Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace 2020

The categories for the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace 2020 came out and I had to immediately make a syllabus which I will absolutely stray from by the end of January but I’m still going to post it here!

The categories for the embrace are based on inside jokes from the podcast and the most important thing to remember is that there is no wrong or right way to embrace. You can choose the most random association to make a book fit a category. It actually ends up being more fun if you make an additional challenge to try and fit odd pairings to categories but I’m far too type A for that so here is my mostly literal take on the embrace!

Abs, Abs, Abs, Dick! – Once Burned by Jeaniene Frost

Competency Boner – Garden of Lies by Amanda Quick

Dueling Bring it Back – More Than a Mistress by Mary Balogh

Fae Is Bae – Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Franch Doors/Boastful Floors – The Corrupt Comte by Edie Harris

Frogs – Enchanted by Alethea Kontis

HB Author – A Kiss For Solstice by Elizabeth Allyn-Dean

Herbs, Herbs, Herbs – A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

I’m a Waitress! – His Naughty Waitress by Bella Love-Wins

Intellectualism in 2020 – Romancing the Inventor by Gail Carriger

Keep Being a Badass – A Duke By Default by Alyssa Cole

Lady Love – A Man of Character by Margaret Locke

Octopus Tentacles – Taken by Tentacles by Jessie Snow

One True Chris – A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert

Pleasure Barge – Floats Her Boat by Nicolette Dane

Queen Bird – The Kiss Thief by L.J. Shen

Smokeshow – Smoke and Mirrors by Sabrina Wagner

Tits Out – Drowning in Rapture by Megan D. Martin

Traditional Highlander Fingerbanging – Plaid to the Bone by Mia Marlowe

Your Faves are Problematic – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Review: The Beauty Bride by Claire Delacroix

Trigger Warning: Attempted sexual assault

I read The Beauty Bride to check the Medieval romance box in the Reading Embrace. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. It started pretty strong, I like the banter between siblings, but I’m still just kinda…. hmm.

The general synopsis, thanks to Amazon, is:
“Lady Madeline’s heart is not for sale…especially not to a notorious outlaw like Rhys FitzHenry. Yet Madeline’s hand has been sold, to none other than this battle-weary warrior with a price on his head. A more dutiful maiden might cede to the Laird’s command and meekly accept her fate, but Madeline has never been obedient. She decides to run away, though she never dreams that Rhys will pursue her. She does not expect this taciturn man to woo her with fanciful stories, much less that each of his enthralling tales will reveal a scar upon his shielded soul. She never imagines that a man like Rhys could imperil her own heart while revealing so little of his own feelings. When Rhys’s past threatens his future, Madeline takes a leap of faith. She dares to believe him innocent
— and risks her own life to pursue a passion more priceless than the rarest gem.”

So a couple of things came up for me while reading this book. First, everyone gets real chill with Alexander auctioning off his sister real quick. By the end of it everyone is like ‘aw shucks Alex you tried a thing’ and I was still very much Team What The Hell Dude Don’t Auction Your Sister. Similarly, the hero tells the heroine, after they get married and have sex, that if she can’t produce a male heir he’ll just hire a prostitute and do it that way just like his dad did. This is also never rescinded and we’re just kinda meant to go ‘aw shucks Rhys you heir happy sonofagun’ and be fine with that. Also, I’m all for his mother not being presented in a terrible light because sex work is valid work, but they did turn his stepmom (his dad’s wife) into a literal villain and I feel like her anger (if not her actions) are incredibly valid. So that was complicated for me.

The pacing was rough. The hero kept telling stories to Madeline that enthralled her but bored the everloving fuck out of me. It was a little history happy and the fairy character felt thoroughly unnecessary and gimmicky. Wow as I write this I guess I really didn’t like it that much, huh. I think the problem is that I wanted to like it so much and like I said it started pretty strong but it sure did sink pretty quickly. I don’t feel compelled to read the rest of the series even though some of the premises sound interesting because fool me once, shame on you fool me twice, still shame on you, write better books.

That might be unfair. The book wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t for me.

Review: Time Out by Jill Shalvis

Trigger Warning: Discussions of domestic violence

Quick note – if you look at the initial Reading Embrace post I made about what books I was going to read and notice that 75% of them are not what I ended up reading, please know that it doesn’t mean I started and DNF’d all of them. It just means I lost the plot somewhere in the middle of the year and didn’t read anything for the Embrace for a long time and suddenly had to start scarfing some down and chose quicker reads.

I read Time Out to fill the Sportsball category in the Reading Embrace. This was my first sports romance and my first Jill Shalvis book and will probably be my last for both.

Amazon Synopsis:
“NHL coach Mark Diego’s plan to spend his off-season volunteering in his hometown goes awry when he learns that not only is he coaching teenage girls, but that the program is coordinated by energetic (and five feet two inches of trouble) coordinator Rainey Saunders, his childhood friend—and the woman he could never stand to see dating any other guy….
When their tempers flare, Mark and Rainey discover their fireworks don’t just burn angry—they burn very, very hot! But that’ll just sweeten the victory. Because Mark always plays to win. And with Rainey, he’s planning on playing very dirty, too…”

Here’s the thing, I love baseball. I’ve been rooting for the Mariners since I was a little girl in the 90s watching games on TV with my grandpa. One of the highlights of the decade was finally going to a Mariners game. But even with my love of the sport, the only time in this book I wasn’t annoyed was when the people were having well written sex and even then sometimes I rolled my eyes.

I didn’t really care about or like the characters. And my mandatory reporting self was enraged by the clumsy mishandling of the domestic violence subplot where a student is very clearly being abused and the heroine decides that the way to handle it is to THREATEN the abuser with reporting which, shock and awe, only increases the violence. They get an HEA but I wasn’t happy about it. Bah humbug.

Review: In the Presence of Absence by Mahmoud Darwish and Sinan Antoon (translator)

This will be my last memoir post for the year, just in case anyone was growing tired of them and wants to go back to the realm of fiction. This is also the last book club review of the year because for December our genre was Palestinian authors and this autobiographical book of poetry was the winner.

I was thoroughly unaware of Darwish when I read In The Presence of Absence, because my literary education has been comprised of primarily British and American authors. At first I was nervous about taking on the work because I don’t have a strong grasp of the conflict between Israel and Palestine and was worried I would need to do a lot of research to connect with the book. While I know the book would impact me on a deeper level more consistently if I was more educated about this issue, the book still resonated in many ways. I don’t feel incredibly confident about writing a review of a work by an author who means such a great deal to his country so I will simply state that it was a deeply moving book and provided a voice from a country whose pain I’ve only seen discussed peripherally by white news anchors in clips from CNN and it’s a damn shame there isn’t more space given to own voices during these conflicts.

As written in the Amazon synopsis:

“One of the most transcendent poets of his generation, Darwish composed this remarkable elegy at the apex of his creativity, but with the full knowledge that his death was imminent. Thinking it might be his final work, he summoned all his poetic genius to create a luminous work that defies categorization. In stunning language, Darwish’s self-elegy inhabits a rare space where opposites bleed and blend into each other. Prose and poetry, life and death, home and exile are all sung by the poet and his other. On the threshold of im/mortality, the poet looks back at his own existence, intertwined with that of his people. Through these lyrical meditations on love, longing, Palestine, history, friendship, family, and the ongoing conversation between life and death, the poet bids himself and his readers a poignant farewell.”

 

Review: No Time To Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin

No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters is a collection of blog posts by famed novelist Ursula K. Le Guin, lovingly curated and published shortly before her passing. It is divided into different subgenres including pieces about her cat, her experiences receiving fan mail, and takes on modern life.

I haven’t read many of Le Guin’s works, I think I may have read a couple of short stories in undergrad and that is probably about it. Her traditional genre, SciFi, isn’t one I often read so I don’t think that will change a great deal. But I am very glad I read this. Le Guin’s voice in these posts is sharply intelligent but not lacking the humanity we often associate with genius. They are also perceptive and poignant in turn. I especially loved her writing about her cat because I too am a cat lady and could relate to her on that point.

Fans of Le Guin’s work will greatly enjoy this book I think, especially reading about how she views her legacy and the work she’s done. But even for those of us who are generally unfamiliar with it, it’s a beautiful collection and made me feel that loss all over again. It is a bittersweet experience but one that shouldn’t be missed.

Review: Wildflower by Drew Barrymore

I grew up in a household that had strongly opposing views about Drew Barrymore. My dad hated her and considered her trashy liberal scum. My mom loved her and considered her fun, engaging, and liked her movies. I mostly struggled with feeling torn about whether I was attracted to her or wanted to look like her (answer: both). Suffice it to say I was interested in reading more about this person whose movies I grew up with and was told to reject/admire/maybe kiss a little I dunno.

Wildflower is a collection of vignettes from Barrymore’s life, recounting her youth pre-fame up through present day. The vignettes bounce around from years but cover a broad spectrum of time including her first steps into stardom at a very young age and memories of ET and Spielberg, to her complicated relationship with her parents and her father’s death, to becoming a mother and the concerns that also brought. She talks a bit about her experience developing her own production company and her goals and values. There is a section about her experience helping out children in Africa that felt a little bit white savior-y, especially as the focus was on how this changed her perspective and her life and just felt a little bit cringey. But I do feel that her heart was in the right place. I wouldn’t blame people, especially people from the country she visited, to be a little miffed by her representation of it though.

I usually like books where I feel a connection to the author and can sort of curl up in that world and this wasn’t the case at all. I definitely felt like an outsider looking in, but not in a cold or bad way. It didn’t feel distant, more like Barrymore was taking me through her memories like the ghost of hollywood past and I was along for the ride.

Ultimately, it’s a book that I would recommend my dad avoid and my mom read ASAP.

Review: Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark

Trigger Warning: This book is a dual memoir of two people who have an interest in true crime so heinous acts are referenced including sexual assault and murder. There are also stories shared about their own near misses with assault and child endangerment. People should also be aware that they both discuss addiction, eating disorders, and one of them relays the experience of losing their mother to Alzheimer’s which could be especially distressing to those with personal experience with that kind of loss.

I’ve been a My Favorite Murder listener for a couple of years now and my feelings about it kind of wax and wane, especially since it has become only about 50% murder and 50% sad/weird/disaster things. However, I still appreciate the podcast and when I heard this book was coming out I knew I’d read it but it took me til November to actually give it a read. I’m so glad that I did.

Even if you are not a listener of this podcast, the writing is solid and I laughed and cried at different times throughout. It’s not easy to get me to do either thing so the fact that they were both able to make me express both says something.

I also enjoy that it’s a unique format by writing a dual memoir. Even though there is a decade between the two, their stories and perspectives are very in sync and touch on broad human experiences. There is also less talk of murder than you would expect though they do explain how and why they came to love the macabre subject and what their friendship and its bond over true crime has meant to them.

Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered is a poignant, well crafted memoir and stands alone as a work apart from the podcast or the true crime genre in general.

Review: The Fairy Bride by Tess Mallory

This is the last Mallory work I’ll review here and it’s going to be quick because it was a novella. Mallory wrote The Fairy Bride with the intent to possibly go back and flesh it out to become a full length novel. At this point I don’t believe she’s done this but you can tell that she was writing something she loved when you read this story.

The prose is very reminiscent of a fanfic story you write in high school and that is not an insult. High school fanfic writers are as varied in talent as any grown up, published author. What they have that sometimes gets lost over time is a deep love of what they’re writing that translates from page to reader. Mallory is clearly dipping into a world that’s been on her mind for awhile and I really appreciated getting that sense from her which was nostalgic for me. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say for the story.

It’s a simple tale of a fairy king who has to marry or his country will be invaded (there’s bloodline stuff involved in this) and there is a soulmate for him to find and once he does they will both be in love. He is sent to where his soulmate is and there she is, a human who is engaged to a dick of a man (a trend in Mallory’s writing). She ends up leaving him, she falls instantly in love with the fairy king as he does with her, and they thwart an evil plan to overthrow the kingdom and everything ends happily.

It don’t have any specific complaints here as I did in the last works by this author. It just didn’t grab me and I found some of the worldbuilding hurried and a bit complicated. If she did write this series I don’t think I’d read it simply because fairies aren’t typically my jam and how they are in this series isn’t bad but definitely doesn’t speak to me. If you enjoy fairies and felt things as a child while watching Thumbelina (and to be honest I did too but then Dmitri happened) you should give it a read. It’s not a huge time investment and it may spark the desire to go back to doing some fanfiction writing yourself.

Review: Highland Fling by Tess Mallory

To continue the metaphor from Highland Dream, you know when you’re eating that thing that you’re not really enjoying but it’s hitting something you can’t identify so even though you finish it and think oh god thank god it’s done but then you grab ANOTHER serving of it? That was this book’s experience.

In Highland Fling, the heroine is a briefly mentioned friend of Jix’s, Chelsea, who is a Boring, Spinsterish, Plain, Hopeless, Wallflower of a woman whose friends constantly try to remake her, tear her down constantly, and then slut shame her when she wears something spicy in an attempt to embrace her sexuality a bit. Oh, also she’s a PhD level scientist who is brilliant but gosh dang if she doesn’t have babies her life is worthless! This isn’t me extrapolating, it’s pretty explicitly expressed by Sam who continues her reign as rancid bitch (I did not read the third book because it featured her and I do not feel Sam deserves an HEA tbh).

There is a lot of time traveling in this book and I enjoyed the unique premise. This premise is the friend from the first book, Griffin, travels to contemporary Scotland and runs into his friends who had successfully gone back to their time at the end of the first book. Chelsea’s friends refuse to let her in on what happened, leaving her feeling left out and hurt which is completely understandable. She grows close to Griffin and they end up time traveling to the old west to find his cousin who he discovers accidentally traveled there and was hung for a crime Griffin is sure he could not have committed.

Once in the old west there is some fun stuff that happens. Chelsea comes out of her shell a bit when she’s taken in by the Madame at a saloon and does some dancing and enjoys herself for probably the first time in her whole life. Griffin reunites with his cousin and there’s a good old fashioned jailbreak. The protagonists are also both virgins and that’s not common, especially when you have a contemporary person in one of the pair. I was happy for them when they got their HEA, happier than I was in the first book because I actually liked Chelsea even though I wanted to shake her and tell her that her friends were toxic and she should get therapy for her low self-esteem. I was also happy to see Griffin get his HEA because he was a sweetheart in the first one and a genuinely good character. The two deserve each other in the best way. In hindsight I think I enjoyed this one better than the first (at least after they left behind Sam and Jix) but again, I don’t feel compelled to read on because Sam deserves nothing good from this world and I don’t know or care about the characters in the rest of the series.

Highland Dream by Tess Mallory

Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence

You know when you bite into something, like a greasy junk food, and there’s a part of you that’s like “ugh this is conceptually gross and I don’t even totally enjoy it” but you can’t stop eating it? That was me and this book.

Highland Dream is a time travel romance featuring possibly my least favorite heroine I’ve ever read. Jessica Isobel Xavier (who goes by Jix) is known for a couple of things: her tragic past with tone-joltingly rough domestic violence and lying. About everything. For fun. Just for kicks. Cuz she’s Just That Quirky. She is meant to instill a consistent vein of humor throughout the novel but most of the time it just read like slapstick which is a medium best presented visually. Oh, also Jix gets prophetic dreams, so that also adds to her Quirk factor.

The basic premise is that Jix has a dream where she sees her best friend Sam in a wedding dress next to a gorgeous Scotsman. The trouble is that her friend is currently engaged to a guy who’s a jerk and Sam’s father enlists Jix’s help breaking up the relationship because apparently Jix is the only person allowed to make her own choices and grow through mistakes and everyone else must have their autonomy violated. So quirk, so fun. She pulls this off not by having a serious talk with her friend about her concerns but by getting her friend drunk on the plane and transferring them to a plane headed to Scotland where they are going to stay at an airbnb. If a man did what Jix did this would be the plot of a Lifetime movie but Jix is Quirky so it’s all just in good fun.

Fast forwarding past Sam’s very valid anger and bewilderment at being brought to Scotland, ruining her wedding and taking her to another country against her knowledge or will, and Jix demanding it’s fine because after all Sam tried to talk Jix out of her marriage before and this is the same thing. Probably. Sure.

They get to Scotland and who opens the door to the old Scottish manor house they’ll be staying at but the very gorgeous Scot that Jix saw in her dream? Jamie MacGregor has a backstory about how he’s in the CIA or some equivalent but honestly it hardly comes into play so just know that he’s gorgeous, he’s trained to Fight, and he’s there. He and Jix immediately hit it off and Jix keeps trying to force Sam to be around the guy when the woman just wants to go to bed. This turns into a clumsy scene where they are all touching the man’s sword (not a euphemism) and Jamie speaks his family’s motto in gaelic and the sword glows and poof they are transported to Highland times Scotland.

In this interpretation of time travel your hair and clothes automatically also change so when they get to Highland times Jix’s hair has grown long and flowing and his is also longer. No clue how Sam’s hair looks because she isn’t there. They are captured and brought to a castle where their identities are mistaken for the contemporary MacGregor clan and an agreement is struck that Jamie will help them with a heist and marry his “sister” Jix to the clan leader and they will get the sword back. Jix keeps insisting that he fall in love with Sam, he has no idea why she’s so determined and even though they are literally back in time she doesn’t think he’ll believe her if she tells him that the reason she’s so insistent is because she has prophetic dreams. They fall into a pattern of arguing, boning, her being distant for no reason and lying to him consistently about why, her being mad when he lies about things, wash, rinse, repeat. They eventually find Sam and that’s a whole complicated thing about Romani people that was a bit cringey.

One of the reasons I think I kept reading was that Mallory isn’t a poor writer. The pacing was good, it was crafted well, and I loved a side character in the novel who became a friend of Jix’s and I bought and read the second because it featured him getting an HEA.

In the end of course it’s all happy and fine but it takes 75% of the book before Jix tells Jamie the truth. I just can’t with consistent lying you guys. That’s probably one of the reasons I really struggled with Jix. Still, as I said, I did buy and read the second book because there was just this strange pull to Mallory’s work. Most reviews talk about how hilarious they found the book so I might just be a snob or it may have just hit me wrong for some reason. I’d say give it a shot but be aware that if you don’t like when the major conflict is people not just talking to each other, this is going to be a hard one for you.