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review 2013-10-07 00:51
Again! Again!
Her Best Worst Mistake - Sarah Mayberry

Back before we had kids and thus sometimes had time to watch movies, every once in a while my wife and I would watch something that made us both so happy that when we came to the end, one of us would cry, "Again! Again!" and we'd start the movie over again. That was me with this book: I read the last page, then turned immediately to page one and read it all over. It's a quick enough read that I could read it twice in one day (I was home on maternity leave). 


Violet is Elizabeth's best friend; Martin is Elizabeth's fiancé. Apart from Elizabeth, they have nothing in common and can't stand each other: he's stuffy and conservative, she's reckless and impulsive. When Elizabeth calls off the engagement and flees to Australia, though, Martin and Violet unexpectedly find solace--and heat, and eventually love--together.


Usually books where the main characters start off fighting like cats and dogs don't do anything for me: either the initial animosity seems contrived just to set up dramatic conflict, or it seems too pat and simplistic that people who were at each other's throats should suddenly fall for one another. This story avoids those pitfalls: the animosity to rapprochement is deftly and believably plotted in a way that allows both Vi and Martin to be true to their characters.

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review 2013-10-06 19:54
Gender-flipping the "Scarred Hero" Trope
The Lass Wore Black - Karen Ranney

There is much about this book that I really, really liked:

1. The gender-flip of the "scarred hero" trope. Catriona has been scarred/disfigured in a terrible carriage accident and now must learn how to get along without beauty, which had been her defining feature. Physical allure is more important to women then men, beauty more critical to women's identity and social value, so it was a thought-provoking reversal of a fairly standard plot device.

2. Catriona was not a virgin. More than the loss of her beauty, she mourned the loss of passion and feared no man would ever want to be intimate with her. I found it refreshing that she recognized that she'd been bad by society's standards, but knew that if she'd followed the rules, she would never have known sexual fulfillment. A sexually-liberated heroine is a rare treat in historical romance.

3. A really, chillingly evil villain. I'm not usually a fan of murder-mystery subplots in romance novels, but this wasn't a mystery: the reader knows from the start who the bad guy is, and the scenes written from his perspective are gut-churningly dark.

4. Secondary characters, like Mark's grandfather and his housekeeper, were really unique and interesting. Often characters like these fade into the background; I appreciate that here, even minor characters were vividly drawn.


Other things about this book I didn't enjoy so much:

1. The pacing of the plot and flow of the dialogue was choppy/uneven. Parts of this book dragged, and parts went so fast they were hard to follow. A few times I had to re-read a few pages because I lost the flow of the narrative. Sometimes dialogue didn't make sense. This story is unique enough that I think if someone else had written it, I'd give it five stars, but I found Ms. Ranney's narrative style clunky and unwieldy.

2. Neither hero nor heroine were very likeable. Mark is busy, self-righteous, judgmental, and kind of self-absorbed. At the start of the novel, he is betrothed to another young woman, Anne. Though he has not formally declared his intention to marry her, he knows his behavior, public and private, has given the impression that they have an understanding. When he begins to fall for Catriona, he blows off the blameless Anne with a brutal lack of delicacy, tact, or remorse.

3. Catriona is selfish and vain, though given her injuries and physical and emotional pain, her self-pity is understandable, if tedious to read. More than Mark, she exhibits substantial character growth over the course of the novel.

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review 2013-10-06 19:46
This Book Undermines My Faith in Humanity
Own the Wind (Chaos #1) - Kristen Ashley

This is one of those books that everyone loves but me. Usually I'm fine with that; it happens. Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath -- these are great works that I just didn't like at all. Sometimes, though, a book comes along that is so bad, so lacking in redemptive qualities, that the fact that so many other people like it seems like an assault on all I hold good and honest in the world. This is such a book.


Kristen Ashley is kind if a big deal in Romancelandia these days. This book in particular was really hyped. Read it, people said: Kristen Ashley has such a great voice, so different, so hot. Um, no. I read it, and that's six hours of my life that I'll never get back.

I should have known better. I looked at the Goodreads reviews before I read it, and I knew that among all of the book squee, the voices of the one- and two-star minority warned that this book is rife with all the things I can't stand: rampant sexism, poor plotting, crimes against grammar. I can't say I wasn't warned.


I hate this book. I hate Shy for being a violent, misogynistic ass. I hate Tabby for always bending over. I hate that women are described as either "bitches" (skanks whose purpose is recreational sex) or "old ladies" (the kind of girl you can settle down with, so long as she knows her place: i.e.,knows to shut up and not ask questions or express opinions). I hate that the women of Chaos can't join the Club of their own right and don't get their own bikes (or even get to drive). I hate that every time Tabby calls Shy on any issue in their relationship--from the major ("I'd rather you not beat the crap out of my boss, honey") to the minor ("how come you never help with the laundry, buddy?")--Shy's response is that she should suck it up because he gives good sex, and I hate that Tabby lets him pull that shit.


I hate the run on sentences and the incomprehensible dialogue and the hail of misplaced commas (I swear, Ms. Ashley must think she gets paid by the comma) and the rambling plot. I hate the cliffhanger-wrapped-in-a-cliché ending that deprives me of any sense of closure or accomplishment after I forced myself to finish this drivel.


I hate this book so much I'm tempted to argue with all the positive reviews, especially those who say that Shy is the shit, because actually, Shy is a shit, not the shit. But we are all entitled to our own opinions. I may be in the minority, but this is mine: 1/2 star.

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review 2013-10-06 17:10
Romance With an Unfortunate Side of Slut-Shaming
Talk Me Down - Victoria Dahl

In Talk Me Down, Molly Jennings returns to Tumble Creek, her childhood home, after inheriting a house. She is fleeing a stalking ex-boyfriend, a police officer specializing in hostage negotiations, who uses his skill and training at manipulating hostages to manipulate her and everyone who would be close to her. Given that background, I would have expected her to be a little more wary of taking up with another officer, but she and Ben have a history: she's lusted after him since high school, when he was her brother's roommate. Back then, she interrupted him in flagrante delicto with another woman, which sparked her attraction and her career, inspiring her first (far too autobiographical) published erotica. She lives in fear not just of the stalker ex, but also that someone will recognize Ben from that first story and unmask her profession, which she has kept secret even from her family.


Ben has clawed his way back to respectability after his father, a high school principal, shamed the family by sleeping with a student just a year older than Ben. Now grown, he is the Chief of Tumble Creek's small police force, but he is still so afraid of being tarnished by scandal that he only dates women from out of town. He flatly refuses to date Molly until she will tell him what she does for a living, and in the meantime he imagines all sorts of scandalous possibilities: stripper, prostitute, phone sex operator, online sex chatroom moderator. Luckily, despite his vow not to date, he doesn't seem to help the urge to go to bed with her, and they're well on the way to happily ever after when Molly's secrets catch up with her.


Molly's eventual unmasking was, to me, overhyped. After all, she isn't a true "bad" girl, despite her saucy career: she lost her virginity at seventeen and hasn't had a boyfriend (except the stalker) in years. There is the predictable confusion about whether she's really into all the kinky stuff she writes about, and she suffers some slut-shaming at the hands of more narrow-minded characters, but it would have been a more interesting conflict if Molly really were the "slut" she fears being labeled: perhaps a dominatrix, a reformed stripper or sex worker, or even just a girl who everyone knows got around back in the day (like Jane from Lead Me On).


A word of caution (and I reveal what may be a spoiler because I think some readers may appreciate a trigger warning): The stalker ex does come back, and in doing so puts Molly in a situation that may be difficult to read, especially for those with a personal history of sexual and/or domestic abuse.

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review 2013-10-06 16:41
Toxic Heroine Alert!
The Rebound Girl - Tamara Morgan

It's a good thing I read book two of this series, The Derby Girl, before reading this, because if I'd read this first I would have given up on the series and Derby Girl is delicious and fun in a way that The Rebound Girl totally isn't. I disliked Whitney, the heroine of this book, more than any character I've read in a long time. She's shallow, abrasive, insensitive, judgmental, emotionally-stunted, bossy, bratty, and cruel. That's actually integral to the plot: she's setting up a medical spa business in a tony Philadelphia suburb, and the townspeople take an instant dislike to her because of her behavior and attitude, which causes all sorts of problems for her fledgeling business. At first, Whitney doesn't care. Her attitude is: "Why waste energy placating people she cared about less than fingernail clippings?" (Loc. 1508) That sums up my problem with Whitney in a nutshell: there should never be people you care about less than fingernail clippings. Whether you know them or not, whether you like them or not, they are people and they deserve basic respect and civility. Anyway, it's no wonder the people of Pleasant Park don't like Whitney: the mystery is why the hero, mild-mannered schoolteacher Matt, apparently does. (It has to be more than sex, if I'm going to become invested in the HEA, and I never found any deeper connection between this couple.)


Matt's not a perfect character, either. He's too good to be true, willing to take almost unending abuse both from Whitney and from his cheating ex-wife, whose life is still very much entwined with his. (I put this on the "infidelity" shelf not because the hero and heroine aren't faithful to one another, but because they have both been victims of infidelity and they're both working through a lot of baggage related to those earlier betrayals.)


I didn't enjoy the sexytimes in this story because the power dynamic was so uneven: Whitney was unabashedly using Matt, and though he was willing to go along with it for a long time (men put up with a lot for sex), I didn't have any patience with it.

There are brief glimpses of both Jared and Gretchen, the hero and heroine of The Derby Girl, in this book, but in my opinion that's not enough to salvage The Rebound Girl.

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