Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading, Romance, Sob-Inducing Stories, Tule Publishing

Responding to Reading: Tempting the Deputy

Heidi Rice‘s Tempting the Deputy

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Tough, taciturn and wounded in ways that no one else knows about, Marietta rancher and part-time Deputy Sheriff Logan Tate is a man in total control of his life. Until he catches British photographer Charlotte Foster hitchhiking and ‘insists’ she gets a ride into town in his squad car… 

After her run-in with Deputy Hardass, Charlie Foster is ready to ride her thumb right back out of Marietta the very next day. But that night, a trip to Grey’s Saloon fires up her imagination – and her wild side – when she overhears the town’s first responders panicking over how to come up with the money needed to repair Harry’s House in just 90 days. 

Charlie has an ingenious solution to their problem, that might just require her to photograph twelve smokin’ hot guys naked. And, as luck would have it, also involves getting some much needed payback on Deputy Hardass–who isn’t too enthusiastic about participating in the calendar shoot.

But as he spends more time with Charlie, Logan can’t ignore the chemistry sizzling between them. Can a man who lives by the rules fall in love with a woman who breaks all of his?

So I’m not entirely certain why it’s taken Heidi Rice so long to write a cowboy hero.  As heroes go, they’re usually fairly alpha – without fitting into the overbearing Christian Grey mould – fit as f— and are part of a close-knit community; all traits that I’ve seen in previous Rice heroes…but Logan is her first.

And is he a good one?

The short answer is yes.  He’s a great hero.  He’s kind, a little clueless about his own feelings at times (which I find unbelievably adorable) and has a backstory that makes your heart ache.

How about our heroine?  Charlie Foster’s a British photographer, passing through the adorable town of Marietta, who takes on a photography project to raise some money for a local cause.  Of course, it means she has to see certain male members of the community in various states of undress, but she’s not particularly complaining.  They’re all fairly easy on the eyes, and it’s good exposure for her work.

But the thing I really like about her, is her frankness.  She’s straight talking and there’s a scene where they’re out in the “wild”, with her taking photos of him, when she starts telling him what she wants to do with her.  Aside from it being rather hot (which all the sex scenes are – my eReader almost combusted in my hands!), it’s also something innately honest and open.  And there’s nothing quite as alluring as the frank articulation of desire.

The story itself has great heart.  There’s a moment when Logan comes in the door and smells Charlie cooking a dish his mother used to cook him, and that really resonated with me.  The smell and taste of food is something that can resurrect memories both good and bad, and I love how that simple moment was woven into the narrative.  It encapsulated all that Logan had lost, and all that his life could be.

And the ending made me cry.  This isn’t something that’s unique to this book – Rice is to blame for a large number of tears shed over the years – but it’s something that I appreciate nonetheless.  It’s the kind of catharsis that Aristotle refers to in Poetics that makes me very grateful for the romance novel.

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Responding to Reading: She’s with Me

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I’m a big fan of indie publishing company Less Than Three Press, who specialise in LGBTQIA romance.  I’ve been following the #WeNeedDiverseRomance hashtag for some time, and realised that I hadn’t actually reviewed any LGBTQ romances.  That ends now.

She’s with Me is a kinky, BDSM-lite erotic lesbian novella by Vanessa Cardui, which is more than a little of a mouthful, but is actually a skillfully crafted narrative.

The protagonists are Meeka and Izzy, her seemingly-straight best friend who’s just been stood up by her boyfriend.  What I really liked about the story is the fact that it’s all about exploration.  Cardui manages to capture the tentative way that Meeka feels, whilst appreciating that a girls’ night out can result in all sorts of situations, especially when alcohol’s involved.

There’s also order-giving, with Izzy discovering that she likes taking orders almost as much as Meeka likes giving them.  The balance between Izzy experiencing non-hetero  sexuality for the first time – particularly whilst she considers herself straight – with Meeka’s obvious feelings for her friend is just right.  The tone isn’t flippant, and nor is it painted as a crazy thing done whilst drunk.  I particularly liked the way that their emotions were interwoven with the sex, giving the erotica depth.

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Responding to Reading: The Comics Edition

My comic book collection is rapidly expanding at the moment; partly as my other half treated me for my birthday, and partly because there’s something about the marriage of images and words that appeals to me.

I’m a little bit addicted to Image comics at the moment.  I fell across them because they publish The Wicked + The Divine by Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen (of Young Avengers:  Marvel NOW! and Phonogram fame).

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WicDiv (as it’s affectionately referred to by its fans) encapsulates pretty much everything I love about adaptation and appropriation.  Being more than a little obsessed by literature that rewrites mythos and classic stories, it suits me perfectly with embodiments of gods ranging from Baal to The Morrigan to Lucifer.

It’s set in London, has an incredibly diverse cast (as befits any work set in the capital) and examines the relationship between music and godhead, even going so far as to draw a parallel between celebrity and worship in a way that I haven’t seen done so well since Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

From there I’ve expanded out, exploring other comics published by Image.

Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona StaplesSaga is one of these.

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The first thing to say, is that Saga is not for the faint of heart.  The word “shit” appears in the very first panel and it deals with and illustrates pretty vividly violence and sex.  It’s also one of the most beautifully illustrated comics that I’ve seen in a very long time.

Image characterises the series as:  “an epic space opera/fantasy comic book series… [that] depicts two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series”.

It’s moving, funny and complex with a sprawling narrative that’s tightly woven, despite its expanse.  I’m particularly in love with the depiction of novels in the series as redemptive, with A Night Time Smoke in particular being partly responsible for the bridge between the two protagonists.

I’m also a big fan of Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe.

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Described by Wiebe as “a love letter to my years of D&D”, it plays with traditional characters with the gang of the Rat Queens comprising of a mage, cleric, fighter and thief – but each character has a twist.  The cleric is an atheist, the thief a hippy hobbit, the fighter a hipster and the mage an elf with a taste for all things rockabilly.

It’s incredibly funny and satirical, poking loving fun at tropes and storylines in a way that makes the reader complicit in its laughter.  The third volume’s just been released and I’ve already got it ordered!

And finally, I’m stepping away from Image to talk about Freakangels, the online lovechild of Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield.

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“23 years ago, twelve strange children were born in England at exactly the same moment.  6 years ago, the world ended.  This is the story of what happened next.”

Freakangels is an online webcomic that was serialised from 2008 to 2011 and is still available to read online (although you can also buy the very nice trade paperback editions).  Post-apocalyptic, it follows the twelve eponymous Freakangels, working backwards and then forwards to show us what happened and what is happening in the the Whitechapel of this new London.

Mind-blowingly good, it’s definitely worth a read.

So, those are the comics that I’ve been reading of late, but I’m always looking for new recs, so feel free to fling some my way in the comments!

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Respond to Reading: The Rogue Not Taken

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I fell across Sarah MacClean‘s writing about two years ago, when I fairly devoured her Love by Numbers trilogy.  I loved the way in which she managed to write about strong women, without drifting away from the reality of a woman’s life in regency England.

So when I heard that she had a new series – Scandal & Scoundrel – I was rather excited.  The Rogue Not Taken, as well as being a fantastic name for historical, didn’t let me down.  MacClean’s ability to highlight the fragility of a woman’s reputation in the regency era is one of the things that lifts her romances up out of the crowd.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a romp where the heroine singlehandedly takes on society and wins as much as the next person, but they’re incredibly unrealistic.  The social disgrace and near ruination of a family, due to Sophie’s flouting of social graces, makes this a far more interesting read.

Sophie’s not the stereotypical heroine.  She’s stubborn, messes up a lot of the time, and the one time she acts without thinking, sets off a catastrophic series of events, and yet you can’t help but sympathise with her.  Her dilemma, as a young lady whose family were given a title, as opposed to having been born into one, seems heartfelt.  She’s got absolutely no wish to be in society, and can think of nothing better than returning to the home of her childhood and marrying the baker’s boy – especially when society is unmentionable cruel to her and her sisters.

Of course, she meets someone who purposefully spends his time scandalising society, and despite the fact that neither of them can stand the other, they end up being thrown together.

As a hero, King’s spent his life furious with his father for a tragedy in his youth and it’s coloured his attitude towards everything.  In short, he appears to be a bit of a dick.  There was a twist, towards the end of the book, that I really wasn’t expecting.  It set on its head an accepted regency romance trope, and forced King’s internal conflict to drastically change.  Suffice to say it was a genius move on MacClean’s part.

In fact, the whole book reads a bit like a social commentary on gossip columns of today; it made me think about celebrity, and in particular notoriety, and was so engaging that I can’t wait for the next book!

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Respond to Reading: Good Guys Wear Black

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Th final book in Lizbeth Selvig‘s Kennison Falls series, Good Guys Wear Black, is a fitting end to a series that I’ve loved (I even wrote about the heroine from Beauty and the Brit, Rio Montoya, in a piece earlier this year).

Once again, Selvig doesn’t shy away from thought-provoking topics and handles delicate issues with the deftest of touches.

There are two storylines that remain inextricably intertwined with the main romance narrative: that of Rose’s son, Jesse, and his struggle to adapt to life in a new town and school; and that of Banned Book week.

I’m going to start with Jesse.  He’s got Asperger’s Syndrome which is difficult to approach in any case, but Selvig’s appreciation for the struggles that both Jesse and his mother face ring true – particularly when you take into account the fact that there’s a lot of well-meaning but misguided advice being given by everyone from th hero to Jesse’s PE teacher.

There were a number of times when I had to check my own privilege when reading this; especially as coming from a teaching background in the UK where IEPs in education can be incredibly valuable.  I’d never stopped to think about the stress for both parent and student caused by having to sit tests that would only say the same things.

Either way, Rose’s clear bond and love for her son shone throughout the novel, and Dewey’s reaction to that was heartwarming.

And then there’s Banned Book week.

I’m irrevocably against banning books; if there are things you don’t want your kids reading, don’t let them read them.  That doesn’t mean that all books are suitable for all ages, but I do feel very strongly about freedom of speech.

I came up against myself in my brief stint as a school librarian where Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series were questioned by some parents as being suitable due to Pullman’s fairly staunch anti-religion sentiments.

It’s important to note here, that I was supported by a headteacher who stood by me wholeheartedly.  In the end, I moved the books from the Junior to Senior section of the library (bookshelves a full five feet across the room) and said that if students wanted to read them, no matter what their age, I’d let them (this was in a 11-18 school).

So when Rose, as new Head Librarian, is faced with a large group of angry members of a community she’s only just joined, due to celebrating Banned Books week, it’s pretty stressful for her and is dealt with by Selvig brilliantly.

Of course, it’s impossible to forget the blossoming romance between dewey and Rose.  I think it’s so easy to forget how external influences can have an impact on a new relationship in romance novels, but the educating of Dewey about Jesse, and his unwavering support of Rose over the library issues, made for delightful reading.

Reading, Respond to Reading, Responding to Reading, Romance

Respond to Reading: Lay It Down

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Cara McKenna‘s Lay It Down has been sitting on my Kindle shelf for months.  Ever since her Irish-set Red Hot Cosmo novella, Her Best Laid Plans, I’ve all but devoured her standalones; they’re untidy and messy and more real than most romance novels.  I find my heart aching in the way it should when you discover something that mirrors life back at you.

So it’s a mystery to me why I hadn’t read this before now.  Perhaps it was because the cover and blurb implied that it was an MC-romance.  Don’t get me wrong, I adored Sons of Anarchy as much as the next person, but after the series was finished, I felt so utterly drained that I gave books featuring bikers a bit of a wide berth.

Big mistake.

Lay It Down is the first in the Desert Dogs series (the rest of which will be purchased with my annual Christmas kindle vouchers) and it does things you don’t expect.  The characters aren’t actually part of an MC, though they do ride motorbikes (something which can only be a positive; I do love a motorbike), but rather the narrative focuses in on a mysterious death.

The tone reminded me of Laura Kaye’s Hard Ink series, in that it marries gritty complex characterisation with a mystery in the best kind of way.

I’m fairly new to the subgenre of romantic suspense, and it turns out that I’m a big fan; when there’s higher stakes, everything seems so much more urgent.  And boy are things urgent here.

Mysterious deaths, what appears to be a near-conspiracy and a small town standing up to a big corporation – what’s not to love?

I also love Vince as a hero.  He’s not polished or backward in coming forward, and the stark truth and honesty that I see in him is one of the things I love most about my own partner.

Kim, as a heroine, made me look twice.  When we’re first introduced to her, an apparently out-of-place suit seen through Vince’s eyes, I wasn’t convinced;  I’m so used to the good girl meets bad boy trope that my heart sank a little.  this isn’t the case at all.  Kim’s not all that much of a good girl and Vince, for all his tattoos and motorbike-riding habits, isn’t really a bad boy.

Nothing delights me more than having my expectations upended, so this was great.

Also, there’s the mystery aspect of the narrative.  I want to read on.  I want to know what the hell’s going on and (this is where I stop talking for fear of spoilers).  It’s gripping and entertaining, but it’s McKenna’s teasing out of her characters – both main and secondary – that makes this shine.

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Respond to Reading: Christmas Ever After

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I often cry over books, but most of the time it’s welling up or tears blurring my vision.  I sobbed over Sarah Morgan‘s Christmas Ever After.

I’ve had such an intense and personal response to this book that this post is somehow part-review, part-musings and possibly a little intense itself.  You have been warned.

The book is the final volume in Morgan’s Puffin Island series, a trilogy (with a Mills & Boon Modern prequel) set on a little island in Maine, following three friends:  Emily, Brittany and Skylar.  I’ve loved each of them, but there was something about Sky and Alec, the hero and heroine of this final volume, that caught my imagination from the start.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that they kept on sniping at each other – I adore a hate-to-love romance – or because they’re fiercely loyal in their own way, but either way I was super excited about this book.

Conflict is always difficult to get right, and Sarah Morgan is a master of the art – as I’ve argued in the past – so I suppose it came as no surprise that Skylar and Alec’s internal conflict were deeply textured and developed.  But it was Skylar in particular who stood out for me.

I’ve written in the past about anxiety and panic attacks and I’m a firm believer in a romance novel’s ability to deal with darker emotional issues.  The reasons for Skylar’s anxiety and constant apologies couldn’t be further from mine – my family have always been incredibly supportive – but Morgan’s portrayal of this was perfect.

In some ways, it was shocking to see how ingrained it had become for Skylar to apologise or begin to panic as soon as she did something that her family or ex would have disapproved of or disliked.  The automatic catastrophising, continually jumping to the worst possible scenario and apologising in an attempt to get ahead of it.  And when she meets Alec’s family, he does the same thing, immediately fearing the worst possible outcome.

Catastrophising is pretty hard to explain to someone who’s never experienced it; it’s as if you’ve been split in half and one of you is sat there panicking over and over again, whilst the other part of you drifts apart, completely aware that this is an overreaction, and that there’s nothing you can do about it.

I train myself to go to the middle ground.  Whenever I feel myself catastrophising I force myself to think about the best possible outcome and they try and find some kind of middle ground.  The problem with the extremes, is that they’re almost always something out of your control, and it’s only by stopping and thinking about the middle ground that you can truly start making your actions autonomous.

And the end of the novel does this perfectly.  I found reading this surreal and emotional and intense because it was like reading my own journey mirrored on the page, and reading how everyone around Skylar felt about her anxieties was pretty moving.

Hence the sobbing.

But the book’s not dark and depressing, rather an uplifting experience, full of humour and friendship and sex scenes that made me smile and blush in equal measure.  I loved this, and it’s my favourite Sarah Morgan book.