criminal motorcycle club more sympathetic.  That scene where Blake "pays off" Tiffany is enough to get your blood boiling.  So I had reservations about him as a romance hero and naturally, O'Keefe makes it work.  How?  Well, it helps that he realizes early on that he was wrong and yet the author doesn't make the mistake of morphing him into a choir boy.  He has a lot to answer for once he and Tiffany enter into a "relationship" and to be fair to Tiffany, she's so emotionally screwed up after Phil you can see how she's terrified on one hand and grabbing at anything resembling a brass ring with the other.

This is another hard romance about hard people.  What keeps it all humming along is Tiffany, who despite years of abuse is never portrayed like a damsel in distress.  By the time our girl gets her own romance she is ALL out of fucks (pardon my language).  She is full up and has had enough.  But she knows she can't do it alone.  And loathe as she is to accept anything resembling help from Blake (who she doesn't trust, at all), she has no other choice.  This is a man with money, connections - frankly he can get her a good lawyer.  She NEEDS him, and she knows it.  But that doesn't mean she's going to make it easy for him.

As much as I loved Burn Down the Night, I think I may have liked this one a teensy bit better.  I found the trust issues and obstacles to the romance believable and heart-wrenching.  I loved Tiffany's strength and fire.  I loved that there was a good, decent guy inside Blake yearning to be set free.  My only quibble is I felt like the ending (once Phil is dispatched with...) was a bit rushed.  With all the baggage, I think I wanted to wallow around in the happy-ending a bit more.  Oh, like 50 pages more.  Plus, you know, it's the last book in the series.  But this is me being a glutton.

I only had two A reads all of 2017, a fact that left me horribly depressed.  I vowed to start 2018 off on the right foot and I knew that my Kindle held a treasure trove of possibilities.  O'Keefe has delivered two and I'm not done with the glom just yet....

Final Grade = A

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: Burn Down the Night

First, yes I'm just now reading Burn Down the Night by M. O'Keefe.  Yes, I'm aware it's the third book in a series that everyone was talking about back in...oh, 2016.  What can I say?  You obviously have not had the pleasure of seeing the absurd contents of my Kindle.

Second, this is the book that helped inspire my recent post about "bad girl" heroines.  Unfortunately, on that score, this book is problematic.  Oh who am I kidding?  On all scores this is a problematic read.  But you know what?  I didn't care.  I was riveted from the moment I started to the moment I finished.  It had the same impact on me as the first book in the series (Everything I Left Unsaid) and wiped away any lingering malaise I had leftover from the second book (The Truth About Him - which frankly I thought was a rather pointless endeavor outside of anything involving the secondary characters).

This is the book where we finally get Joan as the heroine.  Joan is a stripper at the local seedy strip club that is a front for various criminal activities.  It's also a hangout for Max Daniels, the president of the Skulls Motorcycle Club.  Joan is the sort of character who, when caught in a bear trap, would gnaw off her own arm to escape.  She's a hard woman, as evidenced by her interactions with the other characters in the first two books.  She's also a woman with secrets.  A lot of them.  She's working some sort of angle but up until now readers were left wondering what game she was actually playing.  Turns out it's a game to save her younger sister, Jennifer, who is trapped in a cult that is a front for drug running.  And Max, our MC president, is naturally all wrapped up in the business of those drugs.

Max "got out" of the MC in the previous book.  He left.  He was in Arizona.  But when his brother called him home, he came.  And now the shit has really hit the fan.  Joan has found out that the cult leader is coming into the club to complete the drug deal.  She has plans.  Involving a couple of homemade bombs (yes, really) and a gun - all in the name of getting the psychopath cult leader to tell her where her sister is.  Max being there puts a fly in the ointment and naturally it all goes horribly wrong.  The cult leader gets away, Max gets beaten to a pulp by his "brothers" and shot for good measure.  Since Max is the last potential remaining link to finding her sister, Joan does the only sensible thing she can think of.  She kidnaps him and takes him to Florida.  She's going to convince this man to help her find her sister if it's the last thing she does.

I loved Joan in the first two books.  I LOVED HER!  She was brittle, all rough edges and very, very hard.  This is the sort of woman who could literally spit nails.  When I found out O'Keefe actually had plans to make her a heroine I was so excited, but also nervous.  Because I loved hard Joan.  I didn't want hard Joan to morph into a Rescue Me Princess all because she was finally getting a romance.  And praise jeebus, she doesn't.  That being said, there are obvious "reasons" Joan is the way Joan is.  I will say this, at least O'Keefe doesn't turn her into a tragic, misunderstood victim.  Joan is in the situation she is because she's made terrible choices.  She's spent her whole life pushing people away.  She's the sort who never dithers over fight or flight - she's the sort who will always choose flight.  Joan is looking out for Joan but feels this incredible amount of guilt over what has happened to her sister.  This guilt is what drives her character to the brink of exhaustion.

Then there's Max.  There's no way to sugarcoat this - Max is a criminal scumbag.  The guy is the president of an MC and was working out a drug deal with the cult leader.  I mean, there's no way to sugarcoat that - or is there?  O'Keefe is smart.  She doesn't make apologies for Max.  What makes his character from being totally unpalatable is that he was looking to get out.  He DID get out.  But family brought him back and having been in "the life" for that long - getting out isn't all that easy.  It's literally all he knows.

What we have is a romance between two cornered animals and it makes for fascinating reading.  Max is the one who comes around first.  Partly because he's looking for a way out anyway and also because he totally "gets" Joan.  I loved the fact that their big emotional Black Moment in this story is Max asking her if she ever gets tired of running, of being alone; of never asking anybody for help, even when it's blatantly obvious that's exactly what she needs - help from other people who care about her.  It's just that Joan makes it nearly impossible for those around her to care about her.  She keeps pushing them away.

This is a compellingly addictive story with a lot of really interesting edges to it.  It's also problematic as hell.  I can totally understand readers not wanting to read about an MC president and a stripper heroine who plants bombs and compulsively pushes everyone who gets anywhere near her far, far away.  These are hard characters.  But it also brings pretty high stakes into the potential romance.  Because O'Keefe has to "redeem" these characters enough so that you root for them, but also not morph them into pod people in order to accomplish that.  And I think she does.  Joan isn't my perfect "bad girl" heroine, but she's the one I have at the moment.  And you know what?  I'll take her.

Final Grade = A

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Talkin' 'Bout Bad Girls

I had a brief flirtation with romance in my teens, but didn't become a "serious" reader of the genre until I was in my early twenties.  1999 to be precise.  I was fresh out of library school and had landed a job with a collection development component to it - specifically, adult fiction.  Having spent the past six years buried in academia, reading for pleasure was not my poison of choice for unwinding.  I watched an inordinate amount of soap operas instead.  It was after landing this job that I realized I was going to be expected to select romance and outside of knowing who Jude Deveraux was, I was epically clueless.  So I started reading it and got hooked.

This was 1999 which doesn't seem that long ago, but trust me on this - it was almost 20 years ago.  I read a lot of books back then that I enjoyed, but the genre was still stuffed to the gills with virginal heroines who never had an orgasm until the hero came along.  If you were lucky enough to find a book with an "experienced" heroine as the lead, she had to be screwed up in some way.  Daddy didn't love her so that's why she had sex with other guys before meeting the hero and naturally the sex she had before the hero wasn't all that good.  It was like there had to be a self-loathing component to the heroine in order for her to NOT be a virgin.  I read these (and even enjoyed some) because I was, literally, that desperate.

Having lived away from home, having had the "college experience," and a wide swath of male and female friends - this sort of thing never rang true for me.  Even some of the earliest (marketed as) erotic romances still featured virginal heroines who designed sex toys for a living.  I think that's why I found Black Lace books so revolutionary at the time I discovered them.  The heroines had healthy sex lives, multiple partners, weren't written as villains, and weren't punished for it.  But Black Lace wasn't necessarily romance, although you could find books that featured what we now call HFN (Happy For Now) endings. Also, since they were published in the UK, they were pretty hard to find in the United States until the evil monolith that is Amazon came along (Black Lace is why I became an Amazon customer and no I'm not joking. At all.)

For readers who have just come to romance in, say, the last five years or so, the idea that 95% of all heroines being virgins is a foreign concept to them.  These days, at least the books I'm reading, I would say the norm is that most heroines aren't virgins - especially in contemporary romance.  But you know what?  They're all still predominantly "good girls."  Even in erotic romance where taboo is a teeny bit more acceptable.

For "reasons," I've spent the last several months sampling and listening to a lot of erotic romance on audio.  Call it professional development.  I like to expose myself (ha!) to authors I've never read before, check out books my library patrons are interested in, even if I don't finish everything I pick up - I at least have gotten a small plate tasting to give myself a good idea.  It's a way to keep my reader's advisory skills fresh.

I've just gone through, roughly, 25 different erotic romance audio books.  Some by authors I've heard of, some I haven't, pretty much all authors I've never read before.  And you know what?  If they weren't "good girls" they were "bad girls" who were looking to repent and/or be rescued.  Good Lord above, if I hit upon one Rescue Fantasy, I must have hit upon 20.  The hero swooping in to save the heroine.  The heroine being the "emotional salve" to "heal" the hero's damaged psyche.  The Alphahole Hero felled by the love of a good woman after he teaches her to be kinky in bed.

Honestly it's amazing I didn't give myself alcohol poisoning.

I hear what you're thinking.  Wendy, you're yucking on someone else's yum.  And you know what?  Yes.  Yes, I am.  You wanna know why?  Because I just slogged through 25+ audio books and 90% of them featured some variation on this.

It took me a while to figure this out, but slogging through those audio books, it was like the proverbial light bulb going off.  I glommed on to erotic romance the minute Kensington Brava was launched in 1999.  I was all in baby!  So why now is the sub genre failing to spark with me.  Have I changed?  Or has the sub genre changed?  And here's the answer: it's a little of both.

The Bodice Ripper Era gets a fair amount of grief from those who don't understand genre history because of how rape-y it was.  What naysayers don't take into account is the era in which those books were written.  "Good girls" weren't allowed to talk or think about sex, much less like it.  The concept that women could actually have sexual desires, needs and fantasies is something society still wrestles with today, never mind the 1970s and 1980s.  Authors were responding to society and addressing female sexuality with the means at their disposal.  There was a lot of cloak and dagger tap-dancing these authors were doing because that's what they had to do.  People talk about the 1960s as the "sexual revolution," but I have news for you - that revolution missed wide swaths of the population.

What romance has always told women is that it's OK for them to have sexual desires and fantasies - to own them.  Good girls can like sex and good girls can desire sex.  It's what makes the genre inherently subversive.  Where the genre needs to do more work is with "bad girls."

Human behavior, god bless, is predictable.  I don't care when or where you grew up, but we all knew who the "bad girls" were.  The ones who "got in trouble."  The ones who "let" boys go "all the way."  These were the girls we gossiped about, snubbed, and talked trash about.  Never mind that we knew nothing about their lives or, you know, the actual truth.  Never let the truth get in the way of "good gossip" no matter how appalling and misogynistic it is.

We've all done it.  We all need to own it.

But here's the thing: romance is still doing it.  Maybe not as blatantly as it used to - where the villainess was always The Other Woman who enjoys kinky sex - although yes, those still exist in today's genre.  But it's still a rare thing to have a bad girl heroine in the genre.  A true bad girl.  The one who has made mistakes, has a dubious moral and ethical code, and stays a bit bad even at the end of the book.  If I'm to believe in a "bad girl" I don't want her morphed into a pod person and joining the PTA at the end of the book.  Unless, of course, she's going to burn the PTA down to the ground.  Then I'm all in.

As romance readers we swallow a lot of over-the-top (secret babies, amnesia, evil twins) and ethically squishy (boss/secretary, criminal heroes) plot devices.  The hurdle we can't seem to cross is the ethically squishy heroine.  We'll buy it for the gander but it sure as heck is not good for the goose.  The goose needs to be above reproach.  And frankly?  That's SO boring.  I want a heroine who is allowed to be just as "bad" as the hero and is celebrated for it.  That's what I want.  And frankly, given that romance authors are predominantly female, I should be able to find more of it.  Yet, here I am, nattering away on my blog.  Is it the desire to be more marketable? (Probably).  Is it internalized misogyny? (Not out of the realm of possibilities).  All I know is I want more of it.  I truly want the girls to be on the same playing field as the boys because you know what?  Women don't get that in Real Life.  I'm not saying that all romance needs to be wish fulfillment but it should serve as a response to the social history around us.  If you love "bad boy" heroes - guess what?  It's time to let the "bad girl" heroines have their day in the sun.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Reading Year In Review 2017: The Numbers, The Best, The Honorable Mentions

Let's get this out of the way upfront: 2017 was not a great year and it naturally bled through into my reading.  Outside of the occasional book(s) I pick up in the name of "professional development," I would say that 99% of my reading is "leisure reading."  It's stuff I WANT to read not that I HAVE to read.  And, you know, when everything seems to be on fire (literally, figuratively...), losing myself in a book is just hard.  It's so much easier to mindlessly "tune out" in front of the TV or by playing Candy Crush.  But that being said, it's now 2018 and hope springs eternal.  Especially since I managed to get through 70 books this yearI know, right?!  I can hardly believe it myself.  My goal is always 100, but given my reading malaise this year, I'm counting 70 as a win.  Here's how the grades broke down:

A = 2
B = 33
C = 17
D = 11
F = 1
DNF = 6

God, that's depressing.  I've always been stingy with my A grades, but to only have 2 is extreme even for me.  And I'm afraid this lack of OMG BEST BOOK EVER squee is going to reflect in interesting ways when I now talk about the books that I read in 2017 that "stuck with me."  Yes, I'm predominantly "known" as a romance blogger and this list is going to be rather thin on the romance.  I know, I hate it too.  And before any of you ask, "But Wendy what about Books X, Y, Z that I see cropping up on everyone else's year end lists."  The short answer?  I haven't read them.  The longer answer: they're buried in the TBR, I'm always perpetually behind and I'm notorious for dragging my feet when I hear a whole lot of endless squee'ing.  I know folks.  It's not one of my finer traits, but there you have it. 

But enough of the Wendy Pity Party.  What were the books that had enough oomph to them to "stick with me" this year?  So glad you asked!  Let's start with the romances:

Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino (2016) ::shudder:: New Adult Contemporary
Well, it finally happened.  This book by Carlino is the first New Adult book I've managed to finish (everything else I've ever tried has ended in a DNF) and I was sucked in but good.  Adjunct writing instructor heroine still struggling to find her voice and withering in a relationship going nowhere discovers that the latest hot literary bestseller is the story of her screwed up childhood.  Which means her first love, the boy she left behind, is the mysterious writer everyone is talking about.  This is a book within a book and it's not perfect.  There are flaws, and yet?  I didn't care.  Carlino sucked me in with her voice, the angst, the gut-punch.  I read a New Adult book and I actually liked it.  Miracles can happen.
Never Say Die by Tess Gerritsen (1992) Romantic Suspense (Harlequin Intrigue)
An early Gerritsen romantic suspense novel this one holds up amazingly well, but it still needs to be read like a "time capsule."  To finally get some closure for her dying mother, heroine travels to Vietnam looking for answers about her MIA father, who flew secret missions for Air America.  Hero is former military turned independent contractor who is from the Han Solo School of Romance heroes.  This was a real find.
Temptations of a Wallflower by Eva Leigh (2016) Historical Romance
I finished out 2017 by listening to quite a bit of erotic romance on audio for a Day Job related project and I'm not going to lie, it's largely been a slog.  This book by Leigh is the third book in a trilogy and is marketed as a historical romance, but what this book has in spades unlike my recent slog through erotic romance, is passion and tension.  OMG, the tension in this book is delicious!  An extremely well done Big Secret plot, a vicar hero stuck under a domineering father's thumb, and a heroine bristling against what society deems as an "acceptable life" for ladies of her class.  I was meh on the first two books in this trilogy but this one?  It's so well done.  And yes, it stands alone.
Seriously, that's all I got.  My B grades were steady this year which means I read a lot of "good" books, but very few that elevated themselves to turning me into an annoying squee'ing fangirl.  Here's hoping for more romance reading excitement in 2018.  Now, on to the notable books I read this year that weren't romance:

It's You by Jane Porter (2015) Women's Fiction
A time slip novel that moves between present day and World War II.  Heroine still grieving over the suicidal death of her fiance' and the unexpected death of her beloved mother, heads to northern California when her father falls and breaks his wrist.  While there she befriends a prickly older woman in his retirement community, which is where the World War II story comes into play.  There's quite a bit of tell over show here, but the heartbreak drips off the page and the author brings her present day heroine out the other side stronger than before.  Also, there's a nice, light romance here to keep Porter's romance fans happy.
The Forever Summer by Jamie Brenner (2017) Women's Fiction
Drama, drama, drama!  Lawyer heroine's office affair comes to light and she's promptly fired.  Already at loose ends, she soon discovers a half-sister she knew nothing about and a grandmother she didn't know existed which means...her mother has been lying to her her whole life.  This is a compulsively readable, multi-generational drama that follows the lives of four related women.  There's also several romances weaved into the story.  A fantastic beach read.
What Remains of Me by Alison Gaylin (2016) Suspense
A humdinger of a suspense novel, nominated for an Edgar Award this past year.  Heroine fresh out of prison for murdering a Hollywood Big Shot in 1980 comes back under suspicion when her father-in-law (and the Big Shot's BFF) is found murdered in his study.  Tabloid sleaze, seedy Hollywood backdrop, and oodles of secrets.  Highly recommended.
The Most Beautiful: My Life With Prince by Mayte Garcia (2017) Memoir
Garcia's openness, frankness and her willingness to lay herself bare on the pages are what make this one of the most memorable celebrity memoirs I've ever read.  It's romantic and heartbreaking.  Uplifting and tragic.  A literal gem on audio, the fact that Garcia was not nominated for a Grammy (she reads the audiobook) is a crime.


Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) Memoir
You don't need to be a fan of The Daily Show to enjoy this book.  Noah tells stories from his childhood: funny, irreverent, beautiful and tragic.  Another great one on audio.

And that's it for 2017.  While I managed to get through more books than I thought possible, I'm a little disappointed that there's not a wider representation of the romance genre on my year end list.  What I do know?  I'm perpetually behind on my reading and my Kindle is stuffed to the gills with books that others in Romancelandia have really enjoyed.  So my reading resolution for 2018 is to push forward and get to some of these long neglected books in my TBR. Onward and upward!