Winners – Reading with Analysis birthday giveaway

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Random.org has spoken (it sounds almost exactly like a magical liopleurodon).  I placed the five entrants to the giveaway in a list, used Random.org to randomize the list, and awarded the top four places on the list their choice of prizes.

Congratulations to travels with mary, heidenkind, Katie & beautyinbudgetblog!  I hope you all enjoy your respective choice of book or Simon the Fox. 🙂  Thanks to everyone for participating in this giveaway.  I hope to be back to my normal posting schedule next week (uh… yeah, I know, right?  What normal posting schedule?!).  Anyway, happy weekend, y’all!

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Reading with Analysis’s Birthday!

This blog’s first blogiversary is tomorrow, actually, and I want to celebrate a few things.  This year has been remarkable for me in a whole bunch of ways.  For starters, I came out of the romance-reading closet, and I discovered that a heck of a lot of truly brilliant women (and some amazing men) happily read that genre and find intellectual fulfillment in it.  I am not alone.  I know that, now.  In fact, I made friends!  (Anyone who knows me well will understand how big a thing it is for me to make a friend; it’s difficult for me… I’m way too neurotic for most people.)  I have had so much fun talking about books on this blog, on others’ blogs, on Goodreads, and on Twitter with other people who love books (especially love stories in their various forms) just as much as I do.

Anyway, who cares, right?  Let’s get to the good stuff.  I have assembled a somewhat random giveaway (why be boring?) to thank everyone who follows this blog and helps make this whole blogging thing rather an exciting experience for me.

First up is Simon the Fox, squshie extraordinaire.  I love these squshies… they are small felt plush animals (also, dinosaurs and monsters) with vaguely square shapes (hence the name: square plushies = squshies), which is awesome in itself, but my favorite thing about the squshies is that each animal has a totally random story.  Kiki the Tiger, for example, is an encyclopedia-reading cheerleader, and Jasper the Bear loves food on a stick.  For this giveaway, I selected Simon the Fox, who loves to make up stories and wants to write a mystery novel.  (To learn more about squshies, visit squshies.net)

Simon the Fox

Next up are the book prizes.  I agonized about whether I should give away specific books or just offer gift cards for quite a while… And (somewhat obviously) I decided to do specific books.  These books have really knocked my socks off, and I want to give other people the chance to read them (even folk who don’t normally read romance or erotica.  Trust me, these books are good, sexy times notwithstanding.).  Rest assured, winners will have the opportunity to choose their prize, on a first come, first served basis.

1.  The Courtney Milan starter pack, e-book only, available in Kindle or .epub format.  This starter pack includes the novella The Governess Affair and the full-length novel The Duchess War.

Cover image, the Duchess War

Cover image, the Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

2.  The Tiffany Reisz starter pack, e-book or paperback (you choose), includes one copy of The Siren, the first book in Reisz’s Original Sinners series.

Cover image, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

3.  My favorite Elizabeth Hoyt book, paperback or e-book (you choose).  Includes one copy of The Raven Prince.

Cover image, The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

That’s great, Kel, how do we win these prizes?  Funny you should ask!  Here’s them rules:

  1. Leave a comment and answer any (or all) of the following arbitrarily-chosen questions: (1) What are you reading right now? (2) What’s the best book you’ve ever read? (3) How do you go about discussing the books you’ve read?  Are you lucky enough to have an in-person discussion network, or do you primarily conduct any discussions online?  (4) Do you ever read romance or erotica novels?  (5) Do you have a genre that you just can’t like (i.e., I have a tough time reading books set in space… for some reason, I’m just predisposed to dislike ’em.)?
  2. This giveaway is limited to folk who follow my blog.  If you want on this crazy train, just enter your email address in that little box on the sidebar; if you have a WordPress site, just click the follow button.
  3. You need to be willing to provide an email and/or postal address (if you want a real, paper book — or a Simon the Fox — to hold in your grubby hands) in order to claim your prize.

The giveaway will run through Thursday, February 21 at 11:59 p.m.  I’ll announce the 4 winners at some point on Friday, February 21.  My giveaways have traditionally been… less than stellar.  If fewer than four people sign up to participate in this one, I’ll let y’all duke it out to decide who wins what.  I’m flexible.

Thanks, y’all!  This year’s been a blast, and I’m looking forward to another year full of reading and analyzing.

Review – The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

I have an immoderate love of stories that feature heroine characters who are governesses.  There’s something about a character who balances on the knife edge of taking care of herself (being employed) and of being utterly at the whim of others (her employers, their guests, etc.) that is interesting to me.  Maybe it’s Jane Eyre‘s fault…

Cover image, The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Alone in a gentleman’s bedchamber, rummaging through his clothing—governess Leah Vance risks social ruin. Only by selling political information can she pay for her sister’s care. And the letter she found in Julian DeChambelle’s coat could be valuable—if the ex-sea captain himself had not just walked in.As a navy officer, Julian knew his purpose. As a new earl, he’s plagued by trivialities and marriage-obsessed females. Miss Vance’s independence is intriguing—and useful. In return for relaying false information, he will pay her handsomely. But trusting her, even caring for her? That would be pure folly. Yet when he sees the danger that surrounds her, it may be too late to stop himself….

That’s right!  She’s a governess and (sort of) a traitor to her country.  There were so many things I liked about this book.  The characters are complex and constructed with many shades of gray (especially Leah).  While quite a few of the characters do some pretty awful things, not a one of them is without some redeeming quality and/or some powerful impetus.

My educational background is political science, and my favorite classes were theory classes.  What is right, in the context of all humanity?  What is just?  These questions are huge and unanswerable, but it is the business of every society to grapple with them nonetheless and attempt a best answer.  This book asks these questions indirectly, and I loved it for having the guts to do so.  In addition to these broad social questions, this book examines faith and redemption, trust, love, and imperfection.  Romances that contain social commentary may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoy them.  The Reluctant Earl discusses  social equity relating to the largess of the few and the starvation of the many (it is set during  the winter of 1816, called the year without a summer) and discusses the treatment of the mentally ill and infirm during the Regency Era (in case you were wondering, they weren’t treated well.).

There is a good deal of adventure in this story, as the characters investigate and solve a murder, prevent an overthrow of the government, and thwart a kidnapping.  I really enjoyed the chemistry between Leah and Julian — and especially the  sweet ending — but the development of their romance didn’t exactly flow naturally.  It seemed a little strange that Julian would go from, “OMG, she’s a traitor!!!” to “OMG, I think I love her!!!” without knowing any of the reasons for Leah’s apparently treasonous actions.  I suppose we are to understand that admiration sometimes overrules reason (in these cases).  The ending, though, is so sweet, that I forgave the book for not making a whole lot of sense.  It should be noted that The Reluctant Earl is an inspirational romance in which both main characters meander their way towards faith, helped on by a few helpful (if a bit preachy) secondary characters.

There was one thing about this book that really bugged me.  After the first or second mention of how incredibly cold 1816 was, how there was a famine because of the lack of summer, and how the winter was doubly awful because everyone was cold and hungry, I totally understood: it was cold.  But the author wants to make sure that we really understand.  The phrase “winter of want” appears three times in the book (there is also a “winter of despair and deprivation,” two mentions of a “winter of famine,” a “winter of deprivation” and a “winter of scarcity”;  “famine” is mentioned five times; and “winter” appears 37 times.  Now, I know it’s petty, but after the fourth or fifth reference to winter, I felt pulled out of the story every time it came up.

Bottom line: I enjoyed reading this story and will probably pick up other books by C.J. Chase.  Leah is a lovely character, and it’s worth it to read the book just to follow the adventures of a treasonous (but not really) governess.

The Reluctant Earl was published on February 5, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin Love Inspired Historical.  If you’re interested in finding out more about the book, please click the cover image above.  For more information on C.J. Chase, visit her website here.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin Love Inspired Historical via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Kim and Kelly’s co-review of Tessa Dare’s Stud Club Trilogy

Over the past year, Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict and I discovered that we have similar taste in books and that it’s a lot more fun to read books together and glory in the ensuing discussions.  We were both already fans of Tessa Dare’s books, but neither of us had read the Stud Club Trilogy, so we decided to give those books a try and then co-review them over at Kim’s blog.  We liked the books a lot, which is not entirely surprising considering we started out with a soft spot for the author’s voice.  What is slightly surprising is the variety of topics we were able to kick around when discussing the three books.

To read our lengthy review of all three books, follow the link to be magically whisked along the interwebs.

Review – Seduction of a Highland Warrior by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

Real men wear kilts.  It’s true, unless the kilt-wearing man is also wearing a t-shirt that says “real men wear kilts.”  Just saying.

Cover image, Seduction of a Highland Warrior by Sue-Ellen Welfonder

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

At the King’s request, chieftain Alasdair MacDonald has sworn to preserve the peace in the Glen of Many Legends. Though he’s handsome and fearless, his warrior’s heart belongs only to his beloved land-until the fair sister of his oldest enemy shatters his defenses, branding his skin with a single touch, and sealing his fate with one stolen kiss . . .

Lady Marjory Mackintosh will do anything to unite the warring clans, even seduce Alasdair MacDonald. She has loved the rugged Highlander since she first saw him and now, as temptation leads to surrender, Marjory dares to possess him, body and soul. But a dangerous new menace enters the Glen, and he will stop at nothing to strip Alasdair of his honor-and the only woman who can claim his heart.

This book has magic, faeries, and a ghost romance (!!!), so my review is 100% biased.  I just want to get that out there.  I can’t dislike a book that has a ghost romance.  This book also has puppies (and y’all know that I go nutty for animal antics in romance novels), so… yeah.  My reading idiosyncrasies made me predisposed to forgive this book any of its errors (because love covers a multitude of sins).

On the whole, I think the book is actually pretty good.  I loved the tension between Alasdair and Marjory, and I was thrilled that Marjory was such a strong character (taking her life into her own hands, initiating each step of her relationship with Alasdair, etc.) without being obnoxious.  Alasdair is a well-drawn mix of duty and longing, and I enjoyed his journey from self-sacrifice to self-acceptance.  Of course, the story could have been completely awful and I still would have been on board with creepy amounts of glee and squee.

Did I mention that there are puppies?  Well, not only are there dogs of the young and the old variety, but there are also mentions of faerie dogs.  Faerie dogs!!!  Also, there is a big strapping man character named Grim who has as much enthusiasm for puppies and faerie dogs as I do.  I loved Grim.  He is a relatively minor secondary character, but he adds a lovely seasoning to the whole.  (I think it’s the gender role reversal bit that I liked best.)

Anyway, while I loved all the elements of magic, from a magical amber necklace to a gloriously creepy dream sequence, and how they provided a lovely and evocative backdrop against which Marjory and Alasdair’s romance is set, my favorite thing about the book was actually the way it is crafted.  There are all these little tendrils of story that seem, at first, a tad disjointed, but they draw you in nonetheless until you are ensnared in a story that is full of wonder, longing, hope, urgency, and fear.  The middle eighty percent of the novel is simply marvelous.

The beginning and ending of the book aren’t quite so strong.  I don’t think the beginning will bother anyone who has read the other books in this series, but I found it difficult at first to (1) figure out what was going on and (2) figure out who the characters are and why I should care about them.  In fact, I put the book down after about forty pages and read three other books before I picked it back up again.  I’m really glad I went back to the book: if I had endured just another ten pages, I would have read the book in one sitting.

With the ending, the trouble seems to be a strange case of anti-climax.  Welfonder does such an excellent job throughout the book introducing a menace both to the peace of the Glen and to the bodily safety of Marjory, but the resolution of those dangers takes place mostly off-screen (to mix my metaphors, a bit).

Take “The Prisoner,” for example.  If you smoke enough crack before you watch that show, Rover seems terrifying, largely because everyone on-screen reacts to it with fear.  Anyway, the show does a good job (ish) of making a giant balloon seem super menacing.  But what if all the characters onscreen were like, “Dude, this is a super scary moment in the show, because Rover could appear at any moment!” and another character from off-screen walked on and said, “Dude, don’t worry about Rover.  Turns out he was just a balloon, and I totally popped him with a sharp stick.  No worries!”  That’s kind of how I felt at the end of this book, except I liked it a hell of a lot more than “The Prisoner.”  After all, “The Prisoner” doesn’t have sexy Highlanders or faerie dogs.

Seduction of a Highland Warrior was released on January 29, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Forever.  If you are interested in learning more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Sue-Ellen Welfonder, check out her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review and Author Interview – Wuthering Nights by I.J. Miller (and Emily Brontë)

Cover image, Wuthering Nights by Emily Bronte and I.J. Miller

The blurb, courtesy of the publisher:

Romantics everywhere have been enthralled by Emily Bronte’s classic novel of the tragic love between beautiful, spirited Catherine Earnshaw and dark, brooding Heathcliff. The restrained desire between these two star-crossed lovers has always smoldered on the page. And now it ignites into an uncontrollable blaze. In WUTHERING NIGHTS (Grand Central Publishing; On-Sale: January 29, 2013; $3.99; ISBN: 978-1-455-57301-1), writer I.J. Miller reimagines this timeless story to reveal the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff—in all its forbidden glory.

Interview with I.J. Miller

Wuthering Nights is an interesting take on a classic book, and there is plenty of fodder for discussion.  I am very pleased and thankful that I.J. Miller agreed to participate in an author interview.

1.  RwA: Who is the target audience for this book, readers familiar with Wuthering Heights or readers just discovering that story?
Miller: WUTHERING NIGHTS targets fans of the original as well as those looking for an intense erotic romance.  Those familiar with Bronte’s Wuthering Heights will hopefully appreciate the effort put in to stay true to the original language, themes, and characters, but will understand the nuances of this interpretation and how the plot was altered or developed to make the erotic scenes organic and heighten the romance.  For both old and new fans it is a novel with more layers peeled back, new dimensions added, that make it a story that stands on its own, even if one never read the original.
 
2.  RwA: Why did you choose Wuthering Heights as the background material for your erotic novel?
Miller: It’s a natural choice. Since it was written it has carried the aura of one of the greatest love stories every told and Heathcliff is the original, tragic, alpha-male literary hero, a model for so many others, including Edward in Twilight and Christian in Fifty Shades.  In addition, I was particularly attracted to both Heathcliff and Catherine because they are flawed, not your stereotypical perfect hero and heroine.
 
3.  RwA: What do you think about the recent mainstreaming of erotic literature?
Miller: It’s wonderful that it’s out of the closet.  Perhaps not fully exposed in the mall bookstores and libraries, but certainly going strong with Kindles and Nooks.  As the popularity increases, there is more demand not just to produce a sexy book, but write one that is hot and tells a good story, which is good news for my work, which has always had an emphasis on being literary erotica. 
 
4.   RwA: In your story, Heathcliff is remarkably well-endowed; why?  Does this physical trait have an application to his character, or is it just fairly standard for a leading male in erotic stories to be so endowed?
Miller: So you noticed! The answer is “yes” and “yes.”  Heathcliff has always had a sort of mythical status of inner strength, passion, and even brutality.  It seemed natural that when interpreting him erotically, making him well-endowed would serve this myth well.  And when you are dealing with the heightened emotions of an erotic romance, ample endowment can certainly help contribute to the fantasy aspects of the story.
 
5.  RwA: What is it like being a man writing for a primarily female audience?
Miller: Lots of fun!  It’s certainly a challenge.  Since most of my readers are women, it is essential that I get the female protagonist right.  I enjoy writing strong female characters and as dominant as Heathcliff is, especially with other women, Catherine is more than his equal.  When writing an erotic romance I am looking for the voice that will appeal to women, one that expresses both strength and vulnerability, one that appreciates the full flowering of a beautiful romance.  It helps to be in touch with my feminine side to understand this complexity.  But perhaps I also have an advantage when it comes to the male’s point of view and revealing to women what makes a tragic hero tick.

 RwA:  Thank you, I.J., for agreeing to participate in this interview and for your candor.  I wish you great success with this and future books!

My Review

I love mashups.  So when given the opportunity to check out a mashup between the erotica genre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I was curious.  The notion of taking a classic work of literature and mashing it up with an unexpected element… I love it.  I used to be a purist, but, honestly, isn’t it wonderful that these literary worlds, instead of dying from neglect, can be explored by new audiences and illuminated by new contexts?

I love song mashups, too.

My quirky mashup-joy notwithstanding, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book, even though I enjoy literary erotica as a genre.  For starters, I’m not a fan of Wuthering Heights.  Heathcliff is an asshole, and Catherine is a crazy bitch, and as much as I enjoy the Cathy/Linton/Hareton story line, it isn’t enough of an inducement to get me through a few hundred pages of Heathcliff and Catherine being crazy asshats to each other and everyone else.  So, there you go.  I have a bias in favor of and a bias against Wuthering Nights: An Erotic Retelling of Wuthering Heights.

There were some things that I quite liked about this retelling, specifically:

  1. The erotic elements are very cleverly woven into the story.  How does Heathcliff convince Nelly to help him?  Well…. let’s just say it involves a dungeon.  How does Heathcliff morally destroy Isabella?  Well… let’s just say it involves a good deal of AP (and a dungeon).
  2. Catherine.  Batshit crazy she may be, but Miller did an excellent job blending the characterization provided by Brontë with the new elements he brought to bear on the story.  Actually, I thought Miller did a great job with all the characters, and I want to give him a high-five for excising most of Joseph’s role in the book (dude is soooo annoying in the original.).
  3. The ending between Cathy and Hareton is lovely, and I appreciated the deviation from Emily Brontë’s version of events.
  4. Wuthering Nights is told in a fairly straightforward third-person narrative, excepting the prologue and epilogue.  I appreciated the simplicity of the storytelling, because one of the things that I like least about the original is the shifting first-person narrative between Mr. Lockwood (a tenant and stranger) and Nelly (who tells him the whole sordid tale).

My primary objection to this book is its depiction of female sexuality, especially in Nelly and Isabella. (As an aside, though, I really do need to throw in that I could have happily lived my entire life without being exposed to the three (THREE!!) episodes of butt-licking contained in this one story.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I thoroughly enjoyed my underexposure to anilingus… Sadly, that ship has now sailed.)  As an erotic retelling of the story, I assumed that certain scenes were meant to be titillating to me, the reader, but I was far more often confused than moved by the actions and descriptions that are original to this work, mostly because I was alienated by the female characters’ responses to sexual stimuli.

  • Heathcliff is a domineering, brutal asshole who smells bad (or, at least, has a strong smell), is super hairy, sweats profusely, has bad breath, and has a capacity for rape (I’m never super keen on rape, and that continued to be the case throughout this book), yet Catherine, Nelly, and Isabella are powerless to resist his wiles whenever he flashes his giant dong in their general direction.  
  • There’s a scene about halfway through the book wherein Heathcliff, spurning Catherine’s advances, instead chooses to go outside and build a lattice.  While he hammers rhythmically, the three ladies in the house get hysterical with arousal and, each in her own room, proceed to take care of business.  Thence comes my favorite passage in the book: “Each with their own rhythm, all three might have orgasmed at different times, if Heathcliff hadn’t stopped suddenly, unbuttoned his fly, pulled out his stallion of a cock, and urinated all over the standing wood frame.  The sight of his outrageously massive member — golden liquid arcing in the sunlight, fully drenching the lattice — caused a simultaneous, feminine shudder throughout the home at Thrushcross Grange.”  That’s a lot of pee.
  • The prose used to describe Heathcliff’s manly man-ness is often just a bit over-the-top, but I can kind of go along with the profuse and worshipful descriptions of his shoulders (so broad and manly) and chest (“…the almost pear-shaped, iron arc of each pectoral…”) and how sexy the ladies found those parts to be.  Armpits, however, are not generally considered a super-sexy body part; however: “…revealing a glimpse at the full, dark thicket under his armpit, causing a quick intake of breath in the ladies,” and “[s]he leaned forward, by his armpit, and inhaled deeply the scent of his masculine fineness.”

So, there you have it.  A man may be stinky, both of breath and body, possess whole thickets of body hair, act with domineering brutality, and be bent on destroying a lady, but if he has a giant penis and he shows it to her, she will be powerless to resist it and him.  As long as Heathcliff (and his penis) is virile, forceful, and dominant, no lady can resist him.  The instant he displays “…deep vulnerability and humanness…,” however, “…she was able to see him for the ugly brute he was: sour breath, snoring at night like a windstorm, cruel to every human he came in contact with…”  This is such an intriguing (but also awful, in a way) view of masculinity and femininity.  In Heathcliff, there is masculinity that cannot soften, boundless strength available only through forced rigidity.  In Nelly, Isabella, and Catherine there is an instant, unthinking response to that strength, an instinctive yielding beyond the power of thought or reason.

I should point out that the story achieves something of a middle ground through the romance between Hareton and Cathy.  Hareton treads the territory between brute strength and gentleness, and Cathy is capable of using her brain on occasion. Their section of the book, though lovely, comprises only fifteen percent of the whole, and the rest is such an odd mix of disgusting behavior and worshipful response that I find myself on the negative side of ambivalence.  Although I could not exactly like the book because of its sheer implausibility (and the butt-licking), I’m not sorry I read it.  It is interesting, and I hope more people read it.

Wuthering Nights was released as an e-book on January 29, 2013 and will be released as a trade paperback on April 23, 2013 by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Books.  To find out more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about I.J. Miller, please check out his website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*