( Here are some notes, cut for spoilers and lack of interest: )
There are various encore presentations going to be happening, if you missed this and are interested.
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This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by NoeRD. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Historical category.
A SHOCKING DECEPTION . . .
Josephine Carlisle, adopted daughter of a baron, is officially on the shelf. But the silly, marriage-minded misses in the ton can have their frilly dresses and their seasons in London, for all she cares. Josie has her freedom and her family . . . until an encounter with a dark, devilishly handsome stranger leaves her utterly breathless at a house party. His wicked charm intrigues her, but that’s where it ends. For Josie has a little secret . . .
. . . LEADS TO AN EXQUISITE SEDUCTION
Espionage was Thomas Matteson, Marquess of Chesney’s game-until a tragic accident cost him his career. Now to salvage his reputation and return to the life he loves, the marquess must find the criminal who’s been robbing London’s rich and powerful. He’s no fool-he knows Josie, with her wild chestnut hair and rapier-sharp wit, is hiding something and he won’t rest until he unravels her mysteries, one by one. But he never expected to be the one under arrest-body and soul . . .
Here is NoeRD's review:
If I had to sum up in a few words what I thought of this book, I would say: It’s the first too stupid to live heroine I like. No, no, cross that. Both main characters where pretty stupid or reckless in the course of the book.
The thing is I found them endearing most of the time and the banter between them was very entertaining too. So, let me begin again with this review.
The hero, Thomas Matteson, son of a duke and Marquess of Chesney, by himself is an ex-spy that wants to become a spy again. We are told that he was shot a year ago and this had something to do with him not being a spy now. He has something that I assume is post traumatic stress disorder and some anxiety issues because of this and he is desperate to go back to his old ways and not let this event define the rest of his life. So, because the War Office is not minding his requests, he feels he has to get a recommendation from a very powerful lord who has asked him to catch a highwayman who is robbing his guests in some country state.
Enter Josie Carlisle. She is the adopted daughter of a baron and because a lot of pompous asses won’t marry her for this reason, she is pretty much on the shelf. She is, most of the time, very smart and ballsy. She still takes care of the orphanage where she lived prior being adopted and is very independent by that time standard. She meets Thomas in the very powerful shady Lord’s house and the chemistry between them is off the charts. They can see right through each other and is a lot of fun to see how they try to outsmart the other.
Although I found the book very fun to read, the pace just perfect and the characters endearing (I like that word!), there were some flaws that could kill the book for you if you don’t get in its hype.
Firstly, I mentioned Thomas anxiety issues. As a partner of someone with anxiety issues I understand Thomas’s problems and motivations, but the book falls in the misdirection of pretending love cures them all. Thomas is first attracted to Josie because she “calms” something in him in their first meeting, and he decides to pursue her because he wants to know why. Then, his sleep anxiety disappears the first night they spent together. That’s not how anxiety works for most people and it could be harmful for your relationship to pretend that love is a magic cure. The only part when it’s done right is in a scene when Thomas and Josie are alone and a shot is heard in the distance and Thomas gets in full panic attack mode. Josie intuitively tries to appease him and does it by the way she speaks to him not through her mere presence.
Another thing that bothered me was that for all the admiration that Josie’s badassness causes in Thomas, he doesn’t trust her 100%. Sure, when he asked her not to do something she went and did it, almost getting herself killed. But near the end of the book, he locks her in a cell to stop her from meddling in his plans instead of telling her those plans and asking for her cooperation.
Then there is the issue of Thomas’s spy skills. He is like the worst spy ever. Thank God he chooses love above his country, because there would be no Queen alive otherwise.
Which brings us to the matter of “The secrets.” Josie has a secret that is very obvious from the start and is revealed around the 30% mark of the book. I had no problem with that. There also is a veil of secrecy around the details of Thomas’ shooting and it makes you wait for it and then is… meh. So I didn’t get why the secrecy in the first place.
All in all, beside its flaws I really enjoyed this and will look forward to reading more books from Anna Harrington.
How I Married a Marquess by Anna Harrignton received a B+ in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.
In the Bitchery HQ Slack this week, Amanda shared this link to the ever-outstanding Kelly Faircloth on Jezebel:
From Kelly’s write-up:
“…there is a huge market demand for psychological “Girl Who” thrillers, often featuring dead or missing women, written largely by women for female audiences. And the guys—and their publishers—want in.
Her source, a Wall Street Journal article with a truly cringetastic headline:
Well, thank heavens, because you know I was worried about it.
The WSJ article is behind a paywall, but the salient details are also on The Guardian:
Riley Sager is a debut author whose book, Final Girls, has received the ultimate endorsement. “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this,” Stephen King has said. But unlike Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girls, Luckiest Girl Alive and others, Final Girls is written by a man – Todd Ritter. This detail is missing from Riley Sager’s website which, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, refers to the author only by name and without any gender-disclosing pronouns or photographs. (His Twitter avatar is Jamie Lee Curtis.)
Ritter is not the first man to deploy a gender-neutral pen name. JP Delaney (real name Tony Strong) is author of The Girl Before, SK Tremayne (Sean Thomas) wrote The Ice Twins and next year, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (AKA Daniel Mallory) is published. Before all of these was SJ (AKA Steve) Watson, the author of 2011’s Before I Go to Sleep.
“Literally, every time I appear in print or public,” Watson says, someone asks about why he uses initials. It was his publisher’s decision to avoid an author photo and to render his biography non-gendered. He has never hidden, but when Before I Go to Sleep went on submission, editors emailed his agent and asked, “What is she like?” Watson found the mistake flattering.
Right, because with profit, they’re “okay” with you mistaking them for women.
I’m so relieved.
Wow, did that entire reading experience leave me with side eye and a frown. There’s already plenty of barriers to entry within publishing if you’re not a white dude, so this was the news equivalent of rubbing a cat backwards from the tail to the shoulders.
This part of the WSJ article particularly rubbed Amanda the wrong way, as it did Kelly Faircloth. She wrote at Jezebel:
One of the authors featured has gone so far as to try on a bra so he didn’t make any obvious mistakes that might throw female readers out of the story. Wonder if he also gets the infuriating emails or the creepy DMs or the generally patronizing bullshit?
…Nevertheless, if only being a woman in, say, serious nonfiction or literary fiction were as straightforward as publishing under the name Steve.
Well, thank God the bra question was addressed.
Given that Elyse and Amanda both love thrillers, especially those that focus on women, they had a few things to say about this discovery.
Amanda: Since I just got Final Girls, I’m kind of bummed about this, Elyse.
Elyse: Dudes ruin everything.
Amanda: It’s weird how my excitement for the book just got sapped out of my body.
RedHeadedGirl: It’s one thing when women are exploring the things that make the world unsafe for us.
It a whole other thing when it’s men and since they are, you know, one of those things, it feels exploitative.
WHY ARE DUDES.
Sarah: Because Money.
Elyse: I guess I have two books to donate.
I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers written by men, and I have no issue with that. I think the reason this is squicky for me is that so many of the “Girl” mysteries deal with deep female POV, and that POV is often dealing with themes like toxic masculinity and gaslighting by men.
Sarah: The whole picking another name thing seems a lot like gaslighting.
Elyse: Yes. I have written about why I really love this new trend of female driven psychological thrillers. It’s reclaiming a genre that commodifies violence (often sexual) against women. It’s about female rage and about reclaiming our bodies. For me the genre works because it subverts the traditional narrative in a genre dominated by men.
Sarah: It’s a familiar feeling. An unpleasant one.
Amanda: Going back to RHG’s comment about women exploring things that make them feel unsafe, I’m skeptical of a man being able to accurately write a woman’s experience.
I’m not saying it can’t be done, but (as an example from the WSJ article) how is trying on a bra really going to get to the heart of the experience of living as a woman and having to factor in your own safety to your daily routine?
It all just feels like a gimmick to me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, given the amount of violence that often occurs against women at the hands of men.
Sarah: And…cue the sound of us all nodding and grimacing as one.
I’ve been pondering this for the better part of a day, wondering if my reaction is outsized or uneven. For example, JK Rowling adopted the Galbraith pseudonym to write without the expectation and pressure that came with the Rowling surname on the cover. I get it.
These individuals masking their gender to sell thrillers, as RHG pointed out, feels exploitative, not because of the pseudonym, but because of the pseudonym and the subject matter of the genre – not to mention the politics of gender identity – in the exploitation and insecurity inherent in identifying as female.
That said, it is entirely possible that I’m cranky and there are much better uses for my ire and snarly energy.
What about you? Are you a thriller fan? What do you think? What’s your reaction?
I was perusing the Cake Wrecks Facebook page the other day (where every follower gets a free invisible puppy!!) when I came across a rather unusual request:
Ahh, so you want to pop open the hood and take a gander inside the wrecks, is that it, Jennifer?
Well, I'm glad you asked.
Hey, Jennifer, you ever wonder how cupcake cakes (ptooie!) keep their icing from falling through all those big gaps?
NOW YOU KNOW.
We just saw last week how a gender reveal cake failed to actually reveal anything - other than plain yellow cake - but here's the opposite problem:
The cake was blue inside with pink icing.
Now I'm going to show you my absolute favorite cake cake wreck of all time, Jennifer, and which I've been hanging onto for just this moment.
First, though, let me explain what (we think) happened:
A bakery was unable to sell a Halloween cake in time, but they didn't want to throw it away or reduce the price. So instead, they simply flipped the entire cake over, icing side down, and re-decorated the other side to make it into a generic birthday design.
CW reader Shannon had no idea of the skullduggery at work until she cut the cake, and found this:
That's a whoooole lotta icing, right there.
(And think how fresh!!)
And finally, I know I posted the video of this over on FB a week or two back, but here's a quick .gif reminder of the importance of proper wedding cake support:
(Watch the original video here to see them both continue to laugh hysterically, which is just adorable. Cutest couple ever!)
Welp, I hope that satisfies some of your blood lust for caketastrophe, Jennifer!
And hey, for the rest of you, the request line... IS OPEN.
Thanks to Cherie O., Leann S., Jaunna, Fribby, Sarah, & Shannon G. for reminding me of those times bakeries accidentally left scissors, a paring knife, and other various cutlery in their cakes - because that was a HOOT. (And also because "TRAUMATIC BIEBER" *still* makes me snort-laugh.)
by Gaby Chiappe (screenplay) and Lissa Evans (based on the novel "Their Finest Hour and a Half" by)
Their Finest is a British movie that had limited release in the USA. If, like me, you missed it in theaters, you can see it now on iTunes. This movie is slow and matter-of-fact but it snuck up on me and had me bawling my eyes out by the end. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but due to a plot development near the end and a significant amount of tragedy it’s better described as a drama. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but here’s one I know none of you will mind:
There are two dogs in the movie, and they both end up fine. One of them ends up adopted by a strict but fond Helen McCory. We should all be so lucky.
Their Finest is a movie about a woman who makes a movie. Catrin, played by Gemma Arterton, gets a job helping to write a propaganda film (The Nancy Starling) in London during the Blitz. She’s supposed to provide the women’s touch on a film that, by order of the government, is to broadcast a sense of “authenticity and optimism.” Her co-worker, Buckley, is cynical and sexist but also very good at making a coherent story out of almost anything.
Buckley is played by Sam Claflin. Sam is one of the prettiest men ever to live, and as an actor he has perfected the art of wordlessly broadcasting intense and unrequited longing. It’s a relief that he spends the movie under an unfortunate, though period appropriate, mustache, as otherwise I would have spent the entire movie staring at him in a trance. He’s sardonic and bitter and funny and horrible and has fantastic chemistry with Gemma Atherton.
Gemma plays Catrin, our heroine, and she is simply perfect. Whether she’s standing perfectly still or walking and talking very quickly across a set, she simultaneously broadcasts vulnerability and steeliness. In keeping with all opposites-attract type romances, Catrin and Buckley constantly look like they can’t decide whether to strangle one another or just start ripping off each other’s clothes in the middle of the office.
Back to the plot: Catrin meets middle-aged twin sisters, Rose and Lily, who took part in the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk. They stole their drunken father’s boat, but never made it to Dunkirk because the engine gave out. They got a tow home from a bigger ship and took some of the soldiers from that (overcrowded) ship. One had a dog in his kit bag, and another, who was French, tried to kiss Lily.
Catrin brings this story, minus a few details, to the movie people, who are thrilled. “It has authenticity, optimism, AND A DOG!” one of them crows. Soon she and Buckley are writing non-stop as the Rose and Lily of The Nancy Starling become pretty young women, their abusive drunk father becomes a funny drunk uncle, a fictional love triangle forms around the fictional Rose, and the dog has a stirring action scene.
There’s just so much to unpack in this movie, which is quiet and slow (at about two hours, it felt like more) and restrained in the most British way but which tackles sexism, the war, grief, friendship between women, the creative process, the art and business of making movies, and some very nice hats. Helen McCrory does what she always does, namely takes a small role and simply walks away with the movie entirely. Bill Nighy promises Catrin that “Between you and I, we’ll have them weeping in the aisles” and then delivers on that promise. The whole cast has a chemistry which manages to progress from mass antagonism to a sense of comfortable familiarity. The actors who play actors combine certain narcissism with real warmth. When Bill Nighy sings a song with the line, “Will ye go lassie, go/and we’ll all go together,” to the cast, they feel like a real family, truly at ease with one another, and truly comforted during dangerous times by each other’s company.
Throughout is presence of war. Although this film is very funny in a deadpan way, I was surprised to see how many people have described it as a romantic comedy. It doesn’t have a romantic comedy ending, and anything funny transpires against a terrifying background. At one point Catrin has to literally step over corpses to get to her flat. “I’ll be alright after a cup of tea,” she tells her husband, only to be informed that the water main is out, a development that even the stoic Catrin cannot tolerate with equanimity. The making of The Nancy Starling is serious business that might affect the course of the war, and the war takes such a toll that at one point they fear that they’ve run out of enough people to finish it.
Towards the end of the movie, something happens that could make the viewer feel cheated. I felt shocked and sad, but not cheated, and here’s why:
This movie was marketed as a romantic comedy, and up to a point it has the structure of one – very attractive people, the unappreciative husband, the witty banter, the chemistry, opposites attracting, etc. However, one of the running themes of the movie is that the movie within the movie keeps having different agendas and themes tacked on to it. The Nancy Starling is an action movie and a war movie, it’s a love story, it has comedy and tragedy, it’s meant to inspire America to join the war, and it’s meant to motivate the British to keep fighting. That’s not even a complete list of all the jobs that the poor Nancy Starling is expected to do. Through the writing of this film, Catrin is insistent that the film is, at its core, the story of Lily and Rose.
Similarly, Their Finest is marketed as a romantic comedy, but at its core it’s not the story of one couple or another. It’s consistently Catrin’s story. This means that while many characters undergo significant arcs, Catrin’s arc is the only one that matters and…
The movie is also an ode to the women who kept Britain running during the war. They are paid less than men, they are resented and feared by men, and yet they are expected to manage the impossible. When Catrin finally goes to a screening of The Nancy Starling, she sits by an older woman who weeps copiously through the movie and explains that she’s seen it five times. “It’s our picture isn’t it?” she says, patting Catrin on the hand, “They’re our girls.”
I cried like a baby.
I almost titled this episode, “Same Library, Different Tastes.” While having dinner the other night, I was talking to Adam, my excellent spouse, about a series he was reading, and I realized we hardly ever talk about what he’s reading. I’ll go on for hours about what I’m reading (and I have!) but unless I’m asking him if he’d enjoy a book I just found, he doesn’t talk much about what he reads, and he reads a lot. So he made cocktails and I handed him a microphone, and we talked about it.
We don’t like any of the same things, but we both love reading. So I asked questions about his favorite series, books he’s enjoyed that I’ve successfully recommended (YES!), and what makes a narrative world appealing. Adam likes to read fantasy, and he loves never-ending world building and deep nerdy dives into back story, so he’s a very avid and engaged reader. But he keeps most of it in his head. So I ask him nosy questions about that. We also discuss series and trilogies he loves, including Game of Thrones, Libriomancer, The Inheritance Trilogy, and a lot more – expect a big list of books.Listen to the podcast →
And if you’d like to try it, here’s a recipe for Bee’s Knees, my new favorite cocktail.
And! The RWA Signing! July 29, 2017, from 3:00 – 5:00pm!
Hundreds of romance authors in one place, and all proceeds of book sales go to literacy organizations. Some of your favorite authors are likely to be there, like Alyssa Cole, Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Julie James, Cecilia Tan, Beverly Jenkins, and Jill Shalvis. And, for the first time, I’ll be signing, too – yay!
The signing is at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Pacific Hall. Saturday, July 29th from 3-5pm. And if you come and find me (I’m in the Ws near the cashiers) and mention the podcast, I have a special sticker for you – if you’d like one.
What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.
Thanks for listening!
Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.
This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “La Caravane.”
This episode is brought to you by Too Scot to Handle by Grace Burrowes. This New York Times bestselling series with its “heartfelt emotions, humor and realistic, honest characters [is] a fan favorite,” raves RT Book Reviews.
In this second book of the Windham Brides series, Burrowes delights Regency romance readers once again with an irresistible rough-around-the-edges Scot who takes on saving an orphanage to win over the fiery, intelligent woman who captures his heart.
As a captain in the army, Colin MacHugh led men, fixed what was broken, and fought hard. Now that he’s a titled gentleman, he’s still fighting-this time to keep his bachelorhood safe from all the marriage-minded debutantes. Then he meets the intriguing Miss Anwen Windham, whose demure nature masks a bonfire waiting to roar to life. When she asks for his help to raise money for the local orphanage, he’s happy to oblige.
Anwen is amazed at how quickly Lord Colin takes in hand a pack of rambunctious orphan boys. Amazed at how he actually listens to her ideas. Amazed at the thrill she gets from the rumble of his Scottish burr and the heat of his touch. But not everyone enjoys the success of an upstart. And Colin has enemies who will stop at nothing to ruin him and anybody he holds dear.
As Tessa Dare puts it, “Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure.” Don’t miss Too Scot to Handle, on sale wherever books are sold this Tuesday, July 25th.
Our podcast transcript is being brought to you by When It’s Real by #1 New York Times bestselling author Erin Watt.
A pop star. A regular girl. The world’s watching…
Wealth, fame and a real-life romance she never expected—seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett lands it all when she agrees to become a pop star’s fake girlfriend in this smart, utterly addictive novel.
School Library Journal calls it “a fast-paced, ‘he said, she said’ page-turner.” Kirkus Reviews writes: When It’s Real is “undeniable fun” and “a quintessential beach read.” You’ll fall head-over-heels in love with this electrifying and addictive new romance.
Under ordinary circumstances, Oakley Ford and Vaughn Bennett would never even cross paths.
There’s nothing ordinary about Oakley. This bad-boy pop star’s got Grammy awards, millions of fangirls and a reputation as a restless, too-charming troublemaker. But with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley needs to show the world he’s settling down—and who better to help him than Vaughn, a part-time waitress trying to help her family get by? The very definition of ordinary.
Posing as his girlfriend, Vaughn will overhaul Oakley’s image from troublemaker to serious artist. In return for enough money to put her brothers through college, she can endure outlandish Hollywood parties and carefully orchestrated Twitter exchanges. She’ll fool the paparazzi and the groupies. She might even start fooling herself a little.
Because when ordinary rules no longer apply, there’s no telling what your heart will do…
You can find When It’s Real wherever books are sold.
This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Middleclassmanhattan. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Historical category.
Biweekly marriage proposals from men who can’t see beyond her (admittedly breathtaking) looks are starting to get on Lady Clara Fairfax’s nerves. Desperate to be something more than ornamental, she escapes to her favorite charity. When a child is in trouble, she turns to tall, dark, and annoying barrister Oliver Radford.
Though he’s unexpectedly found himself in line to inherit a dukedom, Radford’s never been part of fashionable society, and the blonde beauty, though not entirely bereft of brains, isn’t part of his plans. But Clara overwhelms even his infallible logic, and when wedlock looms, all he can do is try not to lose his head over her . . .
It’s an inconvenient marriage by ordinary standards, but these two are far from ordinary. Can the ton’s most adored heiress and London’s most difficult bachelor fall victim to their own unruly desires?
Here is Middleclassmanhattan's review:
The hardest part of writing this review was trying to remember the actual name of the book. Dukes Prefer Blondes hints at nothing in this story, save for the fact our heroine is blonde. The title itself is unremarkable.
However, Ms. Chase delivers a book that is anything but! Filled with vibrant characters, witty dialogue, Dukes Prefer Blondes was a delight to read and a truly memorable love story. This was my first Loretta Chase book, and I understand why she has a great fan base, and why beloved author Julia Quinn is quoted on the cover.
To start with, the hero and heroine are equal parts intriguing, sexy, and quirky. You have your rich heroine, Lady Clara Fairfax, who wants to make a difference in society, and if she marries at all, Clara wants to marry someone who appreciates her intellect. And you have your genius Sherlock Holmes-like hero, Oliver Radford (known as Raven), who doesn’t have outrageous wealth (yet) but is building a standout career, and he doesn’t want anything to get in his way, most especially an illogical, emotional relationship. Our hero and heroine end up, after several adventures, with a heart-warming HEA. Perhaps that sounds as memorable as the title? Oh, but you would be wrong! Ms. Chase knows the magic formula for creating a HEA unique and memorable.
This review could be ten pages long explaining everything that appealed to me about Ms. Chase’s writing style and this particular book, but I’ve decided to limit my gushing and highlight three elements in particular, which for me, make it stand apart from other historical romances.
The first and most gratifying is the chemistry between the hero and heroine, which comes across through their amusing dialogue. Each Lady Clara and Raven scene is filled with quick-paced, charming banter. It reminds me of my favorite couple from the old TV detective series Remington Steele. The dialogue says that they find each other aggravating, but the subtext is altogether different. Here’s a typical example of the couple’s back-and-forth:
After a moment’s hesitation, he took the maid’s chair. “You must try to take nourishment,” he told his patient. “You must do exactly as I say, and get well, because I’ve promised you would and if you don’t, I shall be disgraced, and then—”
“I know. Your career will be ruined. You’re so charming.”
“Everybody says that,” he said.
“No, they don’t. Never. No one has ever said that about you in all your life, I’ll wager anything.”
“Perhaps they did not exactly say charming,” he said. “Perhaps… Yes, now I recollect, the phrase was ‘tolerable in very small doses’.”
“And yet I missed you,” she said. “Fancy that.”
She made it so difficult to stay detached. At this moment, it was impossible. He couldn’t stop his other self from getting a word in. “I missed you, too,” he said gruffly.
“Of course you did,” she said. “Because I’m so lovable.”
“You’re not lovable,” he said. “You are excessively annoying. And managing. But I’m accustomed to hardened criminals and half-witted judges, and being with you reminds me of home at the Old Bailey.”
Such a smile, then, more like her usual one.
How can you not look forward to reading more about this couple? Especially since Raven’s dialogue often had me thinking of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes.
In addition to the couple’s chemistry, I thoroughly enjoyed the well-thought-out subplots, which contribute to the rich character development. Ms. Chase certainly uses the subplots to push her characters together, but she also takes it a step further. She uses them to flesh out each main character so completely that you cheer for Clara as an individual, and you cheer for Raven as an individual, and then you cheer even more for them to become a couple.
For example, the subplot involving the bad guy and his attempts to kill Raven could be a stand-alone book as they add so much suspense, but while you’re wondering what’s going to happen next, you are also learning all about Raven’s law career. And like the master magician she clearly is, each of Ms. Chase’s subplots give the reader insight into Lady Clara and Raven’s characters while keeping the reader highly entertained (the mock courtroom scene involving Radford and Lady Clara’s parents is certainly a delightful highlight). There is no chapter, no moment in the story that isn’t making the reader fall in love with the main characters. Ms. Chase even makes the secondary characters and the scenes without Raven and Clara intriguing and fast-paced enough that I didn’t skip ahead to when the two main characters were back in the same scene. (And, yes, my iPhone-addled, lack-of-focus brain lacks patience for parts of a story that bore me after a page.)
The subplots are filled with period detail, which is the third standout element in this story that I wanted to mention. Ms. Chase injects the story with enough factual history to leave you with more than just a taste of the time period without pulling you out of your happy escapist-romance-novel-reading time. In addition to the imagery and attention to period detail evident throughout the book, each chapter begins with a quote or a short excerpt of a piece published from the period.
DUKE, in Latin Dux, à ducendo, signifying the leader of an army, noblemen being anciently either generals and commanders of armies in time of war, or wardens of marches, and governors of provinces in peace. This is now the first rank of the nobility. —Debrett’s Peerage, 1831
Ms. Chase draws you into the time period a little deeper with these excerpts, as if she were saying to you directly, “You know this is the type of thing Raven and Lady Clara would be familiar with, dealing with, etc.” I appreciated the added whisper of historical flavor. I even found myself Googling some of the books quoted.
The dialogue, the subplots, and the attention to period detail combined to make this a memorable story for me. But of course, no romance novel review would be complete without a comment on the sex scenes. I was half-way through the book before I realized there had been no sex yet, and even then it barely registered as the story is so engaging. Ms. Chase spends time creating sexual tension, so when you get to the sex scenes you won’t be disappointed.
I would give Dukes Prefer Blondes a solid A, and I look forward to reading the other books in the Dressmaker series.
And finally, my dear romancelandia readers, forgive me if this review reads like a fourth grader’s book report. After finishing such a rewarding, heart-warming, thoughtful, well-crafted story, all I really wanted to do was jump up and down, wave my arms, and shout, “Read it!” With that said, I’ll end with the most important part of the review: “Read it! Read it! Just read it!”
Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase received a B in a previous review by Carrie.
READER RECOMMENDED: The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata is a 99c Kindle Daily Deal at Amazon! At a previous RT, SnarkyWench and I gushed about sports contemporaries over some wine for a good twenty minutes, and she highly recommended this book. I immediately added it to my TBR pile because it features a football player and a marriage of convenience plot. The hero (who is Canadian) wants to marry to keep his US residency. Readers loved the slow burn between the hero and heroine, but found it a little too slow. Any Zapata fans in the Bitchery?
Vanessa Mazur knows she’s doing the right thing. She shouldn’t feel bad for quitting. Being an assistant/housekeeper/fairy godmother to the top defensive end in the National Football Organization was always supposed to be temporary. She has plans and none of them include washing extra-large underwear longer than necessary.
But when Aiden Graves shows up at her door wanting her to come back, she’s beyond shocked.
For two years, the man known as The Wall of Winnipeg couldn’t find it in him to tell her good morning or congratulate her on her birthday. Now? He’s asking for the unthinkable.
What do you say to the man who is used to getting everything he wants?
Wait for It by Molly O’Keefe is $1.99! This is the fourth book in the Everything I Left Unsaid series, though it can be read as a standalone. Also, trigger warning as the heroine has an abusive ex. I also believe the hero is the ex’s brother. I’ve read previous books in the series and if you love angst, whooo boy, you’ll love the entire series. I can’t recommend O’Keefe’s books enough.
In a blistering novel of raw emotion and desire, a tormented woman teaches an alpha male that money can’t fix everything . . . but love can.
Tiffany : After fighting for a new life, I don’t want to play the victim anymore. However, with three kids to raise, I’m getting desperate enough to make a deal with the devil. My estranged brother-in-law, Blake, says he just wants to help, but he’s been trouble since I met him. I don’t know if I can believe this kinder, gentler Blake, and there’s a friction between us that has turned into the sweetest chemistry. He could be my salvation . . . or my downfall.
Blake : I haven’t always had Tiffany’s best interests at heart but I’m ready to make up for my sins. Besides, I can’t help admiring her: The girl’s a genuine survivor, tough and lean, with eyes of steel. But the more I get to know Tiffany, the more I want her. Every inch of her. Which means I’m about to make a bad situation a hell of a lot worse.
Catching Captain Nash by Anna Campbell is 99c at Amazon and $1.99 elsewhere! This is the sixth and most recent book in the Dashing Widows series and I love the dress on the cover. You can grab all six books in the series for less than $5 and the first book is free! And if it’s your catnip, this romance has a married couple reconnecting after the captain hero husband was presumed dead.
Home is the sailor, home from the sea…
Five years after he’s lost off the coast of South America, presumed dead, Captain Robert Nash escapes cruel captivity, and returns to London and the bride he loves, but barely knows. When he stumbles back into the family home, he’s appalled to find himself gate-crashing the party celebrating his wife’s engagement to another man.
No red-blooded naval officer takes a challenge like this lying down; but five years is a long time, and beautiful, passionate Morwenna has clearly found a life without him. Can he win back the wife who gave him a reason to survive his ordeal? Or will the woman who haunts his every thought remain eternally out of reach?
Love lost and found? Or love lost forever?
Since hearing of her beloved husband’s death, Morwenna Nash has been mired in grief. After five grim years without him, she must summon every ounce of courage and determination to become a Dashing Widow and rejoin the social whirl. But she owes it to her young daughter to break free of old sorrow and find a new purpose in life, even if that means accepting a loveless marriage.
It’s like a miracle when Robert returns from the grave, and despite the awkward circumstances of his arrival, she’s overjoyed that her husband has come back to her at last. But after years of suffering, he’s not the handsome, laughing charmer she remembers. Instead he’s a grim shadow of his former dashing self. He can’t hide how much he still wants her—but does passion equal love?
Can Morwenna and Robert bridge the chasm of absence, suffering and mistrust, and find the way back to each other?
A Dangerous Deception by Maggi Andersen is 99c! This romance has a fake relationship, forced proximity, and a heroine dressed as a man. Hello! Readers loved the heroine and the blend of action in the romance. However, some felt the plot a bit messy at times. It has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.
London, 1816. A handsome baron. A faux betrothal. And Horatia’s plan to join the London literary set takes a dangerous turn.
Baron Guy Fortescue arrives in England to claim his inheritance, abandoned over thirty years ago when his father fled to France after killing a man in a duel. He is set upon by footpads in London, and on his way to his country estate, robbers attack him again. Guy escapes only to knock himself out on a tree branch.
Aspiring poet, Horatia Cavendish has taken to riding her father’s stallion, “The General,” around the countryside of Digswell dressed as a groom. When she discovers Guy lying unconscious on the road, the two are forced to take shelter for the night in a hunting lodge.
Someone wants Guy dead. Is it his relative, Eustace Fennimore? He has been ensconced in Rosecroft Hall during the family’s exile and will become the heir should Guy die. Guy proposes a faux betrothal to give him more time to discover the truth.
Horatia is determined to keep alive her handsome fiance, who has proven more than willing to play the part of her lover even as he resists her attempts to save him.
Aw, look at the sweet cake for Sarah-Maude's second birthday:
Although, those balloons look a little odd, don't they? Let's take a closer look...
[eyes bulging] Great Scott! Hide the children!!
And I KNOW you see what I see, people, so don't even try to accuse me of having my mind in the gutter. It's the Fireman cake all over again.
Eric N., thank goodness this was for a safely oblivious 2-year-old. Still, given how obvious those balloons are, I'm pretty sure I'd steer clear of this bakery in the future. Unless it was for a bachelorette party, of course.
The Red by Tiffany Reisz is an erotic journey though art history. It’s a book that pushes the envelope, and one that won’t be for all readers, but one that I found immensely enjoyable. In many ways it reads like an erotic fairytale, complete with an ending that felt a little too convenient.
Mona Lisa St. James promised her mother that she would do anything in her power to save the family art gallery, The Red. Unfortunately, the gallery is half a million dollars in debt.
In true fairytale fashion, a mysterious man named Malcolm appears and offers Mona a million dollars for twelve days of sex. They will have an assignation one day a month over the period of one year. In return he will pay her in art worth a million dollars. Malcolm is handsome, dominant, and almost supernaturally appealing. Mona agrees to his terms.
The rest of the book is set up almost in vignettes, scenes in which Mona and Malcolm play out one of his fantasies, one month at a time.
All of Malcolm’s desires are inspired by famous paintings, and the first one he and Mona reenact is Olympia by Manet.
Mona waits for Malcolm, nude and reclining in bed. The subject of the painting, Olympia, is a sex worker, defiantly staring at the viewer, unabashed by her profession. The Black woman holding the flowers does not feature into their fantasy.
Mona is clearly having sex with Malcolm for financial reasons, but she finds the idea of being his whore intriguing and titillating.
“You do like your whores, don’t you?” she asked.
“I have trouble respecting a woman who gives away what she could sell for good money. Whores are the only women who know their own worth. I mean that.”
“What about male prostitutes?”
“Their clients are generally men as well. I don’t fault anyone who takes a man to the bank before going to bed with him. I wouldn’t let a strange man put his finger in my mouth and whores take far more into their bodies every single night. It’s skilled, brave work. Bless those lasses, they’ve saved my life and damned my soul. What more could I ask for?”
Just like in her Original Sinners series, Reisz subverts the idea of sex work as degrading; instead she empowers the sex worker and applies a logic to it.
As the novel progresses Mona gets drawn deeper and deeper into Malcolm’s fantasies and develops feelings for him, and he for her.
Because this is erotica, much of the book is about Mona’s sexual journey. However, she is never a blushing innocent. She is occasionally shocked by what she enjoys, but she’s no Anastasia Steele tormented and conflicted about the kind of sex she craves. At no point do Mona or Malcolm attribute a desire for kinky sex to a moral failing or any kind of emotional damage.
After a particularly intense BDSM session, Malcolm articulates what Mona is feeling:
“You only love me tonight because of the beating. You understand that, don’t you?”
Before tonight, she would have said “no,” that made no sense, there was no logic to it. He’d done something to her mind as well as her body. By the end of her beating, she couldn’t tell the crop apart from kindness. They were one and the same to her so that every strike of the crop was tender as a kiss and every word of tenderness made her crave the crop.
“Now I understand,” she said, because now she did.
There’s a lot of kink in this book. There’s bondage, sadomasochism, penetration by objections, flogging, group sex, anal sex, and at one point Mona has sex with a minotaur (for realsies). As their scenes together become more vivid, Mona questions whether or not Malcolm is giving her hallucinogens to make these fantasies feel real.
As the book progresses, the mystery and supernatural elements associated with Malcolm become more clear. Weirdly, this was the part I didn’t like. When we finally got the explanation for who Malcolm was and why he sought out Mona, I was disappointed. The fantasy and intrigue surrounding him was so well constructed than any explanation felt disappointing. I just wanted him to be a mysterious, other-worldly fucking machine. I wanted him to stay an enigma who entered Mona’s life every month, even while I acknowledge that’s not great storytelling.
Fans of Reisz’s Original Sinners series will gobble this book up. For those looking for erotica without a ton of emotional angst, The Red is right up your alley. It’s a delightful, wicked fairytale and it’s a ton of fun.
I’ve been using a new social media campaign tool called MissingLettr, and currently they are running a deal where new subscribers get six months for the price of one. There are three price tiers, and I’ll get to the particulars in a moment.
NB: the links in this post are affiliate coded, which means if you choose to subscribe, I will receive a percentage at no extra cost to you. That said, I’d recommend MissingLettr even without an affiliate account.
MissingLettr is great for bloggers, reviewers, and pretty much anyone who posts frequent content on their blogs. It works by scanning your site for new content, then automatically creates a year-long drip campaign for Twitter, Facebook, and/or Google+ using images and quotes from your content. The feed is spread out, as I said, over a year, and each item is posted automatically to your choice of social media.
They have an intro video that explains it better than I could:
For me, Missinglettr is terrific because it resurfaces and promotes content throughout the coming year, allowing me to highlight reviews and cover snark long after they’ve been posted. While blogs do come with an expectation of timeliness and newest items are always first, well, some things don’t really get old – cover snark and book recommendations especially!
If you’re a reviewer or book blogger, this would resurface content from your archive for a year. If you’re an author, you could schedule posts about your books automatically for a year as well. There are a lot of possibilities!
You might have seen some of the MissingLettr posts on our Twitter or Facebook feeds (they also link to LinkedIn and Google+, and I hear rumors that Pinterest is next). Here’s an example:
— Smart Bitches (@SmartBitches) July 11, 2017
MissingLettr auto-magically created the quote box image in blue, using quotes from inside the review. I can also upload alternate images and select from a bunch of different quotes from the content. I can also edit the text that’s part of the Tweet or FB post, too. The ability to customize is pretty substantial.
I’ve really enjoyed using MissingLettr and have had a great experience with their customer service after I accidentally changed my subscription and couldn’t switch back. I recommend them most enthusiastically. And this deal is pretty sweet, hence my posting about it!
There are three plans, and with this offer, which expires July 25th, you can get six months for the price of one. Then, if you decide to continue after six months, you’ll receive 20% off the subscription cost going forward.
The Personal plan is $15 per month, and you can link two sites with four campaigns a week. The automatically scheduled content from one post is a campaign. So if I had cover snark and two reviews, and had campaigns scheduled for all of them, that would be three total. You can link four social profiles and upload custom images.
The Business plan is $40 per month. It comes with unlimited sites, 10 campaigns per week, 10 profiles, plus advanced analytics (which are coming soon).
The Small Team plan is $65 per month, includes unlimited sites, 10 campaigns per week, 25 social profiles, and additional team members who can approve content.
Plus, if you sign up for the six months free deal, if you decide to continue (and you can cancel after six months) you’ll receive a lifetime discount of 20% off the cost of your plan.
This is a pretty spiffy offer, and since it’s saved me a bunch of time and boosted inbound traffic by resurfacing content, I didn’t want you to miss it. Again, this offer expires July 25th, so if you’re thinking about it, think quickly! Again again, the links in this post are affiliate coded, but this post is not being sponsored. This is my own overly-verbose opinion, as usual.
Any questions, please ask in the comments, or email me!