Thursday, March 23, 2017

Mini-Reviews: Catching Up With The Wicked Quills
In a bid to delude myself that I'm making progress on the TBR Of Doom, I've started on audio editions of books I own in either print or digital.  I also have this nasty habit of leaving series unfinished for long stretches of time, so when I saw that work had the Wicked Quills of London trilogy by Eva Leigh, I decided on a back-to-back listen.  The results were mixed.

Scandal Takes the Stage is the second book and was the real dud in the series for me.  I liked the first book well enough, although felt there were "pacing issues."  This one?  I was just bored.  Literally, nothing happens.  Maggie Delamere is a playwright at the Imperial Theater in London.  She's feeling pressure from the theater benefactors to write a sequel to her most successful play and she has horrible, awful writer's block.  She's stymied.  Into the mix enters our hero - Cameron, Viscount Marwood.  An heir to a Dukedom, a notorious rake, and completely smitten with Maggie.  Of course she's having none of it - loathing the aristocracy as a general rule because she was "done wrong" in her younger days.

And that's it.  Maggie doesn't like aristocrats and has writer's block.  Cam is warm for Maggie's form.  No, really.  That's it.  Eventually they get together, fall in love, and must move past the minor obstacle that Maggie is a nobody and Cam is a Duke's heir.

None of this is helped by the audio narrator, who is merely serviceable.  Is Mandy Williams the worst narrator I've ever listened to?  Hardly.  But there's something flat about her delivery which isn't helped by the flatness of this romance.  Honestly I would probably grade this lower, but Leigh handles the time period well and the world-building is really good.  I can't in good conscience slap this with a D.  So....

Final Grade = C
While listening to Scandal, my hold for Temptations of a Wallflower came in.  Given my lackluster response to Scandal, I had serious doubts jumping into this one right after - but in for a penny, in for a pound.  Turns out I really enjoyed this book - and I think it's the strongest book in the whole trilogy!

Lady Sarah Frampton is a Duke's daughter and has been labelled by the ton as the "Watching Wallflower."  Our girl is half a breath away from being "on the shelf."  What nobody knows however is that she's also the Lady of Dubious Quality, a writer of salacious erotic novels.  She has gone to great lengths to keep her identity under wraps, recognizing that the scandal would ruin her parents and likely result in her banishment from England.

Jeremy Cleland is a third son of a demanding, moralistic Earl, which means Jeremy was slated for the Church.  Now a vicar, he's in London, having been summoned by his father and uncle to ferret out the Lady of Dubious Quality.  Daddy sees this as a way to remind people of all his wonderful (ha!) work being the voice of morality for the county (ugh!) but he's not about to go sleuthing at his age - so he orders Jeremy to do it, or else he'll cut off his allowance.

Jeremy and Sarah happen to meet at a garden party and are immediately drawn to each other.  But even though he is an Earl's son, he's a third son.  Which means a Duke's daughter is way, way above him.  But they can't stay away from each other and, naturally, fall in love.  But Jeremy doesn't know that Sarah is the Lady and Sarah doesn't realize that the man she loves is trying to ferret out her true identity so his father can ruin her.

This does sound fairly unsavory, but it works.  Sarah and Jeremy are both characters forced into boxes by outside forces.  Sarah is expected to play the dutiful Duke's daughter, the perfect society girl, and catch herself a husband.  Jeremy's life is not his own, having been strong-armed into his father's plans and wishes.  I suspect some readers will question why Jeremy doesn't just tell his father to go hang - and I'll admit there were moments I was frustrated with him.  But I also can understand that a third son of an Earl, making a living as a vicar, would be concerned with his father cutting him off financially.  Sarah's motivations for keeping her secret are, frankly, blatantly obvious.

The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, and by the time they fall in love, the suspense of the story kicks up several notches.  The Big Secret is literally a Sword of Damocles hanging over the second half of this story.  Also, this was by far the sexiest tale in the trilogy.  These are two characters so perfectly suited for each other, and you have the added complication of their different social standings.  The attraction is immediate, steamy, and the anticipation is particularly well done.  I tend to get easily bored by love scenes that don't really mean anything in romance novels (other than beef up word count or because "readers expect them!") - but the passion is particularly well-written in this book and makes the Black Moment when the Big Secret is revealed all the more blacker and gut-wrenching.

The audio version is particularly well done, with Eva Christensen narrating.  It was a pleasure to listen to.  I also appreciated how the author chose to end this story.  Like the previous two, she avoids the trap of everything being Absolutely Stunningly Perfect on the final page.  Our couple is happy, but there is collateral damage.  People who turn their noses up at unconventional unions, parents not happy with the choices made by their children.  And honestly, that's so refreshing it somehow manages to make the happy ending even more rewarding.

Final Grade = B+

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

#TBRChallenge 2017: Dare She Date The Dreamy Doc?
The Book: Dare She Date the Dreamy Doc? by Sarah Morgan

The Particulars: Contemporary Romance, Harlequin Medical #451, 2010, Book #4 in Series, Out of Print, Available Digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I discovered Sarah Morgan through her Harlequin Presents in 2011, and shortly after that an online friend sent me this book when she stumbled across it in a library book sale.  It was also a RITA finalist and I try to pay attention to the RITA finalists for category romance.

The Review: I didn't start my TBR Challenge read until Sunday and wouldn't you know it?  I ended up DNF'ing that book.  So, once again, limited time and poor planning means I went rummaging through my Harlequin TBR Rubbermaid Tote of Doom.  Sarah Morgan is an autobuy for me (even if I am grossly behind on her backlist) so she fits well with this month's Comfort Read theme.

Once you get past one of the dippier titles in the Harlequin universe (and there are plenty of dippy titles to go around) this was a pretty solid read, although not without faults.  Jenna Richards has been divorced for less than a year and she's still in shock.  She married young, which means 33-year-old Jenna is also contending with a teenage daughter, Lexi, who is not all that happy with her mother at the moment.  Why?  Because Jenna has moved them from London to Glenmore, a tiny Scottish island in "the middle of nowhere."  I mean, the cell phone reception is crap.  Jenna is a nurse and the island is isolated enough that the medical staff is pretty much on call all the time.  Meeting the ferry to greet her?  Dr. Ryan McKinley who puts the yum in yummy.  He also has a past he's trying to move on from, but one look at Jenna and he's smitten.

There are some really well done aspects to this brief (185 pages) category romance.  Morgan does a great job of creating a small town contemporary romance on a light page count.  The setting is quaint (the hero lives in a lighthouse!), the residents amusingly meddling and sweet without being annoying and saccharine.  It's a perfect example of why I prefer my small town reading in the category format over a bloated single title word count.  Ryan is sexy and charming without being a notorious playboy or brooding angst factory.  Lexi is a woman who at 33 is still young but feels old before her time thanks to a surly teenage daughter and an ex who blindsided her.  I fell right into this world from the moment I read the first page.

What doesn't work so well?  The romance here is Grade A Insta-Love. Basically it's one of those romances where the couple sparks immediately and they seem to jump straight from "Hello, nice to meet you" to "I love you" without so much as a cup of coffee.  Ryan's baggage slightly annoys me (Ambitious First Wife) but it's not as egregious as other conflict of this ilk I've read in romance (still, I was a little annoyed).  And Jenna?  I did like her.  I did.  But dang if this woman isn't a martyr.  She's really overprotective of Lexi, which is somewhat understandable, but she's willing to throw herself into a pit of misery to placate a teenager who doesn't really need placating (here's an idea - talk to your kid!).  She also acts like 33 is 95.  She literally says to Ryan: "You deserve children Ryan.  I'm thirty-three.  I have no idea whether I can even have another child."


She's a nurse. It's 2010, not the 18th century!

Then there's Lexi who acts like a typical surly teenager.  Lexi didn't bother me.  Actually I think she's the most authentic character in this story.  Lord but this child acts like a real teenager.  Which I guess serves as a warning if you're a reader who has a teenager at home and you're looking for a bit of "escapist reading."  You may want to steer clear of this one.

I liked this one, and it's a pretty good category romance.  It's not Morgan's best work (of what I've read), but she's created an interesting community in Glenmore and after DNF'ing my first choice, I positively sank into this story.  Worth a look for Morgan fans and readers who love all things small town contemporary.

Final Grade = B-

Friday, March 10, 2017

Reminder: #TBRChallenge for March 2017

For those of you participating in the 2017 TBR Challenge, this is a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, March 15.  This month's theme is Comfort Read.

This is one of the themes that's open for interpretation.  Whatever sort of romance fits the bill as a "comfort read" for you.  Be that a favorite author or trope or sub genre.  What's the type of romance you grab when you just want to sink into a story and turn off reality for a few hours.  I can't imagine anyone saying no to a comfort read - but what if you're not in the mood or nothing in your TBR fits the bill? Hey, no problem!  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 not too late to sign-up!)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Review: Falling for Her Fake Fiance

Disclaimer: Anderson and I presented a workshop together at RWA 2014 (San Antonio).

At one point I was caught up on all the Beaumont stories by Sarah M. Anderson.  Oh, those were the days.  With two more books in the original series, plus with three books in the spin-off Beaumont Bastards series - well it's time for me to play catch-up.  I miscalculated (sorry Byron Beaumont - you'll have to wait!) and mistakenly picked up Falling for Her Fake Fiance (Book 5) instead of reading in order.  That's OK though, this one stands alone fairly well and besides - fake engagement/relationship is a favorite here at the Bat Cave.

The Beaumonts are a family brewing dynasty and events in previous books have led to the company being sold.  It's no longer a family business.  The four brothers (featured in the previous books) have all come around on this and have started their own ventures. They've moved on.  That's proving harder for Frances Beaumont.  Without the brewery, without the Beaumont "name" - she's not sure who she is.  I mean, if she's not the provocative wild child of the Beaumont clan, who is she?  It also doesn't help matters that she's lost enough money on failed business ventures to support three dynasties.  She's moved back into the family mansion, sold off most of her designer clothes, and is trying to scrape together enough money to start yet another business.  The problem is her brothers are through with supporting her schemes and Frances sees the mess her life has become as the fault of Ethan Logan.

Ethan was brought in as the new CEO by the company that bought the brewery.  His job isn't to dismantle and sell off - rather to reorganize and restructure.  The problem is that his work force is on the verge of mutiny and for some reason he doesn't just fire the lot of them for insubordination (he at least threatens it).  Anyway, Frances is determined to undermine the takeover - for reasons.  Thin reasons, but they're there.  Also, a little revenge wouldn't be unwarranted.  She waltzes into the CEO's office like a queen and has everybody eating out of her hand.  And that's when Ethan comes up with a plan.  He doesn't trust Frances, but he recognizes he needs her.  He proposes a marriage of convenience.  Help him bring the work force around, get married, pull the plug after a year, and he'll finance her latest business venture.  Naturally Frances agrees - because, you know, romance novel.

I've actually made this sound fairly unpleasant, and it's really not.  It's actually quite interesting from a category trope reversal standpoint.  Basically what Anderson has done is take a Harlequin Presents plot and flip it.  Instead of the bitter hero ticked off about the family business getting sold and looking to exact revenge?  It's the heroine.  Frances is a poor little rich girl whose father doted on her when it was convenient for him - which is why she has an attachment to the company.  The only time her father seemed to notice her was during her visits to the brewery on "donut Friday."  Her brothers weren't around, none of his various wives were (there were four) or countless mistresses (hence the spin-off Beaumont Bastards series).  Without the brewery that "made" the Beaumont name, and the string of personal failures, what does that leave Frances with?  Just the reputation of being the family screw-up - the one her brothers always have to clean-up after.

Ethan has his own warped past, his father a big time corporate raider, his mother an artist who would flit in and out of her son's life when she got tired of playing wife and mother.  His parents' marriage was strictly an arrangement, so it's not a big leap for him to propose the marriage of convenience to Frances.  Likewise, having witnessed her father's many marriages and at least one of the affairs (she caught him macking on his secretary once), Frances is pretty jaded when it comes to matters of the heart.

Of course we all know where this ends up.  Ethan is completely smitten with Frances, who puts the the Capital C in "Challenging."  Frances, when she isn't trying to throw away happiness with both hands, finds a partner in Ethan.  Someone who doesn't treat her like a screw-up, who takes her seriously, and thinks of her as her own person - not an extension of her brothers, or a means to an end.

This won't be the book for everybody.  My years kicking around Romancelandia have taught me that many readers measure heroes and heroines with different yardsticks.  If Frances were the hero she would be chalked up to another Alpha male in a long line of Romancelandia Alphas.  But because she's the heroine she will likely be deemed "unlikeable" and/or "unsympathetic."  Oh, I'll just say it - some readers are going to find her to be a spoiled bitch.  And you know what?  She kind of is.  And it makes the story.  Otherwise this would just be another retread of a story we've all read countless times before.  It's not my favorite of the series thus far, but it's certainly memorable.

Final Grade = B

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

#ShallowReader Bingo for February 2017

So this is exciting!  For the first time ever I'm participating in Shallowreader Bingo!  This is the brain child of Australian blogger (and librarian!) Vassiliki and I believe 2016 was the first year.  I had great fun following all the participants, but given my shoddy reading mojo last year I didn't feel comfortable participating.  Vassiliki has tweaked a few things for 2017 that actually make it a bit easier for me - so I'm going to do my best to actually play along this year.

I made BINGO in the far left column and circled some other squares that I wanted to talk about.

The BINGO squares:

Sweet Nectar of Glory: I'll Be Damned by Eric Braeden.  Glory in this case applies to glory on the athletic field.  Braeden won the German National Team Track & Field Championship in 1958 (discus, shot-put and javelin) and the 1973 National Challenge Cup when he played for the Maccabi Los Angeles Soccer Club.

Black: Falling for Her Fake Fiance by Sarah M. Anderson.  Fallen on financial hard times after the family brewery is sold off and her previous business ventures fail, the heroine has sold off most of her designer duds - except for a few dresses.  Good thing too since she works to befuddle the hero by wearing them.  There's a green one, a red one and of course, a little black one.

Suck It!: Deception Island by Brynn Kelly.  So rage inducing I DNF'ed it.  Self-explanatory.

23: Oh boy, another DNF - this one Playing Dirty by HelenKay Dimon which I stopped reading on February 23.

New To Me: Tempted by Her Italian Surgeon by Louisa George.  A new-to-me author and this month's TBR Challenge book.

Other squares:

Beauty, Bad Hair Day and Pure: Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare.  A Beauty and the Beast trope (beauty), and a heroine with unruly hair (bad hair day) who has never been kissed (pure).

Hot, Hot, Hot, Hot: Falling for Her Fake Fiance by Sarah M. Anderson. It's a Harlequin Desire, but still!  Darn near singed my fingertips off (not that I'm complaining!)

Self: Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino.  A heroine who has spent her whole life avoiding dealing with the baggage and fallout from her crappy childhood.  A heroine's journey to finding herself and letting go of the past, while still embracing aspects of it (namely, the hero).

Adonis: Tempted by Her Italian Surgeon by Louisa George.  The plot kicks into gear when a picture of the hero's delicious backside sets social media ablaze.

Loving: Falling for Her Fake Fiance by Sarah M. Anderson.  Both hero and heroine aren't big believers in love and, naturally, end up falling in love with each other.  Because, you know, romance novel.

Seriously, can you believe I wasn't able to fill in the Yeeha Cowboy! square?  That's just shameful for me.

ETA: I just realized that my completed row was all under "B."  So probably technically not a BINGO.  But whatever.  I got a row complete.  I'm calling it good 🙌

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

14 Years of Awesome

Today this humble blog turns 14.  That's right kids, the Bat Cave has been in existence since 2003 and this wee little corner of cyberspace has seen a lot in the past 14 years.  I started it when I was still a relatively fresh-faced librarian, still working for the employer crazy enough to hire me out of library school.  It saw me through a cross country move, more job changes and promotions, the RWA Librarian of the Year Award in 2011 (no, I'm not done milking that and never will be - you were warned), multiple reviewing gigs, Romancelandia kerfuffles, various Little Miss Crabby Pants rants, countless Book Squees!, some excellent blog posts and some...well, not so excellent blog posts. 

All of that is par for the course.  This blog has had more ups than downs and brought a lot of really great experiences and people into my life - which is what keeps me going.  Because blogging is a marathon, not a sprint.  And when you're a lone blogger in a quirky little space like I have?  The trick is to find a way to keep it interesting for you otherwise you're screwed.  Hopefully other people find it interesting too and keep coming back.

So happy anniversary to the Bat Cave and thanks to all of you who have been stopping by here over the past 14 years.  Either as long time readers, or brand new baby ones.  In honor of this auspicious (::cough cough::) occasion I ask that if you enjoy blogs like this one, to support your quirky lone individual bloggers the best way you can - by reading, sharing and commenting.  After all this time I still get a charge when someone leaves a comment or shares a post.  And barring that?  Heck, pick up a category romance.  They're good for the soul.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: It's You

My reading trend of the moment seems to be for devouring books that aren't perfect but I find captivating all the same.  Yes, there are quibbles (there's usually quibbles with me...) but something in the storytelling or character development speaks to me on some instinctive level.  That's how It's You by Jane Porter was. One of Porter's women's fiction titles (she also writes for Harlequin Presents and is the founder of Tule Publishing), this offers everything I tend to like about women's fiction - namely a really strong heroine's journey with some light touches of romance.

Dr. Alison McAdams was on her way to having it all.  She and her fiance, Andrew, are both dentists, have fixed up a great house in Scottsdale, Arizona, and the plan is that they'll one day take over Andrew's fathers' practice.  Then one day, while Alison is out buying ice cream, Andrew commits suicide.  Alison finds him hanging in their foyer.  Six months before their wedding.  Six months later, her beloved mother is also gone.  It's now been over a year and she's grieving, angry and stuck.  She's going through the motions when she gets a call from her father, a man she's always had a somewhat distant relationship with.  Now living in a retirement community he has fallen and broken his wrist.  Andrew's father, whom she works for, tells her she must go to Napa, California to see her father.  She also needs some time.  Take several weeks off.

Once in Napa Alison tries to connect with her father, is staying in her parents' house he hasn't bothered to sell yet, and meets other residents at her father's retirement community.  She soon enters the orbit of Edie, a 94-year-old woman who was living and working in Germany during World War II.  She also meets Edie's handsome, and very eligible, great-nephew, Craig - who owns a winery with his brother.

This story alternates back and forth between Alison's and Edie's points-of-view and mostly takes place in present day.  Any references to the past are done entirely through Edie's surviving diaries, which come into heavier focus in the second half of the book.  It's the story of two women, of different generations, of different backgrounds, who loved and survived tremendous loss.

Porter has a very light style, straight-forward and crisp, but this is an emotionally heavy book - made more so in light of recent current events (this book was published in 2015).  It's hard to not draw parallels.  This is one instance where it almost helps that the style is more tell than show.  I normally rail on this kind of thing in romance, but in women's fiction I find I'm more forgiving, and Porter writes the internal monologues of her main characters in almost a confessional kind of style.  It's hard to not get sucked into it.

There is a small wisp of romance here, but it's weaved through tragedy (Edie's story especially).  Alison is, by far, in a better place at the end of the book and the author ends everything on an upbeat note, even if it doesn't have a fully fleshed out happy-ever-after that I suspect romance readers will miss (there's definite hints though that Alison and Craig are on their way to being a couple).  I've read quite a few World War II-related historical novels of late, and while that aspect of this story didn't have the same depth as The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah or Playing with Fire by Tess Gerritsen, I think Porter made the sound decision in going the diary route here, otherwise the grief in this book would have been all consuming.  Edie's story in "real time" juxtaposed with the suicide of Alison's Andrew...well, I'd probably have taken to my bed for a couple of days to recover.

This was a really strong heroine's journey, with a light touch of romance, and really picture perfect as far as what I'm looking for when I pick up women's fiction.  It's a slower story, emotionally gutting in parts, and one of those books where not a lot "happens" - but I got so invested in the characters, the intertwining journeys of Alison and Edie.  It was another one of those Don't Bother Me Unless Something Is On Fire books.  I was too busy inhaling every word.

Final Grade = B