And being an “Audible Deal of the Day” means you get to spend very little to get the book — in this case something like $3. The deal as far as I know is limited to the US and maybe Canada, and it’s only for today. So if you want it at this price, you need to jump on it. It’s perfect for the folks who love audiobooks, or for the folks who have never tried audiobooks but would be willing to give them a chance at a low price point, or for the folks who simply want Wil Wheaton to read to them in those dulcet tones of his.
Here’s the link to the audiobook. Enjoy!
by Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Black Bicycle Entertainment
I feel like the romantic comedy genre isn’t dead; it’s just in a vegetative state. We get a handful of rom coms a year, and they’re usually in the range of “boring” to “well, that happened.” This is slightly to the more interesting side of “well, that happened” seasoned with a few dashes of casual racism.
Alice (Reese Witherspoon) is the daughter of a well-known, award-winning filmmaker who moves back to her father’s home with her two kids after separating from her husband, Austen (Michael Sheen). Her dad has been dead for some unspecified amount of time, and Alice is coping with her new life, and her two daughters are also trying to cope with a new school and LA life after growing up in New York. Through a series of alcohol-fueled birthday shenanigans, she meets a trio of dudes who have come to LA to break into the movie business (they had a short that was well-received at South By Southwest, so they’re not like, randomly, showing up, getting off the bus with a suitcase and a dream), so they end up staying in her guest house for a while. Alice starts a relationship with one of them, Harry, setting up a really interesting older woman/younger dude dynamic. Her husband shows up, and everyone needs to figure out what they’re doing with their lives.
I liked the relationship between Alice and Harry as a very firm “yes, you’re an older woman, and I find you incredibly attractive and sexy” with no apologies or psychological discussions. These are two people who have pants feelings for one another. That’s it. Also Pico Alexander is super adorable, and Reese is also adorable, and they have chemistry to spare. But the movie kind of skates past “why are these two interested in each other beyond the pants feelings?” You see them talking in a montage, but what are they talking about? It’s all very superficial.
I don’t know if I like Michael Sheen. I really don’t. I do know that I’ve never seen him in a comedy before, and I think I’d like to see him do more. (I mean, really, I want more comedy in general, but I think he’s at least interesting in a comedy, and he can play the straight man very well.)
I have seen some other people saying that they really liked this movie because it showed three younger dudes learning how to do emotional labor and help out this single mom. They end up helping with the kids (one plot line involves Alice’s older daughter and her anxiety, and how one of the guys helps her with that), and helping with the house. It’s very sweet, if kind of unrealistic.
The main problem I had is that I have certain expectations of romantic comedy, specifically that there’s an HEA with the two leads together. And this doesn’t. I mean, everyone is happy, at the end, and things seem to be working out for everyone, but Alice and Harry aren’t together. And I miss the movies where you have Julia Roberts giving a heartfelt, “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy…” speech. Those don’t get made anymore, and I’m sad.
I did like Alice processing her life and musing about decisions she made when she was 25 that were supposed to last the rest of her life, and I love the message that yes, an older woman deserves love and sex and intimacy. I thought this was charming, to be honest. I just thought the portrayal was kind of hollow.
This was written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer, who is the daughter of Nancy Meyers, the writer and director of movies like The Parent Trap, The Holiday, and It’s Complicated. Meyers-Shyer had small parts in her mother’s movies, and there’s a definite throughline in Home Again about growing up in the shadow of famous parents (Alice’s mother, played by Candice Bergen, was an actress). Moreover, in a move that I think is fairly typical for people who grew up in the movie business, this is a movie about movie people and the minutiae and frustrations of getting a movie made.
Is that something people who don’t spend a bunch of time reading and caring about the movie business are interested in seeing?
There were also a couple of moments of casual racism that just didn’t need to be there, which was so frustrating. There was literally no reason for the ostensible hero to say “You know what Indians are like,” without anyone calling him out on it.
I honestly don’t see this as a movie that you need to pay full price for. I mean, it’s a movie written and directed and produced by women, and it’s mostly about a woman entering the third act of her life, but it’s just not a $13 movie.
Sarah chats with New York Times bestselling author Alessandra Torre and filmmaker and Passionflix co-founder Tosca Musk about the filming of Hollywood Dirt, and the process of turning novels into films. We also discuss the launch of PassionFlix, their goals for service, the production schedule, and some behind the scenes fun moments and challenges that made filming memorable. And we have TWO dogs on the podcast! Very exciting.
PassionFlix launched on 1 September, and Hollywood Dirt premiered 20 September on PassionFlix. They’ve optioned several other projects, including books from Brenda Jackson, and there are two more original films premiering this fall: Afterburn/Aftershock by Sylvia Day premieres in November, and The Trouble with Mistletoe by Jill Shalvis in December.Listen to the podcast →
Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
Thanks to our sponsors:
More ways to sponsor:
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 email@example.com 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!
This Episode's Music
Our music is provided by Sassy Outwater.
This is The Shadow Orchestra’s Sweet as a Nut, from their EP Remaker.
This podcast is brought to you by The Scotsman Who Saved Me by Hannah Howell.
From New York Times bestselling author Hannah Howell comes a brand-new series featuring the MacEnroys, a family of seven strong, seductive Scottish brothers who have come to America with nerves of steel—and who will take no prisoners when it comes to love.
The last thing Iain MacEnroy expected to find in his peaceful corner of the Ozarks was a burning cabin with a brutally butchered young couple inside. As he and his brothers bury the dead, a blood trail leads him directly to gravely injured Emily Stanton, who managed to escape the attack.
For Scotsman Iain MacEnroy, Emily’s high-tone accent is a bitter reminder of the oppressive regime he left behind. The last thing he needs is to be burdened by the needs of a beautiful, blue-eyed Englishwoman. But taking care of elegant, educated Emily begins to transform Iain in ways he never imagined. Could it be that the deep divisions from the old world no longer apply in the new—and that Iain and Emily can share a passion as lush and wild as the Scottish highlands themselves?
The Scotsman Who Saved Me by Hannah Howell is available at Kensingtonbooks.com and everywhere books are sold.
Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes or on Stitcher.
The Trouble with Grace
The Trouble with Grace by Jenn LeBlanc is 99c at Amazon and iBooks! This historical romance serves as a prequel for the next book and seems to feature a triad of sorts. Readers recommend this one for those wanting a different sort of historical romance, while others said it was hard to get invested in the romance.
She had no idea what passion was,
Until she saw them…
Lady Alain needs a husband, and Quintin Wyntor will do just fine.
She will offer him a mutual agreement of respect and independence–
As long as he never visits her bed to claim his marital rights.
But seeing him with a man, with Calder, changes it all.
For better–and for worse.
And yet, she still never wants to touch or be touched.
But Quinn’s heart is shattered when his lover walks away so he decides to explore his feelings for Celeste to ease his broken heart.
In one unchecked moment of passion, mutual need spins out of control and bringing Calder home now may just be impossible.
Will Celeste give in to what Quinn wants for her?
Or will she stand her ground and hope they find another way…
This book is the story of Celeste and has her happily for now.
It is also the beginning of Calder and Quinn’s story which will be continued in THE SPARE AND THE HEIR.
This book is an autochorissexual romance (on the asexual spectrum) but contains important pieces of a gay romance. Both are explicit.
Warning: this book has a cliffhanger ending for Calder and Quinn, but is very much part of their story.
Down & Dirty
Down & Dirty by Tracy Wolff is $1.99! This sports romance is the first book in the Lightning series. Readers said that while the book is definitely a sexy contemporary, it has some great emotional depth. However, some felt the romance aspect happened a bit too quickly.
This hard-bodied football star is used to scoring. But he needs all the right moves to get past a fiery redhead’s defenses in a steamy standalone novel from the bestselling author of Ruined.
Emerson: Talk about bad first impressions. I have too much riding on this job to show up late on my first day looking like the winner of a wet T-shirt contest, all thanks to an arrogant quarterback who drives like he owns the road. Hunter Browning thinks that because he’s famous, he can fix everything with a smile and a wave of his hand. He’s too bronzed, buff, and beautiful for his own good. Or mine. I can’t let on that I’m a fan . . . no matter how much fun we’d have in the sack.
Hunter: Hitting that puddle was my best play since winning the Super Bowl with a touchdown pass. Sure, it’s not my preferred way to get a girl wet, but I’ll make an exception for Emerson Day. She’s got a sharp tongue and a red-hot temper, even with her soaking clothes plastered to her every curve. Now I know exactly what my next play will be: hire Emerson as my personal real-estate agent, save her job—and see if I can take her off the market.
A Summer for Scandal
A Summer for Scandal by Lydia San Adres is $1.99! This is a historical romance set in the Caribbean with a heroine hiding her writing identity. One promising review said the feeling between the hero and heroine is very much like Mr. Darcy and Lizzie, but some said the plot execution could have used some work. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads.
Arroyo Blanco, 1911.
When Emilia Cruz agreed to accompany her sister to a boating party, she had no idea that the darling of the literary world would be in assistance—or that he would take such pleasure in disparaging the deliciously sinful serial she writes under a pseudonym. No one save her sister knows she’s the author and to be found out would mean certain scandal.
Stuck on his long-awaited second book, Ruben Torres has begun to edit in secret a gossip paper whose literary reviews are as cruel as they are clever. The more he writes about the mysterious author of a popular serial, the more papers he sells…and the more he is determined to find out her identity before anyone else can.
Vampire Warrior Kings Boxed Set
The Vampire Warrior Kings Boxed Set by Laura Kaye is $1.99 at Amazon and iBooks! It’s $2.49 at all other vendors. This set collects books 1-3 in the Vampire Warrior Kings series and features vampires, obviously. Just a note that these romances are on the shorter side.
Get Laura Kaye’s three bestselling and award-winning Vampire Warrior Kings stories at one great price! Travel from Northern Ireland to Moscow, Russia, to Tromso, Norway in this exciting series featuring the world’s remaining vampire warrior kings as they battle immortal enemies in an escalating war and find unexpected love.
In the Service of the King
Kael, Warrior King of the Vampires loathes the Night of the Proffering. He needs the blood of either his mate or a human virgin to maintain his strength, but hasn’t enjoyed the ritual since he lost his mate. Until he lays eyes on his new offering, Shayla McKinnon, who will give him anything he wishes. Will Kael give in to their overwhelming desire–even if it means risking Shayla’s life?
Taken by the Vampire King
Henrik Magnusson is supposed to be immortal but, thanks to a mysterious ailment not even the blood of the Proffered can sustain him now. Then he rescues a beautiful young woman, and is filled with blood lust and desire he hasn’t felt for centuries…
Seduced by the Vampire
Kate Bordessa has fled to Russia to escape her family’s hopes that she’ll become one of the Proffered. But when she stumbles upon a wounded vampire, she’s instinctively driven to protect him. Will her connection now to Vampire Warrior King Nikolai Vasilyev be strong enough for her to embrace a destiny neither of them was expecting?
I am sorry to inform you, Dear Bitches, that Jane Austen: The Secret Radical is not the stirring tale of an undercover Jane who lives a life of seeming calm while secretly running top secret missions for the abolitionist movement in the dead of night. However, it’s a fascinating nonfiction piece of detective work that points out that in the context of her day, Jane would have come across as a much more politically and socially progressive writer than she does to modern readers.
Author Helena Kelly’s premise relies on the idea that every time period and every culture has its own frame of reference. If I tell you that I do all my shopping at Walmart, that tells you something about me that is different from me saying that I do all my shopping at Whole Foods. Cultural references aren’t always that name brand specific (“name brand” is, itself, a phrase that is a cultural reference) but we all rely on thousands of these references without ever thinking about it.
Over time, certain themes stay current, which is one of the reasons that so many older books remain relevant and meaningful. However, most of the references with which the books’ original readers approached the text are lost, giving the book a different flavor with each new generation of readers. Kelly tries to look at Austen’s texts through the lens of Austen’s first readers, and she finds a lot of plausible evidence that Austen was writing very progressively about marriage, class, slavery, and money during a time when England was at war and dissent or criticism was repressed, often severely.
Here’s an example: In Mansfield Park, there is one reference to slavery that all readers can easily understand, and that is when Fanny brings it up at the dinner table and is shushed. Readers with more knowledge of history also know that when Sir Thomas goes to Antigua, he’s probably dealing with problems on his plantation, which is run by slaves. So far things are pretty overt. However, readers who read Mansfield Park when it was published would also have noticed that Fanny’s favorite poet, William Cowper, was famous for his poems in praise of abolition, and that Maria quotes from a passage about slavery written by Laurence Stern that was all the rage at the time. These, among other references, are obscure today but would have been glaring to Regency Era readers.
The other method Kelly uses is to analyze the text for things like repeated words and certain symbolism. For instance, in Mansfield Park, a book that deals with the idea of being trapped in multiple ways, the word “chains” is used thirteen times whereas in all other her other books combined it’s only used twice. In my opinion, sometimes this method of analysis is plausible and sometimes not so much. It’s clear that Kelly knows her Austen. However, all English majors know the trick of making everything symbolic, whether it’s intended to be or not. I buy the idea that Northanger Abbey is a book with a lot of content regarding sexuality but I don’t buy the idea that the scene in which Catherine opens boxes is about masturbation. Sometimes a box is just a box.
This isn’t light reading, but it’s also not mired in academic jargon. To my surprise, I read it in two days, lured on by the suspense of wondering just what Austen allegedly had to say about various topics. I found the chapters on Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park to be the most convincing and entertaining. The amount of scholarship and the clarity and approachability of the writing is truly impressive.
One of the reasons that I loved the chapters on Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion is that while Kelly does get into the darker subtext, she also celebrates reasons that the romances in those two novels are successful at a level I hadn’t considered. With other novels, Kelly is less sanguine about the eventual happiness of the couples. If you don’t want anyone casting aspersions on Edward from Sense and Sensibility, or Knightly from Emma, or Edmund from Mansfield Park, back away from the book slowly.
I would recommend this to people who have an interest in Jane Austen at an academic level. I would NOT recommend it to people who simply enjoy Austen for some nice reading, nor to those whose primary attachment to Austen is from the television and film adaptation, which tend to soften things considerably. If you fall into either of the latter groups, then this book will either irritate you or successfully ruin all conception of Austen as light and happy. If you like getting into the nuts and bolts of writing and history, then this book will be perfect for you.
After our first and second installments of Podcast and Episode recommendations, my playlist has grown considerably. I listen to podcasts while walking my dogs and while cooking, and I find that sampling new shows is both fascinating, affirming, and intimidating. Fascinating because I learn about so many new cool things, affirming because I’m so excited when there are new shows, and intimidating because I pay closer attention to finer details of my own podcast after I listen to a new one.
But! I always love finding new episodes to recommend, either from shows I’ve already subscribed to, or shows that I’ve just discovered. Here are a few recent favorites.
If you haven’t tried Still Processing, please, please try the episode titled, “We Care For Ourselves and Others in Trump’s America.”
Morris and Wortham talk about the concept of self care, the co-opting of the term, and the history of personal, physical, and spiritual care for marginalized people. They also have a guest, Matthew Steinfeld, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, talk about diagnosis and care – and about the mental and emotional toll of contentious conversations, and the personal cost of doing the work to engage with people who hold views that are toxic and bigoted. I have listened to this episode, no lie, three straight times. It’s mind blowing.
I’ve also tried a new show: Adrift, with Geoff Lloyd and Annabel Port. It’s a comedy podcast that seems to be partly about social awkwardness and embarrassment, and partly about random comedy. The two were radio DJs or presenters, and their show ended in March of this year.
The first episode featured stories about Annabel’s dog that had me laughing so hard I couldn’t go up my stairs until I calmed down. It’s sort of silly absurd comedy mixed with stories of social hesitance, and for the most part the two episodes I’ve listened to so far have been quite funny.
And finally, also new: Rough Translation, a new podcast from NPR about issues affecting countries around the world that have a parallel with issues we’re facing in the US.
The first two episodes, “Brazil in Black and White,” and “Ukraine vs. Fake News,” were so interesting, I kept shushing the dog who was whining at me. Then I realized he was whining because I was standing completely still in my kitchen, holding his food bowl, stuck in place trying to fully process what I was listening to. Poor dog (yes, I fed him and his brother).
What podcast episodes have rocked your brain lately? Got any to recommend?
Because yesterday I got to hang out a bit with Alison Moyet, who if you didn’t know is one of my absolute favorite singers, both in Yaz, and with her solo work. We’d become Twitter buddies in the last couple of years and when I mentioned to her Krissy and I would be at her Chicago show she suggested we have a real-life meet. And we did! And it was lovely! And brief, as she had to prepare to entertain a sold-out show (and she did; the concert was excellent), but long enough to confirm that she’s as fabulous in the flesh as she is in her music. Which was not surprising to me, but nice regardless.
(Alison has also blogged about our meet-up as part of her tour journal, which you can find here. Read the entire tour journal, as she’s funny as hell.)
I noted to some friends that I was likely to meet Alison this week and some of them wondered how it would go, on the principle that meeting one’s idols rarely goes as one expects (more bluntly, the saying is “never meet your idols.”) I certainly understand the concept, but I have to say I’ve had pretty good luck meeting people whom I have admired (or whose work I admired). I chalk a lot of that up to the fact that while I was working as a film critic, I met and interviewed literally hundreds of famous people, some of whose work was very important to me. In the experience I got to have the first-hand realization that famous and/or wonderfully creative people are also just people, and have the same range of personalities and quirks as anyone else.
If you remember that when you meet the people whose work or actions you admire, you give them space just to be themselves. And themselves are often lovely. And when they’re not, well, that’s fine too. Alison Moyet, it turns out, is fabulous, and I’m glad we got to meet.
(Which is not to say I didn’t geek out. Oh, my, I did. But I also kept that mostly inside. Krissy found it all amusing.)
Anyway: Great Tuesday. A+++, would Tuesday again.
It’s time for Wednesday Links, where we post some neat things we’ve found on the internet. I’m currently in one of those states where I’m not sure what day it is and when I do figure it out, it’s always earlier in the week than I’d thought. Which is a real bummer.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries has a Kickstarter to be made into a movie! It’s already been successfully backed (yay!), but there are some awesome stretch goals that the team is working toward.
Big thanks to all of you who sent me the link to Entertainment Weekly’s cover reveal & interview with Lisa Kleypas. I loved this little historical fact from the Q & A:
Where did your idea for a female physician/doctor come from?
When I write these historical romance novels, I do an incredible amount of research just to get the flavor of the time period and to pick up all these details that give the story life. As I was reading about important people back in the late 1800s in England, the name Elizabeth Garrett Anderson came up. I was shocked to realize that she was the only female physician in England for 20-30 years and I had never even heard of her. After she got into the British Medical Association through a loophole after completing all these studies at the Sorbonne in France, the British Medical Association changed their rules so that no more women could be admitted for another 20 years. And I could not stop thinking about her because what an incredible thing to be the only woman in an entire country for that long. So I based this character Garrett Gibson on her and, of course, used the name Garrett, because I loved the idea of using a slightly androgynous name for this really tremendously accomplished and brave woman.
Also, what do you think of the cover? We had some thoughts here at the Bitchery.
The Ripped Bodice is doing a Blind Date with a Book, where readers can purchase books based on the description. Readers won’t know the actual title of the book until they receive it and unwrap it! I always love it when people do this. And just a reminder that The Ripped Bodice has graced us with an affiliate link for all of your online shopping.
In a previous Wednesday Links, we mentioned that Georgette Heyer’s Sylvester was being made into a stage production. Well, welcome Reader Melinda who saw it! Here’s her review:
Not long ago you mentioned on the blog that Lifeline Theatre in Chicago is doing a stage adaptation of “Sylvester” this fall. I’m a resident of Portland Oregon but realized that I’d be in Chicago visiting family during the play’s previews. So we got tickets.
Yesterday afternoon we went to the show, and I am pleased to report that it was well done and very, very fun! All of us enjoyed it–not only myself and my daughter, who are Georgette fans and familiar with the story, but also my husband and son in law who had never heard of Georgette or Sylvester.
The theatre is small, so the environment is intimate, and the production is creative (costumes are suggested, casting is diverse, each actor plays many parts, and there is a “game of love ” theme that organizes and comments on the action). I was personally amazed that such a long and complex novel could be dramatized in a way that made it manageable for a 2-hour running time and yet retained the essential character (and comedy) of the book.
Interestingly enough, the program mentioned that this is the theatre’s fourth adaptation of a Heyer novel, so it seems they have an interest in this kind of literature. They also seem to have done adaptations of Dorothy Sayers and “Miss Buncle’s Book.” If I were a Chicago resident I would definitely be keeping my eye on their future productions
Does anyone else plan on seeing it?
Erotic romance author, Selena Kitt, did an AMA (ask me anything) over at Reddit and I thought the Q & A was pretty informative for authors! Check it out! She talks about promoting books, how to manage a large backlist of books, and more.
Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!
RECOMMENDED: Level Up by Cathy Yardley is 99c! Sarah and author Bree Bridges (one half of Kit Rocha!) had an entire podcast episode dedicated to squeeing about this book. If you want more geeky romances in your life, the next book, One True Pairing, is also on sale!
Geeky introvert Tessa Rodriguez will do whatever it takes to get promoted to video game engineer– including create a fandom-based video game in just three weeks. The only problem is, she can’t do it alone. Now, she needs to strong-arm, cajole, and otherwise socialize with her video game coworkers, especially her roommate, Adam, who’s always been strictly business with her. The more they work together, though, the closer they get…
Adam London has always thought of his roomie Tessa as “one of the guys” until he agreed to help her with this crazy project. Now, he’s thinking of her all the time… and certainly as something more than just a roommate! But his last girlfriend broke up with him to follow her ambitions, and he knows that Tessa is obsessed with getting ahead in the video game world.
Going from friends to something more is one hell of a challenge. Can Tessa and Adam level up their relationship to love?
Crossing the Line
Crossing the Line by Audra North is 99c! This is the third book in the Hard Driving series, but it works fine as a standalone. I’ve read some of North’s books in the past and she does write some pretty sexy contemporaries. Readers loved the chemistry between the hero and heroine, but others wanted more racing action.
He wanted her the first time he saw her. It didn’t matter that he was on stage in front of a room full of reporters, or that his publicist was telling him to move on, or that she was asking him a question about racing. One look at her “just been bedded” hair — completely at odds with her deliciously prim appearance — and Ty Riggs is hooked.
Corrine Bellows is one of the woefully few women in a male profession: sports reporting. In a field where “Hey, sweetheart, can you fetch me a cup of copy” is part of her job description, she’s determined to keep things professional. And while interviewing Ty Riggs, the hottest new driver on and off the track, is a major scoop, Corrine knows that she is in major trouble when it becomes clear that Ty wants so much more and is determined to get it. As things heat up between them, Corrine finds herself on shakier ground. Her big secret just may destroy everything.
Beauty and the Highland Beast
Beauty and the Highland Beast by Lecia Cornwall is 99c! This is a historical romance with Beauty and the Beast elements. Readers say the book has a great start introducing the hero and the heroine, but there were others who felt a lot of the plot points seemed unnecessary. It has a 3.8-star rating on Goodreads. This is the first book in the A Highland Fairytale series and right now, you can grab all three books for less than $3!
Powerful and dangerous highlander Dair Sinclair was once the favored son of his clan, The Sinclairs of Carraig Brigh. With Dair at the helm, Sinclair ships circled the globe bringing home incredible fortune. Until one deadly mission when Dair is captured, tortured and is unable to save his young cousin. He returns home breaking under the weight of his guilt and becomes known as the Madman of Carraig Brigh.
When a pagan healer predicts that only a virgin bride can heal his son’s body and mind, Dair’s father sets off to find the perfect wife for his son. At the castle of the fearsome McLeods, he meets lovely and kind Fia MacLeod.
Although Dair does his best to frighten Fia, she sees the man underneath the damage and uses her charm and special gifts to heal his mind and heart. Will Dair let Fia love him or is he cursed with madness forever?
Meat by Opal Carew is 99c! It doesn’t look like this book is part of any series, so you can read without worrying about details from any previous books. I wanted to include this book because the title made me giggle. This definitely falls into the erotic romance category, so expect a lot of sexytimes. However, readers thought the book could have benefitted from being a bit longer.
Just one taste isn’t enough…
I ran into Rex Keene—literally—when I was trying to catch my flight and his muscled, tattooed arms stopped my fall.
Then our flight gets canceled, and we’re stranded in the same hotel room together…it ended up being the steamiest night of my life.
All I knew is that I had to see him again.
I just didn’t expect him to show up a week later in the restaurant I manage…as our new head chef.
But the generous, tender man I spent that night with is gone; instead he’s arrogant, demanding, and terrorizing the staff.
But he won’t give up until we’re together – and I’m not sure I can stay away.
Which man is real?
Who is Rex Keene?
Today, award-winning author Fran Wilde has a shocking confession to make! About something she said! Here! And yes, it involves her new novel, Horizon. What will this confession be? Will there be regret involved? Are you prepared for what happens next?!?
Dear readers of John Scalzi’s blog, for the past three years, I’ve been keeping secrets.
I’m not sorry.
Trilogies are a delicate thing. They are a community of books unto themselves. They inform and support one another; their themes and actions ripple and impact one another. They have their own set of rules. Among them: Write down the main character’s eye color or favorite food so you don’t forget it. You’ll regret using that hard-to-spell naming convention by the middle of your second book. Destroy something in book one, you’re not going to magically have it to rely on in book three — at least not without some major effort. Everything gathers — each choice, each voice.
Trilogies are, by intent, more than the sum of their parts.
And, when brought together, a trilogy’s largest ideas sometimes appear in the gathered shadows of what seemed like big ideas at the time.
In Updraft, book one of the Bone Universe trilogy, what began to crumble was the system that upheld the community of the bone towers. It didn’t look like it then. So I didn’t tell you when I wrote my first Big Idea.
Instead, the first time I visited this blog, I wrote: “At its heart, Updraft is about speaking and being heard and — in turn — about hearing others…”
That was true – especially in the ways Updraft explored song as memory and singing and voice. But it was also kind of a fib. I knew where the series was headed, and voice was only the tip of the spear.
I planned to return here a year later to write about leadership, and I did — and, I wrote about demagoguery too, and abut having a book come out during a charged political season. That was September 2016, Cloudbound, the second book in the series was just out, and wow, that post seems somewhat innocent and naive now. But not any less important.
Again, saying the big idea in Cloudbound was leadership was true on its face, but it was also a an act of omission. And again, singing came into play — in that songs in Cloudbound were being adjusted and changed, as were messages between leaders.
With Horizon, I’m going to lay it all out there for you. Horizon is about community.
Structurally, Horizon is narrated by several different first person voices — including Kirit, Nat, and Macal, a magister and the brother of a missing Singer. These three voices come from different places in the Bone Universe’s geography, and they weave together to form a greater picture of the world, and its threats. A fourth voice appears only through a song — a new song — that is written during the course of Horizon, primarily by one character but with the help of their community. That song is the thread that ties the voices together, and, one hopes, the new community as well.
And, like Horizon, for me, the big idea for the Bone Universe series is also community. How to defend one, how to lead one, how to salvage as much as you can of one and move forward towards rebuilding it.
In my defense, I did leave some clues along the way. I shifted narrators between Updraft and Cloudbound in order to broaden the point of view and reveal more about the lead characters and the world, both between the books (how Nat and Kirit are seen each by the other vs. how they see themselves), and within them. I shared with readers the history of the bone towers and how that community, and the towers themselves, formed. I showed you the community’s [something] – that their means of keeping records and remembering was based on systems that could be used to both control messages and redefine them. I made the names of older laws and towers much more complicated to pronounce (and, yes, spell SIGH), versus the simpler names for newer things. This community had come together, then grown into something new.
The evolution of singing in the Bone Universe is, much like the idea of community, something that can be seen in pieces, but that resolves more when looked at from the perspective of all three books together.
Remember that solo voice — Kirit’s — singing quite badly that first book? In the second book, Nat’s voice joins Kirit’s — a solo, again, but because we can still hear Kirit, and because we know her, it becomes a kind of duet. In the third book, three voices present separate parts of the story, and when they all come together, that forms a connected whole.
When you listen to a group of people sing, sometimes one voice stands out, then another. Then, when multiple voices join in for the chorus, the sound becomes a different kind of voice. One with additional depth and resonance.
That’s the voice of a community. That drawing together of a group into something that is more than the sum of its parts. It is an opportunity, a way forward, out of a crumbling system and into something new and better.
That’s the big idea.
It’s getting a little bleak for me, reading-wise. This was the first book I finished after 8 DNFs in a row, some of which were nonfiction and some romance or fantasy. I was pretty excited that the beginning of this story was so promising. Then it became repetitive, emotionally limited, inconsistent, and then offensive.
Summary time! Stella Newport is a brand new FBI agent. Specifically, she’s a Lark, which is the name given to the agents in the paranormal investigation division. She’s sent to work with a curmudgeonly, unkind agent named Oswald Bolton, known informally as “Oz.” There are a couple of familiar character types here: the intelligent rookie who is more than she seems, paired with an experienced, jaded agent who lost his partner prior to the start of this story, and who doesn’t want to work with anyone else because emotional vulnerability is awful and he hates it. He works alone – doesn’t anyone understand that?!
This novel is book 1 of a new series called “Lark Nation,” but according to the listing, it’s part of the same universe as another series. First off: I do not think this book works as a stand-alone, and that’s a shame. The exposition and world building presumed that I knew things that I did not, and many major elements, like the entire other worlds and universes that exist parallel to the one the characters inhabit, are very sparsely described.
As a result, I switched between being frustrated that I didn’t get what the characters were talking about and being annoyed that they were so lacking in basic understanding of jurisprudence. For FBI agents, they didn’t know much about aspects of investigation that I would think were obvious. For example: if you suspect your partner has been hit in the head with a brick, throwing that brick into the water while you’re having a tantrum because she’s been fridged seems like a bad idea. Oz’s reasoning is that the rain washed away the evidence that it was used in an assault, but that’s some pretty flawed reasoning for an experienced agent. There are also multiple instances where “something” isn’t right, or “something” seems off, but the main characters shrug it off, or figure they’ll deal with whatever it is at a later time.
Stella and Oz are in Maine investigating a beheading. Some guy was walking home at night on a deserted road, and a headless horseman shows up and lops his head clean off. So Stella is sent to assist Oz, who is already on site, but because there are so many supernatural crimes happening all over the country – a byproduct of some event that happened in the earlier series which I didn’t read – there’s not much in the way of backup for either of them. At one point Stella has a call with her supervisor where she has to tell him about a few more beheadings that happened, and I was so confused how that wasn’t information said supervisor would need to know as soon as they had happened.
The book started out pretty strong: Stella is nervous about her first investigation, but very smart, capable, and confident in her training and her abilities.
Then we meet Oz. Oz is grumpy and also, he’s an asshole. They start by trying to figure out why the dude lost his head. Then more people start dying, and the narrative starts repeating itself. For example: I was told over and over that Stella isn’t sure if she wants to be the one who breaks down Oz’s defenses/”scale the concrete wall Oswald…had built around his heart”/lather rinse repeat.
Honestly, I didn’t care if she did or not. It was perhaps the second or third day of their working together, he barely managed to treat her with respect, and I didn’t really know the scope of what happened to him in the first place. I have dreadfully low tolerance for characters who lack any emotional fluency, and even less for people who use that excuse to treat other people poorly. Example: here’s Oz after he berates a local cab driver – and this is in a small town where he and Stella are already worried about gossip regarding the FBI’s presence and investigation:
Oz knew he’d been too hard on the guy, but again, he couldn’t bring himself to care about the feelings of a random stranger who would ultimately mean nothing in the grand scheme. The cabbie would get over his scare, resume his normal activities, and live, if not happily ever after, then some mediocre variation.
Nice, huh? And it’s pretty consistent with how he treats ancillary characters. I don’t care what kind of structures he’s built around himself. It’s probably a good idea he stay inside them. One of the goals (I presume) of this book is to establish Stella and Oz’s partnership as agents, but the overtly romantic tone, the constant reassertion that it’s somehow Stella’s job to emotionally heal Oswald, and the compressed time period of a few days or maybe a week, did not do enough to make me believe in their alleged progress.
The two things that frustrated me most, aside from the repetitiveness of Stella vs. Oz Walls, were as follows.
First: there was not enough connecting the magic to reality. There’s a magical world connected to the real one, and the FBI has some sort of jurisdiction over it. But how that works is not ever fully explained, nor is their authority over magical events that happen to humans. Stella has some kind of magical ability (more on that in a moment) and both she and Oz have mage kits and magical rings but the integration of their individual magic into the reality they inhabit was also poorly built. The magical rings are particularly ludicrous: to use one, they have to point the ring at a target and yell “SHOOT!” to make things happen. I kept picturing the elementary school kids in my neighborhood playing superhero and waving their hands at each other: “BOOM! You fell down!” Without a more robust explanation of how the magic works, what the cost is, what its effects are, why they have it and some don’t, the whole wave-your-ring-at-the-bad-guy part seemed dumb.
Then, there’s this part which ruined the whole book for me. Get ready.
Stella is described by Oz when he meets her as follows:
She was roughly twenty-five and built like a ballet dancer, with light brown skin and facial features that spoke of a multiracial ancestry. Her long hair was tamed into a ponytail of black ringlets, leaving no shadows on her face to hide her bright green eyes. No, vividly green eyes. Eyes that almost seemed to shine, even.
I didn’t read about any other characters of color aside from Stella, but figured there would be some. To my knowledge, there were not – though I may have missed a description or two, as I began reading pretty quickly once the book began to sour for me.
Then Oz and the reader learns something pretty crucial about Stella:
Stella is revealed to be a powerful telekinetic, and part fae. Oz, it turns out – and this is revealed about him after Stella divulges that her grandmother is Summer fae – hates and distrusts the fae. Which leads to this rumination on his part:
Faeries were not his favorite creatures – they stood one step below vampires on his list of THINGS I HATE – but most of his ire was directed at full-blooded fae. They were mischievous, sadistic creatures, who’d taken their inability to lie and honed it into a mastery of manipulation. They were cold, callous, crafty, and clever, and every interaction Oz had with them in the past ended in absolute disaster….
To think Newport had their blood running through her veins unnerved him. It made him question everything she’d said and done since the moment they met. But…Oz rejected the impulse to categorize Newport with her inhuman relations….
No, Newport’s interactions with Oz had been true to form. She was what she appeared to be. Headstrong. Smart. Practical. Controlled…. She didn’t have faults as an agent that a few years of fieldwork wouldn’t fix.
Weighing all those qualities against her fae blood, Oz could find no legitimate reason to shun her. Her heritage was beyond her control. Her behavior was not, and what she’d displayed so far spoke of a talented agent in the toddler phase who’d one day grow to be a truly spectacular force.
My comment on my device: “Oh, no.”
So Stella is to my knowledge the only character of color in the book, and she’s part fae. But it’s ok: she’s not like other fae, and though Oz hates them all, she’s proved herself so he won’t shun her. Am I supposed to look at Oz favorably for overcoming his own prejudice? Am I supposed to ignore the substitution of “fae prejudice” for racial prejudice?
WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. LIVING. HELL.
If I cringe any harder, I’ll develop a hernia. Sloppy characterization that’s painfully racist is not what I wanted. I’ve sat here watching my blinking cursor trying to think of coherent words to respond to that scene. Stella even lampshades herself in an earlier part of the book, joking with a receptionist who expected Oz’s new partner to be “another brown-haired man around thirty-five” that her unit is “a little more diverse.” But she’s still a token character – on multiple levels.
I get so excited when I see more inclusivity in the fiction I buy. But this is not the representation I’m looking for. This is the exact opposite.
I was close enough to the end that I finished the book, but neither Oz nor the story were redeemable for me. There was so much potential in the first chapters: a bit of X-Files with a complicated set of partners, plus a headless horseman – who talks to the heroine! They have whole conversations after he yanks his head out of his saddlebag! They were the most interesting pair in the book, now that I think about it.
I would have been a lot happier if Stella had left Oz to his grumpy racist emotional navel gazing and run off with the murdering headless horseman.
This HaBO comes from Amanda, who isn’t me, I swear:
I’m sorry that I can’t remember anything about this book, but there are so many paranormal romances starring vampires that they all blur together – I can’t even be sure about the plot. All I recall is the start; the heroine worked at a hospital, and was in the morgue when a recently arrived body jumps up and attacks her. As she’s slumped against the wall dying, the last thing she sees is the hero who arrives too late and takes her away to a mansion filled with other vampires, so she’ll be able to learn about her new existence. The mansion vampires are good and the vampire that randomly attacked the heroine is rogue?
All I remember about the book is that it was a paperback from a decade or so ago, from when my sister was in a vamp-fanatic phase. It just niggles away at the back of my brain, because I know I’ve read it, but browsing the vamp romances on Amazon doesn’t ring any bells.
I fill like this is a Black Dagger Brotherhood book, but it’s been so long since I’ve read one.
The Girl with the Red Balloon
The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke is $1.99! This is a pretty new release and I mentioned how excited I was about it in this month’s Hide Your Wallet. Reviewers on Goodreads recommend this title for fans of magical realism, but some felt the heroine was a bit boring.
When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.
Truth or Beard
Truth or Beard by Penny Reid is 99c at Amazon! I know Reid is an auto-buy author for many of you and this one has an enemies to lovers feel to it, judging by the description. Readers say it has Reid’s trademark humor and quirkiness, but warn there’s a scene where the hero is with another woman. I know that’s an off button for some, but Reader Katie Lynn explained that it isn’t a form of cheating.
Beards, brothers, and bikers! Oh my!
Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James, recent college graduate and perpetual level-headed good girl, has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life.
His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her…
But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Jessica James has spent her whole life paralyzed by the fantasy of Beau and her assumptions of Duane’s disdain; therefore she’s unprepared for the reality that is Duane’s insatiable interest, as well as his hot hands and hot mouth and hotter looks. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang, the Iron Order.
Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk?
This book is on sale at:
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers is $1.99! This is a YA fantasy novel that was nominated for a RITA in 2012. Michelle wrote in her RITA Reader Challenge Review:
The biggest reason I picked up Grave Mercy originally was because of the assassin nuns. Because come on, how awesome does “assassin nuns” sound?
Then I saw it was first-person present tense, and almost held back from getting it. That particular style has been notoriously difficult for me to get into in the past, and I’ve been getting burnt out on it.
However, I went ahead and got the book anyway, and I’m thrilled I did. LaFevers uses language so well that I sank immediately into her style without the 5-10 pages of struggle that normally accompanies reading present tense.
Here, she’s created a fantastic medieval world of gods, saints, political intrigue, and romance that swept me away completely.
And yes, the assassin nuns were pretty much as great as they sounded.
Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?
Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?
All That Matters
All That Matters by Erin Nicholas is 99c! This is the third book in The Billionaire Bargains series, but it can be read as a standalone. Also, the heroine is the billionaire in this romance! Some readers felt the ending seemed a bit unresolved, while others thought this was a rather fun romance. It has a 4.1-star rating on Goodreads.
When billionaire Emily Steele breaks off her eight-year relationship with the only boy she’s ever dated, she quickly realizes she has a lot to learn. About the world. About herself. And men. Definitely men.
A friend’s bachelorette party in New Orleans is the perfect place to get in touch with her inner vixen. Trouble is, she’s never actually met her inner vixen. Worse, her overprotective uncle’s determination to keep her safe means she’s going to have a babysitter for the weekend. A tall, handsome babysitter who makes her tingle from head to toe.
Will Weston has always thought his boss’s niece was special, and now that she’s single, he’s even more acutely aware of her beauty and charm. Her uncle’s insistence that he accompany her to the world’s sexiest city has mistake written all over it—until she offers his best friend a million dollars to be her date.
Now there’s no way Will is staying behind, even though he knows something crazy is going to happen. Because falling in love in a weekend is definitely crazy.
Warning: Contains a woman with enough money to buy a date for a weekend in New Orleans, a guy who’s never going to let that happen, a bachelorette party on Bourbon Street, hot sex to slow jazz, and beignets… because there has to be beignets.
This HaBO request is from Lynn, who is trying to find an older historical:
I’m trying to find a historical romance in paperback. My mom had it roughly around the 80’s-90’s. It was so excessive that I loved it.
The heroine was a mountain woman who lived alone. She saved the hero from a bear. The descriptions were awesome — I remember “bluer than a possum’s balls in a skiff of snow” and “colder than a witch’s tit”. The hero was a city feller, and I think she might have tried to make it in the city for him, but it’s been many years since I read this book.
I would love to find it, because it was crazy.
I am very interested in this heroine!
In her debut novel Autonomous, former i09 editor-in-chief and current science and tech writer and editor Annalee Newitz gets under the skin of the healthcare industry and thinks about all the ways it’s less-than-entirely healthy for us… and what that means for our future, and the future she’s written in her novel.
There’s a scene from the Torchwood series Miracle Day that I will never be able to wash out of my brain. After humans stop being able to die for mysterious reasons, our heroes tour a hospital full of people who are hideously immortal: their bodies pancaked and spindled and melted, they lie around in agony wishing for oblivion. For all its exaggerated body horror, that moment feels creepily realistic in our age of medicine that can keep people alive without giving them anything like quality of life.
Torchwood: Miracle Day wasn’t my first taste of healthcare dystopia, but it made a huge impression because it distilled down one of the fundamental ideas I see this subgenre: some lives are worse than death. This is certainly the message in countless pandemic films, where the infected are ravening, mindless zombies. Killing them is a mercy.
This idea takes a slightly different form in books like Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Paolo Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl. Both narratives toy with what it means when people are turned into medical experiments, like futuristic versions of the Tuskegee Study. We see some ruling class of people deciding that another class should serve as its organ donors or genetic beta testers. What if somebody were treating us like lab rats, as if our lives didn’t matter?
And then there are the false healthcare utopias, which I find the most disturbing because they remind me of listening to U.S. senators trying to sell the idea that they have a “much better plan” than Obamacare—even though I know people who will die under these “better plans.” Politicians have probably been pushing false healthcare utopias since at least the 19th century, but in science fiction its roots can clearly be traced to Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World. In that novel, everyone is medicating with Soma just to deal with how regimented and limited their lives are.
False healthcare utopias can take many forms, and they overlap with more familiar dystopias too. Some deal with surveillance. In the chilling novel Harmony, Project Itoh imagines a future Japan where the government monitors everyone’s microbiomes by tracking everything that goes into and out of their bodies (yep, there’s toilet surveillance).
Sometimes the false healthcare utopia is just a precursor to a more familiar zombie dystopia like 28 Days Later. Consider, for example, our extreme overuse of antibiotics. Though it appears that we can cure pretty much any infection with antibiotics, we’re very close to living in a world where antibiotics no longer work at all. One of the most terrifying books I’ve read this year is science journalist Maryn McKenna’s book Big Chicken, which is about how the agriculture industry depends on antibiotics to keep animals “healthy” in filthy, overcrowded conditions. This is creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are coming for us, pretty much any day now. That’s right–penicillin-doped chickens are the real culprits in I Am Legend.
I’m fascinated by how many false healthcare utopias depend on coercive neuroscience. Often, brain surgery is involved—we see this in John Christopher’s Tripods and Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, both about so-called utopian worlds created by neurosurgical interventions that restrict freedom of thought. Maybe these stories focus on brains so much because these are fundamentally stories about lies, and brains are, after all, the organ that we use for lying.
When I started work on my novel Autonomous (out today! yes it is!), I knew I wanted to explore the lies of the pharmaceutical industry and its gleaming ads promising a better life to those who can afford a scrip. One of the protagonists, Jack, has become a pharmaceutical pirate so that she can bring expensive, patented medicine to poor people who need it. But she also sells a few of what she calls “funtime worker drugs” on the side, to fund her Robin Hood activities and keep her submarine in good repair.
Those funtime drugs are why things go sideways for Jack. She sells some pirated Zacuity, a “productivity” drug that I loosely based on Provigil or Adderall. It gets people really enthusiastic about work, but it has some unexpected side-effects that the pharma company Zaxy has suppressed. Now Jack has to stop the drug from killing more people, while also evading two deadly agents sent by Zaxy: a robot named Paladin and a human named Eliasz.
So Autonomous is chase story with some hot robot sex, but it’s also very much a book about how pharma companies sell us an idea of “health” that is actually really unhealthy.
Today pharma companies market drugs the way Disney markets Star Wars movies, and for good reason. Drugs like Adderall and Provigil are supposed to make us feel better and more competent—or at the very least distract us—for a few blissful hours. Just like a movie. I’m not trying to say there’s a problem with taking drugs (or watching movies) to feel good. Nor am I saying that people don’t need anti-depressants and other meds to treat psychological problems. The issue is when these drugs are overprescribed for enhancement, and “feeling really good” becomes a terrible kind of norm. Pharma companies want us to believe that if we aren’t incredibly attentive, productive, and happy every day, there must be something wrong. This paves the way for an ideal of mental health that almost nobody can (or should) live up to.
There’s another, deeper problem that’s caused by selling medicine as if it were a form of entertainment. Nobody would ever argue that going to see the new Star Wars movie is a right. It’s just a luxury for people with disposable income. If we see medicine like that too, it’s easy to fall for the lie that our healthcare system is great even though it only serves the richest people in the U.S.
In the world of Autonomous, the pharma companies are full of guys like Martin Shkreli, jacking up the prices on medicine because they can. They get away with it because so many people in the U.S. believe that anyone can get medicine if they really deserve it. Only a lie of that magnitude could make it seem fair when working class people can’t afford to treat AIDS-related complications. Or cancer. Or a heart infection.
Autonomous is a book about lies. But more importantly, it’s about what happens to the people who see through those lies and try to do something about it. Everyone deserves to have medicine. It is a right, not a privilege. Until we recognize that, I’ll be hanging out with the pirates.