601. Romantic Times Rewind: April 2006 Reviews!


Sarah Wendell: Hello there! Thank you for inviting me into your eardrums. I’m Sarah Wendell, and this is episode number 601 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. Today Amanda and I are going back to April 2006. It’s time for another Romantic Times Rewind where we’re looking at the reviews. We’ve got some one-stars! And Paranormal’s part of Contemporary? It’s, it’s weird.

I want to say that, as a warning, ‘cause I know this drives me nuts as a listener. Things I pronounce wrong initially: demesne, spelled very pretentiously.

I also want to mention that during the book reviews there’s mention of suicide of a character, and there’s also a mention of snakes and rat infestations, and Amanda has a lot to say about that as a recovering Florida woman, as she puts it.

I will have links to the visual aids and a link to where you can find all of the books in the show notes and at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast under episode 601. Woohoo!

Hello and thank you to our Patreon community, who keeps me going each week and makes sure every episode is hand-compiled by garlicknitter. Hello, garlicknitter! [Hiya! – gk] And you’re keeping me going and making every episode accessible. Thank you.

I want to say a special hello to Betsy, and I have a compliment for Kaylee!

Kaylee: Your official coat of arms is in progress, but the designers are having trouble coming up with a symbol that represents massage followed by a facial followed by a pedicure, because that’s the level of relaxation and warmth you provide the people in your life. They, they’re working on it.

If you would like a compliment of your own, especially a very silly one like that, or you’d like to support the show, please have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.

Support for this episode comes from LUV, a new social app for romance authors and fans, available on Apple and Google Play. Founded by Beth Stevenson, CEO of Brain Power Studio, LUV, which is spelled L-U-V, is an app that connects romance authors and fans with producers, actors, and film and publishing industry insiders to celebrate romance in its many marvelous formats and demystify the process of adapting books for film and television. Brain Power is the studio behind many of your favorite romance novel adaptations, including Shannon Stacey’s Snowbound for Christmas. And the LUV app was born out of a desire to connect the production side of the film industry with the incredible creativity of romance authors in one convenient place. If you’re an author and you’ve ever wondered where do film adaptations come from? How do they get made? What is the process of making this decision? LUV can help you answer those questions. They aim to help everyone with understanding the film and television business and understand the power of romance fiction in film. If you check out LUV, you can connect with other authors, actors, publishers, and film industry insiders to celebrate all things romance. Members get behind-the-scenes information about the film and television industry and, in addition, they get online pitch sessions and online seminars about adapting a novel or learning the secrets to screenwriting. LUV is waiting for you. If you are curious, go to your Apple Store or Google Play, or go online and checkoutluv.com. That’s check out L-U-V dot com.

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All right, are you ready to start this conversation about reviews and many other things? Let’s go back in time to April 2006. On with the podcast.


Sarah: Are you ready to talk about April 2006?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: There’s a lot in here. There’s a lot in this issue, right?

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: What were your overall thoughts about this, this, this piece of antique literature?

Amanda: It reminds me, the early days of the internet.


Amanda: I remember when we had dial-up AOL and everything, like every program, it reminds me of, like, Clippy; it reminds me of, like, that era of, like, Clippy, Microsoft Paint –

Sarah: The sound effects of signing on to MSN Messenger: Brrr? Brrr! Brrr? Brrr! AOL Instant Messenger?

Amanda: Geocites or whatever? Like, that’s –

Sarah: Geocities and Angelfire.

Amanda: This, I don’t mean this in a bad way, but this magazine is the equivalent of clip art meets, like, sparkly cursor, or, like –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: – you know, like the glitters that follow the cursor.

Sarah: The trailers, yeah.

Amanda: Yeah! From, like –

Sarah: This particular issue is very, is very trailing cursors and geocities.

Amanda: From like the late ‘90s, even though we’re in like 2006.

Sarah: So starting with the cover, this issue is very much full of Amanda things, I think. Not as much as the last one, but this one has some solid Amanda-bait, and we’ve got Kresley Cole’s A Hunger Like No Other on the cover. And it’s actually a really good cover, ‘cause the sidebar is very clear; you know what you’re getting; it looks like a magazine? But also –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – it helps that that cover art is real good.

Amanda: Yeah, the only thing – I mean, we’re back to Romantic Times Book Club: The Magazine for Fiction Lovers. That’s –

Sarah: Yeah, we don’t need to pick a masthead! It’s like me changing the name of the website on a whim –

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: – every few months; let’s do it! Somewhere developers are like, No!

Amanda: But yeah! So this –

Sarah: You may not!

Amanda: This is the, the debut of the Immortals After, After Dark series, which –

Sarah: Yeah. The novella was in an anthology, but this was the first single title, right?

Amanda: Yes!

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: Yeah, I think The Warlord Wants Forever

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – is the novella, I think?

Sarah: Yeah, it’s, the first one is The Warlord Wants Forever, ‘cause it was released as a standalone digitally, I think.

Amanda: Yep.

Sarah: It’s a, it’s a good cover. The best part of this cover is the pulp fiction and hard-case crime illustration in the top left. I would have had –

Amanda: I love that.

Sarah: The, so it’s a pulp illustration of a woman in a purple gown that is barely hanging onto her boobs in the front there – it is about to go south – with gorgeous – can we just talk about her shoes? Those shoes are amazing…

Amanda: I’m looking at her shiny hair. Her hair’s so shiny!

Sarah: The blue, blue kitten heels and then gorgeous, shiny black hair, and she’s up against a, a –

Amanda: Haystack.

Sarah: – a hay, a hay bale. I think this is a reference to Jane Russell in The Outlaw?

Amanda: Oh!

Sarah: All right, are you ready? Let’s get started with Historical Romance.

Amanda: Yes.

Sarah: There’s so much content, and then reviews. Like, it’s a very, it’s a very big issue. No wonder they printed on newsprint. So –

Amanda: It’s a very different magazine than the one we were looking at in like 2015.

Sarah: Yeah. I, I like kind of skipping back and forth in time because the contrast is more visible? Like, I have one from 1988? Wait till you see that. Whoo!

Amanda: Oh my God!

Sarah: I know! Eight years old – no, I was thirteen. Seventy-five, eighty-five, eight –

Amanda: I, I wasn’t born. [Laughs]

Sarah: I was thirteen.

So in Romantic Times Historical Romance, there are three historical fictions and a whole bunch of historical romance, and the range is from two to four and a half stars Top Pick. And the reviews are substantial, so why don’t you go first?

Amanda: Yeah, they’re much longer than what we’re used to, which is like, what, like a brief paragraph of review and then a paragraph of summary. These are like three to four paragraphs long.

Sarah: Mix of review and summary.

Amanda: Yeah. And –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – I picked the Saxon Lady on page 29, partly because my brain kept filling it in to be The Saxophone Lady?

Sarah: Sure, why not?

Amanda: [Laughs] I know that’s not what it is, but for some reason my brain would not let Saxophone Lady go, and so it was kind of mishmash-ing the song “Scatman,” if you’ve ever heard of it, with, like, a lady playing “Careless Whisper” on a saxophone, and that’s –


Amanda: – the craziness my brain is…

Sarah: That was a journey in your cerebellum there.

Amanda: Yeah! But Saxon Lady by Margo Maguire, Harlequin. Setting is medieval England. I really love that they still do the, the setting locations for these. And this one got two stars. But it begins with:

>> Mathieu Fitz Autier is William the Conqueror’s most fearsome knight and will take Inglewald as his reward. The Saxon –

Oh, I don’t know what that word is.

Sarah: Demens.

Amanda: Demens?

Sarah: Yes, I’m pretty sure that’s how it is.

Amanda: >> – will be his, and the new home for his Norman bride. All he has to do is bring Inglewald’s lady and her younger brother to London, to King William, where they will face certain humiliation before their execution.

That’s a lot.

Sarah: I’m wrong, by the way: it’s demesne [duh-main].

Amanda: Demesne; oh boy.

Sarah: Yeah. Demesne.

Amanda: The reason why I picked it is because that first paragraph is a lot of information, none of which makes any sort of sense to me. I can continue:

>> Lady Aelia will not give up so easily, despite her mother’s long-ago prophecy about finding love and the strange feeling she has at the first sight of her enemy. Aelia defies Fitz Autier at every return, but even though he’s her sworn adversary, she finds herself in his arms again and again as they combat one danger after another in their travels to London.

>> Once there, the couple has to fight not only the king’s will but also Mathieu’s estranged father and the father of his Norman bride-to-be in this quickly read tale. Devotees of this period may be disappointed by a lack of accurate details and setting. Instead of the conflicts so prevalent at this critical time in England’s history, we watch Mathieu debate over the current action to take, to take once he seduced Aelia.

SENSUAL is in all caps – [laughs] – after that description.


Amanda: SENSUAL!

Sarah: This sounds like a nine-year-old recounting their dream to you: “And then, and then?”

Amanda: For me it’s just like a lot of proper nouns?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: And it’s like, Am I missing something? Am I supposed to know who these people are? But it’s just like a lot’s thrown at you, and I’m, like, getting whiplash going back and forth.

So now they have like a, and, a sex rating at the end of each review. It would be –

Sarah: In all caps, so they’re yelling it at you.

Amanda: In all caps.

Sarah: SENSUAL! [Laughs]

Amanda: SENSUAL!

Sarah: SPICY!

Amanda: >> SEXY: borders on erotic, very graphic sex. SPICY: very explicit sex. VERY SENSUAL: spicy –

You have a SPICY category!

>> Spicy, but goes beyond conventional lovemaking; explicit sex. SENSUAL –

Sarah: What does that mean? Goes beyond conventional lovemaking – is that like we do things other than missionary? Like, we talked about their –

Amanda: I don’t know!

Sarah: – their, their sexy ratings before. It makes no sense.

Amanda: Yeah. So –


Sarah: Conventional lovemaking.

Amanda: >> – most romance novels fall into this category. Conventional, conventional lovemaking; explicit sex. SWEET –

Sarah: Missionary! It’s all you’re getting!

Amanda: >> – may or may not include lovemaking; no explicit sex.

These are – there’s so much gray area.

Sarah: What is the difference between lovemaking and explicit sex?

Amanda: But you have one, two, three, four categories for explicit sex, and SWEET is no explicit sex, but also may or may not include lovemaking.

Sarah: It’s a terrible rubric. SENSUAL! [Laughs]

Amanda: I feel like we’ve seen it before, but I don’t ever remember seeing the all caps at the end of a review screaming at you. SENSUAL.

Sarah: That might be the subtitle of this episode: SENSUAL! [Laughs]

Amanda: SENSUAL!

Sarah: We insist! Yeah, a lot of these reviews are like book reports.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Like, Here’s what happened in this book.

Now here is what’s wild for me on page 24. There is a review for Penelope and Prince Charming by Jennifer Ashley, published by Leisure, setting 1819 England, four and a half stars. Jennifer Ashley now writes historical mysteries, she writes the Kat Holloway series, she wrote The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, but this is like a whole other, other genre. So this is the review for Penelope and Prince Charming:

>> Until his father’s death, Prince Damien of Nvengaria –

Or Nvengaria; there’s an N in the front.

>> – was Europe’s most infamous playboy.

In 1819; how did that word get around? But anyway, he’s Europe’s most notorious playboy.

>> Before he can inherit his title, he must find a very special wife. His search leads to Penelope Trask, who is known as a twice-jilt and seems uninterested in Damien’s pursuit. Actually, Penelope feels an overwhelming, almost supernatural attraction to Damien. Something outside of themselves has brought Damien to Penelope, and she’s the only woman who can make him and his kingdom whole. Enemies strive to tear them apart with bitterness and jealousy, but amid danger and political intrigue Damien and Penelope forge a bond of love and risk everything to hold onto their grand passion and their country.

>> The magic of Ashley’s latest is in not only the spellbinding plotline, but also her impressive writing style and engaging characters involved in a grand adventure. This is a very special, highly satisfying read. SENSUAL!

Amanda: SENSUAL!

Sarah: So I’m like, Okay, hold on. Is this, is this a paranormal? Like an otherworldly thing? So of course I go down a rabbit hole and I open up the Amazon link. First of all, the, the cover, the redesigned cover is really just very blue. But it is a fairytale series, and in the new listing it says Penelope and Prince Charming: Paranormal Historical. And apparently the whole Nvengaria series – there’s four books – are all sort of paranormal historicals or historical fantasies; the rest of them are labeled Historical Fantasy. And if you look – [laughs] – if you look at The Mad, Bad Duke, oh my God, Amanda!

Amanda: I’m going, I’m going. That’s feet! Those are feet!

Sarah: Feet! Why? [Laughs] With the mad, bad duke?

Amanda: Loves feet!

Sarah: Loves feet! [Still laughing] Why are there feet? I don’t know! Anyway –

Amanda: This man loves feet.

Sarah: This guy loves feet. Anyway. One of the Amazon reviews says:

>> WORTH MENTIONING: This book is a historical paranormal with magic and fantasy elements, along with taking place in the regency period.

So first of all, that’s romantasy, and second of all, none of that is super clear in this review, so if I read this and was like, Wait a minute, I’m getting, like, I’m getting a historical fantasy? A fantasy romance? A historical romantasy? And that’s not in this review at all, I’d be really annoyed.

Amanda: No, but, like, other reviews in the Historical section up at the top in italics will have Historical Paranormal, Historical Fantasy. Why doesn’t this one have it?

Sarah: Yeah, it says Historical Fantasy on the same page for Sword of Darkness by Kinley MacGregor. Yeah! It’s weird!

Amanda: They’re not consistent.

Sarah: So yeah, there’s some romantasy in here, but it’s not properly labeled.

Shall we move on to Romantic Suspense?

Amanda: Let’s.

Sarah: Which one did you grab?

Amanda: I grabbed You Can’t Hide by Karen Rose because –

Sarah: Not a lot of books in this section.

Amanda: No!

Sarah: It’s like ten.

Amanda: It’s on page 34. I’m scrolling.

Sarah: Thirty-four. All right.

Amanda: But just like romantasy, this word jumped out at me, and I was surprised? Of is it, of it, its existence in 2006.

Sarah: Yeah, bring it! I completely agree.

Amanda: So You Can’t Hide, Karen Rose; it has four stars. The first paragraph:

>> The loss of a patient by –

Ope, sorry, TRIGGER WARNING. Before I continue, TRIGGER WARNING for everyone: suicide is mentioned in this review, so, before I continue.

>> The loss of a patient by suicide is every psychiatrist’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately for Tess Ciccotelli –

It’s been a while since I’ve taken Italian. Dr. Tess Ciccotelli.

>> – it’s becoming an all-too-common occurrence.

Which, what?

Sarah: Yikes!

Amanda: >> When Detective Aidan Reagan looks into the apparent suicide of Cynthia Adams, he discovers that someone has “gaslighted” the woman into killing herself. The damning evidence points to Tess as the culprit, but she insists she’s innocent. As Aidan and his team investigate, anomalies start to turn up, and soon it becomes apparent that while others are dying, Tess is the primary target. But why? To invalidate court testimony she gave or a personal vendetta? Whoever this killer is, the person is extraordinarily crafty, treacherous, and violent.

>> Rose’s rise to the top of the romantic suspense genre has been swift, and for good reason. This is just the latest in a string of truly diabolical and chilling romantic thrillers densely plotted and with amazing twists. This novel is, in a word, riveting.

Sarah: Wow.

Amanda: But gaslighted! Or gaslit? Everyone do…

Sarah: And it’s in quotes! It’s in quotes like that’s not a word –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – folks are familiar with.

Amanda: Yeah! But it’s interesting to see it on paper in a book review for romantic suspense in 2006.

Sarah: Well, the book I chose is also on page 34, and I, I just picked it for two reasons. First of all, the title is Sighs Matter – which is S-I-G-H-S, Sighs Matter, which is just like a bad joke on the cover – by Marianne Stillings, four and a half stars, from Avon, and –

Amanda: Wait, pause!

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: There’s no SENSUAL!

Sarah: No! There’s no sex ratings in these. No, they’re only rating the sex ratings in the, in the historicals. I’ll have to see if they show up again, because they’re not in the suspense reviews.

Amanda: What the fuck? Okay.

Sarah: Yeah, there’s only the –

Amanda: Continue…

Sarah: – only the stars! That is interesting, isn’t it? Okay, so:

>> At the wedding of his brother and her best friend, Detective Taylor McKennitt and Dr. Claire Hunter, had a close encounter, but after that night Claire’s feels, fears prevailed, and she broke off the relationship. Fate is going to lend Taylor a big hand!

Blah-blah-blah, plot details. This is why I grabbed this review:

>> First introduced in Stillings’ debut novel, The Damsel in This Dress

The Damsel in This Dress!

>> – Taylor and Claire now get their own romantic adventure. Chock-full of sexual tension, fun, and suspense, Stillings’ latest is another keeper by a fast-rising star.

Okay, putting away, putting aside whoever was in charge of the meeting for the titles, whoever you are, well done. Chock-full? Chock-full? Really? Chock-full of sexual tension?

Amanda: Did you see that the, did you see the cover? Right above it?

Sarah: I, I did! It’s just – it’s a very – [laughs] – it’s a very muscular abdomen and just, like, a hand.

Amanda: A disembodied hand.

Sarah: Right in the middle. Sighs Matter.

Amanda: Oh boy.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: Oh boy!

Sarah: Moving on to –

Amanda: Okay.

Sarah: – Mainstream Fiction, y’all.

Amanda: This magazine is so fucking weird. Like – [laughs] – there are, some things aren’t consistent, like with SENSUAL, right?

Sarah: Yes, yes. SENSUAL! [Laughs]

Amanda: We later learned that there’s, Chick Lit is a subcategory within Mainstream Fiction.

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: Like –

Sarah: Genres are a wild ride in this magazine.

Amanda: [Laughs] I feel like, you know, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, where, like, the points are made up and they don’t matter?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: That’s –

Sarah: The genres are made up and it doesn’t matter!

Amanda: [Laughs] That’s how I feel, like, these reviewing constraints and genre constraints are in this magazine: we’re just going to put it wherever! It doesn’t matter!

Sarah: That’s fine. But, y’all, we have a one-star review. We have one stars! We haven’t, haven’t had many of those! One star –

Amanda: There are a few in, in this one.

Sarah: And we, neither of us picked this book. It was, it was not that interesting. It’s, it’s one star for Harlem’s Dragon by David Rivera, Jr., published by Strebor.

>> Littered with stereotypes, this novel is more offensive than engrossing. Finishing this novel may require determination.

Ouch! Okay!

All right, so which one did you pick?

Amanda: So I picked a book called Rattled by Debra Galant, Galant? I don’t know how fancy you want to get. It’s on page 39. One, this is wild, and it speaks to the Florida woman in me. But there’s also a character named Jack Barstad? And I for sure thought it was Jack Bastard –


Amanda: – when I first read it? And so I’m like, Tell me more!

Sarah: All right!

Amanda: So it’s four and a half stars – we don’t know the sex content, sorry.

Sarah: Top Pick! It’s a Top Pick!

Amanda: It’s a Top Pick!

Sarah: It’s a TP!

Amanda: >> Galant entertains as she follows Heather Peters and her family, who are building their dream house in the New Jersey countryside. Heather finds a rattlesnake on the patio and enlists the aid of handyman Harlan to kill it. But rattlers are an endangered species in New Jersey, and Heather faces criminal charges for the murder of the snake, even though she garners national attention for her bravery. Meanwhile, developer Jack Barstad is scheming to force Harlan to sell his land and cheating on his wife with his assistant. Hilarity ensues as Heather tries to be the perfect room mother, planning third-grade parties to precision, but her quest is marred by the animosity of local conservationists. When a rat infestation forces the Peters family out of their home, they need to regroup and decide how to stay together.

Sarah: Oh!

Amanda: >> Witty, charming, and thoroughly engaging, Galant’s novel entrances. Heather is a fabulous protagonist: a petite, desperate housewife who charges head-on into life’s missions with highly entertaining results.

Snakes and rats tick a lot of boxes, for sure. The thing that boggles my mind is that she gets national, national attention for her bravery in, in asking someone else to kill a rattlesnake. I mean, I’ve handled my fair share of snakes, both wild and pet snakes, but, I mean, like, everyone has, like, their phobias, right, but snakes has never been one for me. I’ve, like, caught snakes; I’ve killed snakes. I don’t get any national attention!

Sarah: Well, you didn’t kill one in New Jersey, where they’ve been protected since 1979 due to…

Amanda: You lived in New Jersey; are there rattlesnakes in New Jersey?

Sarah: In the northwest part as you head up the mountains –

Amanda: Okay.

Sarah: – in the Sky-, in the region of the state called the Skylands –

Amanda: Okay.

Sarah: – in the Sussex County area, there are rattlesnakes. I’m sure there’s also rattlesnakes in the Pine Barrens, because if there’s anything in the Pine Barrens that goes with the Jersey Devil, it’s rattlesnakes.

Amanda: [Laughs] Look, she should have kept that rattlesnake, ‘cause it would have taken care of that rat infestation.

Sarah: Yeah, she had a rat infestation because she got rid of the rattlesnake.

Amanda: That’s her fault.

Sarah: Dumbass. Anyway.

So the book that I picked – now, it’s, what’s interesting is we have Romantic Times Mainstream Fiction, and then there’s a subsection of Chick Lit with such titles as Looking for Mr. Goodfrog; Tales from the Crib; Love, Life and Linguine; and Divas Don’t Yield.

But the book I chose in Mainstream Fiction is on page 40. This is Amanda-bait. I think you need to know about this. There’s an anthology from Kensington; I believe it’s Kensington Dafina, which was their Black author line, and yes, that – yes. Very not great, but this is 2006. That was a thing then. Voices from the Other Side, edited by Brandon Massey, four and a half stars, Top Pick. This is a horror anthology. Now, it doesn’t tell you how great it is – I will expand on that – but here’s the review:

>> This anthology enthralls readers with sixteen tales that delve into the deepest recesses of the psyche. The tales touch on moral retribution, eroticism, witticism, and pure science fiction. This collection points the way toward an African-American literary renaissance. This exceptional collection paints characters in vivid detail and draws readers deeply and personally into the twists and turns of each character’s dilemma and each story’s plot. From slavery to freedom, Afrocentric themes lead readers into the depths of suspense and the height of mindboggling intrigues.

This is a lot of word salad, I am fully aware.

>> Tales of werewolves, a Middle Passage battle with monstrous consequences, beautiful femme fatales, and the nightmare of an extraordinary appendage will keep readers completely engrossed. Massey’s skills are prominently on display in any compilation featuring differing styles and themes. Readers will embrace or critique various stories, as readers should find the vast majority of the stories page turners and the others excellent food for thought. The stories in this anthology are amusing, daring, and imaginative. This is a real winner.

Now, I found Voices from the Other Side: Dark Dreams and Dark Dreams II on Amazon. They’re still available, I believe mostly on, in paperback – I don’t even know if it’s digital – but the authors in this anthology include Eric Jerome Dickey, Tananarive Due, and L. A. Banks.

Amanda: Due and Banks are chef’s kiss.

Sarah: Right? The Dark Dreams was published by Dafina in 2012, so this was clearly a series that went on. But, I mean, I wonder if you can find used print copies of Voices from the Other Side, ‘cause this sounds like very much your bait.

All right, moving into Inspirational. This was a hard section, because this was just, this was not, this was not great. We’ve got a lot of reviews ranging from two stars up to four and a half, but this was, I really struggled to pick something in this section. Like, this was a hard one.

Amanda: And no big hats.

Sarah: No big hats!

Amanda: No, there’s a distinct lack of big hats in –

Sarah: Unacceptable lack of good jobs and big hats.

Amanda: – in this issue.

So I picked, on page 48, A Girl’s Best Friend by Kristin Billerbeck, and this is labeled as Chick Lit. They have other ones that are like Suspense, Historical Fiction; this one is Chick Lit. Three stars.

>> Can a girl who dons diamonds for a living find true love, her purpose in life, and realize there’s more to life than spending time at the spa?

My first, like, interjection was like, Who cares?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: Enjoy your diamonds –

Sarah: Yeah!

Amanda: – and spending every waking moment relaxing at a fucking spa! Like –

Sarah: Like, why is there girl-on-girl crime here?

Amanda: Enjoy it. Like, I’m not coming after you for that.

Sarah: I want to don diamonds for a living. Do you know how many times I have regretted not starting a blog that reviews yachts and diamonds? Like, I could have been reviewing fine jewelry and having that arrive on my porch like every morning at 10:30. That could be amazing! No, I did not do that.

Amanda: No! Like, maybe make some charitable donations or whatever, but enjoy yourself. Like –

Sarah: Dons diamonds for a living. Sounds great!

Amanda: – it’s fine.

Sarah: Sounds great!

Amanda: [Laughs] Duped twice by men already, Morgan Malliard is not about to make the same mistake a third time. Could George, George Gentry –

Sarah: Oh boy.

Amanda: >> – the smug lawyer with abs that make Mr. Universe look emaciated tempt her to trust one more time?

Sarah: No. [Laughs]

Amanda: How, how jacked and dehydrated is this man –

Sarah: [Laughs] Judging by the cover art we look at, probably quite.

Amanda: – that, that Mr. Universe looks emaciated next to him? There’s got –

Sarah: Also, do you want to have abs like that? You’ve got to spend all your time in the gym. How’s he being a smug lawyer? Is he smug lawyer at the gym? Is he like 24 Hour Fitness is his office? Come meet me by the…

Amanda: No one’s getting on to him about, you know, is there more to life than spending your time at the gym?

Sarah: No! No, ‘cause that’s allowed! But, you know, if he dons diamonds for a living, then he’s just ridiculous. Anyway.

Amanda: And then it continues:

>> If she does, she could find herself in an orange jumper, looking pretty through iron bars.

Sarah: Oh, for –

Amanda: >> She can’t be arrested because she fell for a guy who “wears charm like expensive cologne,” but for lying to the government? That’s a whole different matter.

Sarah: What?

Amanda: Where did the government come in?

Sarah: What?

Amanda: What’s happening?

Sarah: Just put on your diamonds and go to the spa. This is a bad day.

Amanda: >> Initially, readers may have trouble bonding with Morgan in this second book in the Spa Girls series.

Sarah: I just want to go to the spa now.

Amanda: [Laughs]

>> But with the right amount of whining, introspection, pathos, intelligence, and humor, this book and its heroine eventually win over readers, thanks to the author’s talent.

Sarah: Wow.

Amanda: Who’s doing the whining? The readers or the heroine?

Sarah: And what is the right amount of whining? For me, the right amount of whining is none whining.

Amanda: So they mentioned –

Sarah: Wow.

Amanda: – government issues. She wants to know if there’s more to life than spending time at the spa, but the series is literally called Spa Girls?

Sarah: Wow. I guess you’ve got to take off that bathrobe at some point; put on some shoes.

Amanda: I guess! No one’s making you.

Sarah: Okay! I went down a bit of a wild rabbit hole. Get ready. Ticket to Tomorrow: A Fair to Remember. So here’s the review: Carol Cox, published by Barbour, Historical Romantic Suspense, three stars.

>> Annie Trenton’s first visit to the World’s, the World’s Columbian Exhibition of 1893 is not as a visitor but as an exhibitor. She’s accompanying her late husband’s partner to find a backer for the invention they’ve brought with them. Though the massive buildings and throngs of people amaze her, it is seemingly innocuous events that take her breath away. Including the sight of one handsome performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Nick Rutherford has never been a star attraction in the show and is surprised to learn his hard work is about to pay off, but lately his attention is divided as he spends more and more time with Annie. Will he be able to lasso Annie’s heart, or is something more sinister than he realizes happening at the fair?

There’s a lot of World’s Fair inspirationals; have you noticed that?

Amanda: Oh yeah.

Sarah: Lot of them!

>> Two quirky characters enhance this enjoyable and moderately paced story. Both hero and heroine are likable, and the setting is unique.

Water is wet. Ice is slippery.

>> Cox recreates the setting well enough, but sometimes the story lacks the excitement warranted by such an incredible event for its time.

All right, and I was like, Well, wait; why is the event incredible? Why would this be – like, there’s a ton, like I said, there’s like a ton of World’s Fair books, right? Okay, Ticket to Tomorrow. Found it on Amazon. It says the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

>> First and foremost, she is determined to see her late husband Will’s genius recognized by displaying his last invention, a horseless carriage.

Okay, so her, her late husband invented a car. Like, you’ve got to, you’ve to lead with that! Like, that’s –

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: – that’s really important! You’ve got to put that in there!

>> Her, Will’s absent-minded partner Silas Crockett –


>> – is thrilled with her that millions of fair-goers will be able to see and admire their innovative creation. And then she hopes to heal the breach between herself and her in-laws. Sorrow over her being the reason for the estrangement between Will and his parents has haunted her ever since his death. Her plans never included an attraction to Nick Rutherford or learning that her in-laws are scheming to steal the rights to Will’s invention or an innocent mix-up at the station that will throw her, Nick, and Silas into a world of deception, conspiracies, and dangers. When Annie’s keen powers of observation threaten to expose a devious international plot to gain Cuba’s independence –


>> – more than her exhibition plans hang in the balance!

Amanda: That wasn’t mentioned in the review!

Sarah: That took several turns.

Mystery, suspense, and thriller is mostly three to four and a half stars. Which book did you pick in this section?

Amanda: I picked an anthology on page 83 that is Bark M for Murder.

Sarah: I’ve got to ask my dog how to do that, ‘cause I don’t know how to do that.

Amanda: [Laughs] And I didn’t pick this for any, like, specific reason in the review of, like, what? Just kind of the general bonkers behavior of this –

Sarah: Bark M for Murder.

Amanda: Yeah! What do you think is involved?

>> It’s canines to the rescue in this fast-paced and fun-filled new mystery anthology. Up first is the late Lanier’s sassy Jo Beth Sidden and her incomparable Bloodhounds in “Red Shirt and Black Jacket.” Jo Beth and her dogs must follow the trail of a cold-blooded killer. The talented West is at the top of her game in “Nightmare in Nowhere,” in which an amnesia-plagued woman’s best chance for survival is a remarkable German Shepherd. “The French Poodle Connection,” rising star Kelley’s offering, has ex-cop turned dog trainer Jack Field hip deep in a twisted case of bank robbery and murder when he innocently agrees to school an ill-tempered Toy Poodle.

Sarah: Oh, I would mess with a Toy Poodle. Whoo!

Amanda: [Laughs]

>> Finally, New York Times bestseller Jance strikes a blow for seniors everywhere with her novella –


>> – with her novella The Case of the London Cabbie. When she suspects her sister is falling for a con man, seventy-something Maddy Watkins rounds up her dogs and decides to investigate.

Sarah: We’re just finding all the trends in here!

Amanda: [Laughs]

>> This anthology showcases an outstanding quartet of storytellers and proves that in a crisis, dogs are definitely man’s, or a woman’s, best friend. These stories, filled with twists as well as humor, are perfect for fans of mysteries and canines.

Sarah: [Laughs] So imagine there’s like one copy left and people are fighting, two people are fighting over it: Well, I like mysteries! Well, I like canines!

Amanda: [Laughs] It’s like the –

Sarah: Wow.

Amanda: – the old Reese’s, like, commercial or whatever; like, You got chocolate in my peanut butter; You got peanut butter in my chocolate?

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: It’s like, You got dogs in my mystery novel!

Sarah: You got dogs in my mystery novel! Now there’s dogs and cats in your mystery novels all over the place.

Amanda: I know. What a weird…

Sarah: I picked something on the same page. I didn’t even carry about the review; I just need to tell you that this book is called A Hole in Juan.

Amanda: I saw that. [Laughs]

Sarah: >> English teacher Amanda Pepper’s life is in turmoil. Not only must she and her husband C.K. share their Philadelphia apartment with his sixteen-year-old high school dropout nephew Pip, she must also deal with rumors circulating around her school of impending Halloween pranks. When science teacher Juan Reyes is gravely injured in an explosion in the school chemistry lab, Amanda vows to find the culprit before may-, more mayhem occurs.

A Hole in Juan is the name of this book. It’s so wrong. Like, that was a bad meeting; you should go back to the table and come up with a different table, come up with a different title; that makes me very sad. Yeah, A Hole in Juan.

Amanda: Okay. [Laughs]

Sarah: A vicious attack on the science teacher. Okay.

All right, moving on to Science Fiction and Fantasy, where, again, there’s no sexytimes rating, but there’s lots and lots of books.

Amanda: I wish there were!

Sarah: Yeah, right? I would like to know where there is the sexytimes! Which book did you pick?

Amanda: So I –

Sarah: And oh, oh, in the, in the, in the document, everyone, in the document it says Rant here, so buckle up.

Amanda: Yeah. [Laughs] I picked a book on page 90. It’s listed as YA Fantasy. The title is Keeper of the Waters by Jenna Solitaire, and it’s published by Tor.

Sarah: Oh!

Amanda: Yeah! So:

>> In this second book in the Daughter of Destiny series, Jenna is hot on the trail of the Board of Waters after having mastered the Board of the Winds. She has a feeling –

Sarah: Wait, like a surfboard?

Amanda: Like, I don’t –


Amanda: I kept going back and forth of, like, Is this like an Avatar: The Last Airbender thing, or is it like a general, like a, like a Board of Directors, but for water and wind?

Sarah: Wow.

Amanda: That’s what I don’t know.

Sarah: Okay.

Amanda: >> She has a feeling it’s somewhere near Jerusalem, so she and her partner Simon head there. Their local contact in the city is the handsome Saduj, who Jenna feels an immediate connection with, to Simon’s dismay. Jenna is unsure of her new abilities to control the elemental Boards –

Boards is capital B, by the way, everybody. B-O-A-R-D-S.

>> – but she presses on because she knows that it’s her destiny. However, she’s an amazingly immature character, and the first-person narrative doesn’t help to convince the reader that she’s capable of holding such powerful artifacts. She seems much more concerned with fooling around with Saduj than with her quest, and it nearly costs her everything in the end. Some teen readers may enjoy this slight detail –

Sarah: Oh, come on!

Amanda: >> – but serious readers of fantasy will likely be disappointed at the shallow worldbuilding and Jenna’s immaturity.

Sarah: Ouch! There’s no need to, like, throw…

Amanda: Two stars, by the way.

Sarah: Yeah. Oh, goodness!

Amanda: This is a two-pronged rant.

Sarah: Okay. I can’t imagine what you have to rant about!

Amanda: One: if this is truly a YA novel, if it is truly for teens, even though it’s not from a teen publisher, which may have not really existed so much in 2006, then I’m, I’m really sick of the critique that teenagers are immature. They are –

Sarah: Yes, thank you.

Amanda: – fucking teenagers!

Sarah: Yeah!

Amanda: Like, what – [laughs] – I don’t know what you’re expecting here. And that’s often part of the conflict is, like, a teen character having to wrestle with their immaturity versus maturity in the face of serious decisions and consequences, whether –

Sarah: Absolutely.

Amanda: – contemporary or fantasy.

Sarah: Absolutely.

Amanda: So that’s rant number one.

Sarah: Yes!

Amanda: The second pronged rant is: not everything with a teenage character is a YA novel. And that’s what bugs me of, like, people assuming that just because you have a teenager as a protagonist, it’s automatically “Young Adult,” which I feel like there’s nothing wrong with Young Adult books; I know many adults who read Young Adult, but I feel like it’s not fair to just lump every book with a teen protagonist as YA Fantasy, and in the review at the end they say:

>> Some teen readers may enjoy this, but serious readers of fantasy will be disappointed.

As if serious readers of fantasy wouldn’t want to read about a teenage protagonist.

Sarah: I’m rolling my eyes so hard at that line; like, that was so unnecessary.

Amanda: I usually only trust, nowadays, that something is a YA title if it comes from a YA imprint, because they’re obviously marketing –

Sarah: Fair!

Amanda: – to young readers, young adult readers, teen readers. It’s there in the marketing material. But if something –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – has a teenage protagonist and it’s from a, a regular genre fiction publisher like Tor, I’m assuming, you know, it’s not “YA.”

So those are my little rants of, like, not everything with teen characters is a Young Adult novel, and also, if it’s a teenage character and YA, stop complaining that the characters are immature.

Sarah: Oh –

Amanda: I don’t know what you’re expecting.

Sarah: Absolutely true.

I would like to draw your attention to page 88. Urban Fantasy by Wen Spencer, published by Baen: Wolf Who Rules. Four and a half stars, Top Pick. I don’t need to really read more beyond the first sentence. This is the first sentence; this tells you everything you need to know about this book. Are you ready?

>> In this fantastic sequel to Tinker, Tinker is still adjusting to being an elf. While trying to figure out a way to clean up the mess she made of Pittsburgh and Elfhome when she destroyed the transdimensional gate – at least she thinks she destroyed it.

So, okay, you know what happened in book one. But apparently she fucked up futuristic fantasy Pittsburgh! Girl, you gotta – come on now! You’ve got to do better. You’ve got to do better.

Amanda: That’s – since you’re familiar with Pittsburgh –

Sarah: I am!

Amanda: – what do you imagine a, a supernatural, futuristic, fantasy – [laughs] – Pittsburgh to look like?

Sarah: It’s pretty tech-heavy? Like, there’s a lot of tech in Pittsburgh. Google’s in Pittsburgh; Carnegie-Mellon’s in Pittsburgh. Like, there’s a lot of tech in Pittsburgh, so there’s a lot of futuristic shit? But I would really like to think that if there was, like, mad, mad future tech, what you’d actually see is art everywhere. Because if people have enough money to be creative and make art, then it’s going to look cool. That’s my hope.

The covers for this series are such a throwback. If you look at the first one for Tinker, Elfhome book one, it’s so middle-of-2000s. Because she is wearing a very, very small crop top, her abdomen is nine miles long, and she’s wearing low-rise jeans.

Amanda: Which one are you looking at? ‘Cause the only one I see is this blue man covered in goo.

Sarah: Oh, that’s book two! Book two is Wolf Who Rules; that’s the one that’s in this

Amanda: Okay.

Sarah: – this, this issue. But the first one, Tinker, she’s wearing low-rise jeans.

So Contemporary, but also Paranormal? Because –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – Paranormal Romance is part of the Contemporary section. There’s Contemporary Romance and Paranormal Romance, but they’re all in the same section.

Amanda: Why?!

Sarah: I don’t know!

Amanda: You’d think –

Sarah: This is –

Amanda: – they would feed paranormal into sci-fi/fantasy. That makes…

Sarah: Or have it be its own section, because in this section, like, remember how last month we were talking about how many heavy hitters were in that magazine? The same thing here: we’ve got Kresley Cole, MaryJanice Davidson, Christine Feehan, Angela Knight, Liz Maverick, Elizabeth Vaughan, and a couple of anthologies! Like, we’ve got big names; why is this not its own section? It’s got enough books!

Amanda: It eventually becomes its own section, as we’ve seen –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – but, like, mid, like early 2000s is prime paranormal romance time.

Sarah: Yeah! Why would you not have your own section, right?

Amanda: Their cover spot is a paranormal romance, but it doesn’t even have its own category.

Sarah: Doesn’t have its own section. Like, at least – it’s super weird, right?

Amanda: Yeah. I don’t understand.

Sarah: Very weird. You also noticed something very important here.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Mm-hmm. Which I also noticed. Good – [laughs] – we’re mind-melding again.

Amanda: Yeah. So a lot of the books, in italics above the title, say that they are African-American, and there are a lot. I would be, I haven’t done the math, but I’d be willing to bet that at least half or a majority of the books covered in Contemporary are African-American romance. Like, I see Kimani and Arabesque on here –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – Urban Books; like, definitely –

Sarah: Dafina.

Amanda: Dafina’s on here.

Sarah: Genesis Indigo. Yeah.

Amanda: So a lot of African-American romance is how they’re labeling it. I also want to note that this section seems to be more harshly graded on average than a lot of the previous sections. Sarah and I have talked about how kind of loosey-goosey they are with giving things high ratings? I think one of the recent ones we did we’re like, Yep, all four stars, all three and a half stars, whatever.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: This one has two one-star reviews –

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: – and what, like five two-star reviews? And a lot of threes.

Sarah: Six. Six two-star reviews.

Amanda: This one seems to be graded on average much lower –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – than the rest, and, like, you know, I see –

Sarah: It’s weird.

Amanda: – a Kimani one that’s at one star; I see a few that are two.

Sarah: The Black presses are the ones with the lower grades. And this, okay, this, this matches a lot of criticism of RT over the years for a very long time, even when I started going to the conference, like, you know, ten, fifteen years later. But not only that; they don’t even consistently apply that grading rubric across genres. Like, everyone’s just using their own star system, and you have to figure it out. It’s weird!

Amanda: Yeah. And, like, we don’t know, we don’t get to know the reviewers, which is something that we’ve talked about –

Sarah: Yes!

Amanda: – previously, and I feel like on our site, I hope our community gets to know the reviewers well enough –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – to be like, Okay, if Amanda gives this a C because of X, Y, and Z, I would most likely give it a B+ because of that same thing. Like –

Sarah: Absolutely.

Amanda: – things that bother Amanda are like catnip for me, or vice versa.

Sarah: Oh yeah, I’ve gotten email that says, I love everything you hate; keep up the good work.

Amanda: So, but we don’t really get to know the reviewers that well?

Sarah: No, and I’m, I’m not sure even if you had the time to track the names of the reviewers across multiple issues –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – if you would see a continuity across issues just from the same reviewer. Like, it’s really, it’s a wide range, right?

Amanda: Yeah. So even if, like, you could try to make up for the, like, wishy-washy-ness in the grading rubric by –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – filling in those gaps of, like, Okay, you know, so-and-so gives this a two because of this particular thing, but I know that, like, if I were to read it, that wouldn’t bother me. Or whatever.

Sarah: And then there’s –

Amanda: We don’t even get to do that kind of shorthand!

Sarah: And what’s wild is that there are some major names in Black romance in this section?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Like, there’s Seressia Glass; Shirley Hailstock; Michelle Monkou, who I was on panels with and is so good on panels. I don’t even know if she’s still writing. She’s amazing. Elaine Overton; I think Adrienne Ellis Reeves is, yep, she’s in there. Like, there’s a lot of really prominent Black romance names in this section, and the grading is just so wide.

Amanda: Yep.

Sarah: So which book did you pick?

Amanda: So I picked Truth or Dare by Delilah Dawson. This is a romance that I feel is one of those where it takes, like, a hard left turn or, like, something is mentioned and you’re like, Wait, what?

Sarah: What? Yeah, this is very much a record-scratch review.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Like when you make a mess of Pittsburgh. Uh?

Amanda: Yeah. It got three stars, and it begins with:

>> Accountant Sonya Drummond is tired of her ordinary life. Vowing to break free of her monotonous routine, she books a singles cruise, intent on having a fling with someone devastatingly handsome and sexy.

Sarah: See, what she should have done is made her career out of wearing diamonds and going to the spa, and she would not have been tired of her ordinary life.

Amanda: And hopefully, you know, if you’re on a singles cruise, don’t limit yourself to just one devastatingly handsome and sexy partner.

Sarah: No.

Amanda: Also, two: boats are big enough to where, you know, if it wasn’t a, a show-stopping –

Sarah: Experience?

Amanda: – flirtation – yeah – the boat’s big enough to where you could probably avoid them for the rest of the cruise.

Sarah: There is more than one kind of buffet on a singles cruise –

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: – is what we’re saying here.

Amanda: Okay, so we have accountant Sonya go on a cruise, needs some excitement. That’s what we have.

Sarah: She’s booking a nookie cruise! Good for her! Get some, girl. Get. Some!

Amanda: >> Enter tall and sexy bounty hunter Kai Armstrong.

Sarah: Okay!

Amanda: >> Though physically attracted to Sonya, Kai is not about to let the skilled con artist distract him from apprehending her and her uncle –

Sarah: Oh?!

Amanda: >> – despite her proclamations of innocence.


Sarah: Oh!?

Amanda: Mm?!

Sarah: ‘Kay?!

Amanda: Also, I mean, if you’re a bounty hunter on a cruise, I feel like that’s bad! I would wait until they dock and arrest her there, not be on a cruise.

Sarah: I can tell you, I went on a cruise in June for five days out of Florida, and it was a complete mayhem disaster. There was a fight; there was somebody who was hiding from Customs; there, we, we weren’t allowed to leave because this person was hiding from Border Patrol. It was a whole thing. When we docked? There were like four different police and county departments waiting for this boat. You really can just wait till it docks; it’s fine.

Amanda: Yeah.

>> And while he’s never mixed business with pleasure before, Sonya’s killer body might be the persuading factor.

Sarah: Oh, bro! Come on! Okay.

Amanda: >> Similar to boiling water, Truth or Dare starts off slow and cool, gradually developing into a sizzling-hot simmer. Kai and Sonya are extremely compatible, and both are likable characters. The plot is strong, well thought out, and systematically organized. The novel is full of action, though at times a little over the top, and the dialogue is often tense and over-complicated rather than free-flowing, but the dry humor balances this out.

Wow, that’s a lot. That’s a long sentence.

>> And while the ending answers the question about Kai and Sonya’s relationship, it fails to address their pasts and how they came to be the characters they are today.

Sarah: Huh.

Amanda: I mean, hey, I’m sorry; I’m not going to get into my life story with someone I met on a singles cruise. But yeah, I was like, accountant and then con artist?

Sarah: Yeah!

Amanda: What?

Sarah: Sure, okay!

You picked a second book, too.

Amanda: Yeah. Well, this is from the Paranormal section!

Sarah: Oh, of course.

Amanda: Yeah. And it’s just another anthology where I made a note of, like, Hey, my mom used to read these, and it makes me feel nice, nostalgic feelings about my mom, which are feelings I don’t often have about my mom.


Amanda: But it also sounds like a book that I would read? Paranormal anthology; Dates from Hell is the title; and the contributing authors are Kim Harrison, Lynsay Sands, Kelley Armstrong –

Sarah: Ooh!

Amanda: – and Lori Handeland. So –

Sarah: That’ll do!

Amanda: Yep!

Sarah: No skips.

Amanda: >> Dating can be a major pain, but when you add in supernatural elements it can get deadly. Phenom Harrison kicks off the party with a prequel to her popular witch series in “Undead in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which glimpses into living vampires Ivy Tamwood’s and Kisten’s already complicated lives prior to their meeting witch Rachel Morgan. Talented Sands adds a humorous twist to her offering “The Claire Switch Project.” A lab accident gives scientist Claire Becket a very unusual talent right before her high school reunion. Is this her chance to heat things up with teenage crush Kyle Lockhart?

I hope he’s not a teenager and they just mean that she had a crush on him when she was a teen.

Sarah: Kyle Lockhart is such a ‘90s TV name, by the way.

Amanda: [Laughs] Yep.

Sarah: And now it’s time for the Six O’clock News with your host Kyle Lockhart.

Amanda: This is the one that got me, like, perk up?

>> In hot author Armstrong’s “Chaotic,” a half-demon tabloid journalist gets caught up in a wild situation when, during an otherwise boring date, she stumbles across sexy werewolf jewel thief Karl Marsten. [Laughs]

Sarah: Speaking of Yes, and… paranormals, wow!

Amanda: I know!

Sarah: Half-demon tabloid journalist is on a date with a sexy werewolf jewel thief.

Amanda: Yeah! I wonder if that’s just available as a novella, ‘cause I feel like I would just rather pick that one out.

>> Rounding out the quartet is “Dead Man Dating” by rising star Handeland. Kit Morelli’s disastrous online dating attempt almost gets her killed when her date turns out to be a demon.

Sarah: Oh!

Amanda: >> Only timely intervention from a rogue demon hunter saves her, but is he more dangerous than the demon?

Sarah: Oh!

Amanda: >> Readers rejoice: packed into one book are offerings from four of the best paranormal authors out there today. It doesn’t get better than this.

And this was four and a half stars? Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah! I love the titles of these stories. “Undead in the Garden of Good and Evil”, “The Claire Switch Project”, and “Dead Man Dating”? Those are great titles!

Amanda: Yeah, I’ve read, I think I’ve read Harrison’s witch series. I’ve read Lynsay Sands; I’ve read Kelley Armstrong. I’ve never read anything by Lori Handeland. But yeah, I mean, sometimes these anthologies serve, sometimes it’s like prequels to an established series, which I don’t love? But yeah, the Kelley Armstrong one sounds fun.

Sarah: That sounds very fun.

I wanted to look at Love’s Magic Spell, two stars, by Kelly McDonough from Wings ePress.

>> Fairy godmother Lucienda is out to win a contest, but first she must make two people fall in love. She picks Lisa and Josh as the couple to match up and magically changes the course of things so that they are married. Lisa knows what’s going on; she can see and talk to Lucienda. When she suddenly discovers she and Josh, the owner of the company she works for, are married, she must abide by Lucienda’s rules or else her life will rewind to the moment she first met her magical godmother. Lisa must make Josh fall in love with her before the marriage is consummated, and she only has five days to do it. She’s undermined by Josh’s former fiancée, a gold digger after his fortune, who arrives at the same resort where the couple is honeymooning. When time resets itself –

Spoiler; my God!

>> – Lisa uses what she learned on her honeymoon to endear herself to Josh.

So she learned about blowjobs, and it was life-changing.

>> There’s nothing about Lisa that will make readers care whether she winds up with Josh or not.

Amanda: Ooh, boy!

Sarah: >> All we know is that she’s a middle-class, twenty-six-year-old virgin who hates to fly and works in marketing.

That’s a lot to sustain a 226-page book.

>> Josh fares little better: he’s older, wealthier, and has bedded dozens of women. Lack of background information and characterization hurts this tale, and the frequent shifts of viewpoint between characters is jarring and intrusive. Two stars.

Amanda: Okay.

Sarah: Now, here’s the thing: this is one of those setups where I’m just like, the main character has to fix somebody else’s mess, and I cannot figure out why it’s their problem. Like, we’ve inherited my, my great-aunt’s travel agency and we must not let the family business fail! Like, what if you did? It’s not, you, you are not responsible for this. If she has to win a contest –

Amanda: Sell it and go on a singles cruise.

Sarah: Right? Go on a singles cruise! Buffet for days! But yeah, Lucienda’s made this – and why are there fairy godmother contests? That’s just wild to me.

Amanda: What do you do? What do you do there?

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: How do you compete?

Sarah: As you said last time, sometimes romance is just kooky.

Amanda: Yeah! Like –

Sarah: And, you know, I love a good kooky.

Amanda: The good thing is, like, sometimes no one questions it, but also sometimes we should probably question it.

Sarah: Sometimes we should probably ask a question or two.

Amanda: Like, why? [Laughs]

Sarah: So moving on to Series.

Amanda: The earlier or the later books or editions that we’ve covered – earlier in our podcast but later chronologically – the Inspirational category was often the most fun ‘cause it’s kind of kooky? But –

Sarah: Oh yeah, wild jobs and good hats. Yes.

Amanda: But I think Series is getting up there for a favorite, because they don’t have as much space?

Sarah: Nope.

Amanda: And Series seem to be like cuckoo-bananas.

Sarah: Oh, extremely cuckoo-banana-crackers.

Amanda: Wild. The, the stuff that they can distill –

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Amanda: – is –

Sarah: It’s, it’s an art. It is an art form.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: So which book did you wish to speak of?

Amanda: So I picked, from 117, Her Baby’s Hero, two stars, by Karen Sandler. And this is a throw-the-whole-man-away –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: – sort of review. And you’ll see why. [Laughs]

>> Six months after a one-night stand, Jason Kerrigan can’t fathom what Ashley Rand wants.

Sarah: Oh! Okay.

Amanda: >> His impending fatherhood – Ashley’s carrying twins – is a bombshell, and Jason goes into take-charge mode. But Ashley’s content with small-town life, teaching and preparing for motherhood. To Jason’s dismay, she doesn’t want marriage or money. Emotionally distant, Jason is far from Ashley’s idea of a daddy, but she can’t shut him out entirely.

Spoiler: yeah, you can! You can do that.

>> Insight comes with intimacy, but she can’t, but can she trust him with her heart and her children’s future? Karen Sandler’s Her Baby’s Hero has several extremely emotional moments, and vulnerable Ashley is sympathetic, but Jason isn’t, even after his frozen detachment is explained.

Sarah: Ouch!

Amanda: Throw him away!

Sarah: Yep!

Amanda: Get him out.

Sarah: Whole Man Disposal Service: Yes, the Entire Man.

Amanda: It’s like, Oh, I got her pregnant and she doesn’t want to marry me and take my money? What the hell? She seems –

Sarah: Oh.

Amanda: – like a well-adjusted person who knows what she wants. Leave her alone. Get a job and leave her alone.

Sarah: It has a really weird romance conceit that in a character’s past one person has been cruel to them, so they just swear off a whole group. Just the whole, all, all women I can – one woman broke my heart; I can never – okay, I understand having trust issues. That makes sense, but eventually you’re going to come to the realization that not all people are the same? We’re not a hive mind? Okay.

Amanda: Also, as someone who is a #CertifiedHater – like, I love to hate on shit – it is much more efficient to just devote all of that negative energy to that one person, to that Bitch Eating Crackers. Don’t exhaust yourself. You’ve got plenty of pettiness to go around; don’t overexert yourself.

Sarah: Yeah, just focus on your Bitch Eating Crackers and, and it’s much more satisfying that way! I actually have an emoji to upload to the Discord of the original Bitch Eating Crackers graphic from –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – from Someecards.

The book I picked is on page 116. It’s called The Heart of a Ruler by Marie Ferrarella, and it got two stars.

>> In The Heart of a Ruler – two stars, by Marie Ferrarella – part of the Capturing the Crown series, Lord Russell Southgate, Duke of Carrington, is sent to fetch Princess Amelia for her marriage to the Prince of Silvershire.

Those are some names, right? We’ve just lined up a whole bunch of extremely ‘80s names.

Amanda: Mm-mm-mm! [Laughs]

Sarah: >> Amelia seduces a very willing Russell, and they fall in love! When the Prince –

Amanda: End of story! [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah, okay! They, they got, they went to Bone Town on the road; I get it!

>> When the Prince of Silvershire is found dead, Russell becomes the next in line for the crown, but obstacles stand in the way of Amelia and Russell’s Happily Ever After –

That is typically how they work.

>> – and their love is put to the test.

Again, common.

>> Long-buried secrets are revealed, and the story is left open-ended. This is a slow read with a disappointing ending.

Amanda: Hate to see it.

Sarah: Okay! So wait, it doesn’t end? Like, what are you talking about here?

Amanda: No. [Laughs] That’s it.

Sarah: So let’s move on to Erotica, which is a fulsome selection of reviews with one star, two stars, and then some three and some four and a halves. So we got some ones and some twos! Dun-dun-duh!

Amanda: There’s also a, back to punny titles, there’s one that’s called Fangs for the Memories? [Laughs] Oh God.

Sarah: I just love a punny title; it makes me –

Amanda: It’s hilarious!

Sarah: – so happy.

Amanda: I picked one on 119; it was a Top Pick. It’s Erotic Romance Historical.

Sarah: Can I point out something real quick I just noticed? Look how many of these are Ellora’s Cave! This is more than fifty percent Ellora’s Cave.

Amanda: Oh yes.

Sarah: Then New Concepts, Siren, Amber Quill, Aphrodisia – that’s it. Maiden and the Monster; I apologize for interrupting you.

Amanda: It’s okay! Maiden and the Monster by Michelle M. Pillow. I made a note of, like, Want to read this. [Laughs]

Sarah: You want to read this one?

Amanda: I want to read this one! This is like the first one that I’ve read that I’m like, Yeah, actually, I do want to read this one, not just for the bit, like the inspirational boiler one. Like, this is a legitimate interest.

Sarah: He’s obsessed with boilers, but this guy’s obsessed with something else.

Amanda: >> This wonderful historical set in Wessex in 879 AD has over- –

Sarah: Oh my!

Amanda: [Laughs] Yeah, I know.

>> – has overtones of “Beauty and the Beast.”

>> Vladimir of Kessen, the Duke of Lakeshire Castle, is angry about the death of his wife six years before and is willing to be seen as a monster by the Saxons serving him. When a terribly injured young woman is left at the gates of his castle, his first instinct is to let her die. Reluctantly, he allows his servant to bring her in and care for her. When he finds out she is the daughter of his most hated enemy, he decides to keep her as a hostage. Lady Eden of Hawks’ Nest is fascinated by Vladimir. He may not be the devilish monster the common people believe he is, but he is bitter and dangerous. Still, she would rather stay with him than return to her father and her fiancé.

>> This is a perfect blend of history, emotion, tension, hot sex, and fascinating and sympathetic characters, and the writing is superb. Pillow chooses magical details to set the scene, and they add to both the history and the emotion.

Sarah: Wooow!

Amanda: It’s sounds pretty good!

Sarah: And you also noted something very important: that there is a book where Marie Antoinette is a vampire, and coincidentally, that is the book that I picked –

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: – because Marie Antoinette is a vampire. It’s on page 120. It is a three-star review. It is by Ravyn Wilde, it’s from Ellora’s Cave, and it is called Let Them Eat Cake, ‘cause of course it is. So if you look at the cover, which I have linked to, the new cover is very much of the let’s-all-stare-at-his-crotch genre. Like, both characters –

Amanda: Is that the cake?

Sarah: Yeah, the cake is in his pants. They’re both looking at his groin, and it’s very weird. Anyway, Let Them Eat Cake.

>> When Marie Antoinette was beheaded, she didn’t die; she became a vampire. Now a Sentinel, Marie is often the judge, jury, and executioner of the paranormal creatures that live in her city. Along with two human servants, she works to keep both mortals and paranormals safe, but a new evil that’s leaving a trail of death is more than she can handle alone. When she calls on her human and inhuman backups she learn, learns that her human friend has passed the job onto his son Justin.

Amanda: Justin.

Sarah: Justin.

>> The minute they meet, the attraction is overwhelming, but this is a bad time to be distracted. There’s a seemingly indestructible evil on the hunt, and Marie’s old love is back in town!

Oh no!

>> This is an interesting, fast-moving story that incorporates many paranormal creatures and has an intriguing twist on the soulmate idea. It’s surprising, though, that Maria lacks so much knowledge about her species, given that she’s been a vampire for more than two hundred years.

Don’t you hate it when the reviewer just, like, pokes a hole in your worldbuilding like that?

Those were the reviews!

Amanda: Those were the reviews.

Sarah: Not bad!

Amanda: Not bad! Some, some weird ones, for sure! [Laughs]

Sarah: Are you going to look up, are you going to look up some of the anthologies, take a look at them?

Amanda: “Chaotic,” the one in the paranormal anthology, is available as a novella –

Sarah: Ooh!

Amanda: – for ninety-nine cents! And then the –

Sarah: I’m curious what you think!

Amanda: – the Maiden and the Monster is $5.99, so they’re both available.

Sarah: Yeah!

Amanda: So I’m definitely tempted to at least snag up the, the novella.

Sarah: For sure.

Amanda: Which is, I’m curious – it’s only like a hundred pages.

Sarah: Yeah, it’ll take you twelve minutes.

Amanda: [Laughs] Yes, it will.


Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you, as always, to Amanda for making this so much fun, and thank you to Kay Layton Sisk for providing this particular issue. It has been a lot of fun to go back in time, and I hope you’re enjoying this series as much as I am.

I also want to let you know that as part of the podcast Patreon, you will get bonus episodes, and bonus episodes include outtakes and tangents and conversations that we have while we’re recording that don’t quite fit into the main episode, so if you’d like more of us investigating April 2006, have a look at the Patreon, ‘cause we’ve got bonus episodes every other week.

As always, I end with a terrible joke. This week’s joke is – I don’t actually know where it comes from, but I can tell you that during, during the pandemic, we were all in the house all the time, I started feeding the neighborhood murder of crows, and so now I have crows that yell at me for peanuts and walk with me when I take the dogs and warn me about other dogs, so I’m good friends with the local murder, and I wish to tell you that they are having a charity drive. They’re making a lot of noise about it.

It’s for good caws.

[Laughs] It’s so silly; I love it so much. And it’s true! I am feeding the local murder. Bro Crow likes to show up in the morning and yell at me when I’m having my coffee, ‘cause the peanuts have not arrived on time!

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you back here next week!

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

[end of music]

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