Speaker of the Lost by Clara Coulson

Sep. 20th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by SB Sarah

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Speaker of the Lost

by Clara Coulson
September 15, 2017 · Knite and Day Publishing

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:

Show Spoiler

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.

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Posted by Amanda

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.

Contemporary Romances & YA Fantasy

Sep. 19th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

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.

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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?

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Grave Mercy

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?

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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.

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Posted by Amanda

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!

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Posted by Amanda

This post is being sponsored by AdamandEve.com, and, while we have some amazing toy recommendations, here is the most important information:

AdamandEve.com is offering Smart Bitches readers 50% off a single item plus free standard shipping in the US and Canada with code SMART. Please note: certain exclusions apply, but the coupon covers most of the store.

Additionally, you also get a free gift with purchase: a pink vibrating egg, which is sure to give you some bang for your buck.

Previously, Sarah and I put together a list of personal recommendations and recommendations of popular products from the site. We also invited Reader Jaymzangel to send us some recs as well!

This time, I’m picking some items that I think would be great for the fall season – for yourself, or someone else, or both!

This post is extremely NSFW! You have been warned!

A&E Intimate Pleasures Kegel Set: Okay, this serious looks some awesome rose gold jewelry. I love how customizable this set is with two different silicone sleeves and four differently sized balls. Perfect for the classy, kinky goth!

A&E Intimate Pleasures Kegel SetKitty Playballs Set: If you prefer your Ben Wa balls more on the cutesy side, check out this set! Though it only comes with one sleeve, it still has four differently weighted balls. Plus, a pink carrying case with a lock!

Kitty Playballs Set

 

Fetish Fantasy Web Restraint: Looking to get freaky on Halloween? Or perhaps you want to roleplay Spider & the Fly with your partner? This restraint system fits any bed, comes with four cuffs, and has 24 different “web lines” the cuffs can attach to or slide along during play. The set also comes with a free satin mask as well. How much fun does that look?

Fetish Fantasy Web Restraint

The Rendezvous Gift Set: First off, this set of toys comes in a case that looks like a book. Hello!

Imagine putting in on your bookshelf and having company be none the wiser. The set also comes with nine items, which is a 40% savings if you had purchased everything separately. I’m a sucker for a bargain. There are toys, bondage tape, a mask, candle, and a variety of lube samples.

The Rendezvous Gift Set

Salted Caramel Intimate Earth Flavored Lubricant: One of fall’s signature flavors is salted caramel. Sorry, pumpkin spice fans – I couldn’t find any lube for you. This lube in particular is water-based and warms up. It’s also safe for vegans! This brand also comes in cherry and strawberry flavors that are more tart than the salted caramel one, according to reviews.

Salted Caramel Intimate Earth Flavored Lubricant

Wicked Aqua Salted Caramel Flavored Lube: I found not one, but two salted caramel flavored lubes! This one is also vegan-friendly and water-based, but I like the packaging of this one more. It looks like a fancy hand soap dispenser. It does not seem to be a warming lubricant, but it does have some other fall-ish flavors like Candy Apple and Mocha Java.

Wicked Aqua Salted Caramel Flavored Lube

Revitalize Pocket Vibrator Kit: This pocket vibrator comes in baby blue and pastel pink. It’s waterproof and features three different silicone attachments. So it’s pretty much like putting a costume on your vibrator. It only takes one AA battery and is waterproof, which is something I consider a “must have” when it comes to my sex toys.

Revitalize Pocket Vibrator Kit

Big thanks to Adam & Eve for sponsoring this post and for the coupon and free gift to our readers!

I so love doing these posts. Not only do I get to browse sex toys for “work,” but it gives me a chance to talk about them with all of you. As a side note, the romance genre and community have really helped me in terms of discussing my sexuality and my sexual needs with my partner. It’s reaffirming in the sense that sex isn’t something to be embarrassed about, though I’d definitely say I’m still in the learning process.

What do you think about the items recommended? Have any you’d love to suggest?

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Posted by Amanda

Hamilton’s Battalion

Hamilton’s Battalion is available for preorder at Amazon for $4.99! This is a historical romance anthology from Courtney Milan, Rose Lerner, and Alyssa Cole and many of you were super interested in it after it was mentioned on the most recent podcast episode with Cole. I’m excited to see the cover once it’s been finalized.

Love in the time of Hamilton…

On October 14, 1781, Alexander Hamilton led a daring assault on Yorktown’s defenses and won a decisive victory in America’s fight for independence. Decades later, when Eliza Hamilton collected his soldiers’ stories, she discovered that while the war was won at Yorktown, the battle for love took place on many fronts…

PROMISED LAND by Rose Lerner

Donning men’s clothing, Rachel left her life behind to fight the British as Corporal Ezra Jacobs–but life catches up with a vengeance when she arrests an old love as a Loyalist spy.

At first she thinks Nathan Mendelson hasn’t changed one bit: he’s annoying, he talks too much, he sticks his handsome nose where it doesn’t belong, and he’s self-righteously indignant just because Rachel might have faked her own death a little. She’ll be lucky if he doesn’t spill her secret to the entire Continental Army.

Then Nathan shares a secret of his own, one that changes everything…

THE PURSUIT OF… by Courtney Milan

What do a Black American soldier, invalided out at Yorktown, and a British officer who deserted his post have in common? Quite a bit, actually.

* They attempted to kill each other the first time they met.
* They’re liable to try again at some point in the five-hundred mile journey that they’re inexplicably sharing.
* They are not falling in love with each other.
* They are not falling in love with each other.
* They are…. Oh, no.

THAT COULD BE ENOUGH by Alyssa Cole

Mercy Alston knows the best thing to do with pesky feelings like “love” and “hope”: avoid them at all cost. Serving as a maid to Eliza Hamilton, and an assistant in the woman’s stubborn desire to preserve her late husband’s legacy, has driven that point home for Mercy—as have her own previous heartbreaks.

When Andromeda Stiel shows up at Hamilton Grange for an interview in her grandfather’s stead, Mercy’s resolution to live a quiet, pain-free life is tested by the beautiful, flirtatious, and entirely overwhelming dressmaker.

Andromeda has staid Mercy reconsidering her worldview, but neither is prepared for love—or for what happens when it’s not enough.

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Shacking Up

Shacking Up by Helena Hunting is 99c! This is part of a huge Swerve sale going on and we’ll definitely feature more books this week. This book has a romantic comedy vibe and is actually pretty funny, but I’ll admit that it does take some suspension of disbelief, since it can be a bit zany at times.

Ruby Scott is months behind on rent and can’t seem to land a steady job. She has one chance to turn things around with a big audition. But instead of getting her big break, she gets sick as a dog and completely bombs it in the most humiliating fashion. All thanks to a mysterious, gorgeous guy who kissed—and then coughed on—her at a party the night before.

Luckily, her best friend might have found the perfect opportunity; a job staying at the lavish penthouse apartment of hotel magnate Bancroft Mills while he’s out of town, taking care of his exotic pets. But when the newly-evicted Ruby arrives to meet her new employer, it turns out Bane is the same guy who got her sick.

Seeing his role in Ruby’s dilemma, Bane offers her a permanent job as his live-in pet sitter until she can get back on her feet. Filled with hilariously awkward encounters and enough sexual tension to heat a New York City block, Shacking Up, from NYT and USA Today bestselling author Helena Hunting, is sure to keep you laughing and swooning all night long.

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The Billionaire Beast

The Billionaire Beast by Jackie Ashenden is 99c! This is an erotic Beauty and the Beast retelling and, while this is the second book in the Billionaire Fairytales series, it can be read as a standalone. Readers really felt for the hero, but felt the heroine seemed like a doormat at times.

Dark, tortured, and intimidating, these dominant billionaires will steal their innocent heroines’ breath away. Overwhelmed by their desire to control their world, they push their heroines to explore their deepest desires. But even the most unworldly of heroines can unlock these billionaires’ secrets.

Nero de Santis: Damaged. Bastard. Beast.

Nero hasn’t left his house in ten years—he demands the world come to him, and the world is only too happy to bend to the strong-willed billionaire. Ruthless, cold, and selfish, Nero wants for nothing and takes care of no one but himself. His last handful of assistants have left his house in tears, but the prim redhead applying for the job looks up to the task. Nero has spent his life shut within the walls he built, with no care to have more than a window to the outside world. But the fiery passion he senses beneath his reserved assistant’s exterior makes him want to break down the barriers he lives behind, and unleash the beast within.

Phoebe Taylor: Uptight. Misunderstood. Engaged.

Phoebe needs the obscene amount of money that comes with being Nero’s personal assistant for one thing, and one thing only—to pay for the mounting hospital costs that her fiancee’s two-year coma continues to incur. She’s heard rumors that the de Santis beast is a force that cannot be tamed—but even she isn’t prepared to handle the smoldering intensity simmering beneath his hard shell of feral dominance. Nero is hiding something, something he is fighting with every step he takes. Yet he can’t help but stake his claim on this woman who has shaken up his life, and Phoebe can’t believe this animal of a man is the one person to ever look into her eyes and see her soul. Nero wants to keep her. He wants to devour her. And Phoebe just might let him.

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The SEAL’s Rebel Librarian

The SEAL’s Rebel Librarian by Anne Calhoun is 99c! Sarah read this novella and while she felt the ending was rushed (which is a common problem for me in novellas), it still earned a B grade:

I really enjoyed reading this novella, and recommend it for fans of hotter contemporary romance.

And really, I haven’t met many people who can resist that title. The story inside comes very, very close to living up to the promise of it.

The second in the Alpha Ops novella series that features an alpha Navy SEAL and the librarian who brings him to his knees.

Jack Powell never planned on leaving the Navy, but his final mission as a SEAL left him with a tremor and a bad case of nerves. He’s home, taking some college classes and trying to figure out what comes next when he meets Erin Kent, a divorced college librarian with an adventurous bucket list and a mission to get her ex-husband’s voice out of her head. Jack guides Erin through skydiving and buying the motorcycle of her dreams, blithely accepting Erin’s promise that their relationship is purely temporary. But when Jack gets the chance to go back into the shadowy world of security contracting, can he convince Erin to break her word and join him on the adventure of a lifetime?

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

A-

Burn for Me

by Ilona Andrews
October 28, 2014 · HarperCollins
Urban Fantasy

The Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews is a huge hit with the Bitchery (especially Amanda) and though the series is somewhat over for now, that gives new readers a perfect excuse to binge all three books. Reader Aidee Campa has given us a great guest review of books one and two if the series to give you a nudge in the right reading direction!

Aidee recently graduated from college, where she was an English major and a political science minor. She started reading romance in high school, but isn’t quite sure which was her first romance read—Jean M. Auel, Fern Michaels, or something that she has completely forgotten by now. She loves reading, writing, chocolate, and listening to music, although not necessarily in that order. The most recent books she’s enjoyed have been Alisha Rai’s Hate to Want You, Alyssa Cole’s Extraordinary Union, Ilona Andrews’ Wildfire, and Leigh Bardugo’s Crooked Kingdom (there are more, but that’s probably a good place to stop).

I don’t clearly remember what made me pick up Burn for Me, but I do remember that I listened to it as an audiobook before I read it. I recommend listening to it, even if you’ve already read it, because Renee Raudman, the narrator, is really good. And before going any further, I would like it to be clear, I love this book. I have read it multiple times, and so far, I haven’t gotten tired of it. I will try my best to balance my love for this book with some critical analysis, but I can’t make any promises.

Here’s the cover copy for Burn for Me from Amazon:

Nevada Baylor is faced with the most challenging case of her detective career—a suicide mission to bring in a suspect in a volatile situation. Nevada isn’t sure she has the chops. Her quarry is a prime, the highest rank of magic user, who can set anyone and anything on fire.

Then she’s kidnapped by Connor “Mad” Rogan—a darkly tempting billionaire with equally devastating powers. Torn between wanting to run and wanting to surrender to their overwhelming attraction, Nevada must join forces with Rogan to stay alive.

Rogan’s after the same target, so he needs Nevada. But she’s getting under his skin, making him care about someone other than himself for a change. And, as Rogan has learned, love can be as perilous as death, especially in the magic world.

I think Andrews does a wonderful job of working with a trope that to some may seem to have run its course—the PI in the magical world. I feel this is because Nevada isn’t like most PIs I’ve read before. She already comes with a family—one that she is not looking to distance herself from—and she is likeable but still has flaws that can lead to bad consequences. The world is vividly drawn, and Andrews generally manages to walk that fine line of explaining enough without overwhelming the reader with information. The plot moves in a logical way, and yet that logic wasn’t immediately obvious to me until I had read Burn for Me a few times—which could be because usually, when I read for pleasure, I don’t pay close attention to this sort of thing, unless it’s very annoying and incredibly obvious.

In any case, the two points that may count against this book with some readers are that it is told in first person from Nevada’s point of view, and, because of that, Rogan is a little more opaque.

Nevada and Nevada’s family are all likeable. Or at least, the family we meet in this book—this is only the first book in what is looking to be a trilogy, or possibly a quartet. Nevada is good at her job, and that is amazing to watch in action. A lot of the time, we might be told a character is good at their job, but that is never shown on the page. The first two chapters are of Nevada doing her job as a PI in a world with magic.

Nevada has a strong sense of herself and her code and how it applies to her job:

Some easy job this turned out to be. At least I didn’t have to go to the hospital. I grimaced. The welt decided it didn’t like me grimacing. Ow.

The Baylor Investigative Agency started as a family business. … We had only three rules. Rule #1: we stayed bought. Once a client hired us, we were loyal to the client. Rule #2: we didn’t break the law. It was a good rule. It kept us out of jail and safe from litigation. And Rule #3, the most important one of all: at the end of the day we still had to be able to look our reflections in the eye. I filed today under Rule #3 day. Maybe I was crazy and John Rutger would’ve taken his wife home and begged her forgiveness on bended knee. But at the end of the day, I had no regrets, and I didn’t have to worry about whether I did the right thing and whether Liz’s two children would ever see their mother again.

And here’s something a bit further down which illustrates how she thinks of her family. The affection and tension is evident here, especially if one considers that Nevada is a grown woman still living with her family:

If Mom saw me, I wouldn’t get away without a thorough medical exam. All I wanted to do was take a shower and eat some food. This time of the day she was usually with Grandma, helping her work. If I was really quiet, I could just sneak into my room. I padded down the hallway. Think sneaky thoughts… Be invisible… Hopefully, nothing attention-attracting was going on.

We are also introduced to her family at the beginning of the book, and the interactions between Nevada, her sisters, her cousin, her mother and grandmother are great. Here is another snippet, where we meet most of Nevada’s family, and which introduces them nicely:

“Let me go!” Arabella snarled.

“Think about what you’re doing,” Bern said, his deep voice patient. “We agreed—no violence.”

“What is it this time?” I asked.

Catalina stabbed her finger in Arabella’s direction. “She never put the cap on my liquid foundation. Now it’s dried out!”

Figured. They never fought about anything important. They never stole from each other, they never tried to sabotage each other’s relationships, and if anyone dared to look at one of them the wrong way, the other one would be the first to charge to her sister’s defense. But if one of them took the other’s hairbrush and didn’t clean it, it was World War III.

“That’s not true…” Arabella froze. “Neva, what happened to your face?”

Everything stopped. Then everyone said something at once, really loud.

“Shush! Calm down; it’s cosmetic. I just need a shower. Also, stop fighting. If you don’t, Mom will come here and I don’t want her to—”

“To what?” Mom walked through the door, limping a little. Her leg was bothering her again. Of average height, she used to be lean and muscular, but the injury had grounded her. She was softer now, with a rounder face. She had dark eyes like me, but her hair was chestnut brown.

Grandma Frida followed, about my height, thin, with a halo of platinum curls stained with machine grease. The familiar, comforting smell of engine oil, rubber, and gunpowder spread through the room.

Their interactions continue in this manner throughout the book, even when the family members get upset with each other for logical reasons.

Here’s a slightly spoiler-y snippet of Nevada and her mom arguing:

“Okay, so you were right. It is a little bit about Dad, and it is a lot about keeping a roof over our head. This is our home. I will do almost anything to keep it. Also I negotiated with MII, and if I die, you get the name of the agency back for one dollar.”

Her face twisted. “I don’t care, Nevada. Sweetheart, I don’t care. I want you to be okay. None of it is worth losing you. I thought we were a team.”

“We are.”

“But you didn’t tell me. And you got Bern to cover it up.”

“I didn’t tell you because you would do exactly what you did last night. You’d order me not to do it. We are a team, but you’re my mother. You will do everything to keep me safe, and there is a point where it’s my decision to stay safe or not.”

My mother considered it. “Okay. Point made.”

We only get to know Rogan through Nevada for the majority of the book. Because the book is told from her point of view, it is possible for us to have an inaccurate impression of Rogan. This impression is not fixed by the end of the book, so I learned to be careful of Nevada’s observations. She’s good, but she isn’t infallible—which I like, but which some readers may find annoying.

That’s actually one of her flaws: she is good at observing people and coming to fairly solid conclusions, but occasionally, her own biases and assumptions get in the way of her conclusions, and sometimes she doesn’t have all the information.

To sum it up, you should all go read this book and stop reading this review, because I cannot clearly communicate how great this book is. The world building is intriguing, the characters are well-done, the plot is tightly woven. In case you hadn’t guessed it by now, I anxiously awaited Wildfire. I give this book an A-.

More exploration of Rogan would have been nice, but I don’t know that it could have fit into this book so well.


White Hot
A | BN | K | iB
The adventures of Nevada and Rogan continue in the sequel to Burn for Me. I also listened to this book before I read it, because I preordered it on Audible—I was that sure I would like it. However, there is an excerpt of Wildfire at the end of White Hot in the eBook and probably print versions, so if that kind of thing is important to you, make your choice accordingly.

As I expected, I also really liked this book. All the characters grow, even secondary ones like Leon, Nevada’s youngest cousin. Nevada and Rogan move firmly into the serious-romantic-involvement realm, although it isn’t exactly clear where their relationship will go by the end of the book, due to certain choices Nevada must make. Andrews’ plotting skill is on display in this book, too, so that while some threads clearly lead somewhere, it is harder to pick out where other possible threads might lead.

This book opens with Nevada using her awesome magical skills, while still trying to preserve her incognito status. She uses a disguise which involves a cloak/cape, among other things. Then she takes on a client with a very dangerous case. However, this time, she doesn’t make the same mistakes she made in Burn for Me, which was cool to see, because books wherein characters insist on repeating the same kinds of mistakes that got them into trouble before confuse me and will frustrate me to the point of not being interested in the book anymore.

The action related to the overarching conflict begins earlier in this book than in Burn for Me—Rogan is using quarters as projectiles by chapter 2—and so does the flirting between Nevada and Rogan. This is not to say that Nevada and Rogan do not argue at all during the book. They do, in a spectacular manner, but they are also working together on a case, and they are both capable of professional behavior most of the time.

We see the sisters, cousins and grandmother take a more active role in defending the family from attack and in helping out Nevada. That was also pretty cool, because it rounds them out in a way—we knew that her grandmother was a mechanic for the army, but actually seeing her drive a tank was awesome. In that same sequence of scenes, we get Leon using his magic for the first time, which results in the following commentary:

“I live in the gym. My biceps have teeth and my teeth have biceps.”

And any suspicions you may have had about Nevada’s family being more than they appeared on the surface are also confirmed by the end of the book in a variety of ways.

The case that Rogan and Nevada are working on in this book is tied to the case in Burn for Me, but it is not a replica. Andrews also managed to stretch out the overarching conflict in a way that did not feel unreasonable. This is also hard to do, because there comes a point when you—or maybe it’s just me—wonder, why can’t we know who the bad guys are?

Wildfire
A | BN | K | iB
There is a fairly clear transition from how Nevada perceived Rogan in Burn for Me to how she sees him by the end of the book. In Burn for Me, she came to the conclusion that Rogan didn’t see people as people, but by the middle of the book, she is convinced otherwise, and by extension, the reader can also be convinced otherwise. This makes their growing romance more believable. Yes, Rogan is attractive, but for a romance, attraction can’t be the beginning and end of it. The heroine and the reader should see in the hero something beyond attraction.

Nevada thinks of Rogan as a dragon, and while her initial conclusions about him are partially correct, he is also a caring dragon with a sense of humor. This transition is believable because Andrews shows us the transition on the page—we get to see Nevada witness Rogan’s reaction to losing people who were important to him. If Nevada just told us that Rogan wasn’t a sociopath, I would be hard-pressed to believe it, because Rogan isn’t a nice guy, especially when seen from a distance.

More of the world is explained, but we still don’t know everything there is to know about it, and like I said above, we still don’t know who the bad individual pulling the strings is.

But we do have covert team of stealth ferrets and a Chinese ferret-badger, so I guess that makes up for not knowing who the big baddies are—a little.

I give this book an A-, too. I would have liked for the conflict between Rogan and his family to have been resolved in this book, and I’m hoping it will be tied up in the third book. It also would have been nice for Rogan to tell Nevada his story, but at least Nevada didn’t make a wholly uninformed decision.

Go read this book, please. Or listen to it, whichever will make you the happiest.

Historical Mysteries & Romances

Sep. 17th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

A Curious Beginning

RECOMMENDEDA Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn is $2.99! This is a historical mystery and Sarah really enjoyed it. She also immediately read the second one after finishing the first. Here’s what she said:

I read A Curious Beginning with an I-cannot-put-this-down enthusiasm and devoured it very quickly. I relished both the characters and the mystery. The Veronica Speedwell series is excellent and intelligent fun, and while the second isn’t quite as satisfying as the first, I heartily recommend them both.

In her thrilling new series, the New York Times bestselling author of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries, returns once more to Victorian England…and introduces intrepid adventuress Veronica Speedwell.

London, 1887. As the city prepares to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, Veronica Speedwell is marking a milestone of her own. After burying her spinster aunt, the orphaned Veronica is free to resume her world travels in pursuit of scientific inquiry—and the occasional romantic dalliance. As familiar with hunting butterflies as she is fending off admirers, Veronica wields her butterfly net and a sharpened hatpin with equal aplomb, and with her last connection to England now gone, she intends to embark upon the journey of a lifetime.

But fate has other plans, as Veronica discovers when she thwarts her own abduction with the help of an enigmatic German baron with ties to her mysterious past. Promising to reveal in time what he knows of the plot against her, the baron offers her temporary sanctuary in the care of his friend Stoker—a reclusive natural historian as intriguing as he is bad-tempered. But before the baron can deliver on his tantalizing vow to reveal the secrets he has concealed for decades, he is found murdered. Suddenly Veronica and Stoker are forced to go on the run from an elusive assailant, wary partners in search of the villainous truth.

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Duke of Darkness

Duke of Darkness by Anabelle Bryant is $2.99! This is the second book in the Three Regency Rogues series and the third book is also on sale! This is a romance between a man and his ward, which I know is catnip for some of you. However, some readers felt the book lacked a tremendous amount of historical accuracy.

London, 1817

The Duke of Wharncliffe, Devlin Ravensdale, is devastated when he receives a missive announcing the death of his only relative, Aunt Min. Consumed with guilt, he regrets not having visited her in years, despite that he has chosen a reclusive lifestyle to hide his secretive past. Saddened by the loss, he dutifully honors his aunt’s last wish, to take responsibility of a young ward, Alex, and arrange a suitable marriage.

Reluctant, yet determined, Devlin sets off to collect his young charge, only to discover the he is a she, and Alexandra is stunningly beautiful…posing an unexpected temptation.

Tasked with finding an eligible bachelor, Devlin is forced back into society, a world where he has something of a dark reputation. Worse yet, it seems the beguiling beauty has a secret of her own to hide. Still, finding a husband for Alexandra shouldn’t prove difficult as long as he’s able to let her go.

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The Wild Marquis

The Wild Marquis by Miranda Neville is $1.99! This historical romance is the first book in The Burgundy Club series and was talked about highly by author Sarina Bowen in a previous Whatcha Reading. Readers love the setting of “book collecting” and found the auctions instead of grand balls a nice change of pace. It has a 3.7+ avg on Goodreads. A couple other books in the series are also on sale!

The Marquis of Chase is not a reputable man.

He is notorious for his wretched morals and is never received in respectable houses. The ladies of the ton would never allow him in their drawing rooms . . . though they were more than willing to welcome him into their bedchambers. Ejected from his father’s house at the age of sixteen, he now lives a life of wanton pleasure. So what could the Marquis of Chase possibly want with Juliana Merton, a lovely, perfectly upstanding shopkeeper with a mysterious past?

A moment’s indiscretion?

A night’s passion?

Or a lifetime of love?

Even the wildest rakes have their weaknesses . . .

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Seduced at Sunset

Seduced at Sunset by Julianne MacLean is 99c at Amazon and Barnes & Noble! This is the sixth book in the Pembroke Palace series, but it can be read as a standalone. Both the hero and heroine have secret lives, which readers liked. However, some warn that while it can be read on its own, it’s the last book in the series and does check in with couples from previous books.

USA Today bestselling author Julianne MacLean brings the popular Pembroke Palace Series to a passionate, satisfying conclusion…

Sometimes the matchmaker finds a love of her own…

Lady Charlotte Sinclair has long given up her dreams of happily ever after. Years ago, a tragic accident claimed the life of her beloved fiancé, but somehow she found the strength to go on—as an independent woman with a secret double life that has earned her millions. Lately, however, she has begun to yearn for something more…

While setting out to play matchmaker for her mother, Lady Charlotte meets a rugged, handsome stranger who saves her from a thief in the street, but her heroic rescuer soon turns out to be more mysterious—and dangerously captivating—than any man she has ever known. Swept away by passion into a sizzling summer affair with a man who leads a double life of his own, she vows to live only for pleasure with no promises of tomorrow. But soon she must accept that one final night of ecstasy with an irresistible lover is never going to be enough…

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Long day!

Sep. 17th, 2017 02:46 am
azurelunatic: Polyamory infinite hearts, in a polymer-like grid (polymer)
[personal profile] azurelunatic
Breakfast with partner and metamour Leopard Girl.

Seanan McGuire event in Silverdale. We brought tribute, and were briefly Seanan's favorite. (Diet Dr Pepper and candy corn. Seanan is a being of predictable tastes.)

Mini muffin tin quest!

Partner made a note they should chat with our mutual friend in London about stuff. Hooray, viable communities.

Dinner for the extended polycule, with many dishes thanks to Trader Joe's. (Rice, orange chicken with extra zesty sauce but no carrots since we ran out, BBQ pork buns, pot stickers, spring rolls, and green beans. The rice and green beans weren't pre-packaged, and I do a little customization to the chicken by adding orange peel and scallions. The gyoza and bao steam over the rice, and the spring rolls could bake with the chicken. The green beans start frozen and get gently fried with seasonings. Usually it's butter and Montreal steak seasoning, but Stray Puppy Girl is very lactose intolerant, and Leopard Girl dislikes red pepper. So I went for sesame oil, garlic, onion, pepper, salt, ginger, a packet of soy sauce that needed using, and the excess teriyaki sauce from the other night. It turned out well. To my immense gratification, my partner really likes all the iterations of the green beans that I have made so far. Generally they disappear immediately.)

Club night. Without going into excessive detail, one of the groups near the people I was with were having a hilarious time, and kept setting each other off giggling. That prompted our group to giggle. The glee was infectious.

Everyone is spending the night. We hauled the camping pads out of the alleged guest room (it is currently not in a state for guests as my textiles have exploded all over it) and they're set up next to the futon in case it turns from cozy to crowded in the middle of the night. Things are well set up for breakfast, and there should be cheesecake at some point (thus the mini muffin tins).

Movie Review: Tulip Fever

Sep. 17th, 2017 08:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl

Among people who keep an eye on movie news, Tulip Fever has been a bit of a folk tale. It was announced in 2013, and screened at the 2015 Venice film festival, but then its release dates kept getting pushed back and back and back. When Fandango actually put up a release date, it was for the last weekend in August, but in reality it opened on Labor Day weekend.

It’s a weird movie with the most random cast imaginable. Three Oscar winners (Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, and Judi Dench), Holliday Grainger in her obligatory period drama, Tom Hollander (Mr. Collins from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice), the kid and the chick from Valerian (who I guess come as a package deal?), Kevin McKidd (who needed something to do during the Grey’s Anatomy hiatus?) Matthew Morrison for some reason, and Zach Galifianakis. It’s written by Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) and directed by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl). It’s based on the novel Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach.

Waltz and Vikander sitting for their portrait, with tulips in a vase in the foreground. A petal falls, because tulips don't last long. Tulips, man.

Set during the Tulip Mania in Amsterdam in the 1630s, it’s…well, it was marketed (such as it was) as a thriller, but there’s nothing remotely thrilling about it. It’s the story of Sophia (Vikander), who is married to an older merchant, Cornelis (Waltz), and he engages a painter (Dane DeHaan, aka Valerian) to paint their portraits. Sophia and the painter fall into lust, and they plan to escape after making a bunch of money on the tulip market. There’s also a plot with Maria, Sophia’s maid/cook (Grainger) who has a paramour of her own, and there’s a secret baby….

There’s just a lot happening.

Cornelis acquired himself a young wife because he wanted an heir, but he has some issues with his “little soldier.” When DeHaan shows up, Sophia has pants feelings, he has pants feelings, and after like, a conversation and a half (all held while Cornelis is in the room), they both conclude that they are in love, and must bang. IMMEDIATELY. A lot.

Alicia Vikander coming down into a room with patterned walls (leaves in curly-cue shape all over the wall) wearing a blue gown with a white lace collar.

At the same time, Maria is carrying on an affair with the fishmonger, William, who, in an effort to make enough money to buy them a farm, gets involved in the tulip market, and does really well for himself until he gets pressed into service by the navy. He’s not able to send word of where he is or what’s going on, and Maria is now pregnant. Sophia comes up with a plan to fake a pregnancy herself and to hide Maria’s. Once Maria gives birth, then Maria will be able to be with the baby, but of course I see about twelve holes in this plan right here. Meanwhile, Sophia and her painter also want to be with each other, and…and…

Show Spoiler
eventually there’s a couple of faked deaths.  Because that’s how to properly ghost from a relationship. Twice.

There are some interesting things happening in the setting. The Dutch school of painting in this era is fantastic, and the film lays out why: with the Reformation putting a stop to religious art, the artists turned their attention to ordinary life and ordinary people. When plotting out the portrait of Cornelis and Sophia, the painter offers his selections of props and the reasons for them: scales and a globe to symbolize worldwide commerce, a skull for mortality, and something else to symbolize vanity (and then a whole diatribe on how it’s vain to have your portrait painted, but if you have a warning against vanity in the painting then it’s ironic or something?). So that bit was interesting.

Alicia Vikander, next to a window with a letter. The shot is composed like a Vermeer painting with light streaming in.

The whole concept of tulip mania and the fact that people were buying tulip bulbs for absurd amounts of money were also fascinating. Like…it’s tulips. Tulips are  pretty, but…it’s a tulip. (I’ve typed out tulip so many times that it doesn’t look like a real word anymore.) I admit totally that I don’t really understand the stock market or how all of this actually is supposed to work, but I do know a frenzy involving money when I see one.  (My dad used to do stock market…stuff…and in the pre-internet age, when there was a channel that just did stock prices on a ticker, he would plunk 7 year old me down in front of it, with a list of three or four stocks I was to watch for, and I would yell the numbers up to him.  A+ parenting.)

All of the actors involved in this film are great (I was quite pleasantly surprised by Galifianakis, who I mostly don’t think about) (although seriously, Waltz as an doddering old man with no sex appeal? what?), and they are doing the best they can.

Dane DeHaan walking through the streets of Amsterdam, carrying his painting supplies. The street is muddy and wet.

The costumes are great (although I am excited to see what Frock Flicks has to say about it, because I have some questions), and the set design is fantastic. I’m enjoying this trend of “the past, especially pre-sanitation systems, is a muddy, messy place.” It makes things more real. Chadwick at least framed some shots to look like Dutch master paintings.

The problem lies in the script and the fact that the movie doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Tom Stoppard is great with witty dialogue, and there are some genuinely funny bits (Tom Hollander’s doctor is one), but they seemed rather out of place. The passage of time is unclear. The only way to measure anything is by the progression of Maria’s pregnancy.

You’d think with that writer and that cast and being produced by the Weinsteins, you might have a good movie. But the main crux of everything is just a mess. What’s the point? No one learns anything, not even the audience. No one can seem to explain why people went bonkers over tulips. No one can explain why Sophia and Valerian decided that they were in love enough to run away together. No one can explain anything, really. The movie is pretty but unsatisfying.

And again, my friend Kayleigh would think me remiss if I didn’t wonder why anyone would bang Valerian when you have Christoph Waltz RIGHT THERE.

Christoph Waltz, in a GIANT RUFF, posing for his portrait. It's kinda hot, in that Cone of Shame kind of way.

Romance Wanderlust: The Delta King

Sep. 17th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Carrie S

Romance Wanderlust - a yellowed and burnt edge map with a compass in the corner, with Romance Wanderlust written across itWelcome back to Romance Wanderlust, where I travel the world via the Internet in search of romantic locales. This month we have a place that I’ve actually been to: the Delta King, in Sacramento, California. I haven’t stayed at the Delta King but I can say from experience that their restaurant is nice and that they make a lovely virgin strawberry daiquiri. While I endorse the daiquiri, I can’t endorse the hotel experience as I’ve never stayed there.

The Delta King is a paddlewheel steamboat permanently moored off of Old Sacramento on the Sacramento River. Old Sacramento is a historically preserved area of Sacramento in which most of the buildings date back to the mid-1800s. It’s the kind of place where you can get saltwater taffy, crystals, creepy antique dolls, gourmet Chinese food, an elaborate costume, or a tattoo with equal ease. It’s also home to several museums including the Railroad Museum. It’s one of our claims to fame. Surely you’ve heard of it. No? Ah, well. We are a small city.

Walking down the gangplank to the Delta King

During the Gold Rush, people came to Sacramento by boat and docked where the Delta King is now. I could tell you some very unromantic things about the link between the boats, the boardwalk, and a certain cholera epidemic, but let’s just move on and picture a more romantic version of the Gold Rush.

Think of stylish gamblers, brocade vests, and a great sense of adventure. Think of Mark Twain, who lived here for quite a while, and of Calico Palace, the delightful historical novel by Gwen Bristow. Got that? Then you are ready for a visit to the Delta King.

The Delta King doesn’t actually date from the Gold Rush although it closely resembles earlier paddlewheel steamboats. It was built in 1927 and transported people between Sacramento and San Francisco. The trip lasted over ten hours and included jazz music and dancing. The Delta King website has a menu from those days. Mock turtle soup cost twenty-five cents and a sirloin steak with potatoes and rolls cost one dollar. Allegedly one might also buy alcohol on board, even during Prohibition.

These trips ended after the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge connected Sacramento and San Francisco by road. The Delta King shuttled troops during WWII and was a home to construction workers in British Columbia in the 1950s. Finally the Delta King sank in the San Francisco Bay due to causes unknown. Maybe it was just tired.

In 1984 the Coyne family purchased the boat, hauled it out of the water, and had it refurbished, preserving as much of the original wood as possible. Now it’s a hotel permanently moored alongside Old Sacramento. It includes a restaurant and a bar, and on various nights there is dinner theater, community theater productions of a more formal kind, or live music. I’ve never stayed in one of the rooms, although since we are dreaming here I say go for broke and stay in the Captain’s Quarter, which includes a private veranda and a ship’s wheel. Warning – I suspect but have not confirmed that it might be noisy because Old Sacramento at night has a lot of noise. The Delta King is also, allegedly, haunted by its first captain and by a little girl with a red ball. They are said to be benign.

I have had dinner in the restaurant, which is high in both price and ambiance. For something more low key, a few times my husband and I went to the deck bar on a hot summer day and I had a virgin strawberry daiquiri (I don’t drink alcohol and it’s nice to find a place that has a good non-alcoholic drink). Looking out over the river on one side and the tourists on the other was truly delightful and quite romantic!

Oh look someone saved me a spot.

The Delta King is romantic because it’s pretty, and it’s on a beautiful river, with the lovely Sacramento Delta breeze wafting by. It’s also romantic because you can imagine that you have just arrived in California in 1849 – you are fatigued, of course, but excited with regard to the shop you plan to open in the new city (the real riches lay in selling to miners, not panning for gold). There are great opportunities in the male-dominated landscape of the Gold rush for a woman who has a clear head for business and for personal matters – just be aware that you can expect a minimum of one marriage proposal per day.

Or, you can be more true to the Delta King’s actual history, and pretend that you are a happy member of the Roaring ‘20s, eating cheap caviar and drinking gin on the boat’s deck. Sacramento may be a little backwater, but women were given the right to vote there in 1911 and you are ready to bring women’s issues to the Capital! If you meet a handsome and progressive Senator on the trip between San Francisco and Sacramento, so much the better.

Or maybe you are headed the other direction, away from Sacramento and toward life in San Francisco, the big city, newly rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake. Although in reality the Delta King doesn’t go anywhere, in imagination anything can happen.

Outlander 3.01: The Battle Joined

Sep. 16th, 2017 09:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl

outlander season 3 with claire and jamie on either sides of a stoneOUTLANDER IS BACK Y’ALL

Previously: A lot. So much.

The title shot is a tattered flag with St. Andrew’s Cross, falling into a cart of captured battle standards, pulled by the British, and the camera pans over a field full of dead Highlanders. The Battle of Culloden is over, and the British are going over the fields, killing the wounded and looting their bodies.

As this all happens, we find Jamie, who is under the dead body of Black Jack Randall.

He’s dying, breath whistling in his lungs, as he remembers the last gasps of the ’45 Rebellion- his last conversation with Prince Charles, the final charge into the guns, armed with swords.

Jamie, standing against the backdrop of battle.

It’s damned effective editing and storytelling.

Jamie, smelling Claire's abandoned shawl, in the seconds after the went back through the stones.

Night falls, Jamie remembers leaving Craig Na Dun, smelling Claire’s shawl, then more of the battle.

We see Rupert fighting (Thing 2), and Murtagh, who tells Jamie that the Lallybroch men made it home. Jamie sees Randall, and for them, this battle is distilled down to they two. They fight, intimately, and Randall scores a hit on Jamie’s leg, but Jamie get him in the side with his dirk, and eventually, Randall falls on top of Jamie, and dies. Jamie doesn’t have the strength to push him off and get up.

Claire, in white, walking across the battlefield filled with dead Highlanders and British soldiers.

Jamie has a vision of Claire walking across the battlefield to him, all in white. She touches his face, and asks if he’s alive. In reality, it’s Rupert, who gets Jamie to a house, even as Jamie begs to be left to die where he is. The chunk of amber with the dragonfly that Claire found in the museum in 1968 falls out of his sporran on to the field.

Claire, super pregnant and super annoyed at her stove.In Boston, in 1948, Claire and Frank have found a house – it’s big and Victorian. She’s trying. She’s trying really hard. (There’s a hilarious line reading where Frank puts on an American accent talking about “rustling up vittles.”)

Several months later, a very pregnant Claire is trying to light the stove to rustle up said vittles, and it’s not working. She eyes the giant wood burning fireplace, and goes out to get firewood.

(Also, like, I understand, but the part of Boston their type of house is in doesn’t look like that. They shot it in Glasgow, but dammit, I KNOW BOSTON.)

(Also also that house is expensive. And when they were first built, you needed at least one maid to keep things going.)

(I’m just saying.)

On the street, Claire meets one of her neighbors, who is impressed by Claire’s ingenuity and also by Frank’s obvious progressiveness: other husbands would lose their shit at not getting a conventional meal. Her new friend is like, well, most husbands just want their wives to do the usual cooking and cleaning and raising of the children, so Claire is lucky. “You won’t find another man like Frank again.” Claire’s like, yeah, no, you’re right.

Said other man is in a small house with a bunch of other men, some wounded, all broken. There’s no escape. There’s just waiting.

Jamie, just his face, laying in the dark. His lower jaw is trembling; death isn't coming fast enough.

Claire and Frank go to a party with Frank’s colleagues, and while one of the officious assholes pontificates on Truman, Claire tries to enter the conversation talking about a thing she read in the Boston Globe on the topic. She is belittled and all but called a little lady, and Frank is told that he should keep an eye on Claire’s reading habits, and soon enough, she’ll be trying to get women into Harvard Law. Claire’s like, the med school admits women and has done for three years. Those women are mocked, and “past experience shows that few women succeed as physicians.” Frank tries to help, saying that Claire was a nurse, but….

Surely Claire is looking forward for more fitting and domestic concerns? Claire does not eat his face. But she wants to.

Morning at the house of doomed men. Jamie asks if anyone knows what happened to Murtagh, and no one does. The British come in, in the person of one Lord Melton, and he’s been ordered by the Duke of Cumberland to execute everyone found to be involved in the “late treason.” Is anyone innocent? No, no one tries to claim innocence. They’ll all be shot, like soldiers. They have an hour to prepare themselves, and Lord Melton will provide writing materials if anyone needs.

In Boston, Claire lights the stove under a pan of bacon and eggs, and Frank is happy that bacon is a thing again, after rationing (but hates American tea in the bags, which… legit). She is SO VERY pregnant. He muses about the American obsession with new things, but that’s why Claire likes America. She’s also been thinking about applying for US citizenship. She never really had strong ties to England, and she wants the baby to have a “Real home.” She won’t let Frank really touch her, though, not even on the belly. He’s like, since when are you not English? You’ll walk away from your heritage that easily? She says it’s something she wants to do, and he’s like, you don’t need to, my job provides us with residency. “That’s not what this is about.” He knows that: it’s about a wife who won’t let him touch her, and he accuses her of using the pregnancy to keep him at a distance.

Frank standing behind a seated Claire. He reaches down to touch her belly, and she flinches away from his hand.

She tries to walk away, but he wants to have the fight now- he wants to know when she’s going to come back from the past. She’s angry that he asked her to leave behind “everything that truly mattered to me.” She says she’s kept the bargain, and he says no, the bargain was they’d raise the baby together, and not being with her isn’t keeping that. She accuses him of just wanting a good fuck and says there are girls are Radcliffe who will be happy to oblige. He snaps that he’s not the one who’s been fucking other people and she whips an ashtray at his head.

That’s enough to make them both realize this has gone too far and it’s time for a walk. Frank reminds her that he didn’t force anything on her, and he’s not forcing her to stay. “Go, or stay, but please, do it because it’s what you really want to do.”

In the house, the executions are happening, and everyone is facing them as best they can. Rupert tries to argue for the lives of two teenage boys, and Lord Melton is apologetic, but Cumberland instructed that no exceptions are to be made on account of age. He does allow them to go together, though. Another man offers to write a letter for Jamie, but Jamie declines. The man asks about Claire, but Jamie says that she’s gone. Melton asks for volunteers to be next, and Rupert takes the place at Jamie’s side. He didn’t want to say goodbye while Jamie was asleep. He also says it’ll be good to see Angus again. And that he doesn’t forgive Jamie for Dougal, but he won’t hate him for it, either. Then Rupert takes his turn at the firing squad.

Frank is sleeping, rather, not sleeping (all the modern conveniences in the house are SO NOISY) on the couch, when he gets up and starts writing a letter to Reverend Wakefield, asking him to look into one James Fraser. Before he can finish it, though, Claire comes down. Her water broke, it’s time.

In Scotland, the walking men have all been executed, and Lord Melton has his men prepare to carry out the wounded. His clerk asks if they’re to be shot lying down, and Melton is like, the fuck you say. Prop them up! “Good lord. No man in the king’s custody shall be shot lying down on my watch. Not even traitors.”

Jamie volunteers to go first, and gives his name. Melton hears, and goes over to Jamie. He asks if he’s Red Jamie, and sends another man out. He whispers to Jamie if he remembers the name John Grey. Jamie does, but “either shoot me, or go away.” Grey was Melton’s younger brother, and Grey said he owes Jamie a debt. Jamie remembers it as Grey promised to kill him, but “I dinna mind of you do it for him.”

Lord Melton, asking is Jamie is the "Jacobite known as Red Jamie?" and Jamie saying yeah, his enemies called him that.

Melton is like, this is a fucked up mess. My family owes this man a debt of honor, Cumberland would love to have a well-known Jacobite to appease the crowds at Tower Hill, so what’s to do? Melton loads Jamie into a haycart, bribes the driver, and sends him away. He feels like it’s entirely possible that Jamie will die on the way there, but if he does, it’s not on his head. (Jamie would rather be shot, thank you. Given how hellish the journey is, I don’t blame him.)

Claire groans in labor, Frank supporting her (she tells him she was glad she missed him with the ashtray, he says her aim was great, it was just his reflexes) when the (male) doctor comes in, and asks Frank how far apart her contractions are. Frank’s like, what’s a contraction. He also tells Claire there’s no reason to panic. She’s not. He asks if this is the first child, and Claire tells him (and Frank) about the miscarriage with Faith. He sends Frank to the father’s waiting room, and Frank asks Claire to please try not to throw an ashtray at her doctor. She will not promise that. He leaves, then turns back and says “I love you.”

The delivery room is an operating room. They put Claire under for the birth, over her objections, even as she says that she’s capable of deciding how she wants her birth to go. She manages to call them bastards as she’s losing consciousness.

Jamie wakes up to find Jenny and Ian: he’s home. And in really bad shape.

Claire wakes up, much as she did once before, to discover herself alone and not pregnant anymore. “Where’s my baby? Is it dead?” She is not. Frank comes in with a tiny angry baby girl. “She’s perfect, Claire.” Claire calls the baby beautiful, and Frank kisses her, “Just like her mother.” Claire apologizes for being so horrid, and Frank’s like, it’s gonna be fine now. Everything is going to be fine. It’s a new beginning for all of us.

Then a nurse comes in and calls the baby a beautiful little angel. “Where did she get the red hair?”

Claire, looking up from the baby, she's a bit shook.

Frank, also shook. It may be a new beginning, but not with a clean slate.

RHG: Elyse, you have not read Voyager, correct?

I MISSED THIS SHOW HI SHOW WELCOME BACK.

In the book, all we know about Jamie’s Culloden experience is that he comes to with Randall’s body on top of him, so seeing the battle from his perspective was really great and one of the strengths of this adaptation.

One of the other strengths comes in the form of one Tobias Menzies, who play these two characters that are incredibly unsympathetic on the page. Black Jack is Black Jack, but Frank we see pretty much exclusively through Claire’s POV, and she’s in a really fucked up and complicated place when it comes to Frank. Tobias found all the points of Frank that are sympathetic, a man who is doing his best.

And who also knows that it’s purely due to Claire’s self-control that she didn’t murder his entire department at that party.

Elyse: I have not read Voyager, so this is all new to me.

The first thing that really struck me about this episode was how the fight between Jamie and Randall mimicked a lot of sexual and intimate moments. When Randall is dead, and on top of Jamie, it looks like two lovers sleeping post-coitally. I was more than a little weirded out by this, actually, because I feel like the show sexualizes Jamie and Randall’s relationship which is that between a rapist and his victim. They imply a lot that Randall and Jamie’s destinies are entwined or some shit, but rapist and his victim.

Claire saying “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ” while trying to light the burner on her stove was basically an accurate depiction of me trying to cook anything ever.

I thought it was interesting that Claire was in a lot of ways more empowered in the past than she was in the “modern” day. The show runners allude to the frustration a lot of women felt after WWII when they were pushed back into the domestic sphere, but Claire held a position of significance in Jamie’s world too (to be fair, partly because she was his wife).

Overall it’s a good opening to the season, but I won’t be happy till Claire and Jamie are reunited.

RHG: My bet is episode 4.

How about you? What’s your over-under on what episode they get reunited?

Also: where possible, mark your book spoilers, please!

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Posted by Amanda

Open book with light and sparkles floating up from the pages.It’s time for September’s Whatcha Reading! If you’re new here, Whatcha Reading is the post where we gush or gripe about all the books we’ve been reading this month. And sometimes, it’s awfully terrible on our wallets. We wish we could say we were genuinely sorry about that.

Sarah: I am very much looking forward to this month’s discussion of what you’re reading. I’ve DNFd several books in a row for a variety of reasons, so I’m now carefully researching newer-to-me sub-genres. Based on Amanda’s recommendation, I’m going to try Highland Dragon Warrior by Isabel Cooper ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). But I’m watching this thread like damn, hell, and whoa to see what you’re enjoying – so thank you in advance for sharing your recommendations!

Amanda: All right, Sarah. Strap in. Because you’re probably going to want to glom up both of these books.

I have two books on my Kindle that come out in October and I don’t know what to read first.

There’s Grigori by Lauren Smith ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). The heroine is working on her PhD in mythology and she totes believes there’s evidence that dragons are real. And of course, the hero is a dragon shifter.

Take the Lead
A | BN | K | iB
Then there’s Take the Lead by Alexis Daria. It’s a contemporary romance that takes place on a dancing reality show. The heroine is a dancer and in the latest season, she’s paired with a dude who stars in an Alaskan Wilderness nature show. HELLLLOOOOO.

Sarah: OK I AM LISTENING TO ALL OF THIS.

Redheadedgirl: Ohhhhhhh

I’m reading The Duke’s Bridle Path ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), which is two related novellas by Grace Burrowes and Theresa Romain that involve horses. I like it!

I also, after finishing a disappointing book (and because of a conversation on the Book of Faces), just reread Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight ( A | BN | K | G | iB ), which I still like, in spite of McCaffrey’s myriad of Capital-I-Issues.

Deep Dark
A | BN | K | iB
Elyse: I just started Deep Dark by Laura Griffin which features a white hat hacker heroine!

Redheadedgirl: Once I finish the Bridle Path, then I will move on to Alisha Rai’s Wrong To Need You ( A | BN | K | G | iB ).

Carrie: I’m reading Unwanted Girl by M.K. Schiller ( A | BN | K | G | iB ). It’s a romance between a wealthy writer who is a recovering addict and a woman from India who is studying to be a teacher. I like it so far because both characters tend to defy stereotype.

What have you been reading? Anything good or disappointingly bad? We want to know all the details!


By request, since we can’t link to every book you mention in the comments, here are bookstore links that help support the site with your purchases. If you use them, thank you so much, and if you’d prefer not to, no worries. Thanks for being a part of SBTB and hopefully, you’ve found some great books to read!

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