State of the Shannon: The High on Cold Meds Edition

Published April 15, 2014 by Shannon

It’s spring here in the lovely Pacific Northwest, which I thought meant I was out of the woods as far as getting sick. Unfortunately, I thought wrong, and have spent the weekend in various states of comatose and/or highly medicated. I went back to work today, and took my boss up on her suggestion that I leave a little early and get a little more rest. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen so I’m writing a blog post instead.

Here are a few things that are on my mind recently:

  • There have been a couple of fascinating blog posts on the subject of whether or not romance novels should come with content warnings. I’m in the comments of the first post, and apparently I made sense there because there’s a link to my comment in the second post, which gave me a warm fuzzy. Anyway, the comment threads of both blog posts are worth reading. Ultimately, I think if anyone can avoid being triggered however that needs to happen, everyone’s life will be easier–the author of the potentially triggering book, the person who might be potentially triggered, and even just other people.

    I don’t have many triggers, if any. The closest I can think of is that I quit reading the Virgin River books at the one where Mel decides she’s getting fat because of all of Preacher’s cooking and it looked like she was going to blow a fucking gasket about it for the whole book. I wouldn’t say I was triggered exactly, but the whole thing looked to be badly handled because on the one hand you’ve got a woman being ridiculous about her body, but you’ve also got her husband being all, “Oh sweetie. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about anything.” I thought both characters were awful, it was also not even remotely their book, and I have refused to read another word of that series, because you know where I don’t need people preaching condescendingly about weight? My romance novels.

    I did appreciate the warnings on Heidi Cullinan’s latest book. She warns for hardcore BDSM, including water sports. I think if I’d been reading along and come to a scene of someone peeing on someone else, my happy id feelings would vanish really fast. Since she warned me to expect that, I’ll know not to be surprised, and I won’t feel betrayed because the author went down a darker path than I’m willing to go.

  • I do want to write sometime about consent in romance novels in general and my feelings on same. Surprisingly, they’re complicated and I feel like I’ve been wrestling with thoughts on those issues for years. I do know that I am one of the minority of women who would say that she doesn’t have rape fantasies of any kind, although with an author I trust I can enjoy the occasional, “My heart is saying no, but my body’s saying let’s go!” type scenarios. Also, I won’t lie. Sex pollen, we-have-to-fuck-or-the-world-will-end, or even Aliens Made them Do It scenarios get a pass from me. I also find slave scenarios really fascinating. But I have to keep all of them in the right perspective. I can suspend my disbelief for a master and slave falling in love in generic fantasy land, or a couple getting together because if they don’t, the world will literally end, but give me a book where the hero kidnaps the heroine and forces her to go on a journey of debauched shenanigans involving drugs, actual real-world sexual slavery, or whatever, then I can’t handle it. So I guess for me the key word in “dubious consent fantasies” is the “fantasy”.
  • Sunita’s post also makes me want to write more on disability in fiction. I don’t quite know how I want to frame that post, because I’ve written about my issues with disability tropes enough here that I’m sure you could all play Shannon’s Post mad libs and come to the right conclusions. I think the only thing I really want to say is that even though a lot of disability is handled so abysmally in fiction, we still need more of it, because eventually, someone is going to write stories with disabled protagonists who are neither fetishized nor used as pillars of inspiration. This has to happen, right? On the theory that if an infinite number of monkeys bang out at an infinite number of laptops, one of them is bound to write a disabled character I can personally identify with, right?
  • In completely unrelated news, I’ve been listening to podcasts over the last few days, because they don’t require the same amount of emotional investment as actual books. One of the things I ended up discovering was PRX Remix. They hand-curate segments from various podcasts and you can hear them at random. It’s so interesting, and has convinced me that my decision to subscribe to the Snap Judgment podcast was a good one. (The other reason is that the host of that show has a voice I could roll around in all day… a sentiment I have never thought about Ira Glass.)
  • One of my friends, also named Shannon, has begun doing audiobook reviews in various places. Her first review for All About Romance is here. She does an excellent job, and I’m proud of her, since as I’ve said, group reviewing projects don’t seem to work very well for me.)
  • Right now I’m reading Stephen Cjboski’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I know it’s a YA classic, and I should probably give up, because it’s been an exercise in me being unable to care at all about this kid long enough to keep going with the story. I also find myself annoyed that this is a YA classic, but if it had been about a girl navigating the waters of high school, first crushes and dealing with various related issues, it would have vanished into mid list obscurity. Which is where this book belongs, unless something changes in the next three hours of audio reading.

Review: The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston

Published April 10, 2014 by Shannon

The Mane Event (Pride, #1)

Last weekend, my friend Meka came to my house and hung out. During that time, she was reading a book that made her laugh and laugh, loud, exuberant guffaws of laughter. When I asked what she was reading, she told me it was The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston. I’d read Ms. Laurenston’s books written under the name G A Aiken, so when I was looking for something to read, it wasn’t much of a struggle to dredge it up from Mt. TBR.

Goodreads informs us:

One of the hottest new voices in paranormal romance, Shelly Laurenston knows how to do it all, delivering tales that are wickedly funny, action-packed, and scorch-your-fingers sexy. With The Mane Event, she proves just how delicious love can be once you unleash your inner beast…
Christmas Pride

How come all the good-looking ones are insane?
That’s what runs through NYPD cop Desiree “Dez” MacDermot’s mind the minute she hooks up again with her childhood buddy, Mace Llewellyn. It isn’t just the way he stares at her with those too-sexy gold eyes―as if he could devour her on the spot. Or the six-four, built-like-a-Navy Seal bod-o-death. It isn’t even that he sniffs her neck and purrs, making her entire body tingle. It’s more about that disconcerting, shifting-from-man-to-lion thing that unhinges her…and makes her want more.

Mace likes making Dez crazy. In fact, he likes her any way he can get her―in bed, on the desk, here, now, again. Together, they’d always been trouble, but Dez has no idea just how good trouble can feel…

Shaw’s Tail

Brendon Shaw, hotel owner and lion shifter, has seen better days. He’s been beaten, had a gun to the back of his head, and had to be rescued by a Pack of shape-shifting wolves. He didn’t think he’d survive the night, much less find the woman of his dreams. And he never thought the woman of his dreams would have a Tennessee accent and wear cowboy boots. Once he sets his sights on her, the predator in him is ready to pounce and never let go.

Ronnie Lee Reed is ready to change her life, and New York City is the place where any girl―even one who runs with a Pack―can redefine herself. First order of business: find a mate, settle down, and stop using men for sex. Even big, gorgeous, lion-shifting, oh-my-what-big-um-paws-you-have men. Then again…

I knew what to expect having read Laurenston’s dragon books. She’d give me a funny, over the top ride, with tons of characters and women who were possibly even crazier than their men. Sometimes I like that. I love that Laurenston is an example of someone writing very woman-positive romances. All of her heroines own their sexuality and aren’t afraid to go after what they want. There are strong friendships between various women in her books, and though the men are alpha, they invariably have to prove themselves to the heroines rather than vice versa.

That said, in this particular book, there was pretty much no substance to the stories. Sometimes that’s OK. I like fluff as well as the next girl, and sometimes you just need a book that you can read without thinking too deeply about. In another mood, it would have been exactly what I wanted, but I wasn’t in that mood and I found it… pretty much just OK.

My problem with the book was that both stories featured heroines who are basically cut from the same cloth. I’m not sure exactly what differentiated Dez from Ronnie Lee except for their stereotypical traits–Dez is a Bronx girl through and through, and Ronnie Lee comes from Tennessee, and pretty much any cliche you can think about involving rednecks and New Yorkers makes an appearance. The men don’t fare much better. They’re both lion shifters. They both have difficult relationships with their sisters. That’s pretty much it. That said, the second book features one of Ronnie Lee’s pack members, Bobby Ray Smith, so yay. I have more redneck stereotypes to look forward to.

As to the plots, I didn’t find either memorable. There was stuff going on around both sets of protagonists, but there was also a lot of butting heads followed by sex that was plentiful even if not all that engaging for me. I suppose no one else would put up with either set of protagonists, so both couples deserve each other, but by the time I was done I pretty much felt like the heroes spent all their time wearing the heroines down until they gave in.

I know some of the dragon books have had crazy sauce plots that have begun to detract from the romances. Honestly, I could use a little more of that, because neither romance did it for me in this book. I did have a few chuckles, and I admire an author who doesn’t seem to take her characters too seriously, but I wanted a little more substance than I got.

I listened to this one on Audible. I can’t seem to find something that will corroborate this, but the narrator is listed as Charlotte Kane, but she sounds exactly like Angela Dawe. I know I’ve encountered narrators using a pseudonym for their more erotic readings, so i wondered if that’s what happened here. I thought Kane’s performance was quite good, and I suspect that I would have found some of the stereotypes and cliches that passed for characterization much more grating had I read the text rather than listened to it.
Final Grade: C

Review: Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan

Published April 8, 2014 by Shannon

Special Delivery (Special Delivery, #1)

I bought Special Delivery by Heidi Cullinan because I am anal about reading series books in order. I then proceeded to read Double Blind, the second book in this series, first, because poker and Vegas seemed much more interesting than calgon-take-me-away trucker fantasies. That said, Heidi’s got a new book out, Tough Love which came out today, and I knew I wanted to be caught up with the series before I started it. (Side note: I’m a little scared to read Tough Love, because while I’m sure Cullinan can make me find water sports hot if anyone can, it is one of my hard line “I don’t ever want to go there, even in fantasy” kinks. Also, one of the heroes is named Steve, which is my dad’s name. That said, the other hero looks like a hella fierce drag queen, and I am hoping Chenco can carry the book past my brain’s mad associations with water sports with my dad.)

Anyway, that is neither here nor there. Of Special Delivery, Goodreads tells us:

When your deepest, darkest fantasy shows up, get on board.

Sam Keller knows he’ll never find the excitement he craves in Middleton, Iowa—not while he’s busting his ass in nursing school and paying rent by slaving away in a pharmacy stockroom. Then Sam meets Mitch Tedsoe, an independent, long-haul trucker who makes a delivery to a shop across the alley. Innocent flirting quickly leads to a fling, and when Mitch offers to take him on a road trip west, Sam jumps at the chance for adventure. Mitch is sexy, funny and friendly, but once they embark on their journey, something changes. One minute he’s the star of Sam’s every x-rated fantasy, the next he’s almost too much a perfect gentleman. And when they hit the Las Vegas city limit, Sam has a name to pin on Mitch’s malady: Randy.

For better or for worse, Sam grapples with the meaning of friendship, letting go, growing up—even the meaning of love—because no matter how far he travels, eventually all roads lead home.

Warning: This story contains trucker fantasies, threesomes and kinky consensual sex.

This book has been previously published and has been revised from its original release.

I bought the original, first edition, copy of this book. I don’t know what changes were made between it and the copy that is available now. I don’t love you guys–or Heidi Cullinan–enough to find out. That said, I wonder if my reaction would have been different had I read the revised version.

The thing is, this was fine. I liked Sam. I think Ms. Cullinan writes young men trying to figure out who they are and where they’re going extremely well. I appreciated that she let me get a good handle on Mitch for all that the story is told in Sam’s third-person, limited POV. I liked seeing Randy, the hero of Double Blind in a totally new light. That said, none of the characters, not even Sam, really popped for me. They were perfectly adequate, but I didn’t love them the way I came to love Kelly and Walter or Adam and Denver, or even Frankie and Marcus, from some of Cullinan’s other books. By rights, I should have, but the spark wasn’t there.

I finished Special Delivery with a smile on my face, but also feeling a little tired. Ultimately, I think there was too much sex after a certain point. Once Randy enters the picture, that’s practically all the three of them did, and a lot of the fucking was with the characters’ heads. Which, hey, if that’s your bag, awesome, but it didn’t really work for me.

I do think Ms. Cullinan writes BDSM well. She’s one of the few authors who can make me get past my “Ugh, no, that’s terrible” reaction and let me see what it is the characters are getting out of the encounters, (which is the only reason I am willing to let her take me anywhere involving water sports) but in this book it was all just too much, and particularly too much “this is not my kink at all.”
All that said, I did like that the conflict between Mitch and Sam was about their sexual relationship. Mitch wanted to make sure Sam wasn’t scared off, and Sam wanted to explore his slutty side fully. These two needs, of course, make them bump heads a lot, and they have to negotiate and figure out what is comfortable for both of them. It was a quieter conflict than, say, a big misunderstanding, and I think Cullinan writes those sorts of conflicts really well.
I also have to talk about the premise. One of the reviews I read indicated the reviewer thought Sam read too young for 21. I have to disagree. Sam read like the 21-year-old that I was. At that time, I, too, had fantasies of someone whisking me away from a life where I was spinning my wheels and going nowhere. I did not, however, have a life changing road trip with a hot trucker. Instead, I had an awkward period of about six months that I devoutly wish I could have done differently, even if they did shape the person I became as an adult in pivotal ways. I’m not sure if I would have read Special Delivery if it had been around ten years ago, but I wish I could send the comforting bits I took away–about figuring out who you are and what you deserve–to my past self.

I have to end this review by harping on a tiny thing that propped up a lot. There was a character I didn’t mention who got just about as much screen time as Mitch and Randy. I am, of course, referring to Sam’s iPhone. As an Apple girl myself–writing this on a Macbook Pro–I approve of Sam’s life choice. That said, Sam/his iPhone was my crack ship du jour, and if I wrote fanfic, I would write a silly drabble about Sam’s fickleness toward his faithful iPhone.
My final verdict: I did enjoy Special Delivery. It wasn’t my favorite Cullinan, but I’m eager to see what she does next. As for a grade, I’m wavering between a C+ and a B-. I think I’ll go with the B- because doubtless my various Apple devices would immediately stop working if I graded the book lower.

Review: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Published April 7, 2014 by Shannon

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

I discovered We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler when I was cataloguing books one day. The premise struck me as fascinating, and worthy of book club discussion, so, since I have to lead a book discussion later this month, I decided to choose this book. Also, we are going to read it for the Book Hoarders podcast.

Here’s the description:

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

I did not expect my experiment in random book selection from my work cataloguing would net such interesting results, but I came to really enjoy this book. I don’t want to say much more about the plot, because to do so would ruin one of the major surprises of the book.

What I can say is that this is a story about a fractured family, and it’s a story told in the best ways. Fowler doesn’t demonize her characters. She gives them relatable flaws, and it’s easy for the reader to understand them and sympathize with the choices they make. I could believe families like the Cooks really exist, and I felt their suffering more acutely as a result. The only character I struggled with was Harlowe, a girl Rosemary meets in an unforgettable scene toward the beginning of the book. Unfortunately, while Harlowe was kind of a manic pixie dream girl gone bad, who kept the plot moving, she was a caricature. Given how nuanced Rosemary’s family was, I was disappointed and vaguely annoyed every time Harlowe showed up.

Fowler raises many questions that I think will be particularly interesting to book clubs. She talks about what it means to be human, and there’s a lot of discussion about the way we treat animals. She doesn’t propose solutions to any of these questions, but when they were raised, she did succeed at making me think.

I read the audio version. Orlagh Cassidy is not a narrator I was familiar with, but her narration was easy and smooth. She was the kind of narrator I prefer, one who is a consummate actress but who doesn’t over emote. To me, she became the voice of Rosemary Cook.

I’m not sure how many more of these experiments in finding new reads from library cataloguing there will be, butI’m glad this one turned out well. I’d love to discuss this book with anyone who’s read it, since this review is necessarily vague.

My grade is a B+.

The month that was March, 2014

Published April 6, 2014 by Shannon

Happy April. Spring is finally beginning to peek shyly at us, and I’m writing this post on a day when the temperature is pleasant enough that I can crack open a window and enjoy the sunshine.

My urge to do anything productive in late winter is pretty nonexistent. I read a lot of books this past month, but I didn’t review most of them. For that matter, I didn’t post a whole lot in general.

This month, the books I finished were as follows:

  1. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See: I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. Also, yay for diversity.

  2. The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell: This one, on the other hand, was a giant steaming mess of a book. The plot went nowhere, and the ending wasn’t ambiguous in a “it could go either way” manner, more in a “This is a statement I am making. Admire my literary technique” sort of way.
  3. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery: I adored this book and wanted to clutch it close to my chest and wallow in it.
  4. Ask the Passengers by A. S. King: I loved the heroine. I loved her relationship with her sister. I didn’t really dig the romance, because I wanted her to have done better.
  5. One True Thing by Piper Vaughn and M. J. O’Shea: I loved the previous book in this series and I hope they continue in this universe. The leads were both adorable and, a couple of pacing problems aside, this was a lovely fluffy treat.
  6. An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler: Adler has more confidence in my cooking skills and interest and abilities than I do myself.
  7. Riding the Bus WithMy Sister by Rachel Simon: A surprisingly compelling “memoir of people who do stuff”. There were some elements in retrospect that didn’t work for me–despite everything there was definitely an element of disabled person as inspiration that crept into the story, but in most other respects, Simon is honest about her relationship with her sister and I appreciated that.
  8. His Kind of Woman by Nona Raines: A sweet story with a few funny moments about a trans woman. I liked it and would read more by this author.
  9. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson: Funny and snarky screwball comedy for the YA set.
  10. Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir: Another cute novella. The cat bits were a little too cutesy for me, but the rest of it was entertaining.
  11. The Art of Deception by Kevin D. Mitnick: This book talked a lot about social engineering, which I found fascinating. I have to admit to skimming the last part, that talked about what businesses can do to improve their security. It’s certainly made me think.
  12. Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi: I hadn’t expected to enjoy this one nearly as much as I did. The Manson murders were brutal and somewhat iconic. I was fascinated by the investigation and trial aspects of the book.
  13. Bone Rider by J Fally: I got on board this delicious crack train and never looked back. I will go anywhere this author takes me.
  14. Diamond Dust by Vivian Arend: I meant to review this one butI don’t think it’s going to happen. Anyway, it has a bear shifter, which I love. It’s also got Arend’s typical snark. The heroine was somewhat hard for me to take, but the hero was lovely. Also, I loved the structure of the novel, with a prologue that takes place at the end of the story. Someone described Ms. Arend as “a great mix of crack and genuine emotion that would be perfect for you.” This does seem to be the case.
  15. The Copper King by Vivian Arend: I got an ARC of this one from the author, who also sent me Diamond Dust. I really liked this novella, about two bear shifters having fun in Vegas. Arend’s snark is in evidence, but I liked that this time her heroine is not the hypercompetent, take-no-bullshit woman her other heroines I’ve read have been. She’s sweet and shy, while at the same time not letting the hero walk all over her. I loved them both.
  16. The Green Fairy Book by Andrew Lang: I need to do a better job of writing about these stories. There weren’t really any that made a huge impression, though there were plenty I liked.

Looks like I have 3 men and 13 women. One POC author that Iknow of. Still a thing I need to improve on.

So that was March. For April, I have only one book club obligation, which I’ll review later, and then I can read whatever the hell I want. I plan to take full advantage of this.

Review: Bone Rider by J Fally

Published April 1, 2014 by Shannon

Bone Rider

I bought J Fally’s debut novel, Bone Rider on the strength of Sunita’s excellent review at Dear Author. I’m not sure I’d have given it a second look without that review, because the premise on its face is pretty ridiculous, but if I’d passed it by, I would have missed one of the most original and cracktastic M/M reads I’ve encountered in a long time.

Goodreads tells us:

Riley Cooper is on the run. Misha Tokarev, the love of his life, turned out to be an assassin for the Russian mob, and when it comes to character flaws, Riley draws the line at premeditated murder. Alien armor system McClane is also on the run, for reasons that include accidentally crashing a space ship into Earth and evading U.S. military custody. A failed prototype, McClane was scheduled for destruction. Sabotaging the ship put an end to that, but McClane is dubbed a bone rider for good reason—he can’t live without a host body. That’s why he first stows away in Riley’s truck and then in Riley himself. Their reluctant partnership soon evolves into something much more powerful—and personal—than either of them could have imagined.

Together, they embark on a road trip from hell, made all the more exciting by the government troops and mob enforcers hot on their trail. Misha is determined to win Riley back and willing to do whatever it takes to keep him safe. When hitman and alien join forces, they discover their impressive combined potential for death and destruction. It will take everything Riley has to steer them through the mess they create.

So, right? Kind of a silly premise. It could be a summer blockbuster, and is one of the most cinematic books I’ve read lately. It wasn’t hard to see where the author was going, and her imagery was lovely. The plot never stops moving, and for the most part, she has a deft hand with suspense.

The characters were also interesting. There’s a large cast, including Riley, our hapless cowboy protagonist who is on the run from the Russian mafia after he discovers that his boyfriend Misha is a hit man. Riley is soon infiltrated by McClane, the alien armor system who crashed their spaceship into Earth, and who develops something of a crush on Bruce Willis (hence the name.) There are the soldiers who are after McClane, including a few POC women who get POV chapters. And of course, there’s Misha, who was just as obsessed with Riley as Riley was with him. And did I mention there are survivalists?

For the most part, Fally handles all these characters skillfully. All of them have reasonable motivations, and none of them are stupid because the plot demands that they be so. All of them are some flavor of bad-ass, and Fally revels in that portrayal.

For the first three quarters of the book, I was hooked. I absolutely adored Riley and McClane, and thought McClane stole every scene he was in. Watching the two of them begin to bond was lovely. There are sexytimes, which were a little weird, but erotic for all that without going into needlessly detailed descriptions. When Misha comes on the scene, things are even more intense, and I appreciated that the two of them were both men and acted like they were.

That all said, the ending was rushed and kind of a mess, which moved this from a book that was coasting high in the A range down to a B grade for me. There are more shootouts, and I thought their inclusion made the character development suffer. I would have liked a chapter or so with Misha getting used to McClane’s presence, and I wanted another chapter or so in one of the boys’ POV at the end, to assure myself that everyone was OK. Instead I got some lines thrown in hastily along the lines of, “Yep, everybody’s fine and we’re adjusting.” Which I appreciated knowing, but considering that Fally thought it necessary to include a couple of extraneous POV chapters from random secondary characters that served even less plot purpose, I was disappointed.

I wouldn’t call this a romance. There’s a strong romantic element, and it ends on a satisfying Happy for Now, (even if I was less satisfied by the ending itself), but it read more like straight pulp sci-fi to me. I know I have a couple of regular readers who aren’t so into the romance, and I’d encourage you to take a look at this one and see what you think. It’s a book that I’m sure will linger in my mind for a while, and I’m on board for whatever Fally offers up next.

My grade: A B.

Review: Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

Published March 31, 2014 by Shannon

Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders

I ended up reading Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi for an upcoming episode of the Book Hoarders podcast. I’d had it on my radar because even though I wasn’t even conceived of during the Manson murders, they’ve entered the cultural zeitgeist, and I wanted to learn why they were so sensational. Believe me, now I know.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis:

A national bestseller—7 million copies sold.

Prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, Vincent Bugliosi held a unique insider’s position in one of the most baffling and horrifying cases of the twentieth century: the cold-blooded Tate-LaBianca murders carried out by Charles Manson and four of his followers. What motivated Manson in his seemingly mindless selection of victims, and what was his hold over the young women who obeyed his orders? Here is the gripping story of this famous and haunting crime. 50 pages of b/w photographs.
Both Helter Skelter and Vincent Bugliosi’s subsequent Till Death Us Do Part won Edgar Allan Poe Awards for best true-crime book of the year. Bugliosi is also the author of Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O. J. Simpson Got Away with Murder (Norton, 1996) and other books. Curt Gentry, an Edgar winner, is the author of J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets (available in Norton paperback) and Frame-Up: The Incredible Case of Tom Mooney and Warren Billings.

I haven’t read any true crime, so I didn’t have high expectations going into this book. I expected to be horrified, possibly a little bored, and definitely bogged down in minutia. I was horrified, but Bugliosi’s account is gripping, and I looked forward to my daily commutes so I could get back to the book.

There was a lot I learned from Helter Skelter. I had no idea that Charles Manson was such a frustrated artist. Luckily for all of us, some thoughtful soul has put some of his music up on Youtube, so you can see why it was that nobody was rushing to give the man a recording contract. I also didn’t realize that Sharon Tate, the most famous of the Manson murder victims, was the wife of Roman Polanski, who himself has become something of a problematic figure in Hollywood, to put it mildly.

As for the Manson family, they held a strange fascination for me. I still can’t believe one man could be charismatic enough to persuade four accomplices that the way to start a revolution was to kill random people, and yet, that’s precisely what he did.

With writing that was engaging and enough personal insight to make what could have been the rather tedious proceedings of the investigation and the trial a fascinating read, I’m on board for any of Bugliosi’s other work. I can’t say I’m precisely glad I read this book, because some of the violent and gruesome images will stick in my head for a long time to come, but I certainly learned a lot.

Final Grade: B+

A Couple of Erotic Romances

Published March 30, 2014 by Shannon

To celebrate the fact that this humble blog has been considered porn by one person’s work computers, it’s time to post a couple of quickie reviews of recent smutty reads. Let us never say that I don’t live down to people’s expectations.

His Roommate's Pleasure

His Roommate’s Pleasure by Lana McGregor:

It started with an accidental click…but where will it end?

Desperate to turn in a paper, Adam borrows his roommate’s computer and mistakenly opens a folder that contains Josh’s collection of porn. Adam had no idea that his jock roommate was gay—and into leashes, paddles and domination. And Adam, an inexperienced virgin who’s only ever kissed one guy, is surprised to find himself curious about submitting…

Josh can’t believe that his roommate discovered his spank bank—and he can’t believe that Adam is so turned on by the thought of giving up control to someone. Taking a chance, he offers to look through the photos with Adam…and maybe try acting some of them out.

Night after night, the boys delve into their darkest fantasies of domination and submission. And as lust and experimentation grow into the promise of something deeper, Adam must decide if he’s brave enough to tell Josh how he feels.

This was a pleasant story about two college age boys, one a jock, one a nerd, who find themselves experimenting with BDSM. It’s the kind of story that requires a bit of suspension of disbelief–you’d think that if Josh was so firmly entrenched in the closet he wouldn’t just leave his porn where anyone could access it quickly, but whatever–but I was able to go with it. Mostly this was because McGregor tells the story in Adam’s third person point of view, and I thought Adam was an engaging character with a fun and often funny voice. I liked the way the two boys communicated as they worked their way through negotiating their fledgling BDSM relationship. Josh wasn’t a super dom who could read Adam’s mind and knew exactly what he wanted. For that alone I give McGregor props.

The sex play is relatively mild. I thought the scenes were pleasant enough, although I wasn’t as engaged as I might have liked, because I noticed a few writing tics. (I feel like Adam “started to come” in almost every scene.) There was also a note of didacticism in the descriptions that at times made me feel I was being preached at.

Of course, it says something about how much terrible BDSM is out there that I’d rather have didactic BDSM where the characters communicate clearly than psychic doms who just know that their subs are really craving a bit of figging because they’re that smart. (Yes, I did read that scene. Yes, it was a couple of years ago. Yes, I am still bitter.)

My Grade: I can’t quite decide between a B- and a C+, but I’m feeling generous tonight so we’ll go with the B-.

********************

Grace Under Fire

Grace Under Fire by Jackie Barbosa:

Lady Grace Hannington is the most inaptly named debutante in all of London. Cursed with two left feet, hands that are nothing but thumbs, and a stutter, she’s certain to spend the next five years on the wall and the rest of her life on the shelf. Or so she believes, until her clumsiness pitches her literally into the arms of Lord Colin Fitzgerald and his best friend, Atticus Stilwell.

Colin and Atticus have been inseparable since a shared boyhood tragedy brought them together more than twenty years ago. Though it raises eyebrows, they share everything…including women. This particular quirk has made it all but impossible for Colin, whose title and lands will revert to the crown if he doesn’t have a legitimate heir, to find a respectable lady who’s willing to be his wife.

When a stroke of good fortune—and a little intervention from a well-placed foot—gives the two men a golden opportunity to show the lovely and lonely Lady Grace she’s not quite so gauche as she believes, they play it (and her) for all they’re worth. But once she’s discovered her true talents lie not on the dance floor but in the bedroom, Grace must decide whether a scandalous marriage that’s sure to ruin her reputation is what she really wants.

A couple of weeks ago, Jackie Barbosa’s son was killed in a car accident on his way to school. I can’t even begin to fathom that loss, although I can understand it somewhat, since someone close to my family was killed a couple of years ago in a car accident. The event left us shaken and devastated because it was so sudden. And that person wasn’t even remotely related to me.

In response, Courtney Milan invited people to talk about Jackie Barbosa’s books. It was a good reason to finally read one, even though I have followed Ms. Barbosa on Twitter for a while.

That was quite a lead-in to say that this is exactly the kind of fun and frothy escapist smut I wanted. I am a sucker for a plain Jane heroine, and a woman being courted by two men. There’s a white knight rescue fantasy thing going on, with the men saving Grace from a life of loneliness and being overlooked. Yet, I never felt that Grace was powerless. In fact, the major conflict hinges on her coming to embrace her sexuality, which, given that this is an erotic romance story, she does. The sex scenes were inventive and entertaining. There was even an HEA, which given the last Harlequin Spice Brief story I read was welcome indeed.

That all said, despite the fact that this is totally my catnip, the characters probably won’t stick with me. I wanted more of all of them, especially the motives of the two men for being together. Plus, M/M reader that I am, I was left wondering just how involved the boys were with each other, if you know what I mean. Also, every time a character commented on Grace’s tits and ass, I was thrown out of the story.

I’d definitely read Barbosa again. I’d love to see what she can do with a longer word count and more of a chance to flesh out her characters. As it is, this one also falls in the B range for me.

5 A.M. Bad Ideas

Published March 26, 2014 by Shannon

Shortly before I moved to my quaint little apartment in Seattle, I woke from a sound sleep, realizing I had about three weeks before the move was to occur, and I had neglected what at the time seemed a highly important purchase. I proceeded to get up and go to Amazon.com, and I bought pillows, because I did not want to leave the place where I was living and abscond with the pillows that rightfully belonged to my BFF and partner in crime, Meka, with whom I was living, even though Meka would have gladly parted with them, because she would give the shirt off her back for her friends.
Ever since then, anytime I make a questionable purchasing decision, Meka will ask me, “Were you on Amazon.com again?”

Yesterday, I tweeted that I was looking for blogs that reviewed M/M books that were smart and a little snarky. (The blogs, not the books.) I used to read several, but they’ve all long since ceased being updated.) This morning, at around 5 A.M., I woke with the burning thought: ‘Hey, you could start the kind of blog you want to see.’ I then spent several minutes contemplating my domain name, and wording review policies, comment policies, and requests for co-reviewers in my head.

Thankfully, I failed to come up with a name that I thought fit the image I wanted to project, and fell asleep. When the alarm went off an hour later, I realized that I already don’t post enough on this blog, and I can barely keep up with the other hobbies and projects I’ve taken on. Leading a group blog would be a headache I couldn’t realistically manage. Plus, there’s something about the idea of giving myself a brand that gives me the shudders. I read what I want. If tomorrow I should decide reading romance and YA isn’t my bag and switch to reading Tom Clancy, I want to be able to do that. (This is unlikely to occur; capsule descriptions of Clancy’s books have been known to make me snort with the kind of laughter no author ever wants to inspire–what do you mean, Jack Ryan is still fighting terrorists even when he’s the president of the United States?)

I read with fascination this post on Dear Author about online reviewing. I’ve been trying to figure out my own opinions, and have come to the conclusion that I enjoy reviewing, but over the past six or seven years that I’ve participated in online book blogger communities, I’ve had to adjust what I do constantly to keep it fun. I liked writing for a group review blog, but don’t know if I could do it again, because I have enough homework reading as it is. I used to try to review consistently on Goodreads, but then they started deleting reviews, and now I basically use it as a means to catalogue my books. (I’ve caught the librarian bug! Oh noes!) Even this blog has gone through lots of different evolutions. (I had to learn not to be too worried about posting daily, because I learned quickly that that leads to burn-out, which is, well, not fun.

I have also managed to avoid all the author and reader drama that’s been so prevalent. I haven’t gotten a nasty comment from any butthurt people about something I wrote since I started blogging more consistently. I suspect if I were to write for a larger blog, that would happen more often and I’d find it disheartening.

I am grateful for the half dozen or so of you who stop in when I post. I’ve had good conversations in my comment spaces, and I think I wouldn’t enjoy having to moderate a larger community.

Now I just have to look back on this post the next time I get a brilliant idea for a website. What I’ve got is lovely and more than sufficient for my needs.

Thanks for continuing to visit my little corner of these often terrifying Internets. You guys rock!

Recent Reads: Books that Make Me Happy Edition

Published March 23, 2014 by Shannon

Having realized I was super behind on writing reviews, I’ve decided to just do quickie thoughts about a bunch of books and call the slate clean.

  1. The Blue Castle by L M Montgomery:

    Why I Read it: Because the Anne of Green Gables books are absolutely delightful and I wanted to try more Montgomery.

    Synopsis: Valancy, a timid spinster, decides to live life to the fullest after she’s been told she has a year to live, with results beyond her imagining.
    What I Liked: Valancy was a delight. I ended up identifying very strongly with her, and rooting for her success. Montgomery’s wry humor is very much in evidence, and the love interest was swoon worthy.

    What I Didn’t Like: Besides Valancy, most of the characters don’t rise far from stereotypes and general flat characterization. I couldn’t really take any of them seriously.

    Should you Read It: We all know I like sweet and whimsical. That’s what this book has in spades. Some of the themes–about living life to its fullest and taking risks–are universal and still very much applicable. If you’ve not read Montgomery, this would be a good place to figure out if she’s for you. For me, this gets an A.

  2. Ask the Passengers by A S King:

    Why I Read it: It’s the March pick for the Forever Young Adult book club.

    Synopsis: Astrid lives in small-town America and is dealing with questions of her sexuality.

    What I Liked: Astrid’s voice is snarky and self-aware, but not without a little whimsy. I love that one of the things she does is send her love up to passengers in planes as they fly overhead. There’s a great relationship between Astrid and her sister Ellis.

    What didn’t Work for Me: I thought Astrid could have done better than her love interest. I was satisfied with how that arc resolved itself at the end, but I didn’t feel the swoon.

    Should You Read It: If you like smart, self-aware YA that handles complicated topics with a light touch without making them trivial, then yes. I had fun with this one, and am hoping for a good discussion at the book club. For me, this rates a B.

  3. One True Thing by Piper Vaughn and M. J. O’Shea:

    Why I Read it: The previous book in this duology, One Small Thing was the perfect sort of comfort reading M/M that I like, so I was delighted there was a sequel.

    Synopsis: Dusty falls in insta-lust with a cute boy on his first day in California, but it turns out the cute boy has an identical twin brother. Wacky hijinks ensue.

    What I Liked: Despite that flippant summary, there’s a lot of heart in this story. Dusty and Asher spend a lot of time circling around each other, and when they get together, it is sweet, though not always smooth sailing. I also loved the presence of Eric and Rue from the previous book. The authors deal with questions of family in ways that indicate that sometimes family is just complicated. The fact that not everything is fine with everyone in both protagonists’ families was a nice touch of realism.
    What Didn’t Work: I think the pacing could have been a little tighter. The boys circle around each other far too long, considering their instant connection. That instant connection was cheesy, too, and I’m not quite sure what I think of the final resolution of the major conflict.

    Should You Read It: If you like your M/M on the cheesy side, then by all means, pick this one up. It gave me all the feels for the afternoon that I read it, and both authors have substantial backlists, a lot of which are free, so I’m glad I rediscovered them. This one rates an A.

  4. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler:

    Why I Read It: I think this one got on my TBR pile because of my friend Lauren. (The sci-fi geek Lauren, as opposed to the Lauren who writes long, involved fanfic about shows I don’t watch and who reads similar YA to me).) Sometimes I like reading food writing because it allows me to dream that one day I will finally be like, “Yes! Cooking is magical!” and then I’ll want to do it more.

    Synopsis: The author asserts that even you can learn to cook well.
    What I Liked: The author’s voice seems gentle and reassuring. She did make everything sound easy.

    What Didn’t Work for Me: The likelihood that I will try anything from this cookbook is infinitesimal. But that’s on me, not the book.

    Should you Read It: If you like cookbooks, you might enjoy this one. It never made me terribly excited about cooking, so it gets a C.

  5. Riding the Bus with My Sister by Rachel Simon:

    Why I Read It: Rachel Simon has been on my radar for a while, but I think it was one of my fellow Shannons who recommended this one.

    Synopsis: Workaholic Rachel takes a year to ride the city buses with her mentally disabled sister, Beth, and learns life lessons.

    What I Liked: This was a feel-good read with some elements of realism. Rachel’s relationship with Beth isn’t always easy, and I appreciated her honesty about that. Also, I’m glad she learned about self-determination and discussed its importance even while she acknowledges its pitfalls.
    What Didn’t Work for Me: I mean, it’s still a narrative about what the disabled can teach normal people. There’s no way that can be made not problematic for a disabled reader. That said, I never felt like Rachel was condescending about her sister.

    Should You Read It: It was engrossing for me, and I like “Person stops to do unusual stuff” memoirs. I pretty much devoured it in a single sitting, and I suspect that my non-disabled readers can probably get past the niggling, “Oh, man, another disabled person being inspiring” reaction. For me this rates a B.

  6. His Kind of Woman by Nona Raines:
    Why I Read It: It was a nominee in this year’s Dabwaha tournament. Seeing that it had a trans* character as one of the leads made it a guaranteed sale.

    Synopsis: Roy wants to make amends to one of the people his brother Travis bullied in high school, but it turns out that Victor is now Venetia.

    What I Liked: This was another sweet novella. Both Roy and Venetia were likable characters, and they had to do a lot of talking before they could reach a satisfactory ending. I also liked that the ending didn’t wrap everything up in a neat and tidy bow of forgiveness, and that the author dealt with bullying in a sensitive and thoughtful manner.

    What Didn’t Work for Me: It was a little didactic in places. I guess that’s to be expected, but the preachiness was there. Also, of course Venetia had all her surgeries. It must be nice to be able to pay for such expensive procedures.I know that’s kind of a silly complaint because fictional characters being privileged is kind of par for the course, but I found myself wondering if this was a way to have a trans character without squicking people out about the thought of reading about a woman with a penis.

    Should You Read It: It’ll take an hour of your life. It’s a sweet story, and I’m glad to see something a little different. Also yay trans characters. For me, this rates a B.

  7. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson:

    Why I Read It: This book got a lot of buzz when it first came out, and has been languishing in obscurity in my TBR for years.

    Synopsis: Scarlett Martin lives with her family in a historic hotel in New York City. When Mrs. Amberson, a former starlet, moves into the hotel, Scarlett is tasked with being her assistant. Mrs. Amberson becomes the manic pixie dream girl that causes wacky hijinks in the lives of all the Martins.

    What I Liked: Johnson is doubtless funny, and the third-person narration was witty and smart, and the screwball comedy aspects of the book were a pleasure. I loved the relationships between Scarlett and her family, particularly between Scarlett and her older brother Spencer.

    What I Didn’t Like: Another YA where the romantic interest didn’t bring the swoon. In the end, that conflict just petered out. Also, the Martin parents were too of the most useless adults I’ve encountered in YA in quite a while.

    Should You Read It: If you like screwball comedies, and interesting settings, this won’t take you long. It’s funny, and the bits with Scarlett’s family have a lot of heart. Just don’t read for the romance. For me, this rates a B.

  8. Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Teresa Weir:

    Why I Read It: Another Dabwaha nominee. Also, it featured a beta guy, and that is my crack.

    Synopsis: Shy Emerson works at a music repair shop and is totally hot for Lola. He only gets up the courage to make a move on her after he rescues a stray cat named Sam.

    What I Liked: Shy hero. Heroine who’d been burned by love. These two were adorable. I read the novella with a smile on my face the entire time.

    What didn’t Work: The cat veered into cutesy way too often. I wanted Lola to realize Emerson didn’t, like, randomly turn into an asshole, but, “Oh, he’s really socially awkward” never really seems to cross her mind.

    Should You Read It: Again, it’ll take an hour or so. The romance is sweet, and you’ll enjoy it if you’re a cat person. For me, it’s another B.