Monday Links!

Apr. 22nd, 2019 04:23 pm
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Posted by JenniferP

As promised, Lenée’s regular writing project has launched at RaisingMothers.com, starting with a beautiful essay about ambivalence toward becoming a parent and figuring out the right choice for herself.

Did you know there is an advice column devoted to helping you find just the right poem for a given situation?

This weekend I vomited a bunch of feelings & personal opinions about the USA political situation in a “Half-Assed Activist” post at Patreon (free to read, “debate” will cost ya :-p).

This week I’m working on a Search Terms post and answering some questions about how to fight fair.

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Posted by Amanda

He’s Not My Boyfriend

He’s Not My Boyfriend by Jackie Lau is 99c! This book was featured on Cover Awe because seriously, how adorable is that cover. If you want a quick, rom-com read, readers recommend this one. However, others wished the conflict was a bit stronger.

Now that her cousin has tied the knot, Iris Chin—structural engineer, party girl, and queen of kitchen disasters—is the last single grandchild. Her mother and grandmother are desperate to play matchmaker, though Iris doesn’t understand why. They had miserable marriages, and she doesn’t want to be like them. She enjoys her independence, thank you very much. One-night stands are more her style.

Unfortunately, she soon discovers that she’s working on a project with her latest one-night stand, Alex Kwong, a construction supervisor. She’s determined to stay professional on the construction site, but things get off to a bad start when Alex lets slip to a co-worker that they slept together.

To make matters worse, Iris is now living with her grandmother, who keeps stealthily setting her up on dates and sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, and her mother is just as bad. But more than anything, it’s her unwanted feelings for Alex that are derailing her plans to have an exciting single life…

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Under Her Skin

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders is $1.99! Readers warn that this is a contemporary romance on the darker side, but many say this is a great debut by Anders. I definitely agree with both of these things, though will add the ending felt a bit rushed. If you like beta heroes who dabble in blacksmithing, maybe check this one out.

Battered by a life determined to tear him down, this quiet ex-con’s scarred hands may be the gentlest touch she’ll ever know.

…if only life were a fairy tale where Beauty was allowed to keep her Beast

Ivan thought the world was through giving him second chances. Who’d want a rough ex-con with a savior complex and a bad habit of bringing home helpless strays? Everyone in Blackwood, Virginia knew he wasn’t good enough for the fine things in life; they knew he was too damaged to save. He just needed to keep his head down, work himself to the bone, and pretend he was content with the lot he was given.

Until she came into his life. Until she changed everything.

Until he realized he would do anything, fight anyone, tear the world apart if it meant saving her.

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Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies

Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies by Shana Galen and Theresa Romain is 99c! This is an anthology that features two novellas. I had to hunt through reviews to find out what the romances were actually about, and it seems both of them have second chance elements.

Mrs. Brodie’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies appears exclusive and respectable, a place for daughters of the gentry to glean the accomplishments that will win them suitable husbands.

But the academy is not what it seems. It’s more.

Alongside every lesson in French or dancing or mathematics, the students learn the skills they’ll need to survive in a man’s world. They forge; they fight; they change their accents to blend into a world apart. And the staff at the academy find a haven from their pasts…and lose their hearts.

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Bridget Jones’s Diary

Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding is $1.99! I read this one over ten years ago. I remember enjoying it and finding it genuinely funny, but I’m unsure if it would hold up. Have any of you read this recently? What are your thoughts?

Bridget Jones’s Diary is the devastatingly self-aware, laugh-out-loud account of a year in the life of a thirty-something Singleton on a permanent doomed quest for self-improvement. Caught between the joys of Singleton fun, and the fear of dying alone and being found three weeks later half eaten by an Alsatian; tortured by Smug Married friends asking, “How’s your love life?” with lascivious, yet patronizing leers, Bridget resolves to: reduce the circumference of each thigh by 1.5 inches, visit the gym three times a week not just to buy a sandwich, form a functional relationship with a responsible adult and learn to program the VCR. With a blend of flighty charm, existential gloom, and endearing self-deprecation, Bridget Jones’s Diary has touched a raw nerve with millions of readers the world round. Read it and laugh—before you cry, “Bridget Jones is me!”

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

TW/CW: Discussion of child sexual assault, sexual assault, child abuse.


Dear Bitchery,

I want to tell you about an incredible public art project and public healing event – The Monument Quilt. It honors and tells the stories of survivors of sexual violence, similar to the AIDS Memorial Quilt. After 5 years of organizing, the entire quilt, made up of 3,000 stories painted and sewn onto red fabric, will blanket the National Mall in Washington DC on May 31 – June 2, spelling out the words “not alone” and “no estas solx.”

One of those stories is mine, painted and sewn into a 4’ x 4’ red cotton square. I’m going with my husband to see it displayed and my best friend is meeting us there. And I hope lots of other people will go too. Which is why I’m writing this. Because it’s cool and you should go if you can.

I was uncertain about asking SB Sarah if I could write about this for SBTB, since it really has nothing to do with romance novels. I’m delighted that she said yes because this blog is one of the places where I’ve practiced being more open about my experience as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Reading and sewing are also two of the things that have sustained me for most of my life, since I was old enough to learn both skills. So it seems fitting that I’d write about sewing for a romance blog.

I saw a display of monument quilt squares in Chicago in August 2014, during the Monument Quilt’s first city tour.

Cleo at the Monument Quilt display in 2014.

It was incredibly moving; I knew then that I wanted to make one myself and so I did. There’s really no way to distill into words how meaningful it was to me to work on my square. I’m a fiber artist and I grew up in a house filled with quilts and other textiles made by women I’m related to. There’s a certain type of love that comes through some handmade textiles. I feel it when I wear the sweaters my mother and grandmother knit or sleep under a quilt made by my mother or somebody else’s mother. And I put love into my patchwork square; love for myself, love for the other survivors in my extended family, and love for all survivors out there.

Cleo's cat, a white and brown cat, resting on squares of pink, red, and burgundy fabric
Cleo’s cat helping choose fabrics. Photo credit: Cleo

The Monument Quilt is organized by an activist artist collective called FORCE; Upsetting Rape Culture. I’ve been incredibly impressed with their work on this. I like that it’s a survivor led project. I like that they support and respect survivors of all genders, identities and orientations. l love that they’re using art to talk about and to create a true culture of consent.

Cleo's square, with offset stripes of patchwork fabric going from white and cream to pink, then red, burgundy, darker red, and black at the top it says dedicated to app survivors may all victims heal may all children be safe
Cleo’s Monument Quilt Square

I’m excited to be going to DC to see my square and to bear witness to the entire display. And I hope some of the Bitchery can make it, too.

– Cleo


Sarah: I am not sure I can communicate how touched and honored I am to be entrusted with this letter. Thank you, Cleo. Your square is achingly lovely, and I’m deeply humbled that you’ve shared it with us.

For more information about the Monument Quilt and the display, you can visit The Monument Quilt website. The quilt will be on display, as Cleo mentioned, May 31-June 2, 2019. Per the website, “this will be the only time the quilt will be viewed in its entirety.” There are links for more information, opportunities to volunteer, and options to help spread the word.

And finally, the folks behind The Monument Quilt and UPsetting Rape Culture asked if I’d add this information as well: “we are still working hard to raise another $100,000 and need all the help we can get.”

You can make a donation at: https://upsettingrapeculture.wedid.it/

Goblins, Billionaires, & More

Apr. 21st, 2019 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

A Natural History of Dragons

RECOMMENDED: A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is $1.99! This is the first book in the Lady Trent series, which Carrie really loves. Readers say the book is pretty awesome in terms of concept, but they surprisingly wanted more dragons. Have you read this book or series?

You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

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Brooklynaire

Brooklynaire by Sarina Bowen is $2.42 at Amazon! Elsewhere, it’s $3.99. This is the fourth book in the Brooklyn Bruisers series. Though this could be reads as a standalone, readers say there’s a lot of build up to this romance in the previous books. It has a 4.2-star rating on Goodreads.

A sexy new standalone from USA Today bestseller Sarina Bowen.

You’d think a billion dollars, a professional hockey team and a six-bedroom mansion on the Promenade would satisfy a guy. You’d be wrong.

For seven years Rebecca has brightened my office with her wit and her smile. She manages both my hockey team and my sanity. I don’t know when I started waking in the night, craving her. All I know is that one whiff of her perfume ruins my concentration. And her laugh makes me hard.

When Rebecca gets hurt, I step in to help. It’s what friends do. But what friends don’t do is rip off each others’ clothes for a single, wild night together.

Now she’s avoiding me. She says we’re too different, and it can never happen again. So why can’t we keep our hands off each other?

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Song of Scarabaeus

Song of Scarabaeus by Sara Creasy is $1.99! I thought for sure we had featured this book in some capacity before, but I couldn’t find anything. This is a scifi romance with a literal forced proximity element. If the heroine gets too far from the hero, he’ll die. Some readers don’t think this is a full on romance, but more of a scifi novel with romantic elements.

Trained since childhood in advanced biocyph seed technology by the all-powerful Crib empire, Edie’s mission is to terraform alien worlds while her masters bleed the outlawed Fringe populations dry. When renegade mercenaries kidnap Edie, she’s not entirely sure it’s a bad thing . . . until they leash her to a bodyguard, Finn—a former freedom fighter-turned-slave, beaten down but never broken. If Edie strays from Finn’s side, he dies. If she doesn’t cooperate, the pirates will kill them both.

But Edie’s abilities far surpass anything her enemies imagine. And now, with Finn as her only ally as the merciless Crib closes in, she’ll have to prove it or die on the site of her only failure . . . a world called Scarabaeus.

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The Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison is $1.99! This is a fantasy novel with some steampunk elements, and I’ve seen this one mentioned a ton in Whatcha Reading comments. Readers say the writing is amazing, though I don’t believe there’s any romance here (if you’re wondering).

A vividly imagined fantasy of court intrigue and dark magics in a steampunk-inflected world, by a brilliant young talent.

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.

Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.

Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

This exciting fantasy novel, set against the pageantry and color of a fascinating, unique world, is a memorable debut for a great new talent.

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Survey: What’s Your Favorite Swag?

Apr. 21st, 2019 01:00 pm
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Posted by SB Sarah

I’m working on developing new designs and new products for our SBTB Swag collection for our store, and wanted to ask your opinions!

Some of the items in development will be free things I send with prizes or that we give away at conferences, and others will be items available for purchase at different retailers (including some that have nifty coupons all the time).

So while this doesn’t obligate you to purchase anything (of course not!) I wanted to ask for your input. What swag do you love, or would interest you if it were connected to SBTB?

Got ideas? We'd love to hear them!

Romance Wanderlust: Niagara Falls

Apr. 21st, 2019 08:00 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 itIn this month’s Romance Wanderlust, we are going to Niagara Falls, New York and Niagara Falls, Ontario. Both towns have been popular honeymoon destinations since the 1800s. They were hit hard by economic recession, but the tourist industry remains as well as, of course, the Falls. As always, this is neither and endorsement nor a review as I’ve never been to the Falls. Help me out, commenters – is this destination worth seeing, or skipping?

Niagara Falls refers to three massive falls: Horseshoe Falls (the largest), American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls. Theodosia Burr (daughter of Aaron Burr) visited the Falls on her honeymoon with Joseph Alston in 1801. This made honeymooning at the Falls fashionable, especially after Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Jerome, did the same in 1804. In 1953, Marilyn Monroe had her first starring role in Niagara, a film noir in which she played a femme fatale. Visits spiked again. Other movies and television shows to feature the Falls include The Office (Jim and Pam’s wedding!) and Superman II (Lois discovers Superman’s identity!).

Jim and Pam at the Falls
Jim and Pam at the Falls

My impression based on Googling is that even though the Falls are amazing forces of nature, you wouldn’t visit Niagara Falls to commune in a peaceful way in your tent with only the sounds of nature to lull you to sleep. The Falls are right up against their respective American and Canadian cities, so you end up mixing nature with city life most of the time (there are a lot of casinos). You can walk along the top of the Falls during the day or at night, take a boat ride, and go through tunnel behind the falls. Please do not attempt to go over the Falls in a barrel or any other device because it’s illegal and often fatal. Attempts to discern whether your significant other is Superman by jumping over a railing will not end well.

The Falls and the River

As far as a place to stay, there are a lot of hotels in various price ranges but The Tower (on the Canada side) had me at “floor to ceiling windows” which would mean that, theoretically, I could ooh and ahh about the wonders of the Falls without ever having to get out of bed. They have an onsite Wedding Chapel and room service. It doesn’t look very fancy, but when this is what you see from your room how fancy do you really need to be?

view of falls from hotel window

Alternatively, if you stay at the Crowne Plaza (also in Canada), you can stay in Room 801, where Marilyn Monroe stayed while filming Niagara.

Marilyn Monroe in front of the Falls in a Blue suit

If you’ve been to Niagara Falls, let us know if it’s still a great honeymoon or otherwise romantic destination. Is the thrill alive?

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

D

One Summer in Paris

by Sarah Morgan
April 9, 2019 · HQN Books

This guest review is from Sam, who is a longtime romance and SBTB reader.

I’ve read so many of Sarah Morgan’s books, all the way back to when she wrote Harlequin Presents. I don’t like billionaires or captains of industry, but if Morgan wrote them, I was all in. I liked the Harlequins and I liked the longer books she wrote, too.

Unfortunately for me, Morgan is now writing women’s fiction. And women’s fiction isn’t my genre, despite the similarities to romance. But I wanted to try because it’s a Sarah Morgan book. So I read this in an afternoon. I ended up skimming the last third of it because the characters were not that exciting, and because I wanted to know what happened in the end. But when I got there, I was mad about it. The ending requires me to forgive characters I have no interest in forgiving, and glosses over events that I think are too traumatic and too painful.

Grace is a woman in her 40s in Connecticut who is a careful planner and organizer of her day and her life, with to-do lists and advanced planning. One example: she buys and wraps up a present for her husband’s boss so he doesn’t have to shop for it or deal with it, and often pre-buys her own gifts from said husband, too. Several times she alludes to a chaotic or difficult childhood, but the particulars aren’t revealed until about two thirds into the book. Her childhood led to her organizational devotion.

On her 25th wedding anniversary, she plans a dinner surprise for her husband: she’s arranged a month off for him, and they’re going to Paris for that month. He knew nothing of this plan, and instead tells her – at the anniversary dinner – that he’s been having an affair with their former babysitter and wants out of their marriage. Why was he having an affair? Because Grace doesn’t need him. Because she’s so organized.

Grace is understandably devastated, and faces a lot of humiliation in her small town where everyone knows her business. She decides to take the trip to Paris on her own – after her husband offers to pay her for the tickets and reservations so he can take his girlfriend to Paris instead. He is terrible.

Meanwhile, Audrey, the other main character, is in London about to graduate. Her home life is also terrible. Her mother is an alcoholic who cycles between smothering affection and abuse towards Audrey. When her mother gets married, she feels like she is free, so Audrey heads to Paris to escape her life in London, which she hates.

When Grace arrives in Paris, she’s mugged, and Audrey tackles the mugger and brings back Grace’s purse. After that, they connect in starts and stops, Grace trying to fix some things for Audrey, and Audrey being prickly and pushing Grace away because she’s used to being alone and doesn’t trust anyone who is kind.

Everything in this story falls easily into place for both of them. Audrey lied about her ability to speak French when she got a job at a bookstore that comes with an apartment. She’s fired, but Grace speaks French and volunteers to work in the store with Audrey. Audrey gets her job back. Grace volunteers to work there because she doesn’t have anything else to do. Grace loves the idea of working/volunteering in a bookstore, and is trying to get away from being the really organized, careful person she was. That’s who her husband left, and she’s convincing herself that she’s partially responsible for his decisions.

She’s not, and her story makes me so mad. Instead of talking about his problems, her husband cheats. Instead of explaining to Grace that he doesn’t like some of the things she does to manage his life for him, he keeps quiet and bangs the babysitter, who is in her 20s and looks up to him (eyyew). Instead of seeking counseling, he tells her on their anniversary in a restaurant full of people that he wants to leave her. Instead of owning how awful he is, he tries to make Grace see that it’s partially her fault that he was unhappy. He’s the “both sides” of cheating husbands. And then he has to try to win her back. I really, really hated him.

I was also frustrated by the lack of counseling or mental health resources in this story. The characters are dealing with really difficult issues and a lot of traumatic things: alcoholism, assault, abuse, deceit, betrayal, addiction, death, loss, and that’s just off the top of my head. But Grace and Audrey have to fix themselves.

Show Spoiler

And in order for the story to reach what seems like a happy ending, they have to forgive characters who make what I think is a very small amount of effort to fix themselves. Grace and Audrey have to retcon their own relationships for the ending to happen, and it was too impossible and too unsatisfying.

In order to accept the ending, I have to revise my opinion of those characters as well and I wasn’t willing to do that. The people who wronged Grace and Audrey don’t do enough to demonstrate that they’ve changed. They don’t fully own up what they did and how they harmed Grace and Audrey. But the message of the book is, because they really do love Grace and Audrey, they should be forgiven.

And Grace and Audrey receive zero counseling or help with the series of extreme traumas in their lives.  That part was disappointing, too, because their friendship is the best part of the novel. They inspire one another and learn from each other. They confide in each other. But they work things out by themselves. The ending requires so much from them, so much compromise, that I was frustrated and disappointed by it, and wouldn’t call it “happy.”

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Posted by Amanda

Welcome to Book Beat! Think of Book Beat as Hide Your Wallet, Part Two!

In Hide Your Wallet, we talk about books coming out in a particular month that we really want to read. But there’s more to good books than just new releases!

Book Beat aims to highlight other books that we may hear about through friends, social media, or other sources. We could see a gorgeous ad! Or find a new-to-us author on a list of underrated romances! Think of Book Beat as Teen Beat or Tiger Beat, but for books. And no staples to open to get the fold-out poster.

We hope you find something new to read through Book Beat, and please let us know what books you’ve discovered recently!

It’s a Whole Spiel

It’s a Whole Spiel by Katherine Locke

Author: Katherine Locke
Released: September 17, 2019 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Genre: ,

Includes a special introduction by Mayim Bialik, star of The Big Bang Theory and author of the #1 bestseller Girling Up!

Get ready to fall in love, experience heartbreak, and discover the true meaning of identity in this poignant collection of short stories about Jewish teens, including entries by David Levithan, Nova Ren Suma, and more!

A Jewish boy falls in love with a fellow counselor at summer camp. A group of Jewish friends take the trip of a lifetime. A girl meets her new boyfriend’s family over Shabbat dinner. Two best friends put their friendship to the test over the course of a Friday night. A Jewish girl feels pressure to date the only Jewish boy in her grade. Hilarious pranks and disaster ensue at a crush’s Hanukkah party.

From stories of confronting their relationships with Judaism to rom-coms with a side of bagels and lox, It’s a Whole Spiel features one story after another that says yes, we are Jewish, but we are also queer, and disabled, and creative, and political, and adventurous, and anything we want to be. You will fall in love with this insightful, funny, and romantic Jewish anthology from a collection of diverse Jewish authors.

Source: Hypable cover reveal

Just in case you missed hearing about this one on yesterday’s podcast episode with Dahlia Adler!

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Reverb

Reverb by Anna Zabo

Author: Anna Zabo
Released: May 6, 2019 by Carina Press
Genre: , ,
Series: Twisted Wishes #3

The tougher they are, the harder they fall.

Twisted Wishes bass player Mish Sullivan is a rock goddess—gorgeous, sexy and comfortable in the spotlight. With fame comes unwanted attention, though: a stalker is desperate to get close. Mish can fend for herself, just as she always has. But after an attack lands her in the hospital, the band reacts, sticking her with a bodyguard she doesn’t need or want.

David Altet has an instant connection with Mish. A certified badass, this ex-army martial arts expert can take down a man twice his size. But nothing—not living as a trans man, not his intensive military training—prepared him for the challenge of Mish. Sex with her is a distraction neither of them can afford, yet the hot, kink-filled nights keep coming.

When Mish’s stalker ups his game, David must make a choice—lover or bodyguard. He’d rather have Mish alive than in his bed. But Mish wants David, and no one, especially not a stalker, will force her to give him up.

Source: Anna Zabo (@amergina) on Twitter

A rockstar romance between a pansexual bass player and her trans queer bodyguard!

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Stealing Luna

Stealing Luna by Carla de Guzman

Author: Carla de Guzman
Released: April 26, 2019 by Midnight Books
Genre: ,
Series: Cincamarre #2

Cora Justa Dumagat has had enough.

She is tired of watching the corrupt, fat cats of the council override the monarchy and risk the people’s lives in exchange for a payday. Despite advice from her Queen, Cora has decided to take matters into her own hands and hit the Joaquins where it hurts—to steal their precious Juan Luna painting right from under their noses in Barcelona.

The job shouldn’t be too difficult. If only Luis Ang, her ex-boyfriend, wasn’t hired to be her bodyguard.

Luis knows that Cora is up to something, and will stop at nothing to make sure she’s safe, even at the cost of Cora’s plans.

As Luis and Cora become more and more deeply entangled into each other, the more dangerous the situation becomes. Will Cora have her revenge? Or will stealing Luna be the last thing she ever does?

Source: Carla de Guzman (@carlakdeguzman) on Twitter

Another bodyguard romance! This one, though, has an art heist and some second chance elements.

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Thornfruit

Thornfruit by Felicia Davin

Author: Felicia Davin
Released: February 27, 2018
Genre: , ,
Series: The Gardener's Hand #1

There were two secrets in Varenx House, and Alizhan was one of them.

Alizhan can’t see faces, but she can read minds. Her mysterious ability leaves her unable to touch or be touched without excruciating pain. Rescued from abandonment and raised by the wealthy and beautiful Iriyat ha-Varensi, Alizhan has grown up in isolation, using her gift to steal secrets from Iriyat’s rivals, the ruling class of Laalvur. But Iriyat keeps secrets of her own.

When Alizhan discovers that she isn’t the only one of her kind, and that a deadly plot threatens everyone like her, there’s only one person she can trust.

Ev liked having a secret. None of the other girls in the village had a thief-friend.

Evreyet Umarsad—“Ev” to her parents and her one friend—longs to be the kind of hero she reads about in books. But the rest of the world feels impossibly far away from her life on a farm outside Laalvur. Ev will never lay eyes on the underground city of Adappyr, the stars of the Nightward Coast, or the venomous medusas that glow in the dark depths of the sea.

At least on her weekly trip to the market, Ev gets to see her thief—the strange young woman who slips by her cart and playfully steals a handful of thornfruit. When the thief needs help, Ev doesn’t hesitate. Together, they uncover a conspiracy that draws them all over Laalvur and beyond.

Thornfruit is the first book in The Gardener’s Hand trilogy.

Source: @FeliciaDavin on Twitter

LGBT fantasy with some romantic elements. And it’s currently FREE! Also, I don’t want to spoil the trilogy, but click through to the Tweet to find out how the romance shakes out.

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New Books and ARCs, 4/19/19

Apr. 19th, 2019 02:53 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

I may be in London right now but that doesn’t mean I can’t still show off the new books and ARCs that came to the Scalzi Compound this week! Here they are. What here intrigues you? Tell us all in the comments.

Covers & Cocktails: DGAF

Apr. 19th, 2019 08:00 am
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Posted by Amanda

Are you all ready for another cocktail? I am, especially when honey badgers are involved.

This cocktail is inspired by In a Badger Way and sponsored by Kensington! Sarah is a fan of the series and honestly, I’m also rather charmed by the MacKilligan honey badger shifter sisters. Though this is still a romance, the Honey Badger series has more of a focus on the three sisters: Charlie, Max, and Stevie. That sisterly bond carries the trio through some dangerous and, at times, wacky situations. While In a Badger Way has a lovely, panda bear shifter hero, I want this drink to focus on Stevie, given that these books are more heroine-focused.

In a Badger Way
A | BN | K | AB
Stevie is the youngest sister and a hybrid: honey badger and Siberian tiger. She’s also the sweetest, often conflicted about her fond feelings for their rather shitty father. For me, a night out with my close girlfriends usually means margaritas. It’s a great group drink and incredibly customizable for all tastes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the MacKilligans have gotten rowdy over a few margs before.

I also wanted to balance Stevie’s geniality with her fearsome shifter form. When she shifts, due to increasing stress or anxiety, she becomes this bonkers amalgamation of a honey badger and a tiger that is over twenty feet in length. I wouldn’t want to come across that in a dark alley, or anywhere else either. This margarita has a touch of heat to get the blood pumping and instead of using simple syrup (sugar and water), I chose honey as my syrup sweetener.

The name: DGAF. It stands for “don’t give a fuck” because hey, Stevie is still part honey badgers. And honey badgers don’t care.

Ingredients for a spicy honey margarita

Shopping list:
Tequila
Triple sec or orange liqueur
Honey
Cayenne pepper

Proportions:
3 oz. tequila
2 oz triple sec
2 oz. spicy honey syrup

Directions:

  1. First, make the syrup. Combine 1/2 cup honey and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan with 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper. Simmer. Stir occasionally until honey is fully incorporated. Pour into a container and leave in the fridge to cool.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.
  3. Shake it!
  4. Strain into a glass over ice.

Modifications and notes:

  • You’re welcome to salt (or sugar) your rim as you please.
  • I’m a wimp when it comes to spicy things, so I only used 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne. Bump the cayenne up to 1/2 teaspoon, if you’d rather have a spicier margarita.
  • Want it really spicy? Garnish with a jalapeño or use the juice on the rim to get the salt to stick.
  • You can use any orange liqueur you prefer, but triple sec is often the easiest and cheapest for me to get.

Once again, thanks to Kensington and In a Badger Way for sponsoring this cocktail.

A light orange margarita next to a copy of In a Badger Way

Bottom’s up!

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Posted by SB Sarah

Today I’m chatting with Dahlia Adler, who does so many things, and so we’re going to talk about all of them. We discuss her job history in publishing, and how different areas in publishing are very different from one another. We discuss her career as an author, and her adventures as a book blogger at BN, and her site lgbtqreads.com. The key moment in this podcast: how writing helped her recognize herself and her own sexuality.

We also discuss:

  • What queer YA and NA, math, and blogging have in common (when Dahlia’s working in those spheres anyway)
  • How one hunts academic mathematicians for publication
  • How she ended up as a fashion intern at Maxim
  • Some behind-the-scenes details of working in publishing
  • How she maintains space for the creative projects in her life
  • Learning story craft and structure from rejections
  • The weirdness of requesting galleys when you’re a reviewer
  • The absolute joy of helping people find the books that might mean the world to them.
  • How she discovers books and keeps track of titles she hears about online far, far in advance
  • How Sweet Valley High and The Babysitter’s Club were instrumental in her writing career

And the truth we both embrace: “free books will never not feel glamorous.” Very true.

Listen to the podcast →
Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

Dahlia is in so many places!

You can find her on her website, DahliaAdler.com, on Twitter @MissDahlELama, on BN.com blogging about YA, at Frolic.Media, and LGBTQ Reads.

We also mentioned:

 


And yes! Live Show Ahoy!

Wanna see us record a podcast LIVE?

If you’re attending BookLoversCon in New Orleans, you can!

Thursday May 16 at 3:30pm local time, at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, Amanda, Elyse and I will be recording a live show, and we hope you’ll join us if you can!

We’re going to play Cards Against Romance Tropes, there might be trivia, and we’ll definitely be silly about something. We’ll be in Imperial 5C – so come on down!

It’s free for attendees of the BookLovers Con, but we are asking folks to register so we know how many chairs we’ll need.

I hope we’ll see you there!

If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher, and Spotify, too. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

Thanks to our sponsors:

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What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at sbjpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Caravan Palace double album set of Caravan Palace and Panic Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.

This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “Cotton Heads.”

You can find their two album set with Caravan Palace and Panic on Amazon and iTunes. And you can learn more about Caravan Palace on Facebook, and on their website.


Podcast Sponsor

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Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes or on Stitcher.

Happy Birthday, Kristine

Apr. 18th, 2019 04:39 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

This fabulous person who also happens to be my wife is celebrating a birthday today, and in the UK, no less. If you wished to convey your birthday felicitations to her, I would not look askance upon it. She’s the best person I know.

Lovecraft, Romantic Suspense, & More

Apr. 18th, 2019 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Omens

RECOMMENDED: Omens by Kelley Armstrong is $1.99! Shoutout to Katie for letting me know about this one because I just finished this book very recently! This is the first book in a finished urban fantasy series and for the most part, I really liked it. It dragged in some spots, but I loved how I didn’t get all the answers about the mysterious Cainesville in the first book.

Twenty-four-year-old Olivia Taylor Jones has the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech firm CEO with political ambitions.

But Olivia’s world is shattered when she learns that she’s adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers serving a life sentence. When the news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, Olivia decides to find out the truth about the Larsens.

Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ past.

Aided by her mother’s former lawyer, Gabriel Walsh, Olivia focuses on the Larsens’ last crime, the one her birth mother swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel start investigating the case, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. Because there are darker secrets behind her new home and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.

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Winter Tide

RECOMMENDED: Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys is $1.99! This is a Lovecraft-inspired scifi/fantasy novel that Carrie loved. She gave it an A:

I just want to hang out more with Aphra and her found family, not to mention her family under the sea. It’s a great story and a seamless subversion of Lovecraft’s most repellent views while simultaneously being a tribute to his greatest accomplishments.

After attacking Devil’s Reef in 1928, the U.S. Government rounded up the people of Innsmouth and took them to the desert, far from their ocean, their Deep One ancestors, and their sleeping god Cthulhu. Only Aphra and Caleb Marsh survived the camps, and they emerged without a past or a future.

The government that stole Aphra’s life now needs her help. FBI agent Ron Spector believes that Communist spies have stolen dangerous magical secrets from Miskatonic University, secrets that could turn the Cold War hot in an instant, and hasten the end of the human race.

Aphra must return to the ruins of her home, gather scraps of her stolen history, and assemble a new family to face the darkness of human nature.

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Perilous Trust

Perilous Trust by Barbara Freethy is 99c! This is the first book in the romantic suspense Off the Grid: FBI series, and it features a second chance element. Readers said the action and suspense in this book made this one a quick read, though some found the dialogue to be a bit stilted.

It was one dark night that brought Damon Wolfe and Sophie Parker together. They were two tortured souls, looking for escape, and they weren’t supposed to see each other ever again…

Four years later, Sophie’s FBI father, who is also Damon’s mentor, is killed in a suspicious car crash after leaving Sophie a cryptic message to trust no one from the agency. When Damon shows up looking for her, she isn’t sure if he’s friend or enemy, but she knows he could easily rip apart what is left of her heart.

The last thing Damon wants is to get involved with Sophie again. It was hard enough to walk away the first time. But she’s in trouble, her father’s reputation is under attack, and the lives of his fellow agents are at stake if there’s a traitor in their midst.

When someone starts shooting at them, they have no choice but to go on the run and off the grid. Everyone in their world becomes a suspect. They want to uncover the truth, but will it turn out to be the last thing they expect? Proving her father’s innocence might just cost them their hearts…and their lives…

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Getting Schooled

Getting Schooled by Emma Chase is 99c at Amazon! It’s available at other vendors, but not at the sale price. For the most part, I enjoy Chase’s writing and the balance of humor and romance. I haven’t read this one, though, and people mentioned that the friendships and teacher/student dynamics were the best part. However, the romance was rather weak.

The newest novel from New York Times bestselling author Emma Chase.

Head of the class…

Garrett Daniels has this whole life thing figured out.

The cocky, charismatic former high school star quarterback is an idolized football coach and “cool” teacher in the hometown where he’s not just a golden boy — he’s platinum. He has good friends, a great house on the lake, and the best damn sidekick a man could ask for: Snoopy, the albino beagle.

Then…Callie Carpenter comes home.

And knocks him right on his tight end zone.

Back to school…

Callie has a pretty sweet life herself…on the other side of the country. But circumstances — that she’d prefer to never speak of again — have brought her back home, helping out her parents and substitute teaching at her old high school.

Now she’s facing bickering, raging hormones, constant gossip, awkward weirdness, and drama galore…and that’s just the teachers.

Just like old times…

When Garrett offers to show his former high school sweetheart the secrets of his winning teacher ways, Callie jumps at the chance – and then has to stop herself from jumping him.

Good friends are all they can ever be.

Or…these teachers just might end up getting schooled — by love.

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Posted by John Scalzi

It’s a parking lot, not only in an entirely different country, but in an entirely different continent! And Heathrow Airport is in the background, which is actually cooler than it sounds.

I’m here for Ytterbium, this year’s Eastercon, where I am a Guest of Honor, and everything is lovely so far. The convention begins properly tomorrow — today we relax, get some sleep in and prepare for the weekend. Three cheers for a lovely spring day in the UK.

How are you? Please describe in words that do not include “redacted Mueller report” in any way, shape or form.

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Posted by Elyse

A

The Trial of Lizzie Borden

by Cara Robertson
March 12, 2019 · Simon & Schuster
Women's FictionRomanceContemporary Romance

TW/CW for this review: discussions of murder, child abuse, sexual abuse.

Amanda and I once discussed the cold cases we’d most like answers to. For me, it might be the murders of Abby and Andrew Borden in 1892. The case is perplexing, the trial of their daughter, Lizzie, was a highly publicized mess, and to this day the entire thing seeps its way into popular culture.

If you’re looking for a book that offers any theories as to whether or not Lizzie Borden did indeed kill her parents, then The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson is not for you. Instead Robertson meticulously details everything that has been recorded about the murders and the trial, remaining objective and giving the reader what she needs to formulate an opinion. Since I’d rather arrive to conclusions of guilt or innocence on my own, this worked for me.

The murders here are baffling, and the trial that followed was sensational. Reading about both kept me up way too late.

I do want to warn potential readers that there are graphic crime scene photos in the book, so be cautious.

On August 4, 1892 Abby and Andrew Borden were both murdered in their home with what was presumed to be a hatchet or axe. Both died from blunt force trauma to the head. At the time two women were home with them, their maid Bridget Sullivan, and Andrew’s daughter (Abby’s stepdaughter) 32-year-old Lizzie Borden.

She was later arrest for and found not guilty of the murders. Her jury was made up of only men. Women would not be able to serve on a Massachusetts jury until 1951 (yay misogyny!)

Part of the appeal for me, as a reader, was that The Trial of Lizzie Borden serves up lots of detail I didn’t previously know about the murders. Roberston points out the impossibility of the crime: either someone inside the home or someone who invaded it must have killed the Bordens, but neither theory quite works.

Bridget and Lizzie were both home during the murders (but possibly outside). Neither of them had any blood evidence on them despite the murders being grisly affairs (there was speculation that Borden burned a dirty dress days later, but that wasn’t confirmed). That points to an outside killer. Still, that would mean someone would need to break into the home and kill both Andrew and Abby violently without being seen and approximately an hour and a half apart (if we are to believe the coroner’s estimated time of death). They would also need to flee the crime scene in a fairly busy suburban area carrying a bloody weapon and remain unnoticed.

Neither situation sounds plausible, although the author notes that the crime scene was hardly secure and forensic analysis of the day wasn’t especially reliable.

The trial of Lizzie Borden would become a national fascination. People lined up to fight for a space in the courtroom, packing sack lunches. The idea that a well-bred, relatively wealthy, White New England woman could commit such a brutal crime was then totally mind-boggling and threatened concepts of female-placidity among the White upper-classes. If Lizzie could kill her parents, then so too could your well-bred daughter, dudes.

The defense’s case against Lizzie seemed to hinge on the fact that she was “emotionless” after the murders which clearly, as she was a woman, was baffling. There was also a possible falling out with Abby from years ago that led her to call her stepmother ‘Mrs. Borden’ instead of ‘Mother.’

Essentially, Lizzie didn’t meet the expectation of her gender role, ergo murder.

The author also points out that part of the reason this case continues to fascinate is that it’s very easy to look at the Lizzie Borden trial through the lens of current discourse on feminism and psychosexuality. There is enough evidence against Lizzie to be compelling, but not enough to be concrete, which gives her “character” fluidity to mold itself to any number of arguments:

Most interpretations tell us more about the preoccupations of its chroniclers than any essential truth about the mystery. Just as Lizzie Borden’s contemporaries saw their own worst fears refracted through the prism of her trial, later commentators have seized upon whatever aspect of the mystery speaks most eloquently to their time.

For example, an early-1950’s solution imagined Lizzie Borden as a nightmarish “feminist” heroine, concluding: “If today woman has come out of the kitchen, she is only following Lizzie, who came out of it with a bloody ax and helped start the rights-for-women bandwagon.”

Equally telling is the widely held speculation, which gained currency in the early 1990’s, that Lizzie Borden had committed the murders after enduring years of sexual abuse by her father. The bedrooms that opened onto each other, the dead mother, the powerless stepmother, the special understanding between father and daughter as symbolized by the “thin gold band”–all crystalized into a suddenly obvious solution, a solution that seemed to not only explain the identity of the killer but also the brutality of the crimes.

In such examples, the Borden case serves as a cultural Rorschach test, in which Lizzie Borden’s guilt is assumed and her imagined acts are wrenched out of their time and place. In this way, every generation reinvents the case.”

It’s also worth noting that in 2018, the movie Lizzie was released, which imagines Lizzie Borden (played by Chloe Sevigny) and Bridget Sullivan (played by Kristen Stewart) as lovers. The discovery of their relationship by Andrew, and his reaction, led to his killing.

For me this was the perfect book: a combination of a deep dive into a true crime and a feminist view of how Lizzie Borden’s gender impacted not only her trial but our views of her for generations to come.

Did I come to any conclusions? Personally, I tend to think Lizzie did not commit the murders, if only because it seems impossible that she could have. I think that much of the forensic examination (including time of death) can be thrown out with the understanding that even with today’s science, many of the conclusions then-investigators came to are tenuous at best. I think it’s entirely possible that someone else could have killed the Bordens in close succession while Lizzie and Bridget were otherwise occupied, and that Lizzie’s lack of hysterics, her coolness toward her stepmother, and a misguided understanding of the evidence led to her being tried.

If you’re a true crime lover like me and love lots of detail to chew on in an unsolved case, The Trial of Lizzie Borden will not disappoint you. If you want to read about how our understanding of gender vilified and later exonerated and then again vilified a complicated woman, then again this book is for you. It’s easily one of the best true crime books I’ve read to date.

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Posted by Amanda

The Rec League - heart shaped chocolate resting on the edge of a very old bookThis Rec League comes from a comment made by DiscoDollyDeb in a Books on Sale post:

I sense another Rec League topic being born: Romances where the heroine imparts the knowledge/is the boss/has the billions/acts as the mentor. Not just competence porn (although that’s obviously part of it), but—by dint of knowledge/experience/wealth—is in the position of imparting the wisdom.

A fantastic idea, don’t you think?

A Curious Beginning
A | BN | K | AB
Sarah: Gentleman in the Street by Alisha Rai ( A | BN | K | AB ) – she schools the hero on many levels. Ahem.

Elyse: Veronica Speedwell series!

Sarah: Act Like It by Lucy Parker – she teaches the hero how to be more a person and less a grumpy tool.

But wow, I’m struggling at the moment to come up with “she’s the boss” romances. That’s a really good question.

 

What heroines would you suggest? Let us know in the comments!

Links: Cats, Fanfiction, & More

Apr. 17th, 2019 06:00 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Workspace with computer, journal, books, coffee, and glasses.Happy Wednesday! In Boston, Monday was Patriot’s Day and my schedule is all thrown off, but big congrats to all the runners! I’m turning 30 tomorrow and tonight I’m celebrating with pizza, beer, and ice cream. I’ll admit it; it’s a pretty good Wednesday. Hope you all are having a great week and, if not, fingers crossed it gets better.

Have you heard about Love Africa Press? They’re a relatively new publisher that “celebrates all things African in romantic fiction.” The covers on the site are flippin’ gorgeous. If you want to give them a try, they also have some free reads.

Publishers Weekly had an interesting article about Netflix’s push to develop more adaptations from books. While I am all for it, Netflix’s offerings seem to skew heavy on the YA side. I’ve enjoyed what they’ve produced so far, but I’d like to see romance get some love too.

There are meet-cutes in romance, but have you heard of a meet-hate? It makes sense and I don’t know why it never occurred to me before. There are a handful of romance recommendations for you over at Frolic.Media!

I love fanfic. I used to write it, though now I primarily read it. Tor.com counts the ways that fanfiction can help us all become better writers:

Practical Exercises

One of the things I love most about writing fic is the option of writing from prompts—give me one or two characters, a setting, and a situation, and I will write you a story right now. It’s like wind-sprints for your brain, and it is tiring but also exhilarating, and the more you do it the easier it gets. It works in the realm of original fiction just as well—if you’re writing within a universe you’ve already invented, you are doing precisely the same work as if you’re writing prompt fanfic, with the added benefit that nobody can accuse you of being out of character.

Shoutout to all my fanfic writers out there, as sometimes it’s a thankless task! Keep going!

Enjoy this Twitter thread of cats being naughty, little scamps!

..

Don’t forget to share what super cool things you’ve seen, read, or listened to this week! And if you have anything you think we’d like to post on a future Wednesday Links, send it my way!

Contemporary Romance, Aliens, & More

Apr. 17th, 2019 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Wrong to Need You

RECOMMENDED: Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai is $1.99! This is the notorious cat pee book. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read Elyse’s review:

I do not think I can possibly endorse Wrong to Need You more strongly than “it will make you forget you’re sitting in cat pee,” but if I could, I would, because this book is everything wonderful. It’s angsty and cathartic and sexy…

Alisha Rai returns with the second novel in her sizzling Forbidden Hearts series!

He wasn’t supposed to fall in love with his brother’s widow…

Accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Jackson Kane fled his home, his name, and his family. Ten years later, he’s come back to town: older, wiser, richer, tougher—and still helpless to turn away the one woman he could never stop loving, even after she married his brother.

Sadia Ahmed can’t deal with the feelings her mysterious former brother-in-law stirs, but she also can’t turn down his offer of help with the cafe she’s inherited. While he heats up her kitchen, she slowly discovers that the boy she adored has grown into a man she’s simply unable to resist.

An affair is unthinkable, but their desire is undeniable. As secrets and lies are stripped away, Sadia and Jackson must decide if they’re strong enough to face the past…and step into a future together.

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On Dublin Street

On Dublin Street by Samantha Young is $1.99! This is a contemporary romance and recently got a new, illustrated cover. It’s cute, but I don’t think it matches the contents of the book because (if I recall), it’s a pretty angsty read. This one is more on the erotic side and has an Alpha hero, who divided some readers.

Jocelyn Butler has been hiding from her past for years. But all her secrets are about to be laid bare…

Four years ago, Jocelyn left her tragic past behind in the States and started over in Scotland, burying her grief, ignoring her demons, and forging ahead without attachments. Her solitary life is working well—until she moves into a new apartment on Dublin Street where she meets a man who shakes her carefully guarded world to its core.

Braden Carmichael is used to getting what he wants, and he’s determined to get Jocelyn into his bed. Knowing how skittish she is about entering a relationship, Braden proposes an arrangement that will satisfy their intense attraction without any strings attached.

But after an intrigued Jocelyn accepts, she realizes that Braden won’t be satisfied with just mind-blowing passion. The stubborn Scotsman is intent on truly knowing her… down to the very soul.

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Wake of Vultures

RECOMMENDEDWake of Vultures by Lila Bowen is $1.99! This is a Kindle Daily Deal and is being price-matched! Carrie really liked this book and gave it an A-:

This book succeeds because Nettie is such a compelling character. Nettie is incredibly vibrant, prickly, compelling, flawed, exciting, and interesting. She feels like a real person, with a real personality and hopes and dreams and confused feelings and agendas. She’s incredibly interesting not only because of her unusual racial situation (which, in the Old West, wasn’t actually very unique but has been under-represented in fiction) nor in her genderqueer status, nor in her ability to hunt monsters. She’s compelling because all her experiences and aspects of her personality and her sharp mind come together to create a complex person who you just have to root for.

A rich, dark fantasy of destiny, death, and the supernatural world hiding beneath the surface.

Nettie Lonesome lives in a land of hard people and hard ground dusted with sand. She’s a half-breed who dresses like a boy, raised by folks who don’t call her a slave but use her like one. She knows of nothing else. That is, until the day a stranger attacks her. When nothing, not even a sickle to the eye can stop him, Nettie stabs him through the heart with a chunk of wood, and he turns into black sand.

And just like that, Nettie can see.

But her newfound sight is a blessing and a curse. Even if she doesn’t understand what’s under her own skin, she can sense what everyone else is hiding — at least physically. The world is full of evil, and now she knows the source of all the sand in the desert. Haunted by the spirits, Nettie has no choice but to set out on a quest that might lead to her true kin… if the monsters along the way don’t kill her first.

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Stargazer Alien Mail Order Brides: Collection One

Stargazer Alien Mail Order Brides: Collection One by Tasha Black is 99c! Yeah, you read that title correctly. It does what it says on the tin. Sometimes, we all need a bit of a quick, bonkers read and now you can get three of them for under a dollar.

Educated about humankind by the 1980s movies that came to them in an interstellar time capsule, these gorgeous gentlemen are eager to meet Earth girls…

Grab all three sizzling SciFi Romance books for one low price!

Book One: Bond
Bond is on Earth to fill one human female with as much pleasure as she can bear, a mission he’s finding very agreeable. But he’s not here to fall in love. Tasked with using his powers of human seduction to glean what he can about Earth and its inhabitants, Bond knows that if the planet’s resources are worthy and its residents aren’t, his days of pleasing Posey will soon be at an end.

Book Two: Rocky
​Coolheaded Georgia Taylor dreams of becoming a police officer. But her orderly world goes into a tailspin when she and her friends answer an ad looking for egg donors and she winds up the intended bride of an honest-to-goodness alien. Georgia is convinced she can leave the brave new world behind and get back to her life plan, if she can just keep Rocky at arm’s length. If only he weren’t so infernally good-looking and thoughtful…

Book Three: Magnum
​Magnum has a secret. It’s darker than his lust for Rima, and deeper than his respect for the planet that has become his new home. But his needs are getting harder to restrain. How far will he go to protect the woman he loves? ​

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Another Personal/Family Update

Apr. 17th, 2019 03:19 pm
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Posted by Jim C. Hines

We have a slightly more concrete plan for the coming weeks, with the understanding that plans can change from day to day based on test results, scheduling issues, the whims of the insurance companies, and more.

Amy’s currently going through her third round of R-EPOCH chemotherapy (her fifth or sixth total round of chemo, depending on how you count them.) The goal is to do one more round the first full week in May, then do another CT scan. If she looks cancer-free at that time, we’ll move on to the bone marrow transplant step.

I got choked up the first time the phrase “cancer-free” came up. There’s so much hope and fear wrapped up in those two words, and in the results of that scan a month or so from now. We know she’s responded well to treatment so far, but there’s so much unknown…

We got to spend some good family time together for my birthday weekend, which was nice. I ate way too much, which was also nice 🙂

I’d like to believe the end is in sight, and we’re starting to move toward the next steps of her recovery and rebuilding our new normal. The whole family is pretty damn tired of cancer and chemo and all the rest. This crap gets old pretty quick.

We learned something exciting this week, though. Amy’s been using an infusion pump that delivers her chemo cocktail over the course of 3-4 days. But the tubing has sprung a leak at least three different times, all in the same spot. It looks like the chemotherapy meds are actually eating through the air filter in the line. These are the chemicals they’re pumping into my wife’s body…

Well, if they eat through filters, hopefully they’ll gobble up cancer cells even better.

The Big Idea: Lara Elena Donnelly

Apr. 17th, 2019 12:48 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

When, as a writer, you find yourself caught between two tropes, what do you do? And is it a bad thing that you’re confronting two separate writing tropes in the first place? In her series that began with the book Amberlough and continues now in Amnesty, the third book, author Lara Elena Donnelly confronts her tropes and finds a way through them.

LARA ELENA DONNELLY: 

For a long, long time, Amnesty was nothing but a big idea.

My debut novel, Amberlough, was meant to be a standalone. A tragedy with a bitter ending, the only hope in a burgeoning resistance driven by death and loss. A story about people who fail, over and over again, to communicate with each other. Who fail to stake a moral, political, or emotional claim early enough to make a difference.

The character who fails biggest is Cyril DePaul. Already back-benched when the book starts, after a botched mission that’s left his confidence shattered, every decision he makes has his own interests at its heart. Nobody else’s enter into it. Even his gambit to save the life of his lover is self-centered; who wants to save their own skin only to live on lonely?

When I first wrote Amberlough, Cyril perished on the page. I had read enough spy novels to know that the bad spy usually dies. It’s not a job you can half-ass or bumble around in and still expect to avoid a bullet in the back of the head.

But I had also read enough fiction to know that being queer is another way to end up dead by the end of the novel. Cyril’s death fell pretty neatly into the trope known as “Bury Your Gays.”

I was caught between two tropes: one I wanted to lean into, and another I had frowned over in many other media properties. And I had gotten myself there by thinking how satisfying it would be to queer such a macho genre as the spy novel (though let’s be honest: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had already done it, and done it well).

But all of this isn’t my big idea. My big idea came when feedback from my editorial team poked at the ending–both my agent and my editor earmarked the potentially problematic death. Could we not just make it a little more open-ended? Not quite so…death-y?

I was torn, and also confused and kind of angry. I had written this ending knowing full well the risk I ran, and chosen to keep it during submissions because it felt right for the story and the character’s arc. I also didn’t think I would have been urged to unkill a straight character.

I have a lot of complicated feelings about tragic queers. But as several friends have said to me lately, “complicated is good. Complicated means it’s worth discussing.”

I felt then–and still feel, a lot of the time–that often there is a pressure on queer characters and queer stories to combat the “Bury Your Gays” trope, or the gay villain trope, or any number of other tropes, by telling stories without death, without tragedy, without detestable people. And yes, the world deserves happy, heroic queer characters. But it also deserves nuanced stories about flawed and fully-developed queer characters who sometimes hurt others and are hurt themselves.

Queer characters have been dying in fiction for a long time: as moral censure, as motivation for straight characters, to lend tragic savor to the story of straight heroes. Often the queer character who dies is the only queer character in story, and death is the only end we see for them. And obviously that’s a problem.

Unfortunately, nowadays the labor of undoing the harm caused by these tropes usually falls on stories that center queer characters–often on stories by authors who are queer themselves. Many queer authors hesitate to write stories based in their own experience, wondering if they are too dark, if they perpetuate the tragic queer narrative. And many times, straight authors including queer characters in heroic, happy narratives write versions of queer people that feel disingenuous or flat; that don’t engage with the nuances of living with a queer identity, some of which can be complicated and yes, painful.

I don’t like the idea that tropes–even Bury Your Gays–should be avoided at all costs. It’s not only simplistic, it’s impossible. If you write fiction, you’re going to write a trope someday. My take on tropes is that when they show up in a story they shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, but interrogated, turned on their head, and shaken down for their milk money.

So, I wrote two more books. And here we come to my big idea. There are spoilers ahead, so be wary if you mind that kind of thing.

Removing an explicit death scene and replacing it with a much more open-ended culmination felt strange to me, as an ending for a standalone. And the idea that this simple elision addressed the tragic queer trope didn’t quite scan for me; the book is still a tragedy. It still features queer characters. Changing that final scene with Cyril was symbolic, yes, but felt hollow somehow–like it lacked the intended resonance of the original ending. It felt like avoiding a trope on a technicality.

Still, given the feedback, I began to envision a further arc to the story; if Cyril didn’t die, what would his life look like? As a bad spy, a poor communicator, a child of privilege, and a fascist collaborator burdened by guilt, where would he go in this world turned upside down by political upheaval? And, if he ever surfaced again, how would he be treated by his friends, family, lovers, and public opinion?

Essentially: if death was not the final note in a tragic character arc marked by personal failures, what could I replace it with? What was a fate worse than death, to and for Cyril DePaul?

Facing the music, of course.

In Amberlough, death was a consequence for a long string of bad decisions made by a desperate man with flexible morals. I started thinking of the stack of consequences Cyril would have to face if he lived. There were a lot of them, ten times more complicated than a clean death might have been. And they were harder for Cyril to take, as a character, which as any writer knows makes for rich material.

In essence, my big idea was, “If I avoid this trope, it won’t be on a technicality. It will be on my own terms. And those terms will be devastating.”

In the actual writing of the book, things turned out differently than I had envisioned when I set out. But I hope I still succeeded in turning the simple evasion of a trope into something much thornier, that has readers asking themselves questions about guilt and redemption and who is forgiven for what, by whom, and why.

—-

Amnesty: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Sexual Assault in Romance

Apr. 17th, 2019 08:00 am
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Posted by SB Sarah

This post was written by Adriana Herrera. Adriana Herrera was born and raised in the Caribbean, but for the last sixteen years has let her job (and her spouse) take her all over the world. She loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people, getting unapologetic happy endings.

When’s she not dreaming up love stories, planning logistically complex trips with her family or hunting for discount Broadway tickets, she’s a social worker in New York City, working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Her debut novel, American Dreamer, came out in March 2019 from Carina Press. American Fairytale, the second book in her Dreamers series, will be released May 20th. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and at her website. She has previously written for SBTB on the topic of Domestic Violence in Romance.

CW/TW: discussion of domestic abuse, sexual violence, assault, trauma

As romance readers and writers, we believe in the redemptive power of love. But when a character has experienced trauma, they need more than a new love interest to heal.

Exploring the intersection between fact and fiction can help us be better writers and readers: What do experts in the field tell us about how people heal from trauma, and how can romance create more helpful/realistic/humane portrayals of how to love someone who has experienced trauma? How do we show a more feasible healing journey for survivors?

About Trauma

There are many ways in which a person can experience trauma in their life, from the sudden death of a parent during childhood, to losing everything in a natural disaster, to being robbed at gunpoint or being in a car accident. All of these events are traumatic and could have lasting effects on a person’s life. However, because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I wanted to focus on depictions of characters who have lived through sexual assault (not within the context of Intimate Partner Violence) as adults. This is a common backstory for romance novel protagonists, and it is not an unrealistic one.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, in the U.S.:

  • One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives
  • In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.

It is completely realistic (and necessary) for survivors to appear in our stories. We just need to make sure we get their stories right, and honor the work they do to claim their happily ever afters.

So What is Trauma?

The Body Keeps the Score
A | BN | K | AB
Bessel Van Der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, explains this about trauma:

“The essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable, and unbearable. Each patient [or character] demands that we suspend our sense of what is normal and accept that we are dealing with a dual reality: the reality of a relatively secure and predictable present that lives side by side with a ruinous, ever-present past.”

Trauma is not remembering, it is RELIVING. This means that when people are recalling a traumatic experience, it does not feel like it happened in the past, instead they are re-experiencing it, at a sensory level even.

According to Bessel Van Der Kolk:

…emotions, sounds images, thoughts and physical sensations related to the trauma take on a life of their own. The sensory fragments of memory intrude into the present where they are literally re-lived.

This re-experiencing of the trauma plays heavily into how survivors live their lives and how they can connect with others. Trauma can change a person’s beliefs about themselves and their worldview as they look to make sense of what happened. Part of the healing journey is attending to these changes and finding a way to reconcile what happened with what they know and what they want for their future.

So, in a story where authors create characters who have survived unspeakable violence, if these characters are not given the space to properly process what they experienced or arrive at a place where they don’t self-blame—then their ability to connect to another person or embark on a healthy relationship will be very difficult. When a character has experienced a traumatic experience that was so horrific that it cannot be put in their past, then there is work to be done there. A new love interest, no matter how good and true, cannot make that go away.

What are some of the pitfalls in depictions of characters who are survivors of sexual assault in romance?

Inaccurate rendition of how surviving and healing trauma works.

Giving a character trauma reactions so severe that in the beginning of the story they are barely coping with life and then have them “get better” because of the romantic relationship, is , in my opinion, unfair and simplistic for the character, and for readers who may have lived through similar experiences.

We write romance, so we want to show the wonderful things that love (or falling in love) can do in a life. We must also maintain the hope that our protagonists will achieve the reward of “emotional justice” which the Romance Writers of America uses as one of the tenets in their definition of “An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending.” However, we cannot minimize or misrepresent the hard and at times painfully slow process of healing from trauma.

We fail our characters by overselling how finding love can “fix” the real emotional and psychological rebuilding that needs to occur after trauma. So, when we write a survivor story we must take the care to show that the work is either being done or has at least begun.

Here are some things to think about:

Let’s be intentional about showing the process of reconnection.

In the “Risking Connection” trauma framework, experts from the Sidran Traumatic Stress Institute state that a healing connection is a “growth-fostering” relationship. To me that speaks to the heart of what we aim to do in a romance. Trauma from sexual assault can shatter a person’s bond with their community. Survivors can feel isolated and alone, and healing is about reconnecting. A critical starting point is to show the protagonists reclaiming and repairing (sometimes with the help of a supportive new love) those severed bonds. Not just to others, but to their own minds and bodies. The start of a new relationship (at least one that will end in a HEA) should not happen in the immediate aftermath of sexual assault.

Let them tell their story.

Trauma and Recovery
A | BN | K | AB
Judith Herman in Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, talks about how telling the trauma story, sharing it, is a “precondition for the restitution of a sense of a meaningful world.” Survivors must be able make sense of what happened to them and to articulate their experience in their own words. Herman also states that the other central parts of healing are establishing safety (this should be the first step) and reconnection with the community and loved ones.

Show them learning they are not alone in their experience.

Another critical component to healing is the understanding for survivors that they “are not alone.” Trauma feeds off shame. Sometimes the most devastating parts of surviving can be living with the shame of what a person had to do to stay alive. That is where showing a survivor in a group, or in some kind of space where they are validated by others who have gone through similar experiences, can be so powerful. It’s what Irving Yalom, a world-renowned expert in group psychotherapy, called the power of “universality.” Knowing there are people out there who understand your particular experience can mitigate the shame, stigma, and isolation that can come with surviving sexual assault.

Does sex really help?

It could, once some work has been done.

We must end the practice of using sex as a hack for processing trauma.

At least of it being the ONLY way to process it.

Honestly, it just doesn’t work that way. Especially when it comes to sexual assault, because a survivor can easily fall into a cycle of reenacting the trauma. Before the magical sex happens, a sexual assault survivor should be able to reconnect with their body, individually. Not through intercourse, but by opening themselves up to feeling again. By getting to feel safe in their body again on their own.

Bessel Van der Kolk puts it this way:

While human contact and attunement are the wellspring of physiological self-regulation, the promise of closeness often evokes the fear of getting hurt, betrayed and abandoned. Shame plays an important role in this….

Unresolved trauma can take a terrible toll on relationships. If your heart is broken because you were assaulted by someone you loved, you are likely to be preoccupied with not getting hurt again and fear opening up to someone new.

For some survivors their bodies can feel like traitors. It was the place where the pain (the trauma) happened and where they continue to re-experience it. How can a romance really evolve if a lover’s touch can trigger them to relive it?

Trauma is not just about being stuck in the past: it is also about not being able to be fully present in the now, and a big part of that is a real disconnection with what survivors are feeling. There are good reasons for that disconnect of course—being able to detach the mind from what is happening to the body is a way in which survivors can go on after an assault. The issue is that break needs to be repaired. Once this happens, then sex with a loving partner who is mindful of the survivor’s needs and desires (whatever they may be) can even become a therapeutic experience, but one must build up to that experience.

What are some potentially harmful portrayals of sexual assault survivors in romance?

  • Setting them up to fail.

I can think of a couple of books where a character not only suffers trauma as an adult, but they’ve already survived pretty horrific trauma as: child sexual or physical abuse from a parent, or chronic neglect). Don’t pile on traumatic incidents when constructing trauma histories for characters. Giving a character a painful and complex history that is never addressed appropriately or might just disappear with love or romance is problematic. For example if you have a character who is brutally physically assaulted, that person may have lasting, possibly permanent injuries, from chronic pain to a traumatic brain injury. These are things that need to be addressed honestly and thoroughly in the story, because love does not make that go away.

That sort of history can make it very hard for a person to connect to others, or even feel emotionally safe enough to fall in love, not to mention any lasting health issues or physical injuries resulting from these events. I am by no means saying that people who have these histories can’t have fulfilling lives—they can and they do. I see it every single day. But they need the tools and resources to help along the way. This is what we call protective factors.

There are emotional, social and physical resources that can be used to build up a character’s happy ending. Let’s show supportive and informed partners and communities committed to lifting up their loved one as they work on their healing. Show characters actively seeking professional help (such as a therapist, a yoga practice, mindfulness, support group, exercise/purposeful movement, etc.), and other sources of comfort that are personal and satisfying outside the love interest (like a creative outlet, a beloved pet, a craft, a hobby like gardening, spirituality, prayer, being in nature, etc.). There is also the consideration of financial resources, stable housing, and if there are children, some support in helping them heal from their own trauma.

  • Unkind representations.

Something I take a lot of issue with is the rendition of the trauma survivor as the “irrational basket case” who is saved from themselves by the love interest. While it is true that trauma can sometimes result in survivors behaving in ways that seem incomprehensible, and even objectionable at times, we must maintain a compassionate gaze. Behaviors that seem maladaptive or negative now could have been what kept them alive in the past. Please be kind with your characters and honor the ways in which they coped.

PTSD, Anxiety, Depression and Dissociative disorders are NOT plot devices. Mental illness that arises from surviving trauma is not something to be used lightly. They are real diagnoses and they are not something that can just go away. For many people it is something they live with forever. So let’s show that. Let’s show protagonists living full lives with their mental illnesses, and not gloss over it as if they are something to be ashamed of.

Conclusion

The romance genre can be a space where we can do real and meaningful work around removing the stigma of mental illness, and of taking the care to normalize and properly render what it is like to live with trauma.

Let’s show protagonists who understand their diagnoses, who, despite setbacks, continue to strive for the lives they believe they deserve. Let’s not shy away from showing their struggle and their resilience. Survivors work long and hard for their happy endings and as the creators of stories that look to celebrate love, we should give our characters all the credit they deserve.

Advertisement Opportunities for May!

Apr. 17th, 2019 06:00 am
[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by SB Sarah

The Ladies, including the newest lady of color, who has a blue polka dot dress and glasses If you have a new book, a boxed set, a new business, a discount, or a fabulous opportunity to work with you to promote, or you want to tell everyone how awesome your new shoes are (and they are indeed) I hope you’ll consider enquiring about our advertisement availability.

We have spaces available for May in all price points. If you want to promote the heck out of something, we can help you out. The site survives in part because of advertisements from and for this community, so thank you in advance for your support!

What’s open? Glad you asked!

Among the options we have for May:

  • Weeklong premium placement (that’s the top of the ad column) starting at $300. 
  • Placement in the Books on Sale newsletter and roundup page
  • Desktop and mobile advertisement for week-long and month-long bookings starting at $80
  • For-every-budget spots that start at $50.

Email me with your budget target and I can craft you a proposal. 

Why advertise with us?

Well, if you’re here already, you know that you and many thousands of other like-minded, romance-reading and things-knowing people hang out here daily.

When you book with us, you’re dealing with me personally (hi!). I manage the ad server and have deliberately worked to ensure that the ads presented to the community here are of interest to the community here.

And if you want some nifty stats that correspond with our availability as listed above:

  • Our podcast just crossed 1.6mm (that’s million, holy smokes) downloads
  • Our traffic increases month to month
  • The site page views top 430,000 each calendar month
  • Visitors spend at least three minutes, often more, on average – y’all like hanging out (And I’m so glad you’re here!)

Advertising support keeps the site going. It’s that simple.

What are the most popular options?

One of the most popular options is the $50 space. If you’re looking for advertisement options and promotional opportunities on a budget, the $50 For Every Budget Space might be an ideal fit for you.

The For Every Budget Ads display on long pages, such as:

How do I reserve an ad? 

You can email me to enquire at sarahATsmartbitchestrashybooksDOTTcom, or you can use this handy form to submit your For Every Budget ad and payment.

Again, if you’ve got something you would like to promote, email me. I’m happy to work with your budget, and, as I said, you deal with me personally when you do business with the site.

As always, thanks for being here and for being part of Smart Bitches.

Cheers!

Sunset, 4/16/19

Apr. 17th, 2019 12:18 am
[syndicated profile] whateverjohnonly_feed

Posted by John Scalzi

Enjoy it because it’s the last one I’ll probably post for a bit — I’m traveling for a couple of weeks to places where buildings get in the way of sunsets. But this is a pretty one at least. It should hold you.

HaBO: The Footballer’s Virgin Wife

Apr. 16th, 2019 06:00 pm
[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by Amanda

This second HaBO is also from Tanvee, who is searching for something more contemporary:

The second book is a contemporary sports romance – titled something like the footballer’s virgin wife?

Essentially a footballer married his coach’s daughter at 18 and then they separated almost immediately due to misunderstandings created partly by the coach I think. The book opens a few years after that, when the hero returns to the same town where his estranged wife lives and they coincidentally end up in the same house wearing very few clothes (yay for proximity?).

For some reason have to end up pretending like they are no longer estranged for maybe publicity purposes? And then basically they have to share a house and there are many misunderstandings and sexytimes and then they finally end up together.

This is also part of a series and one of the books is maybe about the hero’s sister and another teammate/current coach?

Catnip check: small town, forced proximity, second chances!

[syndicated profile] captainawkward_feed

Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain Awkward!

I came out to my parents about 3 years ago, when I was still living with them before moving abroad to start my PhD. They were horrible – and it made the next 6 months of my stay a traumatizing experience, to say the least. I think you could describe my parents as controlling, and when I came out there was a lot of ‘we HATE all the career choices you’ve made, but we had the goodness to tolerate them, and now this!’ Anyway. Moved out, moved countries, got a fuckload of therapy, and started the process of healing.

I told my mother (via a text) that I was moving in with my girlfriend and she freaked out. She is “devastated”, and my father, with whom I have not had an actual conversation since my coming out (made summer visits home real fun, if you can believe it), is “furious, and wants to disown you”. I… am not sure how to cope with this? The worst part is that I have a ticket home to visit them for nearly a month, in three weeks. Captain, I’m not sure I want to visit them (for three whole weeks!) after this terrific display of parenting. At the same time, I’m pretty sure that not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them. So the options are to either stay away for my own peace of mind and be a bad daughter, possibly irrevocably so, or to grit my teeth and spend 3 weeks at home enduring silent disapproval at best and emotionally abusive confrontations at worst.

Like I said, I don’t have a relationship with my father. My mother is the one I speak to on the phone and text with. I told her “I’m sad and disappointed that you feel this way about my moving in with my girlfriend. I don’t feel safe coming back to visit you, and I don’t think you’d feel comfortable either.” She replied and the preview contains another allusion to my disappointing career (for the record, worked at a non-profit, doing a PhD now, only a failure insofar as “not earning hundreds of thousands as a corporate lawyer” is a failure) and… I haven’t seen the rest of it because I get avoidant when I’m anxious. Do you have any scripts for like… how to respond and how to navigate what may potentially be a long, torturous process of becoming (formally) (even more) estranged from my parents?

Best,
Bad Kid

P.S. My pronouns are she/her!

P.S. Just wanted to give a heads-up that you’re almost definitely going to recommend therapy, which I know is a big part of the answer! The most recent therapist I had didn’t really work for me, and since I’m moving in 2 weeks, I might not have a huge amount of time / resources to devote to finding a new therapist.

Dear Pretty Great Kid,

I confess, I want to embroider a sampler for all of the homophobic and transphobic parents in the world. It will say “Kindly get in the fucking sea.”

How fucking dare they.

How dare they talk about “disowning” you as if “owning” you was something they get to do in the first place.

How dare they act as if there is a mold fitted with the exact specifications for “daughter” that you were supposed to climb into so you could have the inconvenient parts of yourself, the parts called “gay” and “made a slightly different career choice than they hoped for” sheared off, how dare they act as if that is the price of being loved and being part of your family.

How dare they treat their love for you like an audition that you have to pass. How dare they act like you are in danger of failing it.

How dare they respond to your good news, the news that you are in love and happy, with disapproval and threats.

Can your parents possibly, possibly, possibly be more disappointed in you, I wonder, than I am disappointed in them at this moment? (No)

What a poisonous, empty love they offer you if these are its terms.

Let’s talk about this proposed trip. I hope I’m reaching you in time to cancel it.

I think your text to your mom about the trip was perfectly stated: “I’m sad and disappointed that you feel this way about my moving in with my girlfriend. I don’t feel safe coming back to visit you, and I don’t think you’d feel comfortable either.” You were honest, clear, and specific, you shared your feelings and acknowledged hers without taking those on as your problem.

Let’s talk about your understanding of the dilemma the trip creates. You write:  “I’m pretty sure that not visiting them will be taken as this huge display of disrespect and an indication that I *want* to be estranged from them. So the options are to either stay away for my own peace of mind and be a bad daughter, possibly irrevocably so, or to grit my teeth and spend 3 weeks at home enduring silent disapproval at best and emotionally abusive confrontations at worst.”

You’re not wrong, that is exactly the dilemma that your parents are setting up for you: “Either return home as scheduled and submit to our abuse and grovel for our approval, or know that if we write you off forever we get to blame it on your latest failure to perform filial piety and tell ourselves it’s what you wanted all along.” 

You’re not wrong but also: It’s a trap. Accepting this dilemma at face value means accepting that you are at fault somehow for [checks notes] being an adult human who is happily in love with another human, pursuing graduate studies at the highest level of your chosen field, and not presenting yourself as scheduled so that your parents can download all their fears and bigotries in person instead of from a safe (distant) distance.

Listen, there’s nothing quite like flying a very long way at your own expense to visit people who think they get to be mean to you about who you are, while the knot of dread in your stomach rises until it’s a whole elaborate braided dreadloaf that fills your torso the entire trip because you know something terrible is going to happen but you don’t know exactly when or what. Will it start on the ride from the airport, when you’re trapped alone in a car and there’s plenty of time for the person to unload all their stored disappointments on you without witnesses? Or will everyone be nice for a few days and lull you into the idea that this time it’s going to be okay, maybe they are changing, maybe you can survive it, and then, SLAM, there it is, the vitriol and deep disappointment that they’ve been saving up for you all this time? Or will it wait until the last day of the visit, the way people in a long-distance romances  pick the fights they’ve been saving up all weekend to make the parting easier? Once I stood (Unless we’re in the car I’m almost always standing when it happens, the other person is seated comfortably and I’m standing there in attendance like a messenger who just ran in with important news for the King and can’t sit or leave until the Royal Decree is handed down) while a relative unloaded their saved disappointment on me only this time I spaced out completely, just looked out the window and didn’t really listen to the words (there was nothing new, I’d wager) and when asked What I Had To Say For Myself I said “Hmmmm, interesting, and you’re always wondering why I don’t visit more often” and they were sincerely and honestly shocked. And like, WOUNDED. How could I say THAT? How could I imply that how they treated me whenever I visited might have anything to do with how often I would want to visit in the future? And then I watched them, I watched them do it in real time, I watched them make me The Bad Guy in the story, the mean, ungrateful child who threatened them with estrangement when they were just trying to help me stop being such a loser. Because that’s what Love looked like to them, me standing still while they (metaphorically speaking by my 30s, at least, thanks for small favors) licked their hand and aggressively smoothed my hair down to make me more presentable for [church][representing their class and parenting aspirations to an invisible but highly critical audience][who the fuck even knows].

You don’t have to do it. You don’t have to go. If you stay home with your girlfriend and the family rift widens (the rift that is already definitely here) after that, your parents might try to sell you and the rest of your family the story that it was you who caused the rift and that you can fix it any time you want to [by climbing into the Daughter-Mold-O-Rama][by taking your medicine i.e. their verbal abuse and neglect][a series of impossible fairy-tale tasks like spinning straw into gold that are never meant to be completed, they exist only to place you into a state of permanent failure and pre-emptive apology]. Somebody who tells you that their love for you can only be found if you travel east of the sun and west of the moon isn’t planning on you making a successful quest.

If you submit to your parents’ terms, if you decide what the hell, you’ll peel off your beautiful selkie-skin and hide it under a rock or trade your voice to the Sea Witch so that you can stealthily pass for what your family defines as human for a couple of weeks — and a lot of people do submit, under threat of escalating violence, out the very real fear that being ‘disowned’ means homelessness, worrying that that “rebellion” means being ostracized from any and all family connections, or because disability, inadequate safety nets, and/or legal discrimination against queer people force a choice between abusive care-taking and no care-taking at all, or even because you still love your parents so much and you need a temporary break from being the Lost Lamb of the family and want to feel like the Prodigal One for a minute, please know: If you’re out there reading this from inside the un-safety of the Mold-O-Rama because all the other options are even less safe, I see you, friend and I need you to know that your choice to try to preserve an unfair and difficult relationship doesn’t make them right about you.

If you decide to take the trip after all, Letter Writer, please think hard about your own comfort and safety. Can you stay with Not Your Parents (siblings, friends, other relatives, a hotel)? Can you make sure you have your own local transport so you can leave situations whenever you want to? Can you cut the parent-part of the visit short and spend most of the time visiting friendlier faces? Can you recruit local “buffers” (old friends, supportive siblings, extended family, etc.) to help you be alone with your parents less than usual, possibly not at all? Do you need [noise-cancelling headphones][pharmaceutical assistance][a code word to text to a safe nearby person which means “extract me immediately”]? All I ask, as you build this logistical moat and human chain of protective kindness and the expenses and inconveniences start to total up, can you do me a favor and at least think about chucking the whole thing and running off somewhere relaxing with your wonderful girlfriend or a stack of books you’ve been meaning to read or literally a potato with googly eyes on it (the potato, unlike your parents, is guaranteed not to be mean to you).

You don’t have to go. If you go, you don’t have to accept being mistreated as a condition of belonging to your family. If they are mean to you, you get to leave. If relations deteriorate even further, you are not to blame, additionally, please know that making the other choice would not have fixed it.

As for the long run, I don’t know what your parents will do. I can’t promise you it will get better than it is right now, though I can tell you a true story about how, in my middle age, I’ve stopped standing for Why Are You So Disappointing? oral exams and I’ve mostly stopped being subjected to them. I’ve written about that long, messy process a lot here, both directly and indirectly, probably this is the best distillation of it.

As a cisgender woman whose career failures and your-body-is-the-wrong-size disappointments were stacked so deep that I never even bothered pulling out the one marked “lazy, occasional bisexuality with a hetero-romantic curse” where my family could see it,  I’m not going to pretend that my struggles have ever been on par with people navigating the kind of parental disappointment that is backed up on an institutional level by churches and governments, but I think that some of the emotional territory is at least recognizable. Here are some of the lessons I try to pass on in case they are useful to someone else navigating the possibility of family estrangement or redrawing of boundaries:

Your parents have choices about how they treat you. If they choose to lead with disappointment, criticism, bigotry, and threats, if they demand unconditional love from you but make their love conditional on your achievements and conformity to their idea of you (at the expense of the wonderful, kind, loving, thoughtful, actual, living, breathing child they are lucky enough to have had accidentally wash up in their family and were lucky enough to have the care and feeding of), that’s their mistake and their loss. You can’t “fail” at being yourself.

Estrangement is painful but it can be a great equalizer. Sometimes staying away for a good long while and severely limiting the Permanently Disappointed Parent’s access to you is the only language they understand and respond to, because it’s the one thing that reshapes the balance of power. “I can live with your disappointment if I have to, but I won’t subject myself to your mistreatment anymore.” Does “You can’t fire me, I already quit” feel childish, and selfish, and like you deeply wish you could be a bigger person than this, and all the yucky things your parents will accuse you of being if you were to say those words out loud? HELL YEAH. I mean, you’re only going against everything your family and culture have ever taught you was the Most Important Thing, Ever, what do you want, a parade? Lots of people who don’t know your life will try to tell you that you are making a mistake and that you just need to try harder. When that happens, come find me, I’ll throw you your parade, the one called “Holding onto yourself in the face of a mean family is difficult and brave work, well done.” We have glitter, and floats, and EXCELLENT costumes. ❤

It might get *better* without ever getting *fixed.* “Do you want peace or do you want justice?” is a question I often ask, when reading letters here, when navigating my own complicated situations. What is it worth it to me to excavate the past right now and receive answers for what happened there (answers that might never satisfy me because the person does not have the self-awareness or the capacity to process what really happened) vs. what is it worth to me to leave the past alone in order to have the most peaceful possible interaction in the present (Is it possible to create a history of positive interactions moving forward and push the negative ones further back?) Therapy (which I agree is useful but not something that can be implemented swiftly or is the most important thing right now, dear Letter Writer) has one of the places to sort this out, to sift through the pile of what I need vs. what I am owed vs. what can I reasonably expect vs. what can I safely live with, to grieve for the missing pieces and start to learn to show the kindness and acceptance for myself that all human beings crave and deserve.

Your family is not a monolith and your parents do not have the only say in your belonging there. Do some families absolutely enable their worst members, band together against uncomfortable truths, and punish anyone, including victims of abuse, who threaten the status quo aka their extremely fragile but necessary belief that We Are All Completely Normal And Okay And Nobody (Especially Me) Did Anything Wrong Here, Why Are You Insisting On Ruining Everything By Bringing Up Ancient History (Like A Glaring History Of Sexual Abuse) Or Inconveniently Recent Nazi Leanings?  Yes. Unfortunately yes. All the fucking time. Disappointingly, yes. I’m never gonna tell people that real and depressing risks around this don’t exist, but I’m also not going say that your only path is to give up and let the worst person in your family define all the terms of it, forever, like the final boss in a video game that you have to defeat before there’s a seat for you at the holiday table.

To counter this narrative specifically, I would advise people to not let the meanest people in your family get away with the idea that they speak for everyone and that their personal disappointment in you is a matter of settled group consensus. If a family member tells you “Plus, everyone agrees with me that gay people are icky ” I’d be pretty quick to ask, “Well, who is this Everyone and can I talk to them directly about that? If that’s how they feel they can say it to my face, otherwise I’m not going to assume that everyone is as hateful and shriveled as you, how odd, why would I insult them that way.” You don’t have to follow through with a “Do you think I have the right to exist y/n” investigation with the relatives, mind you, just stop and think before you accept that someone who is acting like they hate you is a) the boss of what you are supposed to be like or b) the sole gatekeeper to where you get to belong. (“Self-appointed truth-tellers who only say mean stuff” make up a large amount of my true enemies on this planet, please shelter here in my grudge-shack a moment while we discuss how deeply awful they are.)

“‘Forever’ is a long time, Sally.” That’s a quote from Mr. Awkward’s intensely quotable Grandpa, who I never had the pleasure of meeting, who, upon hearing of a grandchild’s possibly premature engagement said something like, “Forever is a long time, Sally and I was married* to your Grandma…forever.”  (*extremely lovingly married but definitely not always smoothly married from what I gather).

When I think about how “forever is a long time,” one thing I mean is that family situations where people are considering estrangement didn’t get that way overnight and they won’t heal overnight, either. For some people there is safety and power in the idea of permanence, the words “Fuck off and die, I am done with you forever,” and the giddy freedom that comes when you decide once and for all that you’ll stop trying to engage with someone who hurts you. If that’s what you need, and you need someone to be on your side about that, again, come find me, your parade is waiting. There are some parents who do some seriously unforgivable shit to their children in this world, and nobody ever wants to acknowledge that, but nobody else had to live through what you did, either, which means nobody else is the boss of what you should be made to put up with in the name of making everyone who is not you feel okay about what parenting should be like. Hard pass.

For me, when things were strained but not unforgivably so, I got considerable safety from knowing that permanent estrangement was an option but also in knowing that I didn’t want to go there if it was humanly possible to avoid it, and that as long as I could stand it I would try to choose another way, and the best gift I could give myself and everyone in the story was “more time.” To be clear, this was my path, I ask it and expect it or advise it for nobody else, I never think anyone is obligated to keep trying or exhaust all alternatives before they give up on something that is not working. While I traveled this path, the idea of “forever being a long time” has helped me resist ultimatums, especially the whole “what if the person DIES and you never MADE PEACE” narrative the fixers of the world are so invested in you adopting (“Idk, what if someone who is mean to me does die and they never ever made the choice to knock it the fuck off, apologize, and make amends while they were alive, yeah that would be pretty sad! Here lies an asshole who never missed a chance to double down, RIP!”) but also smaller ultimatums. It’s helped some of the “Is this the hill I want to die on?” peaks shrink into manageable little bumps and provided helpful reminders that I can make decisions to keep myself safe and intact on a case-by-case, visit-by-visit, call-by-call basis, I don’t have to stay endlessly open or close all the doors right now on the basis of “forever.” It might be like this forever, it might not be, if I give people another chance to act right that’s a gift I’m giving them, if I withhold that gift temporarily to regroup, the way we got here doesn’t automatically become All My Fault.

In closing:

There is no universe where you are the disappointing one and your homophobic (& otherwise abusive) parents call the shots of what it is possible or desirable for you to be. You are good. If you doubt that, I’m here, we’re here, this community is here, we’ve got your back, we’ve got the glitter bombs and the rainbows and the fierce unstoppable dancing and the quiet (consensual, possibly telepathic) hugs and affirmations, we’ve got your parade right here, you could not possibly un-deserve the love we have for you in a million years.

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Doe, Jordi Perez, & More

Apr. 16th, 2019 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

The Marriage Contract

RECOMMENDED: The Marriage Contract by Katee Robert is 99c! This is an arranged marriage plot in a modern setting and Elyse is addicted to this series. The book does deal with characters in the mob, which I know is a big off-button for some readers, so FYI. Elyse’s reviewed this one and she gave it an A:

If you had told me that I’d really love a book about the children of two Boston mob bosses being in an arranged marriage, I’d have raised a skeptical eyebrow. But I’m so so glad that The Marriage Contract proved me wrong because I enjoyed it immensely.

Teague O’Malley hates pretty much everything associated with his family’s name. And when his father orders him to marry Callista Sheridan to create a “business” alliance, Teague’s ready to tell his dad exactly where he can stuff his millions. But then Teague actually meets his new fiancée, sees the bruises on her neck and the fight still left in her big blue eyes, and vows he will do everything in his power to protect her.

Everyone knows the O’Malleys have a dangerous reputation. But Callie wasn’t aware just what that meant until she saw Teague, the embodiment of lethal grace and coiled power. His slightest touch sizzles through her. But the closer they get, the more trouble they’re in. Because Callie’s keeping a dark secret-and what Teague doesn’t know could get him killed.

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The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles)

RECOMMENDED: The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding is $1.99! Carrie reviewed this one earlier this year and gave it a B+:

The Summer of Jodi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) is a body-positive f/f contemporary romance/rom-com set in L.A. This book is a light, fast read with plenty of humor, and with an angst level that is appropriate but never too heavy or whiny.

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby’s been happy to focus on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a great internship at her favorite boutique, she’s thrilled to take the first step toward her dream career. Then she falls for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Hard. And now she’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win the coveted paid job at the end of the internship.

But really, nothing this summer is going as planned. She’s also unwittingly become friends with Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro-type who wants her help finding the best burger in L.A.; she’s struggling to prove to her mother—the city’s celebrity health nut—that she’s perfectly content with who she is; and she’s desperately trying to remain behind the scenes and off-camera where she feels she belongs, when she hangs out with Jordi, who documents her entire life in photographs.

Though crazy, summer’s been fun, and just as Abby starts to feel like she’s no longer the sidekick in her own life anymore, Jordi’s photography surprisingly puts her in the spotlight for the first time, and it feels more like a betrayal rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?

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Jane Doe

RECOMMENDEDJane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone is still available for $1.99 at Amazon! Elyse and Sarah jointly review the book today and gave it a B+. They thought it was an empowering book, but felt the ending was a bit rushed. Please be warned that this book deals with all forms of abuse and abuse against a child. I’ve also heard other readers recommend the audiobook.

A double life with a single purpose: revenge.

Jane’s days at a Midwest insurance company are perfectly ordinary. She blends in well, unremarkably pretty in her floral-print dresses and extra efficient at her low-level job. She’s just the kind of woman middle manager Steven Hepsworth likes—meek, insecure, and willing to defer to a man. No one has any idea who Jane really is. Least of all Steven.

But plain Jane is hiding something. And Steven’s bringing out the worst in her.

Nothing can distract Jane from going straight for his heart: allowing herself to be seduced into Steven’s bed, to insinuate herself into his career and his family, and to expose all his dirty secrets. It’s time for Jane to dig out everything that matters to Steven. So she can take it all away.

Just as he did to her.

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Misadventures with a Book Boyfriend

Misadventures with a Book Boyfriend by Victoria Blue is $2.99 at Amazon! This book released in March and is part of the Misadventures series, which are shorter, standalone romances from a variety of authors. I’m very curious how this book manages to handle all the bonkers plot description in around 200 pages.

A washed-up model at the age of 27, Oliver Connely has gone from being a household name to barely making the rent. It’s time to think fast—and cash in big—with a can’t-miss idea inspired by the passion he sees in a handful of romance novel fans. Book Boyfriend Incorporated is born.

Can’t. Miss.

Right?

Except for the unexpected glitches Oliver’s business plan doesn’t cover—like falling for one of his “lonely lady” clients, Bailey Hardin, a politician’s wife who’s as smart and loyal as she is beautiful and sexy. Their chemistry, instant and scorching, is already a problem—but when Bailey’s husband turns up dead, the pair quickly learns they’re facing more than a simple PR nightmare.

The mess intensifies when Oliver’s best friend decides to put a bid in for the freshly vacated city manager position, ensuring Oliver is now caught between his longtime best friend and his new ladylove. The clock is ticking, and the political scandal is growing. Tough decisions must be made—especially because, for the first time in Oliver’s life, matters of his heart are on the line.

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HaBO: Widows Make a Sex Pact

Apr. 16th, 2019 02:00 pm
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Posted by Amanda

This HaBO is from Tanvee, and this is part one of her two-book HaBO request:

The first one I’m looking for is a historical romance that I read a few years ago – it’s part of a series of books about a group of widows, who make a pact to have sex with someone in a specified period of time.

The widow in question in this book lives next door to her deceased husband’s best friend (his name could be Adam?). She goes to a house party and gives signals to some other man to sleep with her, but Adam (who is helping her with a list of potential lovers) goes into her room instead and they have sex but she still thinks it’s that other guy. Long story short, they both love each other and end up together at the end.

Tell me more about these widows!

The Big Idea: Ashok K. Banker

Apr. 16th, 2019 01:45 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

For this Big Idea, Ashok K. Banker writes an epistolary essay to someone who is not me, about his new novel, Upon a Burning Throne. Who is the recipient of this letter, and why is sent to them? Read on.

ASHOK K. BANKER:

Hey there, Effie.

We’ve known each other a while, you and I.

That’s why I get to call you Effie. I know you don’t let anyone else call you that. It’s our special thing.

The folks reading this are wondering what I’m on about. Who the eff is Effie, they want to know.

John, whose blog this piece is appearing on, also wants to know What’s the Big Idea.

I’m getting there.

First, let me introduce y’all to someone who needs no introduction.

Epic Fantasy.

EF, in short.

But she’ll always be Effie, to me.

Effie and I have been close for a very long time.

In a sense, she was my first love.

I first discovered her in an encyclopedia called The Book of Knowledge. It was this set of oversized hardcover volumes bound in midnight blue cloth. In the articles on Mythology, I first came across the world of fantastic beings, demi-gods, legendary heroes, amazing quests, epic battles, incredible worlds.

Sure, it was called Mythology.

But even back then, I saw it for what it really was.

Epic Fantasy.

I devoured all those articles over and over. I tried tracing out the wonderful illustrations (mostly classic paintings reproduced) and coloring them so I could pin them over my bed. I was really young at this point, so young I don’t even want to admit how young I was, and reading those articles in that encyclopedia also made me aware of how easy and enjoyable this thing called reading could be. So much so, that it got me hooked to reading way above my age level, a practice that continued throughout my childhood and adolescent years. So in a sense, Effie was the one who got me hooked on reading for life.

Soon, I graduated to entire books about mythology, myths, fables, fairy tales, and inevitably, science fiction and fantasy.

You have to remember that back then, Epic Fantasy as a publishing label didn’t really exist.

Back then, people like Isaac Asimov were still arguing that all imaginative fiction was really fantasy, a view which (as I recall) didn’t go down well with many die-hard conservationists of “hard” science fiction. Tolkien was only just starting to be rediscovered by a whole new generation of readers in America. And most epic fantasy books tended to be really short standalone paperback novels a couple hundred pages long at most. They were put out by the same imprints that published SF and there was often an apologetic air about them, almost as if the publishers and editors were saying “Hey, here’s a side order of fantasy to go with your SF. Now, let’s get back to talking about our main course, Science Fiction, the big granddaddy of all genre.”

But I could always recognize you, Effie, even when they covered you up like a nun with a bad habit.

You went by many names, like a secret agent donning multiple disguises for a variety of undercover missions.

You were Mythology. You were Legend. You were Science Fiction. You were Adventure. You were Historical. You were Superhero. You were Speculative.

And always, you were Epic and Fantastic.

Effie, forever.

As time went by and Tolkien became a rage in America, setting off a feeding frenzy among readers, publishers, authors, all hungry for “more of the same but different”.

A rumbling army of writers went to work. Reprocessing Tolkien but with more American-friendly prose and dialogue. Reworking the tropes but tweaking them just enough to make them their own, but also undeniably more…American.

The Americanization of Effie began, even as people acknowledged that Effie herself existed.

The gatekeepers processed you through the Ellis Island of US Publishing and turned you into an Apple Pie version of yourself.

A lot of terrific books came out of it.

Some better than others, some truly awesome, others…not so much.

Always readable, occasionally brilliant, but always… American.

Even when there were orcs and trollocs, goblins and elves, stone castles on high mountains, sieges and battles, great roaring armies of the undead, dark lords and white knights, somehow it all read like it had been processed through a machine that marked everything with a “Made in USA” tattoo.

American hero in a strange land. Fantastical worlds that looked different at a glance, but were really just American versions of what were supposed look to like “other” worlds.

Gone were the inscrutable mysteries of cultures and minds that were so far removed from our own present day that they were truly different.

Gone was the magic of bygone eras that had never existed and probably never would.

Gone was the sense of wonder that came from discovering fantastical worlds perceived through genuinely alien eyes.

In their place were now the familiar characters, personalities, ways of talking, acting, responding, behaving, as any of the equally familiar puppets that moved their lips and hips in American TV shows and movies.

Everything was “relatable”.

The fascination of the unknown, the shock of the unseen, the delight of the never-before-experienced was gone.

Replaced overnight by doppelganger tropes that simulated the original ones but were really just super chain franchise product.

They pretty much effed you up, Effie.

Turned you into something that went against the very grain of what you were.

Even at its most diverse, its most inclusive, its most genre-bending, globalizing, all-embracing best, American Epic Fantasy was now painfully…American.

So here’s my Big Idea.

(Yeah, finally.)

I took this epic poem called the Mahabharata, composed in Sanskrit some thousands of years ago. Some say, it’s the oldest story ever written. Whether or not that’s true, it’s certainly the biggest, and the most audacious, ambitious, mother of stories you’ve ever read. It’s truly a mothership of Epic Fantasy. Every genre, every trope, every plot, every character, every twist, every scene you could possibly think of, is in there, and then some.

There’s a line in the Mahabharata itself about itself – yes, this is an epic that spends a lot of time talking about itself, the ultimate self-aware sentient story cycle – that says “Everything you seek is here. What is not here, is nowhere else.” After decades poring over it time and again, I can pretty much confirm that with two thumbs up.

But I didn’t just take this epic and Effie it up.

No, sir.

I set out to write an original Effie that would not reference anything, anyone, or be in any way, American.

A genuinely “other” Epic Fantasy.

The result, Effie, is my love song to you.

It’s called the Burnt Empire Saga.

Like the title, it’s just a tad bitter at first taste, because, well, it’s not the usual fare served in America.

It’s spicy, as in, real Indian spicy – not the stuff that they serve up in (the wonderful) Indian restaurants here in the USA – the kind of Indian spicy that has sweat pouring down your face and all your mucus membranes (and I do mean, all) on fire for several hours, but is goddamn awesome. It sets your hair on fire and you will never again be able to settle for sugar-laced American chain food once you acquire a taste for it.

The first book is called Upon a Burning Throne.

It sets bookstores on fire on April 16, 2019.

And just to prove how un-American it is, Effie, let me give the readers of this piece a teensy-weensy example.

The main protagonist of the entire series only appears very briefly in this first book.

And she’s just a baby in that one chapter.

Her story actually begins in Book 2, A Dark Queen Rises, which comes out next year.

Because this is not an American Epic Fantasy.

It’s not even an Indian Epic Fantasy.

Sure, it’s inspired by Indian mythology, and the DNA of the Mahabharata is all over it.

But that’s like saying I’m Irish because my grandmother was Irish. (True.)

Or that I’m Portuguese because my grandfather was Portuguese. (Ditto.)

Or that I’m Sri Lankan. (Ditto.) Or Indian. (Ditto.)

I’m all those things and then some.

And the Burnt Empire Saga is a lot of things too.

But one thing it’s not is American.

Check it out if you want to see what that’s like.

As for me, I’m happy to take back Effie to her roots.

The unknowable, inscrutable, not-quite-human-yet-intensely-humanistic mythopoetic mystery realm of the forgotten, the never-was, and never-will-be.

That’s where you belong, Effie.

That’s my tribute to you.

Accept this offering with all my love and humility, Effie.

It’s yours now.

—-

Upon a Burning Throne: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt (scroll to the “excerpt” button). Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

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Posted by Carrie S

B+

An Enchantment of Ravens

by Margaret Rogerson
September 26, 2017 · Margaret K. McElderry Books
Nonfiction

One of our readers pointed me towards An Enchantment of Ravens. In this book, a human painter uses the power of human creativity to save her Fey lover (who can shapeshift into a horse or a raven) and fight the Alder King.

With art.

Dear Bitches, it’s like you know me.

The heroine, Isobel, lives in the town of Whimsy, where it is always summer and the Fair folk come into town to trade for Craft. Only humans can create a new thing (as opposed to an illusion, which the Fey can create) and this skill is known as Craft. Baking, cooking, sewing, and writing are examples of Craft.

Isobel, a painter, paints portraits of Fair Folk in exchange for very, very carefully worded enchantment. For example: “Each of [her hens] will lay six good eggs per week for the rest of their lives, and they must not die early for any reason.” The Fey delight in twisting wishes into things that cause suffering for the wisher, so caution is vital.

Isobel’s life becomes more complicated when Rook, the autumn prince, comes to sit for a portrait. When Rook’s portrait reveals an expression of human sorrow in his eyes, the other Fair Folk see him as weak. He kidnaps Isobel with the intent of taking her to court for her crime (The Fair Folk seem capable of inventing new crimes on the spot) but they become targets of the Wild Hunt and become allies instead of captor and prisoner. Naturally they also begin to fall in love, but to fall in love would be to break the Good Law, which is, of course, the law that forbids love between a Fair Folk and a human, and is punishable by death. If that sounds confusing, it boils down to: everybody wants Isobel and Rook to die and they must not fall in love so of course they do, and there’s a lot of Fairy politics and violence about it.

Technically, this book is a fantasy, not a romance novel, but romance is so centric to the story that it works fine as a fantasy romance. Readers should be warned that this is a story in which a woman does a ridiculously huge amount of emotional labor on behalf of a man who is both semi-immortal and very immature. In the fairy tale context of this book, I didn’t mind this. It’s a well-established fact that the Fey make for super high maintenance romantic partners when it comes to emotional labor, and I thought this book honored the more troubling aspects of the Fey even as it developed a romance between a Fey prince and a human woman. However, I know for some of our readers the imbalance of emotional labor is a no-go, even within the subgenre context.

Because the entire story is told from Isobel’s point of view, Rook is somewhat enigmatic. However, fantasy readers will recognize his type immediately – physically perfect (because of glamour – an important development comes when Isobel gets used to his non-glamoured appearance and likes it), glamourous in both the mundane and magical sense, powerful, protective, arrogant, and romantic in the “big tortured gesture” type of way. Isobel is much more down-to-earth and notable for her caution, creativity, and pragmatism.

Where this book excels is in plot twists, which alas I cannot divulge, and atmosphere, which I can. It explores the human ability to create in more depth than I’ve seen before, but for the most part, it’s not so much that this book brings anything new to the Fairy story as that it uses classic tropes very well, mingling fabulousness (the clothes that the Fey dress Isobel in) and horror (the reveal that the garments are actually rotting and their beauty is an illusion) in the same paragraph with great skill. It’s a luscious novel in terms of visuals. Here are some observations Isobel makes about a dress she wears in the Fairy Court, which is embroidered with roses:

When I moved, the lace bodice remained stiff and fitted, but the skirt rippled around me in almost impossible swirls, shapes that reminded me of a famous painting of a maiden drowning in a lake at dusk, sinking into shadow as her dress billowed weightlessly after her…The gown’s rich scarlet accentuated my fair complexion and emphasized my dark eyes to a startling degree. I appeared less frightened than I expected. My eyes just stared, and stared, and stared, like pits swallowing up the light, out of a face as blank as the mannequin that had worn the gown before me…

…A rose petal tumbled down the step next to my feet, followed by another, barely suppressing a flinch, I looked over my shoulder to see where they were coming from. Rose petals were strewn in a path behind me all the way up the steps, scarlet against the white woven birch, but I saw no one responsible for their presence.

“The dress is enchanted,” Aster whispered, leaning in. “Petals will appear wherever you step. But they aren’t real – watch.”

A breeze blew, scattering the petals, which vanished like shadows as they stirred. The sight was captivating, and awful. My path through the masquerade would be marked like a wounded animal leaving bloodstains on the snow.

I’m torn about a grade for this book. The kind of imagery quoted above, not to mention the fact that Isobel is fantastic when it comes to cutting through crap and finding third options, is excellent stuff. On the other hand, there’s not much to this book aside from the imagery and the ever-fantastic Isabel. But while I’m rooting for those crazy kids, and while this book is a fine standalone, I’m dying to read more about them. Even after reading the novel, I can’t picture their daily lives together. At present there’s no sequel planned for this book and I feel like it could benefit from one. The world-building is sublime, the dramatic quality perfect for a book about the Fey, and Isobel is a lovely character, but just a smidge more between Isobel and Rook would have easily made this book perfection. I’d say this book is a B+ that could have used just a little more development between Isobel and Rook.

A Duke, a Duchess, & More

Apr. 15th, 2019 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

The Inheritance Trilogy

The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin is $2.99! This collection includes all three books, plus a novella. That’s almost 1500 pages for less than $3. Jemisin has won numerous awards, has been reviewed favorably on the site, and is really an amazing writing. Seriously, this is a steal.

In this omnibus edition of N.K. Jemisin’s brilliantly original award-winning fantasy series, a young woman becomes entangled in a power struggle of mythic proportions.

A REALM OF GODS AND MORTALS.

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

The Inheritance Trilogy omnibus includes the novels: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms, and The Kingdom of Gods.

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Spindle Fire

RECOMMENDED: Spindle Fire by Lexa Hillyer is $1.99! Elyse reviewed this one and gave it an A-:

I often enjoy fairy tale retellings, and with its strong romantic subplots and an emphasis on female friendships, Spindle Fire was even more delicious than I expected.

Half sisters Isabelle and Aurora are polar opposites: Isabelle is the king’s headstrong illegitimate daughter, whose sight was tithed by faeries; Aurora, beautiful and sheltered, was tithed her sense of touch and her voice on the same day. Despite their differences, the sisters have always been extremely close.

And then everything changes, with a single drop of Aurora’s blood–and a sleep so deep it cannot be broken.

As the faerie queen and her army of Vultures prepare to march, Isabelle must race to find a prince who can awaken her sister with the kiss of true love and seal their two kingdoms in an alliance against the queen.

Isabelle crosses land and sea; unearthly, thorny vines rise up the palace walls; and whispers of revolt travel in the ashes on the wind. The kingdom falls to ruin under layers of snow. Meanwhile, Aurora wakes up in a strange and enchanted world, where a mysterious hunter may be the secret to her escape . . . or the reason for her to stay.

Spindle Fire is the first book in a lush fantasy duology set in the dwindling, deliciously corrupt world of the fae and featuring two truly unforgettable heroines.

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From Duke Till Dawn

From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh is $1.99! This is the first book in The London Underground series and featured a heroine who previously had conned the hero. Many really liked the heroine and how smart and resourceful she was. However, others wished the hero and heroine had more dynamic interactions.

Eva Leigh launches a seductive new series that sizzles with the dark secrets of London’s underworld…

Years ago, the Duke of Greyland gave his heart—and a princely sum of money—to a charming, destitute widow with unparalleled beauty. After one passionate night, she slipped from his bed and vanished without a trace. And just when he’s given up hope of ever seeing her again, Greyland finds her managing a gaming hell. He’s desperate to have her… until he discovers everything about his long-lost lover was a lie.

In truth, Cassandra Blake grew up on the streets, picking pockets to survive. Greyland was a mark—to be fleeced and forgotten—but her feelings for the duke became all too real. Once he learns of her deception, however, the heat in his eyes turns to ice. When her business partner absconds with the gaming hell proceeds—leaving unsavory investors out for blood—Cassandra must beg the man she betrayed for help.

Greyland wants compensation, too, and he’ll assist her under one condition: she doesn’t leave his sight until her debts are paid. But it’s not long before the real Cassandra—the smart, streetwise criminal—is stealing his heart all over again.

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The Unexpected Duchess

The Unexpected Duchess by Valerie Bowman is $2.99! This is the first book in her Playful Brides series. In this romance, the heroine is getting in the way of the hero wooing a girl to fulfill part of a promise to a dying friend. Readers compared the book to Cyrano de Bergerac with the twist, which sounds pretty neat to me. However, others felt it was too heavy on the drama. Many of the other books in the series are $2.99!

Is there any greater surprise than falling deeply, madly in love?

In This Battle of Wits

Lady Lucy Upton’s tongue may be too sharp to attract suitors but her heart is good, and when her painfully shy friend Cassandra needs help she devises a brilliant scheme to help her discourage an unwanted suitor, the Duke of Claringdon. Lucy will hide behind the hedgerow and tell Cass just what to say to discourage the Duke of Claringdon…but it turns out that he’s made of sterner stuff than either of them anticipated. And Lucy is shocked to discover that tangling with the tenacious man is the most fun she’s had in ages.

Kisses Are the Best Weapon

Lord Derek Hunt made a promise to his dying friend to marry the demure Cassandra, and for a man who wants nothing more than peace and quiet after the horrors of war, she’ll make the perfect bride. If only the impudent Miss Upton will let him court the girl! Doing battle is the last thing on his mind, but bantering with Lucy behind the bushes is too tempting to resist. And the spoils of this war just may be true love…

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Posted by Carrie S

A-

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

by Brigid Kemmerer
January 29, 2019 · Bloomsbury YA
Science Fiction/FantasyYoung Adult

One of our keen readers suggested that I might enjoy A Curse So Dark and Lonely which is a romance-centric YA Beauty and the Beast retelling in which the heroine, a modern day teen with cerebral palsy, is transported to an alternate fairytale world and meets a Prince who periodically turns into a monster and eats everyone in sight. This keen reader thought I might like the book and the reader was not wrong. I liked it A LOT.

Harper, a seventeen-year-old young woman in modern-day Washington, D.C., is in a tough spot. Her mom is in the last stages of cancer, her dad is out of the picture, and her brother has been involved in increasingly criminal activities, hoping to get money to support the family and pay for their mother’s treatment. Harper has cerebral palsy which, following several surgeries and other treatments in childhood, causes her to limp. Harper is waiting for her brother to close a deal when she suddenly finds herself in the woods of Emberfall, a fairytale land ruled by Prince Rhen.

Prince Rhen has been cursed to live a season of his life over and over again. At the conclusion to that season (autumn) he turns into a mindless monster and devours everyone he encounters. Then the season begins again, with Rhen and his kingdom continuing to remember and experience the consequences of each consecutive autumn. Rhen can neither grow older, nor kill the enchantress who cursed him, nor kill himself (the season just reboots).

The spell can only be broken when Rhen and a woman mutually fall in love. Initially, Rhen, who was quite a player, thinks this will be easy to accomplish but as years go by and he isolates himself from his kingdom more and more, it seems increasingly impossible. Rhen’s single remaining guard, Grey, goes to Harper’s world hoping to find someone who might fall in love with the prince and ends up with Harper.

This leads to a great clash of personalities. After so many years almost completely alone, wracked with guilt for the actions he takes as a monster, Rhen has sunk into a feeling of self-pity and helplessness. Luckily for him, Harper cares about the people in his kingdom even though she initially dislikes Rhen. Also, Harper has never wallowed in self-pity in her life. So she shakes Rhen up and tries to at least improve life in his kingdom.

She also throws a knife at the Enchantress who cast the spell and says, after being wounded by said Enchantress, “Oh I’m not mad about that, I’m mad that I missed!”

So yeah, Harper’s the bomb.

I mention Harper’s cerebral palsy because it’s unusual and important (and thrilling!) representation, but it’s not a focus of the story. Part of her therapy was horseback riding, which comes in very handy in Emberfall. She’s of the opinion that she can’t dance, but Prince Rhen disagrees. Her leg gets sore and achy, and she has to push herself to her limits to do the things she needs to do. I wished there had been more discussion of her recovery time after she pushes those limits, but I also enjoyed the fact that she’s not defined by her disability. She is determined and stubborn, and I suspect that going through so much therapy and other painful treatments played a big role in developing those parts of her personality. She also has a wry sense of humor. I sure do love a snarker, and Harper give some high-quality snark.

I like it that this romance gets plenty of time to develop. It’s also lovely that Prince Rhen is, all things considered, a polite and decent person. The “Beast” refers to the literal monster he periodically becomes, and is not an allusion to his inability in human form to keep his temper. There’s a lot of honesty in the book, with both Grey and Rhen giving Harper all the answers they can within the limits of magic. Harper learns the conditions of the spell very early in the book:

“I’m not going to fall in love with you,” she says.

Her words are not a surprise. I sigh.

“You won’t be the first.”

Rhen and Harper have good chemistry, but the spell is not about lust. They slowly grow to trust each other, but that’s not enough either. It takes a long time for chemistry to transform into a partnership and then into a more easy friendship and from there into love. There’s a hint of a love triangle with Grey and Harper becoming friends much more quickly than Harper and Rhen do. Count me among many readers who prefer the Grey/Harper pairing to the Rhen/Harper pairing. Luckily the love triangle remains undeveloped and doesn’t take over the book.

I enjoyed the way this book both used and subverted Beauty and the Beast tropes. I enjoyed the plot and all the ways Rhen and Harper bluff their way out of trouble. The characters were all fun to spend time with, and Harper’s brother’s boyfriend nearly stole the book with his awesome medical school skills (I have a thing for medics!). There’s a good blend of angst and humor and worldbuilding.

I have this an  A- instead of an A because it’s pretty melodramatic (to be fair, that’s a common element in fairy tale retellings) and because I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Harper belonged with Grey from the first moment he taught her how to properly hold a dagger. Fans of Grey will be pleased to hear that he gets his own book, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, coming some time in 2020. The author has promised that Grey will have his own love interest as opposed to being in a love triangle. I look forward to it!

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Posted by Amanda

End Transmission
A | BN | K | AB
We have a very special Caption That Cover this month, sponsored by Robyn Bachar and her upcoming May 20th release, End Transmission:

Firefly meets James Bond in this action-adventure romance set in an alternate future where the Cold War never ended…

Maria Watson defied her family to join the Mombasa as Chief Engineer, finding her place among a ragtag fleet of pirates and privateers. Their latest mission left her with a price on her head and a scar on her heart. When a surprise attack separates her from her ship, stranding her in hostile space with a stolen Soviet weapon, she’ll do whatever it takes to uncover that weapon’s secrets—even sacrifice herself.

Broken by the war, Combat Medic Tomas Nyota spent years drowning his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle. Sober, he found a new purpose as the Mombasa’s Chief Medical Officer. His job is to keep the crew alive, even the brilliant but contrary Chief Engineer with whom he’s constantly at odds.

Trapped together in a stolen ship, running from both the Alliance and the Soviets, they must work together to survive. But when the weapon’s horrific purpose is uncovered, their quest becomes a race against time. They must expose the truth and destroy the weapon—before it’s too late.

Bachar’s idea for sponsoring a caption contest for her book stems from the revelation that her heroine looks like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

End Transmission by Robyn Bachar. A hero and heroine in the hallway of a spaceship. The hero is a black man in a tight black space suit. The heroine has on coveralls or a work jumpsuit. She's wearing glasses and she's holding a wrench over her shoulder.

What do you think? I can definitely see the likeness.

Here are the rules for captioning that cover:

Comment below with your caption! Caption that cover however you wish! You can come up with a new title or tagline. A winner will be randomly selected at the end of the contest!

The best captioner will receive a $10 bookstore credit to a book retailer of their choosing, courtesy of Robyn Bachar.

Standard disclaimers apply: We are not being compensated for this giveaway. Void where prohibited. Open to international residents where permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18. Remember, in space no one can hear you scream about the Green New Deal. Please launder all spacesuits in a timely manner. We don’t want to create a new strain of space mold in the locker room. Comments will close Friday April 19, 2019 around noon ET, and a winner will be announced shortly thereafter.

Best of luck!

A Contemporary Romance, Dukes, & More

Apr. 14th, 2019 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Cold-Hearted Rake

RECOMMENDED: Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas is $1.99! This is a Kindle Daily Deal and, the other deals include more romances and some historical fiction. Check them out! Elyse reviewed this one and gave it an A:

Cold-Hearted Rake has the elements that make me love Kleypas so much as a writer: female friendships, a hero who is a rake but somehow also emotionally aware, a setting that’s fully developed and not a backdrop, and scalding sexual tension.

A twist of fate…

Devon Ravenel, London’s most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl’s three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon’s own.

A clash of wills…

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she’s ever known?

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Playing the Part

Playing the Part by Robin Covington is 99c! Covington writes some rather sexy contemporaries, if that happens to be your catnip. Readers definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a hot, fun, and quick read. However, some readers didn’t warm up to the hero until the very end of the book.

A sexy category romance from Entangled’s Brazen imprint…

The harder they play…the harder they fall.

After publicly self-destructing over a heartbreak a year ago, bestselling romance writer Piper James is now making nice with her publisher by agreeing to teach Hollywood’s favorite action star how to act like he’s in love. Only playboy Mick Blackwell has no clue what love looks like.

When a seductive heat ignites between Piper and Mick, she jumps at the chance for a bit of fun between the sheets, but with two stipulations: she’s kept out of the public eye and things end when she returns to New York. Only Mick keeps changing the rules on her. Tempted by America’s favorite bad boy, Piper is wondering how far she’s willing to bend…

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How to Marry a Royal Highlander

How to Marry a Royal Highlander by Vanessa Kelly is 99c! This is part of the Renegade Royals series; you can grab all 4 books in the series for less than $8! Readers love the playful banter between the hero and heroine, and the road trip element. However, others recommend reading the previous books in the series before this one.

Illegitimate yet thoroughly irresistible, the Renegade Royals are leaving behind their careers as daring spies for the greatest adventure of all…

At sixteen, Alasdair Gilbride, heir to a Scottish earldom, fled the Highlands and an arranged betrothal. Ten years later, Alasdair must travel home to face his responsibilities. It’s a task that would be much easier without the distracting presence of the most enticing woman he’s ever met…

After one escapade too many, Eden Whitney has been snubbed by the ton. The solution: rusticating in the Scottish wilderness, miles from all temptation. Except, of course, for brawny, charming Alasdair. The man is so exasperating she’d likely kill him before they reach the border—if someone else weren’t trying to do just that. Now Eden and Alasdair are plunging into a scandalous affair with his life and her reputation at stake—and their hearts already irreparably lost…

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The Duke of Ice

The Duke of Ice by Darcy Burke is 99c! This is the seventh book in the Untouchables series and features a second chance romance. Some readers didn’t care for the hero in this one, while others recommend this one for a more emotional historical romance.

Everyone Nicholas Bateman ever loved has died. Except Violet Caulfield, which must mean he never loved her. Nine years after she threw him over to marry a viscount, Nick is a widowed duke who prefers isolation. When a friend convinces him to leave his lair of self-imposed solitude, he considers taking another wife, provided she agrees to his terms: no emotional attachment of any kind.

Now widowed, Lady Violet Pendleton hopes for a second chance with the man she’s always loved. But she isn’t prepared for the desolation in his soul or the animosity he still bears toward her. Despite those obstacles, it’s clear their passion hasn’t dimmed. However, the heat between them isn’t enough to melt the Duke of Ice, and this time Violet may find herself the jilted party. Can love, once so tragically lost, finally be found?

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Posted by Guest Reviewer

Three teenagers (a white boy, a white girl, and a black boy) are all crowded into a graffiti covered bathroom.We have a guest Stuff You Should Be Watching from Diana Kirk, who wants to talk about a new Netflix show.

Diana Kirk is the author of Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy, owner of a 92 year old bar called Workers Tavern in Oregon and a five continent world traveler. She enjoys Kozy Shack’s chocolate pudding more than ice cream and talking about girls and politics with her three teenaged boys and hubby in Oregon. She’s currently spending a much needed month in the Dominican Republic.

Sex Education Gives Me Hope

Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat. Sex Education on Netflix is totally cliched. And awesome. Every character is someone you’ve seen in another movie or TV show and yet, you haven’t seen it done quite as well as Sex Education pulls off in its first season. This thing is delicious. It’s heartwarming. And I hope it’s the real future for my own teenagers where there’s a world which can embrace teen sexuality as more than something done drunkenly at the ‘party of the year.’

So what makes this show work so well? Let’s get started with the title. Sex Education holds no punches back with an opening scene of teenaged couple Aimee and Adam having sex in a bed where he just can’t finish the deal. He seems bored and she just keeps trying all the porn moves she thinks she should say. “Do you like my tits?” He ends up faking an orgasm and she catches him. How great is the irony there? HOW GREAT! But Adam cannot finish regularly and the angst it causes in his life gives way to the title…Sex Education.

The show is mainly based around Otis, a nerdy virgin similar to 500 previous movie nerds. He can’t talk around girls, he’s trying to figure out masturbation, he rides a bike to school. Except for one main difference. Otis has a Mom, Jean, that’s a very progressive sex therapist played by Gillian Anderson. Quite frankly, she’s one of the reasons to watch. She steals her scenes with her confidence, her calm demeanor, her perfectly pressed clothing. But her open sexuality embarrasses Otis like Ben Stiller a la Meet the Fockers. Unlike Rozalin Focker, who’s portrayed as happily married perhaps because of the sex therapist hat she wears, Jean shows cracks in her revolving door of one night stands. Her open sexuality has an almost hypocritical fragility to it.

A gif of Otis and his mom sitting on the couch
But despite Otis being the geek of the century (played charmingly by Asa Butterfield) he’s learned a thing or two about sex from listening to his mother teach Yoni classes and helping couples get their hump back on. And one day in the school bathroom, he tells Adam that his problems with orgasming during sex are all in his head. Welcome to the very grown up reality of sex, Adam. With Otis’ future love interest standing nearby, the brilliant goth girl Maive, Otis fixes Adam’s sex problem kinda and it sparks the brilliant idea in Maeve’s head they should charge teenagers for sex advice. Title born. Sex Education.

Maeve suggesting sex therapy to Otis and him looking aghast.

Maeve, said love interest of Otis, is also a main character on the show. She’s the girl from the other side of the tracks, basically Watts a la Some Kind of Wonderful. The fierce goth girl rebel super reader feminist who happens to be humping on the regular the star jock of the school…. the hot AF Jackson. I’d like to pause for a moment and just say Jackson’s name again. Jackson Jackson Jackson. Holy hellhole. He’s just crazy charismatic hot and a star swimmer raised by his lesbian moms who might control too much of his life? But Jackson really likes Maeve while Maeve is too busy trying to make money to pay rent and like pay for electricity since her drug-addicted mom, absent dad, and messed up brother are all MIA. She’s alone in the world. The cliched messed up girl who thinks she cannot date the popular jock. “Because he’s good at all this stuff,” she says to her friend Aimee. Or is he?

A gif of Maeve saying complex female characters

That’s the point of this show. We’re all Freaks and Geeks. Even hot AF Jackson. Who takes anti-anxiety meds and whose beautiful lesbian moms are on their way to a divorce.

My favorite character of the show is probably also the hero, Eric. The gay friend. Eric and Otis have been lifelong BFFs and regularly ride bikes to school together. Eric wants the attention of the only other “openly” gay student Anwar. Anwar is Regina George a la Mean Girls. A plastic with his clique Ruby & Olivia: “we’re vegan this week, remember?” Eric, despite being constantly ignored by Anwar and the Mean Girls, continuously stays optimistic about his life, his style and his future.

Otis asking Eric to dance

And yet, there’s his father, worrying, not about his son being flamboyant but merely for the safety of his child. I’m so glad the writers didn’t play into the cliché of embarrassed father when Eric takes a bus to the city in a full Hedgwig blue velvet. When his father says, “if you’re going to live this lifestyle, you’ve got to be careful,” I was like yeah, BE CAREFUL. What you see is that maybe at times, Eric is somewhat naïve to other people’s fears of his lifestyle and that innocence does make you nervous. Kind of like sex and teenagers can make you nervous. Kind of like innocence can make you nervous.

What I feared on this show, ends up surprising me on this show. Which might be the brilliant point. Sex is awkward and there are sure as hell a lot of awkward sex scenes or almost sex scenes on this show, but emotions can be even more awkward. One of my favorite scenes involves a revenge porn moment. Yes, I said a revenge porn moment, created by a jealous bff, one of the “plastics.” But it’s when Maeve says to the victim, “you can’t be shamed if you don’t feel ashamed” that really got to me.

Show Spoiler
So here’s this awkward TV show moment when everyone realizes who the revenge porn victim is and instead of her sitting in her own pool of “shame,” every girl stands up and claims the photos are of her.

A gif of a girl standing up, saying you're both wrong, it's my vagina

Awkward moment averted because girl power.

But ultimately, this is really a love story. A love story amongst friends, frenemies, but mostly, it’s a love story about self acceptance, and I was totally down with it. There’s a moment in one episode where a young couple are fighting because she wants the lights off when they “do it” and he wants to see her body. Otis, during his sex education therapy session, tries to get them to speak to one another and really listen. The guy, just a normal teenaged boy eventually says, “I wish you could see what I see when I look at you.” And I was like, “Ok, I totally fell for that.”

He accepts her and the flaws she fears about her body, but she’s got to accept herself. The cliché is thick but maybe it’s because they’re just teenagers and not trying to shove it down our throats like so many adult movies about self acceptance. Sex Education and its moral works: love yourself and sex will be better. Just as Otis and his sixteen year old awkward self points out one way or the other throughout the series.

It’s hard in this day and age to invent new characters, so it’s refreshing to find all of our favorite people we loved when we were growing up mixed together in a 2019 version of teenaged life. This show is sweet. It’s kind where people haven’t been in the past, where bad things happened to the vulnerable. It’s a testament to the future that maybe young people are more understanding of who they are and compassionate to that which we were once told to fear or feel shame. It gives me hope which quite frankly, is why I watch womentainment. I need it to get through my own day. So I’m totally here for this and cannot wait for season 2.

Eric saying to Otis that it's weird because Otis is his age, but wise.

Sex Education is available on Netflix.

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Posted by SB Sarah

B

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

by Lori Gottlieb
April 2, 2019 · Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Science Fiction/FantasyYoung Adult

TW/CW: In this book there are discussions about and accounts of depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, suicidal ideation, child death, and mental illness.

I heard about this book on the Friendshipping podcast, and since I had the “Oops, Too Many Credits” problem at Audible, I bought the audiobook. Regarding the audio version, I have only a few comments. The narrator, Brittany Pressley, is solid, and because this is first person narrative memoir, the number of “character” voices she has to do are minimal. However, and this may be a quirk of my own editing experience with the podcast, sometimes I could hear the edits of the file, the way one recording session was connected to another, and the changes in tone of voice and intensity were obvious and jarring, and frustrating. It’s kind of like seeing a series of typos in a book I paid for.  I may be a bit of a weirdo outlier in noticing the audio edits, though, so your mileage may vary.

I started listening to this book right after I bought it, and binge-listened nonstop until I finished it. This book both pushed me away emotionally because it looks deeply at difficult and unpleasant feelings, and simultaneously it kept me hooked, leaving me feeling at times very unsettled between chapters, and sometimes hopeful. It’s an emotional experience, this book. Organized in short chapters, Lori Gottlieb details her own work as a therapist while also sharing her own experience in therapy after an unexpected and traumatic breakup. Some chapters are about her patients, the ‘recurring characters’ of the narrative – a self-important and obnoxious tv executive, a young woman who has terminal cancer, an alcoholic young woman who is slowly going through the process of confronting her addictions – and others are about Gottlieb’s own struggle with avoidance and obsession, depression and anxiety.

Sometimes, the insights were revelatory. The ways in which all her patients and she herself are grappling with the same issues, but the ways in which their struggles were individually very different, was illuminating and gave me different tools with which to examine how I manage those same challenges. I liked how the book zoomed in and zoomed out, so to speak, looking at the intricate and very personal details (so personal – you might experience a lot of secondhand embarrassment reading/listening to this book) and then widening the perspective to look at the commonalities of experience across all humans:

The four ultimate concerns are death, isolation, freedom, and meaninglessness.

All of us are coping with our fears in those four departments, and the healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms we deploy are all examined through the memoir.

Other times, the insights in the book were exceedingly frustrating, or felt squirm-level intimate, like I was listening to things I shouldn’t be hearing, and learning things about people I didn’t know. I sometimes felt like I was intruding – even though by publishing the book I was, effectively, being invited into the room as a spectator or an observer. Sometimes I felt deep, aching empathy for people and their problems, and other times I was so frustrated I wanted to screech – a feeling which taught me something about how I react to avoidant behaviors generally, my own and those of other people. (My reaction: supreme anger and exasperation. So, next question: why is that? I don’t know the answer to that one yet.)

One of my favorite themes in the book is that therapy is like editing. As the patient and as the therapist, Gottlieb is assisting with the editing and examination of narrative. A large part of our reaction to things begins in  the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Here, Gottlieb is talking about her own therapist, Wendell:

…here we are, joining forces to unravel the story of how I ended up here.

It’s Wendell’s job to help me edit my story. All therapists do this: What material is extraneous? Are the supporting characters important or a distraction? Is the story advancing or is the protagonist going in circles? Do the plot points reveal a theme?

…That’s how we get to the deeper meaning of the story, and often at the core is some form a grief. But a lot of plot stands in between.

What I appreciated most about this book was not just the behind-the-scenes detail of what therapy is, and what it can and can’t do, but the examination of what the work of therapy is about, and how that work for both doctor and patient has changed over the years. There’s a section wherein Gottlieb talks about how the training she received has changed for students learning now, and how the focus in psychotherapy has sometimes shifted with individuals wanting results as fast as possible.

The stories in this book can be painful and emotionally draining, and listening to it was at times extremely difficult. But it’s equally difficult to put down. As a memoir and as a peek into the work of psychotherapy, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone does a lot to normalize and demystify the work that goes into therapy from the perspectives of every person in  the room, and examines in detail the goals and outcomes of taking that work seriously.

If you find secondhand embarrassment to be deeply painful, or find that hearing others talk about their own depression and anxiety exacerbates your own, I wouldn’t recommend this book. But if you’re curious about what the work of therapy looks like, or feels like, from the perspective of those providing it and those receiving it, you’ll learn a lot from this memoir.

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Posted by Carrie S

In this month’s Kickass Women in History, we take a trip to the Ashanti Empire, where reigned Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Mother during the War of the Golden Stool. Born around 1840, she was instrumental in the fight against British Colonialism.

The Asante Confederacy (also referred to as the Ashanti Empire) was located in what is now Ghana. It lasted from approximately 1670 to 1902 (when it officially became a British protectorate). Today it is recognized as proto-state within the Republic of Ghana.

An object called “The Golden Stool” symbolically and ceremonially unifies the Asante clans. This sacred object was part of the inauguration of each new king. The rulers of Ghana do not actually sit on it. Rather, they are lifted over the stool without touching it as part of their coronation, and during ceremonies they sit beside the stool, not on it. The stool itself rests on a blanket or other surface, but never directly touches the ground.

The Golden Stool, seen lying on its side
The Golden Stool

Yaa Asantewaa became the Queen Mother in 1894, when her brother died and her grandson became the ruler of Ejisu, one of the regions of the Asante Confederacy. At that time, the Confederacy had fought several battles against the British, who were currently in power.

In 1896, the British exiled Yaa Asantewaa’s grandson and other rulers, including King Prempah I, leaving Yaa Asantewaa as Regent. The British Governor of the district, Sir Frederick Mitchell Hodgson, demanded the Golden Stool, planning to have it sent to England. The Asante hid it.

Hodgson called a meeting of Ashanti rulers and said the following:

What must I do to the man, whoever he is, who has failed to give to the Queen, who is the paramount power in the country, the stool to which she is entitled? Where is the Golden Stool? Why am I not sitting on the Golden Stool at this moment? I am the representative of the paramount power in this country; why have you relegated me to this chair? Why did you not take the opportunity of my coming to Kumasi to bring the Golden Stool and give it to me to sit upon?”

When the remaining chiefs struggled with how to respond to this affront as well as the exile of their king, Yaa Asantewaa said the following:

Now I see that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were in the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye, and Opoku Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king to be taken away without firing a shot. No European could have dared speak to chiefs of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. We, the women, will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls in the battlefields.

The Dangerous Women Project also quotes her as saying:

How can a proud and brave people like the Ashanti sit back and look while white men take away their king and chiefs, and humiliate them with demand for the Golden Stool? The Golden Stool only means money to the white man; they have searched and dug everywhere for it. I shall not pay one predwan to the Governor. If you, the chiefs of Ashanti, are going to behave like cowards and not fight, you should exchange your loincloths for my undergarments.

It was decided that they would rebel, and that Yaa Asantewaa would lead the war – the first and only woman to in Asante history to do so. She was sixty years old when she became “The Warrior Queen.” She often appeared, armed, on the battlefield, and encouraged women to recruit their husbands.

a photo of Yaa Asantewaa
Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa

Yaa Asantewaa’s forces lay siege to Kumasi Fort. Eventually they were defeated, and Yaa Asantewaa joined other exiled leaders in the Seychelles, a group of islands off the coast of East Africa. She died in 1921.

In 1957, Ghana became the first African Nation to gain independence. Yaa Asantewaa remains a national heroine and inspiration to both men and women.

As for The Golden Stool, according to History Uncaged:

The British never did get their hands on the Golden Stool (despite their continued efforts to find it). Instead, it was uncovered by road workers in the early 1920’s. The workers stripped the gold off the chair and sold different bits of pieces of the throne. The Ashanti’s caught the workers and sentenced them to death, but the British stepped in and arranged for them to be exiled instead. In 1924 King Prempeh I returned to Kumasi to rapturous applause.

A note: In researching this article I came across quite a bit of confusing and inconsistent terminology. I adopted the terminology found on GhanaNation and have used that throughout, thus my use of ‘Asante’ as opposed to “Ashanti.”

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Posted by Amanda

A cute adorable kitten wearing glasses reading a bookI’m sure some of you are checking your calendars and wondering there’s a Whatcha Reading today. Well, we’re now running this post twice a month!

A few of you have emailed us and asked for Whatcha Reading to happen more frequently, that way it’s easier to parse through all the lovely comments. We also love doing these posts and hearing what you all have been reading. So why not? Whatcha Reading, Part One will happen the second Saturday of a month and Part Two will be the last Saturday.

Now let’s get into the fun stuff: books!

Elyse: It’s new release Tuesday, so I woke up this morning to new books on my Kindle. Past Elyse made some excellent book buying decisions and now I’m trying to decide between starting The Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr ( A | BN | K | G | AB ), A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian, or The Last by Hanna Jameson ( A | BN | K | G | AB ).

A Duke in Disguise
A | BN | K | AB
Amanda: I’m in between books right now but I started Last Night with the Earl by Kelly Bowen ( A | BN | K | G | AB ). Everyone is angry horny is one another and it’s great.

Aarya’s Psy Changeling post also motivated me to get back into my re-read and catch up of the series. I pulled Vision of Heat off my shelf to read.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter
A | BN | K | AB
Sarah: I’m finishing Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb (review forthcoming) ( A | BN | K | G | AB ) and am about to start Play it Again by Aidan Wayne ( A | BN | K | G | AB ), a romance between two YouTubers that sounds extremely sweet. I’m really, really looking forward to it.

Carrie: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall. It is SO GOOD.

Elyse: Oh, I forgot to mention that I am listening to The Luminous Dead ( A | BN | K | G | AB ) on audio and the narrator is fantastic!

Amanda: I put in an order for that one at my bookstore today!

What books have kicked off your month? Are you excited about having two Whatcha Reading posts per month?


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, we greatly appreciate it, 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!

Buy from Amazon.com

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Posted by John Scalzi

Los Angeles is looking a little noir today. 

And I had an adventure getting here; my connecting flight from Chicago was diverted to Denver when it was discovered that the toilets on the plane wouldn’t flush. I mean, fair call, and probably the right decision, but I had a meeting this afternoon I needed to be at. Fortunately it was rescheduled and I arrived for it literally to the second for when it was supposed to begin. Timing is everything.

Now I’m in my hotel room and on one hand there are friends to see, but on the other, room service and sleep. It’s going to be a tough call.

Reminder: I and Cory Doctorow are in conversation on Sunday afternoon at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. If you’re in LA, come down and see us.

Friday Updates & Open Thread

Apr. 12th, 2019 04:40 pm
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Posted by JenniferP

Hello readers! I’m excited to get back into the blogging swing next week, but first, some chitchat!

Medical News: Surgery went fine, all is well as can be though last week sucked so bad as my body tried to decide between “pain regulation” and “all other bodily functions.” I’m back to my normal routine, got a clean bill at the follow-up visit. Now we just wait for “Guillame” to shrivel and die and do more imaging in a few months.

Random Culture News: I watched a rough cut of my friends’ upcoming movie Monuments last night and it was so, so, so good. They’re still in post-production and I don’t know the expected release date, but anyone out there who thinks “I’d like to see a kindhearted Coen Brothers-y, David Lynch-y sort of comedy about love and death and mythology that is a journey through the middle parts of America and it is sometimes a musical” are gonna like this one.

Kitten News: Daniel Striped Tiger and Henrietta Pussycat will be a year old at the beginning of May so time to switch over to Cat News officially then, but we’ve got two weeks left, right?

Sleepy Cats

Henrietta (L) and Daniel(R) are cuddled together asleep.

Lenée Appreciation News: This week ends the current guest-blogging stint by Lenée aka @dopegirlfresh. It was such a gift to have her help so I could recuperate, and it was a gift in other ways, like, how interesting it was to see someone else step in and do my job and watch that process up close. We did a little Q&A to close out her time here.

CA: When you said that you wished you could take over CaptainAwkward.com for a week was there a specific topic or letter that made you think “I have Things To Say about that”?

L: I found myself wondering whose internet-job I’d like to do. Would I want to tweet for Fat Kid Deals? Would I be able to field customer service on Wendy’s Facebook page? The answer was a resounding no; I realized I like talking to people and decided that being Captain Awkward for a week was right up my alley.

CA: You’ve stared directly into my inbox and lived to tell the tale. I’d love to know what you thought of the experience as a whole. Were there any trends you noticed, things that surprised you?

L: I noticed that people really, really trust you with their deepest and most intense stuff. I love that you’ve been able to build such a great space for people to get support and reassurance. Nothing surprised me; perhaps because I’ve been on the internet a looooong time, there’s next to nothing that surprises me.

CA: Do you have favorite advice columns or sites? Are there advice columns you wish existed?

L: Honest answer: I only read and consistently enjoy CA. I’m an occasional reader of the Redditships Twitter account and always read screenshots from AITA on twitter as they come down my timeline.

wish there existed an advice column that focused on trans and queer people of color. (Somebody please start one)(CA: YES HARD AGREE I will help in any way I can) 

CA: We’re surrounded by tips, “life hacks”, and advice from all sides. How do you sift out the good stuff from the useless stuff from the actually harmful stuff? What do you wish  advice-givers did more of (and less of)? Why do you think people are so into the idea of advice?

L: I often consider the source of a tip. For instance, I never read stuff in Cosmo or any similar magazine. It couldn’t be any less inclusive of me or anyone I care about. I would never take advice from, like, anyone affiliated with Fox News. And I don’t believe in anything Lena Dunham says, because Lena Dunham.

L: They can read my Twitter (@dopegirlfresh) or find me on Medium (same user name). In a few weeks, I’m launching a monthly column and will happily share that link with everyone as soon as my first post goes up!

CA: I can’t wait to read your work and I cannot thank you enough for your help and support. I know you’re also a member of Club My Uterus Went Rogue, so I’m going to promote the shit out of your medical fundraiser right now. Hopefully you can come back and hang out with us soon.

Comments Update: COMMENTS ARE OPEN. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. COMMENTS ARE OPEN.
It’s good to be back.

 

 

Covers & Cocktails: Fangirl

Apr. 12th, 2019 08:00 am
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Posted by Amanda

Bitchery, I’m turning thirty next week and I definitely need a cocktail. Not just any cocktail, but something celebratory, with whipped cream and everything. Buckle up everyone because we’re making a boozy, chocolatey milkshake!

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting is the inspiration for this alcoholic milkshake. The cover is adorable with bright colors and—well, look at that—a milkshake. And yes, the characters do partake in the book.

Meet Cute
A | BN | K | AB
Drinking a milkshake is fun. I’ve never had a bad time when milkshakes are involved. They’re part drink, part dessert. A lot of Hunting’s books have this quality, as the heroes and heroines found themselves in outlandish situations. In Meet Cute, the heroine Kailyn winds up going to law school with her teenage heartthrob crush, Daxton Hughes. They form this really lovely, easy friendship until Daxton screws her over on an assignment.

Years later, they reunite at the law firm where Kailyn works, but things have gotten increasingly complicated for the both of them since their law school days.

For Meet Cute, I’ve made a chocolate peanut butter milkshake. Instead of using liqueur, I chose to go with a beer as a nod to Daxton wanting to be this normal, everyman sort of guy, despite his fame. Kailyn also goes a little nuts once she realizes her celebrity crush is now firmly in her orbit. And come on, chocolate always pairs well with romance.

I give you…the Fangirl chocolate peanut butter milkshake!

Ingredients for a chocolate peanut butter milkshake

Shopping list:
Chocolate ice cream
Peanut butter
Milk
Peanut Butter Porter

Proportions:
2 cups ice cream
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup beer

Directions:

  1. Stick everything in a blender or in a cup, if you’re using an immersion blender.
  2. Blend until combined.
  3. Pour into glass.
  4. Top with whipped cream, if you feel so inclined.

Modifications and notes:

  • You can use whatever milk you have on hand, or even half and half to thicken things up. However, I used chocolate milk to boost the chocolate taste.
  • If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, you can easily modify this with dairy-free ice cream and milk. My favorite chocolate milk is the Silk Dark Chocolate Almond Milk
  • Don’t drink? Just leave out the alcohol!
  • If you aren’t a beer person, you can easily substitute with a chocolate liqueur. The shake will be sweeter if you go that route.
  • I had planned to garnish it with a Reese’s Egg, but I’m on my period and I was desperate. So I ate it.
  • Definitely use creamy peanut butter. It’s what I thought I had at home, but I was wrong. I was too lazy to go back to the store and I just made do with my chunky peanut butter. I don’t really recommend it.
  • My beer selection is Phone Home from Night Shift Brewing in Everett, MA. If you’re outside my area, you probably won’t be able to get it. Please substitute with any peanut butter dark beer (stout or porter). And, if you’re so inclined, talk beer with me on Untapped!

A chocolate peanut butter milkshake next to a copy of Meet Cute by Helena Hunting

Happy drinking!

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Posted by SB Sarah

Today I’m chatting with Kelly Faircloth, senior writer for Jezebel.com, and frequent writer of excellent journalism about romance. I’ve interviewed Kelly before, and this time I wanted to talk to her about her Valentine’s Day feature which examined the artists behind the romance cover art we know and love. (CATNIP AHOY!)

She takes a deep dive in that article into the knowledge gap between what we think we know about romance cover art history, and what her research has revealed about what is presumed and what happened. Kelly also examines the individual women whose leadership and artistry shaped what romances looked like then, and now.

Special bonus: my top four almost-titles for this episode:

  • Fuchsia, Teal, or Both
  • Busting Open Historical Bodices
  • Sarah and Kelly Hunt for Boners
  • Fuchsia is indeed a Genre Descriptor
Listen to the podcast →
Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

You can find Kelly (and @ her if you know where the boner is!) on Twitter @KellyFaircloth, and you can read all her exceptional writing at Jezebel.com.

We also mentioned the following:

 


And Hey, There! Live Show Ahoy!

Wanna see us record a podcast LIVE?

If you’re attending BookLoversCon in New Orleans, you can!

Thursday May 16 at 3:30pm local time, at the Hyatt Regency New Orleans, Amanda, Elyse and I will be recording a live show, and we hope you’ll join us if you can!

We’re going to play Cards Against Romance Tropes, there might be trivia, and we’ll definitely be silly about something. We’ll be in Imperial 5C – so come on down!

It’s free for attendees of the BookLovers Con, but we are asking folks to register so we know how many chairs we’ll need.

I hope we’ll see you there!

If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us on Stitcher, and Spotify, too. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

More ways to sponsor:

Sponsor us through Patreon! (What is Patreon?)

What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at sbjpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Caravan Palace double album set of Caravan Palace and Panic Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.

This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “Lazy Place.”

You can find their two album set with Caravan Palace and Panic on Amazon and iTunes. And you can learn more about Caravan Palace on Facebook, and on their website.

Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes or on Stitcher.
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Posted by sayheylenee

Hello! Lenée aka @dopegirlfresh is still filling in for Captain Awkward (who came through surgery fine and is grateful for recuperation time). In addition to discussions of stalking, this post has mentions of past sexual assault and some abuse/trauma stuff. 

Dear Captain Awkward,

I grew up in an extremely abusive and isolated environment. Between the ages of 12-22, I never spoke to a single person outside of my immediate family. I eventually escaped and ran away, got myself into school, and am now (at 36) a highly accomplished and educated career woman with a great life and many close friends. I’ve been through years of therapy to get to this point. But I have never had a romantic relationship with a man.

To cut to the chase: I have been accused of stalking twice. When I was 22 and street homeless having just escaped, I met a gay man 15 years older than me. We hit it off right away and he invited me to come live with him temporarily. I soon moved back to my own country but we continued to communicate regularly. I thought he was my best friend and regarded him as a big brother. Two years later I found out he was telling people I was “too needy” and “a stalker” — ALL our communication had been through email, I’d not even been to his country in 18 months. And he always replied to my emails. It’s not like I was showing up unexpectedly, or bombarding him with emails when he was ignoring me. But obviously he felt otherwise.

Five years ago I started a new career in a new industry (film) and in my first job I was sexually assaulted by a famous actor and had a breakdown. I only knew one person in film back then, an older screenwriter who’d befriended and mentored me. I became very clingy with him, and would always hover around him at events (screenings, premieres, award dos) I had to attend. It wasn’t about him personally, I just felt so scared and anxious being at those events not knowing anyone else. A third party said I was being weird and stalkerish. The screenwriter never said anything and has always been kind, but was clearly disturbed by my clinginess, and noticeably distanced himself from me. (Fwiw, I recognised that my behaviour was excessive, am mortified by it, and have avoided him ever since.)

Last year I worked on a new project and became close friends with a colleague who I believed was gay. We developed a real emotional intimacy, became confidantes, and it seemed like he was actively pursuing a closeness with me (eg saying out of the blue that he really wanted to visit my house, another time I mentioned an upcoming trip to a city he occasionally works in and he immediately said, “oh please change your trip dates to May” when he’ll be there, another time I made a joke about mothering him and he immediately said “oh please yes I really need that!”) On our last day working together he told me he’s bisexual and sort of tried to kiss me. I was too flustered to respond but it made me realise my feelings are more than platonic. I would like to pursue a relationship, or at least an ongoing friendship.

Unfortunately he’s been mostly out of the country since then. We email and text very regularly, and he’s always sweet and intimate in his replies, but it’s always me initiating contact and he’s frequently slow to reply. We did organise one date but he cancelled due to a family bereavement. He’s given no indication my ‘pursuit’ is unwelcome, but it clearly it is me pursuing, and my past history is making me paranoid that I’m being stalkerish and that he’s just too polite to tell me to go away.

[Note from CA: A paragraph with some potentially identifying details have been redacted at LW’s request but there is an important element which I would sum up as up as “The way this person’s career intersects with the LW’s own work makes it hard to avoid news of this guy and very easy to give into the temptation of knowing what he’s up to at all times even when they’re not directly in contact with each other.”]

I realise you’re probably screaming, “avoid this troubled man!” but in my entire life he’s the only person I’ve ever met who I’m both attracted to, and feel completely safe with. And he’s an incredibly kind, nurturing man who already knows my history and has been so supportive and non-judgemental. I don’t care if we don’t end up in an LTR, I just want to experience sex with a man without fear, and maintain a lovely nurturing friendship and see that friendship continue to develop.

Am I being a stalker? Is my behaviour excessive? Should I continue to pursue him? Should I back off?

She/her pronouns.

Dear Reader,

Please allow me to congratulate you on surviving a truly difficult start in life and making a way for yourself. I’m glad you have a therapist, and I’m really glad you understand the need to be self reflective. Something that has made itself really clear from your email: you are resilient. It sounds like you’ve made it a point to thrive despite it all. I’m really sorry that your first job in your dream industry was a site of such trauma. It’s an awful experience to have, and I hope you’re giving yourself what you need at this time.

As far as this most recent concern about whether or not you’re a stalker:  Stalking involves a pattern of hyper-monitoring and control. You can be fixated on someone in a way that is unhealthy for you without crossing over into stalking behaviors that are bad for them. I think you’ve got some attachment issues that need addressing.  It’s not abnormal to form a bond with a person who supports you, especially after major traumas. My concern is that you may be putting all these eggs (emotional, romantic, etc) into your coworker’s basket. I also think you know that this interaction is, at the bare minimum, imbalanced. When’s the last time you spent time together? Was that time something you coordinated? From what you’ve told me here, there’s no reciprocity. Is that the kind of relationship you want? I’d like you to think about the attraction you have; his trying to kiss you one night after a lot of emoting and bonding doesn’t have to end in an LTR or even physical intimacy. You said you’d like a friendship at the very least, which seems reasonable. However, if you’re doing all the work to keep things moving, that’s not a balanced or equitable relationship. It definitely shouldn’t grow into a romantic or sexual relationship.

I don’t think you’re a stalker. I think you need to learn better boundaries to conserve your energy and time. I think your fixation on this guy deserves some exploration. It sounds like the isolation during your adolescence has really messed with your ability to connect with others. The people you who regarded you as needy were responding to not just your behavior, but their own shit around emotional labor. I can’t call you a stalker, though I will caution you: the bonds you build with people fresh out of trauma don’t often survive long term, and that’s okay. The same goes for people with whom you spend a night getting to know and nearly kiss. Also, I want you to know this because it tends to be a hard lesson: some people keep people around so they can feel wanted. If you can’t ever pin him down for a meaningful interaction and have to look to social media or other outlets to learn about him, that means he is not sharing himself with you. You’re kinda torturing yourself here. Learn how to focus on folks who reciprocate. That may take a while to learn, but is more than worth it.

About the Author: Lenée is a fat, Black, queer femme who lives in Philadelphia. She’s a lover of Black music, Steven Universe, true crime, and doing the electric slide whenever possible. A new plant mom, Lenée writes on occasion and usually tweets as @dopegirlfresh.

 

 

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