It’s our first Romantic Times Rewind episode, starting with May 2014! We are looking at all 298 (!) book reviews in issue 363 of RT Book Reviews Magazine.
Amanda and I are going to pick a book from each of the review collections by genre, from historical to urban fantasy to the Teen Scene. We also discuss the very narrow grading rubric, and the rarity of two- and one-star reviews.
Journey back to May 2014 with us!
You can check out the entire Romantic Times Rewind archive as well.
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Sarah Wendell: Hello there and welcome to episode number 584 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I am Sarah Wendell, and this is the very first Romantic Times Rewind. Amanda and I are going to go together back to May 2014, and we’re taking you with us. We are going to be picking a book from each of the review collections by genre, from historical to urban fantasy to teen scene as we reread RT book reviews, issue 363.
This is a lot of fun, and if you have missed our prior announcements, here’s how this is going to work: every other week here at the podcast, Amanda and I are going to be looking back at an old issue of Romantic Times. I keep wanting to call them episodes, but – [laughs] – they are magazine issues. We are going to look at the reviews in one episode, and then two weeks later we’re going to look at the features and the ads in that episode – see? I did it again – in that issue. We’re going to be sharing so much of what we find with you. There’s going to be posts on Smart Bitches; there’s going to be posts on Instagram; there’s going to be posts on smartbitches.tumblr.com, because it makes me happy to say Tumblr. But if you would like to follow along, the best way to do that is to join our Patreon.
If you take a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches, not only do you support this show and make sure that every episode has a transcript from garlicknitter – hi, garlicknitter! [Hi! – gk] – but you will get complete PDF scans of the issues of Romantic Times that we are talking about, so you can read the whole magazine right along with us. If you would like to support the show and read ten-year-old issues of a magazine about romance novels – and why would you not want to do that part? – have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.
There are going to be so many visual aids to go with this episode. I have pictures of the reviews, I’ve got pictures of book covers, we have so much to talk about, so don’t miss the show notes and any of the other RT Rewind content on Smart Bitches, and follow us on Instagram @smartbitches, and on Tumblr – heh-heh – at smartbitches. I will also have links to the reviews that we talk about and, of course, all of the books that we are mentioning.
But I think it’s time to get started. Let’s do this! On with our very first Romantic Times Rewind: back to May 2014.
Sarah: So let us begin – this is so exciting – Romantic Times Rewind. We are going to back to May 2014. Dun-dun-duhhh! Which is almost ten years ago!
Amanda: I know; that’s wild to me. I’m trying to think how old was I in 2014? Thirty-five? Thirty-five – not thirty-five; I’m thirty-four now.
Sarah: That was some Sarah math right there! I would be like, Yeah, sure! Absolutely, thirty-five! In 2014 –
Amanda: …ten years ago.
Sarah: Let’s see here, in May of 2014 I had not yet moved to Maryland, so I’m still in New Jersey. My older child is nine, and my younger child is seven, and I am thirty-nine! ‘Cause in 2015 –
Sarah: – I turned forty. So yeah, I’m, I’m thirty-nine years old. This issue was sent to me by Angela James and Shannon Stacey, who are both digital subscribers. Thank you very much to Angie and Shannon for sending this to me.
We are starting with May of 2014, and the cover is Valerie Bowman’s The Unexpected Duchess, and I noticed as I was looking through older issues that either they have a picture of the author, like they have the author’s headshot, or they have a large, blown-up image from the cover of the book, and I have to say, I tend to remember the book cover issues more than I remember the author photo covers, which is probably just because I’m, I gravitate more towards wanting to remember books? This is issue number 363, and the sticker price on the cover of the magazine is four dollars and ninety-nine cents.
Amanda: Was this stocked in, like, stores like a CVS or a grocery store? Like, could you buy this off the rack anywhere?
Sarah: I, I would bet that back in the day, when Barnes & Noble and Borders had those big-ass magazine sections and it was like –
Sarah: – the most niche publications, that RT was there, but I’ve never seen it at CVS or at a gas station or anything. I’m pretty sure I see, I’ve seen it at, like, the big magazine selections in a bookstore. Remember bookstores? Remember magazines? With, we’re –
Amanda: And also –
Sarah: – we’re going back in time.
Amanda: – I think five dollars is a decent price!
Sarah: Absolutely! I mean, my goodness, especially given how much is in this magazine! [Laughs]
Amanda: On the cover it says 298 new books reviewed and rated.
Sarah: And that’s not even all of the books that they’re talking about. Like, we have things to talk about in terms of this magazine. As a person – and I’m sure you can relate to this – who manages a publication that reviews and talks about books, this number of reviews in one month makes me want to lie down and take a nap. It is so much, and if you think about how many books have been published every month now in romance? Like, you can’t possibly get to them all!
Amanda: Yeah, like, these are, the site, or the cover says new books, so there’s roughly three hundred romance-specific, romance-adjacent books that they are reviewing each month. It’s not an exhaustive list –
Amanda: – and does not account for all the other genres that aren’t romance-adjacent –
Amanda: – like nonfiction and cookbooks or whatever, so if you want to think of the sheer volume of books – [laughs] –
Amanda: – coming out into the world on a monthly basis.
Sarah: The other thing that I noticed right away as we start with the reviews is the, the grading rubric. And you’ve been, you’ve, you’ve been edited by me, so you know that one of my biggest things in editing reviews is, I want there to be a correlation, a match between the text of the review and the grade, so, like, when you get to the end of the review, you should know what the grade is if you didn’t see it at the top, and if you see the grade, it shouldn’t be a surprise what’s in the review; they have to match. And so the, we have a pretty wide range: we go from A all the way to F. We have an F+. Like, it’s great!
But this rubric is very strange. Now, I know they don’t have a five-star review on purpose, and I don’t remember in whose memory it was, but I think in memory of somebody they took away the five-star; it might have been a reviewer. I’ll have to find out. But everything is be-, mostly between three and four and a half Top Pick, or what I call 4.5TP stars. So there’s four and a half, four and a half stars TP; four and a half; four; three; three and a half; and two. There were no ones in this issue. I’ve heard that there are –
Sarah: – ones in other issues, but I, there are no one-star reviews in this issue. And here’s the rubric at the top: so they have bo- – this is so much information. Like, think about how much information they’re packing into this tiny space.
Scorcher: borders on erotic, very graphic sex.
Hot: most romance novels fall into this category; ranges from conventional love-making to explicit sex. Now, we could unpack that for a little while – [laughs] – but we’re just – conventional love-making to explicit sex. ‘Kay.
Mild: may or may not include love-making; no explicit sex. What is the difference – [laughs] – between love-making and sex here? I’ve got to…
Amanda: But also, mild? That’s a big gap of may have sex, may not have sex!
Sarah: Right? And if you’re looking for the may not have sex and you run into the may have sex, then you may be mad about that!
Sarah: So then there’s, this is the rubric – [laughs] – okay, and several of these are the same!
Four and a half stars gold: Is phenomenal, in a class by itself.
Four and a half stars: Fantastic! A keeper.
Four stars: Compelling, page-turner.
Three stars: Enjoyable, a pleasant read.
Two stars: Problematic, may struggle to finish.
Or one star: Severely flawed, pass on this one.
Amanda: I like how, and they, they combine the two. So it’ll have a star rating and then the spiciness rating, and it’s like a weird little –
Sarah: It’s a lot of info!
Amanda: – Punnett square of matching up things. And then for a while I did not know what the TP means –
Amanda: – in the rating rubric?
Sarah: Four and a half TPs! Four and a half sheets of toilet paper is what we’re talking about here.
Amanda: [Laughs] ‘Cause TP is like toilet paper, but I know that’s not right, and it took me a while to realize, oh, it’s like Top Pick?
Amanda: And I feel like they could have gone with a better, like a, a better acronym.
Sarah: And it doesn’t match what’s at the top, because it says –
Sarah: – four and a half gold, but then there’s four and a half Top Pick. Like, is that, is, is gold Top Pick? Why not just call it four and a half G?
Amanda: Yeah, four and a half gold star –
Amanda: – or something like that.
Sarah: And then there’s K.I.S.S., like the historical has K.I.S.S.es from May, Knights in Shining Silver, and I’m not sure what that stands for.
Amanda: I wonder if – so a lot of reviewing places do, like, starred reviews? Like, Kirkus has starred reviews –
Amanda: – Publishers Weekly has starred reviews –
Sarah: That’s true.
Amanda: – and I believe BookPage has stars; and I wonder if, like, RT wanted to, like, separate themselves as like, You don’t get stars here; you get TPs!
Sarah: [Snorts] You get a TP. You get a TP!
Amanda: I just…I just imagine like just a giant – ‘cause toilet paper’s expensive! – just like a giant like sixteen pack of, like, Cottonelle.
Amanda: And that’s yours to keep. Like –
Sarah: No, no Charmin and the dingleberry bears? Okay.
Amanda: Now I do love Charmin; Charmin is my preferred, preferred toilet paper, in case anyone was wondering. [Laughs]
Sarah: I, I will tell you that a person to whom I am married is so very much a fan of Charmin that he travels with a roll of toilet paper. He will take a roll –
Amanda: That’s dedication.
Sarah: – and then he will take the cardboard out of the middle so he can flatten it, and he will pack his special toilet paper.
Amanda: [Laughs] What brand loyalty.
Sarah: It is –
Amanda: Look, Charmin, if you want a sponsor –
Sarah: Charmin –
Amanda: – the podcast would be happy to have you.
Sarah: Charmin, there’s TP all over this magazine. Like, it’s a match.
Sarah: So let us start with the first genre section; let’s dive right in. Historical romance, and this is a beefy section. So this is 2014 –
Sarah: – historical is still pretty, pretty popular, and there’s a special asterisk. So each section starts with a chart where they just list all of the titles, authors, ISBNs, the rating, and the publisher, and then there’s sometimes an asterisk if it’s hardcover or if it’s an e-book. So some of these are just e-book only. But the –
Amanda: Yeah, there’s like a quick and dirty legend…
Sarah: Yeah, the quick and dirty legend. So starting with historical, what we’re going to do in each section is we’re going to pick out a review that we wanted to specifically call attention to, and mine is on page 28, and it is The Witch of Clan Sinclair by Karen Ranney – I think I said that right – four and a half stars, Top Pick, hot, setting: Victorian Scotland. So if you see the title The Witch of Clan Sinclair, you have some ideas, right? All of those ideas are wrong; I just want you to know, they’re all wrong, and this, this review made me laugh so hard.
So this is, this is what’s so interesting to me about the RT reviews: there’s a tiny little review and then a little plot summary, but both of them give you a very, like a very fulsome view of this book. So:
>> With powerful characters and a depth of emotion, Ranney’s latest Sinclair romance hits the mark. Readers won’t fail to empathize with the strong-willed, feminist heroine and will desire the kilt-clad alpha hero.
That’s not how I read, but okay.
>> Ranney adds plenty of sexual tension, danger, and historical detail to round out the story and keep readers enthralled.
Okay, so I’m, I’m here, right? Witch, Clan Sinclair –
Amanda: I –
Sarah: – hot alpha, got a kilt. So here’s the summary, and this is why I picked out this book:
>> The Witch of Clan Sinclair: Newspaper editor Mairi Sinclair is determined to make it in a man’s world.
Again, this is The Witch of Clan Sinclair we’re talking about.
>> When she’s turned away from a lecture because of her gender, she is furious. Logan Harrison, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, is intrigued by the fiery young woman. She certainly doesn’t have the makings of the ideal politician’s wife, but her spirit calls to him.
>> Then –
Sarah: >> – he rescues her from men attacking her for speaking out on women’s rights! She’s unable to resist the temptation; all it takes is one kiss for passion and tempers to flare, forcing Mairi and Logan to decide if politics and love make perfect bedfellows.
This review was written by Kathe Robin. What part of newspaper editor and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh matches the Witch of Clan Sinclair? There’s not a single piece of witchery. It’s just that she’s a –
Amanda: She’s a witch! [Laughs]
Sarah: – she’s a, she’s a suffragist? She, she wants to go to lectures? Like, it just doesn’t match, and I am so, so into that for some reason. I just think that’s hilarious.
I also want to draw your attention very quickly on page 32? I was scrolling quickly, and on the left-hand side I swear I thought that said Return of the Prodigal Gravy?
Sarah: But it is Return of the Prodigal Gilvry by Ann Lethbridge, also Regency Scotland. There’s a lot of Scots running around at this time I see. But anyway, prodigal gravy aside, what is your pick in historical romance this month?
Amanda: So, I based this off the review and not the summary? I feel like, though, the summary does some stuff that I feel like might be a little problematic within the book? But I don’t, I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know; maybe I’m wrong. But a lot of the reviews that I’ve picked, you can tell the reviewer was writing this up and, like, their quippiness or their alliteration or some of the puns they make, you can tell they were, one, having fun writing the review and, two, being like, Yeah, fuck, I nailed it!
Amanda: And that’s what I picture sometimes? So these reviews, and this one is pretty heavy with, like, alliterative stuff?
Sarah: Kathe Robin does love a good alliteration; it’s true.
Amanda: [Laughs] And this is for A Wedding by Dawn by Alison DeLaine, which got four and a half stars and a Hot rating.
Amanda: But the review reads:
>> DeLaine’s high-seas adventure romance will win her loyal fans who will adore the seafaring escapades as much as, as much as the sensuality and battle of wills between her headstrong characters. The nonstop action keeps the pages flying, even as they singe readers with sexual tension.
Amanda: >> The power of this character-driven story will seize readers’ imaginations and emotions.
Amanda: So – [laughs]
Sarah: So a lot happens, and it’s hot and sexy.
Amanda: Singing and seizing and – [laughs]
Sarah: Imagination and emotion. Singeing.
Amanda: …the summary.
Sarah: The, the, the summary, by the way, the summary is just glorious.
Amanda: [Laughs] It was okay. The summary:
>> Lady India will do anything to maintain her freedom, so she steals her friend Catherine Warre’s ship –
Sarah: As you do!
Amanda: >> – and sets sail.
Yeah! You know, just a friend with a boat, and you just take it!
Amanda: >> – and sets sail for the Mediterranean.
Sarah: As you do!
Amanda: >> She doesn’t count on Nic-, Nicholas Warre, whose determination to save his estate sends him on a mission to find and marry India and return to England. Surrender isn’t, isn’t in India’s vocabulary, but seduction is.
Sarah: Oh Lord.
Amanda: >> And as her daring plan nearly backfires, India and Nicholas have to face that love and hate are close emotions. When the truth of Nicholas’s heritage and India’s secrets are revealed, only their faith, trust, and love can vanquish their pasts.
Sarah: Ooh, I can see how that could take a turn for the stomach-clenchingly problematic
Amanda: Yeah! [Laughs]
Sarah: Wow. Okay.
Amanda: I feel, well, some of these reviews later on, like, I saw that they gave a book like a Top Pick, and I’m like, I reviewed that, and I do not agree with that assessment!
Sarah: Yes, there were a lot of reviews in Romantic Times where I would be like, Oh, okay, that sounds up my street! It was not even in the same town. Nope.
Sarah: Shall we move on to mainstream fiction?
Sarah: Now, these do not have Hot ratings, because apparently we’re not expecting these to have any sexytimes in them. There are a whole bunch of books, mostly ranging between three and four and a half, four and a half TP ratings. We still have, we still have that super narrow rubric. Okay.
So first of all, I’m going to spoil this. If you scroll down in the document that we created, you can see the cover for this book. And it is clearly –
Amanda: Hate it!
Sarah: Oh yeah, it’s very creepy. So do you remember when all of the book covers for, like, Emily Giffin were a single pastel color, and then there were just the words, and there were no capitalize; it was all in lower case. So it’s like that; it’s sage green with the title, Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro, and then there’s a Raggedy Ann and a Raggedy Andy doll hugging each other and staring at the reader. And it is, it is, it’s creepy doll time
Amanda: Now, the dolls are also, like, off-center?
Amanda: So I wonder if it’s creepier, the off-centered-ness?
Sarah: Ohhh, like they just –
Amanda: It’s creepier?
Sarah: – snuck onto the page like, Hello!
Amanda: Or, like, if they put them dead center, would that be creepier?
Sarah: Oh, that could be! So Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro is a four and a half star Top Pick.
>> Fierro’s powerful debut nails the complexities of being a parent in the 21st century. Filled with a huge cast of moms and a dad, this novel brilliantly captures the highs and lows that come along with having children. Poignant, relatable, and at times gasp-worthy, Cutting Teeth is a page-turner told from the perspectives of a variety of characters.
So it’s like a parenting novel. Okay.
>> When a group of parents from a Brooklyn mommy group get together for a weekend away with their significant others and their children, things go sideways.
You don’t say.
>> Each parent has issues: anxiety, money problems, the desire for more children with a partner who doesn’t want more. This group of imperfect parents tries desperately to hold onto their identities and their minds while striving to please their spouses and parent their children.
So this is a group of parents from a Brooklyn mommy group going away with their spouses and their children for a weekend. This is a horror novel.
Amanda: No, thank you!
Sarah: This is a horror novel, and the dolls on the cover support my identification here. This is horror.
Amanda: Yeah. Was it, I, that’s not indicative of what I would think was inside in terms of, like –
Amanda: – seeing the two dolls and being like, oh, it’s like a mommy group traveling with their families, and it’s chaos!
Amanda: Not what I would expect.
Sarah: I, I expect haunted creepy dolls.
Then, if you look at the bottom of page 39, right in the middle? Hold Me in Contempt by Wendy Williams. Wendy Williams wrote a book!
Amanda: I guess! Yeah!
Sarah: Yeah! Hold Me in Contempt has lots of plot twists and plenty of surprises, and it got four stars!
I also, I also really liked, on page 41, by the way, the gin and – [laughs] –
Amanda: That’s the one I want to talk about!
Sarah: Okay, okay, yes. You should talk about this. Okay.
Sarah: Over to you, because I have many things to ask. Go ahead.
Amanda: Yeah! So this is, Under a Summer Sky is the title of the book, and the author is Nan Rossiter, and it only got three stars.
Sarah: Which is like the lowest option in this issue, I think. There might be a two-star –
Amanda: We have, there’s, I think we found two two-star reviews.
Sarah: Yes. But this is, this is –
Amanda: No single ones.
Sarah: – three, three stars, not good.
Amanda: And the review reads:
>> Continuing with the characters from The Gin & Chowder Club –
Amanda: >> – Rossiter’s Under a Summer Sky explores other facets of their lives. It’s a meaningful tale, yet doesn’t seem to make it past the surface of things. There are many different storylines, but Rossiter never delves deep into the emotions caused by the various events.
All very vague; this is all very vague.
Sarah: Except for the gin and chowder club.
Amanda: I need to know more about the gin and chowder club. I love gin –
Sarah: Roger –
Amanda: – and I know you love gin.
Sarah: I do indeed love gin.
Amanda: I don’t know if I’d ever pair gin and chowder together. I don’t like seafood, so if it’s a clam chowder, which I’m assuming it is ‘cause it takes place in Cape Cod –
Sarah: Probably a good guess, yeah. So it’s New England clam chowder, too, which is, like, dairy and seafood.
Amanda: That’s going to be a gnarly upchuck. Like –
Sarah: [Laughs] I was just thinking that! And also, I’m allergic to clams?
Amanda: That’s going to be nasty.
Sarah: I will one thousand percent boof, and that is not a reverse experience I wish to have ever.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s not a pairing I would put together. If I had to do any, like, sort of chowder, I’d pair it with like a white wine.
Sarah: Oh, for sure! Something, especially if it’s, if it’s, it’s New England? It’s thick, it’s creamy, it’s unctuous; you want something to cut through that!
Amanda: But gin?! That’s a choice.
Sarah: Gin and chowdah!
Amanda: Some-, something’s curdling in your stomach. That’s what’s going to happen, I feel like.
Sarah: Something is curdling right now, just thinking about it.
Sarah: But if you were going to have a club that had gin, what would you pair the gin with if not chowder?
Amanda: I mean, like, would you pick a favorite food? And my favorite foods are either nachos or hot dogs.
Sarah: I would say the gin and nachos club sounds great.
Amanda: Gin and nachos? Gin and hot dogs is another questionable one, to be honest.
Sarah: Yeah, it’s a little, those are, those are a little far apart. Gin and chowder.
Amanda: [Laughs] I just, I just picture – and I’m going to get nasty for a second and that – some people boil their hot dogs. What if you boiled them in gin? What the hot dog water was gin?
Sarah: Somebody right now is going to take that idea and make hot-dog-water gin.
Amanda: Some, some fucking gastro pub in New York City or something like that is going to give you, like, is – martinis are made with gin, are they? Or is it vodka?
Sarah: Either. You can have a gin martini or a vodka martini.
Amanda: It would be like a hot dog gin martini with an olive.
Sarah: I’m googling, is there a hot dog –
Amanda: And someone would drink that.
Sarah: A Chicago hot dog martini. There is a recipe for this; it is both vodka and gin, pickle juice, tomato-infused sweet vermouth, yellow mustard bitters, orange bitters, and celery bitters. Okay! I don’t want to know anything more about this?
Amanda: But where’s the hot dog?
Sarah: I think it’s just supposed to evoke – or maybe you just stick the hot dog in the glass like a big penis sticking out?
Amanda: You, you hollow it out and it’s the straw!
Sarah: It’s like the worst kind of Tim Tam Slam. [Laughs] Yep, okay. So gin and chowder club, not for Sarah. Mm-mm.
Amanda: No, thank you!
Sarah: You had another pick, too!
Amanda: Yeah! I was very surprised in, to read this review. It’s on page – where is it? At the top of the –
Sarah: It’s at the bottom of page 38, onto page 39. So it’s the lower –
Amanda: Thank you!
Sarah: – right-hand corner of page 38.
Amanda: Yeah! So it’s, the book title is Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore by Walter Mosley.
Sarah: Again –
Amanda: I’m familiar –
Sarah: – multicultural.
Amanda: Multicultural. I’m familiar with the name Walter Mosley? I’ve seen his books in bookstores. But this is about a “black queen of porn” who is dealing with the death of her husband, who was a porn producer, and I don’t know why, but it was just, like, really surprising to read this frank description of, like, a book about sex work and sex workers – [laughs] – in a magazine for 2014! I have no clue if it, how it’s handled within the scope of the book? But yeah, it was just something I was surprised to just, like, read in a magazine from nearly ten years ago.
Sarah: The first sentence of the summary is something.
Amanda: Ohhh yeaahh! [Laughs]
Sarah: >> Famous Black porn queen Debbie Dare comes to a crossroads in her life when she arrives home to find her husband Theon dead of electrocution in a hot tub with an underage, aspiring actress.
Sarah: Whoo! That is quite a lot. Poor guy.
Sarah: All right!
So shall we move on to Teen Scene?
Amanda: Oh boy.
Amanda: This was something!
Sarah: My pick is on page 42. Fantasy: Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Page, four stars.
>> We’re not in Kansas anymore. In this dark reimagining of The Wizard of Oz, Amy Gumm is a trailer-trash Dorothy on a mission to reverse L. Frank Baum’s classic tale. Amy is funny and down-to-earth, with more real drama than the average YA heroine: a mother addicted to painkillers and an absentee dad to start. A brilliantly recreated cast of characters rounds out this promising debut.
Amanda: I just noticed that there’s a typo!
Sarah: Oh, really? Where?
Amanda: So in the review, the heroine’s name is Amy Gumm; in the summary –
Sarah: It’s Amy –
Amanda: – her name is Amy Grum.
Sarah: Grum! Ohhh! Well, now I’m going to verify: according to Goodreads, it’s Amy Gumm!
Amanda: I think it’s Grum.
Sarah: It’s Gumm! G-U-M-M. Yeah, this book has a 3.8-star average and was a nominee for Best Debut in 2014!
Amanda: Yeah, I remember this series being pretty popular.
Sarah: Yeah, she’s been recruited by the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to be the other girl from Kansas.
Amanda: So my pick – and I’ve never read any of these books, but I have friends who are obsessed with these books, the Kiera Cass –
Sarah: Oh yes!
Amanda: – Selection series? And this one is called The One, and the designation, like the subgenre designation, is futuristic?
Sarah: Oh, that’s an old term! I haven’t heard that in forever!
Amanda: [Laughs] And this one has three stars, and the review reads:
>> Fans who have been eagerly awaiting the last installment in the Selection series will be happy with this satisfying ending. America, Maxon, and even Aspen are back!
Amanda: >> The One delves more into Maxon and America’s maturing relationship, undoubtedly the best scenes, giving readers a clearer picture as to America’s feelings towards each suitor. A pleasurable and steady pace is marred by a rushed ending that needs better plotting. A compelling story, story with an utterly sweet and poignant romantic storyline.
And I just need to talk about the names. America?
Sarah: I just need to point out that that is pretty positive? And it’s a three-star review.
Amanda: Yeah, I feel like the only, they only had, like, the one negative line of, like, it needs better pacing for the end.
Sarah: Is this like, is this like when you read like a mid, like, the, you remember the woman who went viral because she was writing very Midwestern reviews of restaurants, and somebody pointed out, like, If she’s only talking about the décor, what she’s actually saying is that the food is bad, but she can’t come right out and say the food is bad? So if you, like, read her review of the Olive Garden, it talks about, like, the tile and the plants and the water feature, whatever. It’s ‘cause the food was bad, and I’m like, Okay, I can’t deal with that kind of code. You just need to tell me the food was bad?
So am I supposed to, like, read over this a couple of times and figure out where the negativity is? Like, fans who’ve been eagerly awaiting the last installment will be happy with this satisfying ending. Is that trying to say the only people who are going to like this are the fans of the series who need to be finished? Is that what they’re trying to say? Just say it!
Amanda: But they’re like, they said it’s like a satisfying ending, but also that the ending is rushed? So –
Amanda: – I don’t know.
Sarah: I would have flagged that in editing if it were, if it were sent, sent to me, I would have flagged it.
Amanda: But, okay, so the names are America, Maxon, and Aspen, and those are –
Sarah: The most 2014.
Amanda: For sure. But then, like, I also wonder, when you’re like, Oh, I would have flagged that in editing, and then we saw, like, that one typo of, like, with this volume of reviews, if they’re doing like three hundred reviews plus, like, feature stories and all this other stuff a month, like –
Sarah: That’s a lot!
Amanda: – is that manageable? [Laughs]
Sarah: I honestly don’t think so!
Amanda: …doing actual fine-, fine-tuned editing? That’s a lot of stuff.
Sarah: It’s a lot. Also, America, Maxon, and Aspen sounds like all of the names in the infant room when my kids were going into the toddler room.
Sarah: In my kids’ rooms it was Aden, Jaden, Kaden, Paden, Braden –
Sarah: – like, all of the –aden naming? This is, this is very 2014.
Amanda: So that reminds me of, I subscribed to Dropout TV, and they have this thing called Game Changer.
Amanda: And it’s kind of like an improv show, and one of the per-, people got a prompt of like, like, reveal, like, a deep insecurity you have, and his name is Zac, and he’s like, One of my insecurities is like I’m going to be a grandpa named Zac.
Amanda: What other – look, I’m going to be an old guy named Zac. And everyone’s like, Yeah, can you imagine all the grandpa Bradens and Jadens and Adens –
Sarah: [Laughs] Yes!
Amanda: – like in fifty or sixty years?
Sarah: Oh yeah! You also, you also flagged a cover.
Amanda: And this cover –
Sarah: Ohhh, it made me so uncomfortable!
Amanda: – gave me, gave me like a full-body shudder –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Amanda: – when I saw this, and it’s on page 48, and it’s the cover for Molly McAdams’ novella Capturing Peace? And it’s a –
Sarah: It’s very disturbing.
Amanda: Yeah, it’s like a, it’s a photograph cover, so there’s real models, and there’s a blonde woman on the right-hand side and then, like, a tattooed man with short-cropped hair on the left-hand side, and he has his hand up like at her jaw and like in her hair –
Sarah: And his fingers are wrapped around the back of her neck.
Amanda: Yes, and he’s looking out at us, the reader, and the woman is looking away, and she has, like, a grip on his wrist. And it looks like she is in danger.
Sarah: It really does look –
Amanda: It –
Sarah: This does not look romantic to me. This, this looks very –
Sarah: This looks like, I, my stomach, my, my stomach doesn’t feel good looking at this image. This, this is more –
Sarah: – violent and creepy than sexy and romantic to me, for sure.
Amanda: Yeah. I did not like looking at this cover – [laughs] – at all!
Sarah: I did not either. I did not either. Oof. I agree. Thank you for flagging that one. ‘Cause I scrolled past it and was like, Guh! No!
Amanda: Good for you! [Laughs]
Okay, next up is another absolutely mammoth section for inspirational romance, and I do like that each –
Sarah: – review section is color coded, and inspirational is red!
Amanda: Wow, there are – I feel like the inspirational section is really two categories? You have Amish romance –
Amanda: – or you have, like, romantic suspense where someone’s in the military.
Sarah: Yep, and then there’s a couple of historicals that are inspirational, but mostly Amish.
Sarah: Yeah. So I pulled out Silenced by Dani Petri, which is on page 59. Silenced is romantic suspense; it gets three stars.
>> The mystery in Petri’s latest Alaskan Courage novel is exciting and keeps readers guessing until the end. The author is superb at designing thrilling mystery plots. However, this book falls a bit short in the character development. Many characters are falling in love and getting married, and it gets confusing to keep them straight from the previous novels.
This was the sentence that I liked the most:
>> It’s also farfetched that so many murders could occur in such a remote area of Alaska.
Now, listen –
Amanda: This is how, that’s how you feel about a lot of cozies.
Sarah: That is how you feel about a lot of mystery series is, why are there so many dead people, whether it’s television or books, but also, if you’re going to create a large number of murders, wouldn’t you want to do that in remote Alaska? Seems to decrease the chances that you’re going to get caught, ‘cause it’s remote Alaska! Like, doesn’t, doesn’t that make sense?
Sarah: Not to, not to dis Alaska; Alaska’s great!
But I also wanted to flag, on that same page, a three-star reviews, a three-star review for a contemporary called Until I Found You by Victoria Bylin? Quote: – [laughs]
>> Mature Christians might find both Nick and Kate’s naïve Christian emotions unappealing.
Naïve Christian emotions. Okay, so if that’s what they’re saying in the review, how twee is this book?
Sarah: How twee is this book? If that’s what they’re saying, ‘cause we’ve already identified that they kind of, I don’t know, cushion the reviews a little bit? But yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, for sure.
Sarah: But on Goodreads, by the way, it has 3.9 stars, and people call it a pretty amazing Christian romance.
Amanda: I mean – [claps] –
Sarah: Naïve Christian emotions.
Amanda: I’m, I’m clapping in case you want to take the thread out. I’m not surprised, considering Christianity has a critique and criticism problem –
Sarah: Oh, you don’t say!
Amanda: – for lack thereof. [Laughs]
Sarah: For lack thereof. You don’t say!
So what is your pick? Is it, do you have, do you have naïve Christian emotions about your pick?
Amanda: I don’t! I have a peppery heroine!
Amanda: [Laughs] It’s on 55, and this is a historical? But nothing in the book summary gives you that kind of clue that it would be an, a historical setting and not a contemporary?
Sarah: Oh my God, you’re right!
Amanda: But this – I know! So this is While Love Stirs by Lorna Seilstad, and it’s four stars, and this is the review portion:
>> This novel features a delightful, peppery heroine and a tasty hero.
Amanda: >> Their good humor, luminous faith, and heartfelt attraction make this second novel in The Gregory Sisters series a wholesome, satisfying, and thoroughly enjoyable read. Interesting, well-researched historical details and the immense likability of the many well-rounded characters make for a novel that’s a cut above the rest.
So the –
Sarah: This reviewer was into it.
Amanda: I know! So the denotation says historical, and in the review it says historically, like, well-researched historical details. This is the summary:
>> Determined to one day own her own restaurant, professionally trained nutritionist –
Amanda: >> – Charlotte Greg- –
I know, right? – [laughs] –
>> – Charlotte Gregory is turned away by the sexist chefs of every high-end establishment in her hometown of St. Paul.
Sarah: Oh boy!
Amanda: >> When her, when her eccentric but lovable aunt falls ill, she’s shocked by the hospital’s unhealthy fare, and her crusade to scientifically improve the patients’ nutrition earns the grudging admiration of young Dr. Joel Brooks, who nevertheless can’t rock the boat if he wants to earn a permanent position at the hospital.
Sarah: I am off mic trying so hard not to laugh into the microphone! What?!
Amanda: Google, I googled the cover, ‘cause I’m like, Are we sure this is a historical? And it’s got like a historical lady on the cover! [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh my gosh, the title now! While Love Stirs!
Amanda: Yes. Yeah! That was –
Sarah: There was a meeting about that, and whoever came up with that was just like, yes. Oh, it’s a, it’s a chick in a hat! It’s a chick in a hat staring at the, staring at you. It’s a nice hat. It’s very ‘20s!
Amanda: It says at the turn of the 20th century? So that’s the time period, but it also looks like she’s wearing an Easter Sunday outfit, right?
Sarah: Oh, she’s totally, that’s an Easter hat for sure.
Amanda: So it, like, I mean, maybe if you, like, close your eyes, you could pretend it’s a contemporary; I feel like it would still work.
Sarah: For sure! While Love Stirs. Somebody in a meeting was real proud of that.
Amanda: A peppery heroine!
Sarah: Oh yeah! It’s, there’s an ad for it on page 56.
Amanda: Oh God.
Amanda: Yep, there, there she is!
Sarah: >> A breezy, lighthearted love triangle that will keep readers guessing.
Nope! Do not want to be guessing.
Amanda: But see, the, the review and summary do not mention a love triangle! [Laughs]
Sarah: No, none of that, and I would like to know that. That’s a thing that I would like to know about.
Shall we move on to sci-fi/fantasy?
Amanda: Let’s go.
Sarah: Which is a very short, very, very short list of books?
Sarah: But that’s because we have some spinoffs coming up that are very beefy. There’s ver-, a very, very small handful of books. My pick is just, I just, I just want to know why, and none of this tells me. On page 62: Fantasy anthology Long Hidden, edited by Daniel José Older and Rose Fox, both of whom – I mean, I know Rose Fox and I’ve, like, I’ve followed Daniel José Older on, on Twitter and Bluesky.
>> Older and Fox have assembled some superstar-powered stories in this fantasy anthology from writers of color about people of color. Many of the authors listed are esteemed within and outside their genres. The stories in general do not disappoint. There’s an array of creative crafting represented here in both traditional folk tales and more modern twists on some classics. Some of the stories are not quite as high a caliber as others, but as always, that can be a subjective experience for each reader.
This got three stars, which in this magazine is among the lowest of the grades that they’re giving, of the ratings –
Together: – and it’s like, Why?!
Sarah: Why is it getting – why? Did you – why?! Some of the stories aren’t as good as others? It’s an anthology! That’s what happens! And if Amanda and I read the same anthology I’m willing to bet that we would like different stories in it! Like, why is it getting –
Sarah: – three stars? Is there a particular reason? Is it like they, they weren’t all to your taste? It’s a buffet! Like, not everything you take at the buffet is going to be great! I don’t, I don’t understand why it got three stars. Like, why? Why, why, why?
Amanda: Be-, I know sci-fi and fantasy can be difficult to review in a shorter format, ‘cause you have to, like, explain some of the worldbuilding sometimes? But –
Sarah: Especially if it’s an anthology –
Sarah: – that’s a lot. I mean, on Amazon this book, which appears to be out of print, has 4.2 stars! Like –
Amanda: I mean, Daniel José Older’s books I feel like tend to be pretty well reviewed, well received?
Sarah: Yeah! It’s wild to me, because I don’t quite get why is there, why is it three stars? Like, ‘cause some of them are not as good as others? Well, that, that’s how it works in an anthology? I feel like that is, that is a weird standard on which to assign a rating. So that was my, that was my pick.
Amanda: So I picked, on page 60, it’s a Top Pick –
Amanda: – and the title is The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell.
Sarah: That’s a good title!
Amanda: [Laughs] I know! And there’s some enthusiasm for a particular plot point in the review, so let’s see if you can figure out which one it is!
>> Using a politically charged London as a backdrop, Cornell puts a clever, subversive twist on a Jack-the-Ripper-esque murder case. This supernatural serial killer doesn’t target vulnerable women; he’s strictly into killing powerful white men.
Sarah: [Scooby voice] Err?
Amanda: >> Bringing back the fascinating – [laughs] – bringing back the fascinating cast of London Falling, Detectives Quill, Sefton, Costain, and intelligence, intelligence analyst Ross, The Severed Streets is part thrilling-as-hell spook story and part meditation on guilt, loss, and trust, and I can admit it: I swooned just a little over our compelling three-dimensional angsty heroine Lisa Ross.
Sarah: This sounds like your thing!
Amanda: It’s reviewed by Regina Small, who, you know, I talked with when she was still at RT, when I talked to her about the magazine, and, like, we would get together at conventions, and we follow us on, we follow each other on social media. So I just realized it was her, but this does sound like my wheel house for sure. [Laughs] But –
Sarah: Okay, so this has 3,405 ratings on Goodreads with a 4.01-star average, and it is on Hoopla if you have library access. It, the e-book is on Hoopla.
Amanda: I also wonder if it would be an interesting experiment – well, it’s part of a series, so I have to go read the first one.
Sarah: Nah, you don’t need to. Just start at two; nothing bad’ll happen, said the Gemini to the Aries.
Amanda: I, I know.
Amanda: I also wonder if it would be an interesting experiment to, like, pick a book we think sounds interesting from these old issues and read it and be like, Yeah, this review did not match what I was getting, or vice versa. Oh my gosh, apparently there’s a guy in The Severed Streets called the Rat King, who only speaks in riddles! Sign me up!
Sarah: Ohhh! That looks like it was really fun!
Amanda: [Laughs] Yeah. I might have to read this series!
Sarah: If you read it, I hope you will, you will let us know what you think.
Amanda: Oh, for sure.
Sarah: Okay. Mystery/suspense/thriller: The Goodbye Witch by Heather Blake, a 4.5 star Top Pick is my book that I wanted to talk about. And it, this is on page 67. So this is flagged mystery, amateur sleuth, paranormal series. So they’ve got like tags in the reviews at this point. They’re trying to call out so much information, and yet the space is so short. It is so economical. I put the cover in the document. This is such a 2014 illustrated cover. It’s this super, super thin woman; like, her arms and legs are sticks, but she has a big lollipop head and big, big eyes; and it’s like a, it looks like it’s a color pencil drawing.
Amanda: She’s like a Bratz doll!
Sarah: She looks a lot like a Bratz doll in, and she’s wearing like a green cowl-neck sweater and some white leggings and some boots. There’s a dog and a cat, and she’s in front of a fire, and she’s got a bunch of books on the floor, and she’s looking at the reader, and it’s – like, I, except for the part that she looks like a, like a Bratz doll, you could tell me that this, the wish, the Wishcraft Mystery series, you could tell me that was being published today and I’d be like, Sure! Absolutely; makes sense. Everything comes back.
Amanda: I love these raggedy animals, too. The raggedy –
Amanda: – old cat on the mantel –
Amanda: – and the raggedy little dog at her feet. [Laughs]
Sarah: Well, the, look at the size of that fire. Can you imagine the amount of static electricity in that room? She’s going to touch a piece of metal and her hair’s going to fly off.
Amanda: She’s got to be burning up in that sweater –
Amanda: – when she’s that close –
Amanda: – to that fire.
Sarah: So here’s what it says about The Goodbye Witch by Heather Blake:
>> Blake has written another winner. Her narrative and character growth keep getting better with each book. The plot is entertaining and fast-moving. The usual gang is back to solve an intriguing crime, and the determination of Darcy and her friends is remarkable. Readers will want more from this mega-talented author.
That does not tell me anything. That doesn’t tell me a thing. So here’s the plot summary if you want to know about The Goodbye Witch:
>> Local witch Darcy Merriweather’s closest friend, Starla Sullivan, survived a horrific attack by her husband Kyle two years ago. No one has seen or heard from Kyle since he escaped from his jail cell. Now his body has turned up in Starla’s apartment. Under the assumption that Starla must be innocent, Darcy and the rest of her magical gang join forces to find the real killer. Will they solve the crime before Starla is arrested?
So the review and the summary are so distant. Like, their summary is like –
Sarah: – We’ve got intimate partner violence, we got a dead body, she’s under suspicion, he escaped from jail, and it’s like, Oh, she did good characters and the plot does things. Like, they’re so far apart. But if you told me this was being –
Amanda: It’s a book! [Laughs]
Sarah: It’s a book! It’s got some of your favorite letters in it. Like, if you had told me this was being published right now, I would have been like, Absolutely; of course it is. No question.
Amanda: Yeah, sure!
Sarah: And this is a nearly-ten-year-old book, so if you’ve ever wondered if witches were a new trend, nope!
Amanda: Everything is cyclical.
Sarah: Time is a flat circle.
So what did you pick?
Amanda: So I picked another one of those reviews where you could tell the reviewer was just having a great time.
Sarah: Those are so fun!
Amanda: And it’s for The Chase, which is listed as suspense and series? And it’s by Janet E-VAN-ovich – E-VON-ovich? Either way.
Sarah: E-VON-ovich, I think, yeah; I think it’s Evanovich.
Sarah: I, for a long time I thought it was Evan-OH-vich, but I was wrong.
Amanda: [Laughs] Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg, and it has four and a half stars. The review reads:
>> The odd couple of covert law enforcement is back as master con artist Nick Fox and FBI agent Kate O’Hare join forces. The quips are flying, as are the fists and bullets. This wild and wacky romp crisscrosses the world as Fox and O’Hare hunt for stolen art while matching wits with some untouchable criminals. Laughter can be the best medicine, and this outlandish adventure provides a hefty dose.
Sarah: Okay. They were having a real good time.
Amanda: They were having so much fun! I bet when they typed that last line in they, like, chugged a beer and, you know –
Sarah: [Laughs] Yes!
Amanda: – did a lap. They were so pumped at this last line, I can tell how – like, I get it. Like, we write reviews, and sometimes when we, like, write a good line –
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Amanda: – a nice little pull quote –
Sarah: I flag it, and I’m like, Yeah!
Amanda: [Laughs] I, that’s what the, the vibe I’m getting from this last line of, like, Laughter is the best medicine, and this outlandish adventure provides a hefty dose.
Sarah: Hefty dose! Also, did you notice? Nick Fox? And –
Amanda: Nick Fox!
Sarah: – Kate O’Hare? Made me think of Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde from Zootopia? ‘Cause she’s the cop –
Amanda: When you said Nick Fox, I knew where you were going.
Sarah: Yep! Yeah, so it, this is like a, a prequel to Zoo-, Zootopia, or at least maybe it’s got Zootopic vibes? [Laughs]
Amanda: Did the writers of Zootopia read The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg?
Sarah: Dun-dun-duh! Probably not.
Sarah: So moving on to romantic suspense – so as you scroll through, the ads for the different books that are in a specific genre are in that section with the reviews. So there’s, like, you could sort of see the cover trends passing through? Like, you have all these beautiful women and they’re inspirational, and then – [laughs] – romantic suspense is just men’s nipples and abs. So many!
Amanda: I mean, I feel like that’s good, though, because, yes, they have, like, the color indicators at the headers; like, a theme and tone change of, like –
Amanda: – you know, you’ve taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque, and now you’re in…
Sarah: I’m in Man-Titty Land!
Amanda: [Laughs] Yeah, and you’re like, Oh, I know where I am! And I cannot be here.
Sarah: So the review I wanted to call your attention to is Between the Sheets by Genie Davis and Linda Marr. It is flagged as an e-book. It is from entangledpublishing.com. It was $2.99. It’s a three-star, and it’s hot. This is the review.
Sarah: >> A quick little book with a lot of potential.
Amanda: [Laughs] That’s, that’s my tagline. Like, if I were –
Amanda: – if I were a Real Housewife, and you know they, like, you know, the opener –
Sarah: Yeah, they have their little tagline for the opener? Yeah.
Amanda: – I’d be Amanda: I’m a quick little book with a lot of potential!
Sarah: >> Heroine Jenna is the shy type who has no real experience with men and channels all her desires into writing erotic romance novels. It seems like Riley could be a nice enough guy, but readers are not given much of history –
Oh, given much of his history.
>> – and the fact that he uses quotes from her books in real conversation seems like a bad choice!
Amanda: Ugh! Oh no!
Sarah: >> The mob-next-door storyline needs to be fleshed out more to give the reader a real sense of urgency, although Evan Heath, the enforcer, is a completely creepy guy. It would be interesting to have more backstory, but overall this is a fun afternoon read.
Okay, so we have a romance novel heroine, which – a novelist heroine – which is not always my favorite because it tends to be too, too, too self-referential; too on-the-nose. [Laughs] And she meets a guy who tries to pick her up by quoting her books at her? Ahhh, gross!
Amanda: No, thank you!
Sarah: No! So if you’re thinking about your Tinder bio, don’t do that. Do not. So I – [laughs] – creepy, seems like a nice enough guy, but he keeps quoting her books to her! Ew!
Amanda: No. No, thank you.
Sarah: No, thank you.
What’s your book this, from the romantic suspense section?
Amanda: So mine is on page 72, and it’s Partners in Crime by Downey Greene. It is a Top Pick and has four and a half stars and a scorcher –
Amanda: – and there was one line in this review that I was like, Excuse me?! The review reads:
>> The dynamic duo of Downey Greene has penned a novel that is –
That makes no sense…
Sarah: Well, it, it sounds like Downey Greene is two people writing under one name.
Amanda: Ohhh! I guess so, yeah! Okay. I wonder, I wonder who they are?
>> The dynamic duo of Downey Greene has penned a novel that is so hot it will singe one’s fingers. Their clever ideas meld together all too well, and readers will find the plot so captivating that they’ll be glued to their seats for the entire length of the novel.
And here’s the line that got me.
Amanda: >> It’s, it’s filthy, engrossing, and will please fans of romantic suspense and erotic romance alike.
Sarah: Oh really now!
Amanda: I know. It’s filthy and engrossing. [Laughs]
>> The leading lady is a badass will quickly become a favorite amongst readers. This debut should definitely be on your TBR list.
But – [laughs] – rarely do I see filthy as a good descriptor.
Sarah: It’s filthy. And you know there were people –
Amanda: It’s filthy!
Sarah: – who were like, I’m sorry; I’m going to hit Pause and go find this book.
Amanda: [Laughs] I’m also trying to see Downey Greene, if we know who the duo is!
Sarah: Downey is Maureen, and she lives in Pennsylvania, and Greene is Alison. So it’s Maureen and Alison, and –
Amanda: That’s it; that’s all we know?
Sarah: – that’s it. It’s got a 3.95-star rating on Goodreads with fifty-seven ratings. It was only available in paperback from something called Staccato Publishing? I don’t think they exist anymore.
Then we move into contemporary, and there’s a lot of contemporary. This is just, there’s a lot, a lot, a lot.
Sarah: My pick is on page 80, and it is Talk Dirty to Me by Dakota Cassidy, four-and-a-half-star Top Pick scorcher.
>> With her signature humor, Cassidy kicks off her new trilogy with a bang as she introduces the major players. The heroine is the former mean girl in her hometown, and she’s trying to prove she’s changed. The romance she discovers is a bonus in this great story. Run to get this book.
Now, this is, this is the summary, so hold onto your butt:
>> Broke and ashamed, Dixie Davis has returned to Plum Orchard, Georgia, for the funeral of her best friend Landon. She gets a chilly reception from the town, as it’s hard to forget all the bad things she did in the past, including breaking the heart of the town’s golden boy, Caine Donovan. At the –
Amanda: When you said chilly reception, I thought, my brain immediately went to a reception dinner where everyone brings chili.
Sarah: Oh! For sure!
Amanda: Like, a, a chili reception.
Sarah: …a chili reception! So –
Amanda: Like, you –
Sarah: – if you’re going to plan your funeral –
Amanda: – yes –
Sarah: If you’re going to plan your funeral, a chili reception actually sounds pretty great.
Amanda: You know there’s a small-town romance out there that has a chili reception.
Sarah: Oh, there’s got to be –
Amanda: Someone’s done it.
Sarah: – a chili cook-off. Chili, chili, chili potluck, yeah.
>> At the reading –
Okay, this is the part where I was like, Hold the phone, literally.
>> At the reading of Landon’s will, Dixie learns that her best friend had been running a phone sex company. Always the prankster, Landon’s will issues a challenge to Dixie and Caine: whoever can generate the largest call volume in a set time will win the company and the money that comes with it. This is just what Dixie needs, but can she resist the attraction to Caine?
This might be –
Amanda: What a weird setup.
Sarah: This might be my favorite example of romance novels’ trusts, wills, and estates attorneys at law. When you go to Romance Novel Law School and you specialize in trusts and estates, and you specialize in family inheritance law, this is the kind of will you get to write. Who wins the phone sex company? You have to live in a house together or, like, the sky is going to fall down. All of these things that actually can’t really be enforced? It happens in Romance Law School! And you, whoever gets the largest call volume! [Laughs, thumps desk]
Amanda: Which is wild!
Sarah: This is absolutely wild all the way down!
Amanda: I feel like that should be illegal! That’s got to be illegal!
Sarah: You are compelled to compete for the phone sex company in Plum Orchard, Georgia. This is wild, right? Like, that, you just did not expect that. That took a turn.
Amanda: For real.
Sarah: For real.
So what is your, what is your, what is your pick?
Amanda: So mine starts at, on page 87 and goes to 88?
Amanda: And I was like, knowing what I know about this author and the kinds of books that she writes, definitely surprised at the description.
Sarah: [Laughs] I just saw it!
Amanda: Yeah. So Inn at Last Chance is the name of the book, and it’s by Hope Ramsay, and I’ve never read a Hope Ramsay book, but it’s gotten four stars and it’s listed as mild, which is kind of how I would describe what I know about the contents of Hope Ramsay’s writing. It’s like, it’s pretty, like, mild in terms of sex stuff. But the review begins with:
>> Ramsay nods to Stephen King –
Amanda: >> – and Charlotte Brontë in ways – [laughs] – that are a bit in-your-face, but in Last Chance many things are over-the-top. The introduction of a ghost, a haunted house, and a tormented author keep this story from becoming just another small-town romance.
Amanda: And this is in contemporary? Yeah!
Sarah: Wooow! Okay! Sure! Nothing says contemporary like haunting –
Amanda: References to Stephen King and Charlotte Brontë.
Sarah: – a haunted house and a ghost and a tormented author. Wait, is the tormented author the, in the book, or is it like the author is tormented and you could tell as you – wow, okay! All right!
Sarah: That is not expected in contemporary, not in the least.
Amanda: Yeah, I was like, What? Is this the right section?
Sarah: So then we move into paranormal romance, and if you –
Amanda: Oh boy. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah, there’s a lot of angels, it’s a lot of steampunk, and it’s a lot of outer space, which is a little weird.
Sarah: The one that I would like to call attention to, we both picked this. This is the first two-star that we have found in this, in this issue. Allegedly, there are, there are rumors of one-star reviews in other issues; maybe we’ll find one.
Amanda: We’re on the hunt!
Sarah: We’re on the hunt –
Amanda: We’re on the hunt for…
Sarah: – but this is, this is one of I think only two two-star reviews.
Sarah: So this is male/male. Ashes of the Day by P. G. Forte, two stars, hot. But here’s the review:
>> As the fourth book in Forte’s series, this is a confused narrative made more confusing by the back and forth in time storytelling. There are a few spicy love scenes, but the rest has little progression or story arc. The overall plot of the series may make a little headway, but in the confines of a single book, this will make little to no sense to new readers, and may leave even fans wondering what’s going on. Most of the past timeline may add background, but doesn’t advance the plot and muddles the plot points in the present day.
So I can clearly see why this got two stars. This book –
Sarah: – made no sense.
Amanda: For sure.
Sarah: And it’s, I mean, it’s very clear, right?
Amanda: Yeah, and even in the, the book description, it sounds all over the place.
Sarah: Oh my God, the last sentence of the description!
Amanda: Yeah! I’ll read, I’ll read the summary:
>> After thirty years living together to protect their secret, the strange and talented vampire twins they’ve sworn to protect, Conrad is determined to save Damian from himself. In a narrative going back and forth between 1999, when Conrad and Damian renew their romance, and present day, when their reunion is still tentative, their secret grows more difficult to protect. One twin is forming his own vampire house, and the other has to determine her future with human guard Brennan.
Sarah: [Laughs] I love it when one twin forms their own vampire house. So what’s the problem?
Amanda: Are Con-, so Conrad and Damian, are they lovers, or are they the vampire twins?
Sarah: No, they’re the lovers. The twins aren’t named.
Sarah: The strange and talented vampire twins.
Amanda: When they said also vampire house, I thought of –
Sarah: Like a frat house?
Amanda: I thought of Ken’s Mojo Dojo –
Amanda: That’s what I…
Sarah: [Still laughing]
Amanda: …vampire house!
Sarah: Mojo Dojo!
Amanda: Everyone is just shirtless and wearing furs and bandanas.
Sarah: Yes, absolutely.
Amanda: Which is essentially what the Black Dagger Brotherhood is, let’s be honest. [Laughs] It’s just shirtless and furs –
Amanda: – tight pants and bandanas.
Sarah: And boots. Shit-kickers.
Amanda: And boots! Shit-kickers!
Sarah: So here is a particular sign of the times: the next section is urban fantasy.
Sarah: So we have paranormal, we have urban fantasy, and we have science fiction and fantasy; three separate things. My pick is page 96, Sparrow Hill Road, a four-and-a-half-star Top Pick by Seanan McGuire.
>> The first volume of McGuire’s ghost stories is an evocative and profoundly creative work that instantly wraps around readers’ imaginations. Providing a new point of view for an old ghost story, this emotional, consistently surprising collection of adventures is also a striking testament to the power of American myths and memories. Full of captivating imagery and legendary characters who are each compelling in their own right, these stories explore all the vagaries of being alive and being dead and being somehow in-between. Each chapter is a new journey, and all emphasize that this is a book and potentially a series worth savoring.
Now, this is one of those things where the review and the summary are very far apart, and you need both to understand what’s happening here? I had not heard of this series before, which is wild, because Adam really likes McGuire’s books. So the summary is:
>> She is known by many names and has become the heroine of countless ghost stories, but no story has ever come close to the true story of Rose Marshall. Sixty years ago, Rose was the first victim of a man named Bobby Cross, and since that fateful night, she has wandered highways looking for those souls with no time left and helping them find their way. But Rose has never forgotten what happened to her and to so many others. It is those memories that keep her going, keeping her wandering, and keep her telling her stories.
So she’s basically the ghost hitchhiker in every ghost story. Have you read this book?
Amanda: Yeah – no! I’ve never heard of the series either.
Sarah: This sounds like it would be up your street, but it also sounds like I would be totally into it. And I went, I did some digging? Because, like I said, there’s, there’s always one where I’m like, Ooh, maybe I’ll read that! I haven’t read this one, but you can see the cover there, right? Like, the cover –
Sarah: – is an illustration of this woman kind of in like a, her top almost looks like a ‘50s waiter, waitress’s uniform?
Amanda: Like a diner. Yeah.
Sarah: Like a diner uniform. She’s sitting on the hood of an old car with a letterman’s jacket, and her legs are fading away? But then the e-book cover is wild.
Amanda: This looks like the same author of, the cover in the magazine looks like the same cover artist that does her, like, InCryptid series?
Sarah: Ohhh yeah!
Sarah: So if you look at the e-book cover, it’s like metal gears and a skeleton hitching, with a thumb up to hitchhike, and the letters are like chrome, and there’s flames; like, they could not be more different.
Amanda: It also looks like papercraft.
Sarah: It does!
Amanda: Like, if you zoom in, it looks like a paper collage.
Sarah: It does, but I, I saw that the audiobook is in Hoopla, and the audiobook looks really good, so I’m thinking I might try this one.
Sarah: What is your pick in urban fantasy?
Amanda: So it’s the same page, so it’s 96 –
Amanda: – and it’s a Top Pick, and it’s Alien Collective by Gini Koch.
Amanda: It’s just, it made me laugh at the very end. The review reads:
>> After Alien Research’s dark tone and tragic losses –
I’m assuming Alien Research is the prior book in the series.
>> – the inimita- –
Inimitable? Wow, that’s a word.
>> – Koch returns to her blend of complex intertwining plot threads, outlandish action, and irreverent humor. Kitty Katt-Martini’s –
[Laughs] Brian laughed in the other room when he heard me say Kitty Katt-Martini’s.
Amanda: >> Kitty Katt-Martini’s uncanny ability to transform enemies into, well, at least frenemies if not full-blown allies, is part of what makes this series such an irresistible hoot!
Sarah: [Laughs more] So you know that that’s on the cover of a future book: An irresistible hoot!
Amanda: [Also laughing] The phrase irresistible hoot just, it just made me laugh so much! So the main character’s name is Kitty, and her hyphenated last name is Katt-Martini!
Sarah: She’s an irresistible hoot!
Amanda: She’s an irresistible hoot!
Sarah: So moving on – [laughs] – to the next section – hoot!
Sarah: This is one of the things that made RT magazine so impressive to me: they reviewed every single series romance, and they are all published by Harlequin. Harlequin is the only series romance publisher at this time, and we’ve got Harlequin American, Harlequin Blaze, Harlequin Desire, Harlequin Intrigue, KISS, Nocturne, Presents, Harlequin Romance, Romantic Suspense, Special Edition, Super Romance, Kimani Romance, Love Inspired, Love Inspired Historical, and Love Inspired Suspense. This is a lot of books. It is such a comprehensive review project. Like, I couldn’t do this.
Sarah: I, I couldn’t – and you look at all of the people they have reviewing. One person reviews each line, it looks like, so one reviewer is assigned all of the Special Editions or whatever.
So the review I want to call our attention to is – hmm – it’s on page 104, and it is a two-star review, and I have some, some questions about that.
Sarah: So the quest- – here is, here is the review. Twelve Hours of Temptation, two stars, by Shoma Narayanan.
>> Tasked with, with restructuring his company’s latest advertising acquisition, Samir Razdan becomes attracted to Melissa D’Cruz, a talented young copywriter. It isn’t long before an intoxicated Melissa sleeps with her boss, but it will be up to Samir to convince her that they deserve more than a one-night stand. With their differing religions and social strata, can their relationship withstand the world outside of the bedroom? A poorly executed plot with forced chemistry, slow-to-develop conflict, and too many secondary characters make this story challenging for readers to engage with.
I’m going to call bullshit on that. I think that the engagement was resting in another problem, but they didn’t want to name it. That is my guess. Because there’s a lot of –
Amanda: I don’t think you’re far off. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. The, the language of how they describe the book made me really tilt my head like, What? And I don’t, I don’t remember what Harlequin KISS was supposed to be. Like, I know what Harlequin Romantic Suspense is, and I know what, you know, Harlequin Presents is, but what was Harlequin KISS? I looked it up, and it, and it, the line ended in 2014.
Amanda: That’s the pink one, right?
Sarah: Sorry, what?
Amanda: They’re the pink one, where they have, like, the pink –
Sarah: They’re the pink one. The line ended in 2014.
“You think of flirting as an art form! Harlequin KISS stories are all about the delirium of a potential new romance – where fun-loving heroines and irresistible heroes just can’t get enough of each other.”
All right, so I understand that sleeping with your boss is like a whole thing in Harlequin Land, and it’s not as big of a deal as I would think it is, ‘cause I have got some struggles with that. But like, I don’t, I don’t know; I really think this review is like, Oh, I didn’t like it, but I can’t say why, so I’m going to say there were too many characters and forced chemistry. Anyway, so that was the one I –
Amanda: A little coded, for sure.
Sarah: Yeah! You know what, that is exactly the right way to describe it: it is a little coded.
Amanda: So I picked, on the same page, 104, and it’s Possessed by a Warrior? By Sharon Ashwood?
Sarah: I hate when that happens! They’re so noisy inside your head, and they talk and –
Amanda: [Laughs] The first sentence is really what made me go, What?
Sarah: Bring it!
Amanda: >> After wedding planner Chloe Anderson’s uncle is murdered, she works with his former partner Sam Ralston, a vampire operative from a different country, to figure out who killed him. [Laughs]
Sarah: A vampire operative from a different country. Like, is he actually a – yeah, it’s Nocturne! He’s a va- – What?
Amanda: Yeah! So, and then it continues:
>> They will also have to solve the puzzle of a wedding dress adorned with diamonds that her uncle left for Chloe to return. When Chloe’s attacked, Sam is desperate to keep the woman he’s falling for safe, even if, if it means revealing what he really is. Ashwood has created an original and fun mythology about two warring kingdoms?
Sarah: Okay, sure, yeah, why not?
Amanda: >> The chemistry between Sam and Chloe is hot and believable, in spite of the supernatural elements.
So I’m assuming she doesn’t know that her uncle’s former partner – like, I’m assuming, like, cop partner, not, like, life partner – is a vampire operative from a different country. I’m guessing that’s the big secret that he’s hiding from her.
Sarah: Now, as a baseline, I always struggle with a romance that, like, is, is based on the idea that someone’s close relative has just died, and they’re going to go to Bone Town while figuring out the murder? Like, that’s a lot of emotions to process, and I’m not sure hornypants is one of the ones that I believe in that situation, but who, how, you know, I could be wrong. I could be wrong! Maybe you just want to go to Bone Town and solve crime with a diamond wedding dress, but vampire operative from a different country?
Amanda: But also, why is it important that he’s from a different country?
Sarah: Or is it like he’s –
Amanda: Yeah, so –
Sarah: – from Canada? [Laughs]
Amanda: I’m imagining that this is probably set in a world not our own?…
Sarah: But then why would you say country? You would say kingdom, right?
Sarah: And the last section is erotica. And –
Amanda: Oh boy.
Sarah: – it’s a lot of Ellora’s Cave; there’s some Carina Press, Samhain, Aphrodisia – remember them? – Riptide, Kimani. So the one I wanted to pull attention to was on page 113. Giving In by Maya Banks, and the reason this jumped out at me was the –
Amanda: Oh, Maya Banks.
Sarah: – first – exactly – the first thing I thought was, Oh! Maya Banks!
Sarah: And then I read the description, or I read the review, and I thought, Yeah, Maya Banks! So.
Sarah: Erotic romance, Giving In, Maya Banks, four stars.
>> In this second entry of the Surrender trilogy, Banks straddles the divide between abuse and submission –
>> – and she successfully crafts a romance that is both steamy and ultimately sweet.
>> The layer of sadness that surrounds the heroine is gradually lifted by a man who doesn’t initially seem to have a soft side as he brings love into Kylie’s life.
Amanda: I mean, everything mentioned here is a good indicator of why I don’t typically enjoy a Maya Banks book.
Sarah: How many red flags was that? Like nine?
Sarah: Here is –
Amanda: I got a parade. Like a –
Sarah: Yeah, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a whole marching band. Here’s the summary:
>> Kylie and Jensen may have to work together, but she is not looking for a relationship. After losing her brother Carson, Kylie is ready for a life alone with just a few close girlfriends. Jensen, however, has other plans, as Kylie is in a space that brings out the protector in him.
What does that mean?
>> She has been so damaged by the abuse from her childhood that she wonders where her future lies. While Jensen is a Dom, he doesn’t have any problem handing over control to Kylie once he realizes that she is his life. Jensen’s own childhood –
>> – gives him some insight into Kylie’s past, and he is more than ready to give her the life she deserves.
Like, I didn’t –
Amanda: I did a lot of headshaking when Sarah was reading that…everybody.
Sarah: Just, it’s just, just a, just a lot of yeah, no, no, no, that’s not going to work, yeah. So that was the one that jumped out at me. Oh, Maya Banks! Oh yeah, Maya Banks.
Amanda: Oh, Maya Banks.
Amanda: So there’s two that I want to mention, and they’re both on 110.
Sarah: Let’s do it!
Amanda: And the, the first one is Since I Saw You by Beth Kery. It’s a Top Pick, and I just don’t understand –
Amanda: – what this means.
>> Readers will be floored by the explosive sexual connection between the main characters in this Because You Are Mine novel.
Amanda: >> The story is hot enough to melt icebergs in the middle of Antarctica, and –
This is the confusing part for me:
>> – fans of True Love will be convinced that it really does exist!
Sarah: Wait, what? Fans of True Love will be convinced that it really does exist!
Amanda: If you’re a fan of True Love, you’re probably already thinking that True Love exists…
Sarah: What is that trying to say?
Amanda: I don’t know. It’s a, a word salad that accomplishes nothing.
Sarah: What does that mean?
Amanda: It’s like eating a bowl of iceberg lettuce and celery: it’s just water and air.
Sarah: [Laughs] Fans of True Love will be convinced that it really does exist. I – okay!
Amanda: And then it continues with:
>> The dialogue, emotional connection, and even the settings, including the bedroom, are all so real, which makes this a truly incredible read. This is definitely Kery’s best work to date.
Can you believe this bedroom feels so real?!
Sarah: [Laughs] I thought I was in IKEA, but I’m not! Oh my God!
Amanda: Yeah. So I was like, I don’t know what any of that means.
Sarah: What does that mean? Do you know what, what will convince a fan of True Love that it really does exist? This book, apparently. That’s it. That’s the only thing.
Amanda: Yeah. And then the other –
Sarah: So you have one last pick. We’ve reached the end of the reviews.
Amanda: We’ve reached the end. And they reviewed The Professional by Kresley Cole, gave it a Top Pick, four and a half stars. And the only thing I want to mention is, I reviewed this for the site.
Amanda: I gave it a B-, and actually, if I were to reread this again, I think I would grade it even lower than a B-.
Sarah: Oh my!
Amanda: I am a Kresley Cole fan. I read a majority of her stuff, if not all of her stuff. I think I did not read her YA series? Poison Princess I think is what it was? [The Arcana Chronicles] But I’ve read all of her adult stuff. I did not like this trilogy at all? [Laughs] Like, the books, for me, got progressively worse in terms of, like, a worse read, so, like, this is probably the one I would grade the highest is The Professional, book one, and then book two and three would get lower grades, and I think I maybe even gave book two or three a D probably on the site, I think.
Sarah: I’ll link the reviews.
Amanda: Yeah. I highly disagree – [laughs] – with this being a Top Pick, and that’s why I’m like, This, these reviews are wild.
Sarah: As usual, the thing that I always question after looking through all the reviews in an RT, even during the conference, and I would read through the magazine – they gave it to you in the swag bag? I would be like, I don’t understand why this book got this review.
Sarah: Either the review isn’t entirely clear, or it’s a book that I’ve read and I think, Wow, we have totally different perspectives.
Is there any book that we’ve mentioned that you might want to read?
Amanda: I think that series – so they reviewed book two in the series, The Severed Streets?
Sarah: Yeah? Start with book two; you can do it.
Amanda: With the – maybe.
Amanda: But, yeah, so that one I’m curious about? The series as a whole; book one they mentioned was London Falling?
Amanda: Yeah, so I think that’s the one that we’ve discussed that I would want to read. I’m also, I’ve got to be honest, a little curious about When Love Stirs, about the nutritionist in early-20th-century St. Paul. [Laughs]
Sarah: I mean, I can’t imagine that it is going to be an arduous read.
Amanda: [Laughs] So yeah –
Sarah: She’s pretty.
Amanda: – that’s the one I’m like, This sounds wild. [Laughs]
Sarah: Well, I have added the audiobook of Sparrow Hill Road to my playlist because it looks like it’s a series of ghost stories all from this one character’s perspective, and they all kind of – like, I’ve read some of the reviews and they all kind of link forward and back? I think I might listen to that one; I think that sounds really interesting.
Sarah: All right!
Well, I will put pictures and images and clips of all the reviews up in the entry, but thank you for going through all the reviews with me!
Amanda: You’re welcome!
Sarah: All right! And we’ll come back in two weeks, and we’ll go over all of the ads and the features, and I’ve got, I’ve got audio for this one. I’m very excited.
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. I hope you enjoyed that trip down many different genres of Memory Lane with me and Amanda. We had a very good time. We are definitely going to be joining the Gin & Chowder Club.
I will have links to every book we talked about. If it’s out of print and we can’t link to it, we’ll put a picture of the cover. We’ll make sure that you get to see as much of this, and that’ll be in the show notes and on Smart Bitches and on Instagram and on Tumblr. We’re, we’re having a really good time here is what I’m saying.
Have you read one of these books? Do you want to tell us about it? I would love to hear from you. You can email me at [email protected] or at [email protected], whichever is easier for you to remember. You can also record a voice memo and email it to me, and we can include your audio in a future episode, which would be super-duper fun. Tell me, have you read these books? What, do you remember any of these books? Do you remember some of these covers? I would love to know what you remember about romance in May of 2014.
A special, big, massive thank-you to Shannon Stacey and to Angela James, who helped me find this old issue. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And if you have old issues of Romantic Times or RT book reviews, digital or print, I would absolutely love to have them. Oh my goodness, you have no idea. Please, please get in touch: Sarah with an H at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books dot com [[email protected]].
Coming up on October the 20th, we’ll be looking at the ads and the features. There’s a lot of features and interviews and lots and lots of cool things to discover that we’re not done yet. There’s a lot of things to talk about.
And as always, I end with a terrible joke. This joke comes from Amanda! Inside our podcast Patreon Discord. If you would like to join the Discord, you know what to do, right? Patreon.com/SmartBitches.
So Amanda offers this joke because she has excellent taste:
Did you know that wizards don’t fart?
They don’t! It’s true; wizards don’t fart.
They cast smells.
[Laughs] Ooh, my dog has been casting smells around the living room all evening long. My little wizard dog.
On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very, very best of reading. Thank you so much for going back in time with us. We will be back next week with more podcast excellence, but until then, Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
[end of merry music]
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.