Armchair BEA 2015 – Introductions

Oh, right! It’s time for Armchair BEA. If you have no idea what that is, don’t worry about it. (Thanks for the reminder, Tasha!) Anyway, today’s the first day of Armchair BEA, and the topic is “Introductions.” I picked the following five questions from a list. I’m fairly certain the purpose of this whole venture is conversation, so feel free to chat with me in the comments below or on Twitter. 🙂

1. Why do you love reading and blogging?

I have to separate these, because lately, I love reading a whole hell of a lot more than I love blogging. I suspect that most of us strange beings who practice consistent reading habits would agree that we just are readers. I am a tall; I have light brown hair; and I read books. My identity as a reader is both visible (because I carry books everywhere) and invisible; I could never pass as a non-reader. I don’t know how to interact with the world except through books. I am a reader.

Blogging, though, is hairy. I mean, when I can forget that people are eventually going to read these words (and interpret them however they wish, and I suspect that’s the sticky part), I enjoy the act of writing about the books I read, and I like re-reading my posts from years past. I love the relationships I’ve been able to form through this blog with other bloggers and with authors (mostly on Twitter). But I’ve been finding it very difficult to force myself to write past the fear of proving myself unworthy of my little niche in this community. So, you know, writer’s block.

2. What is your theme song?

The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” Given my answer to the last question, I suspect you’re not surprised by this answer.

3. What does diversity mean to you?

The world just is a diverse place; it has to be in order to survive. In nature, the more diverse the ecosystem, the more it thrives, and any ecosystem that is thrown off-balance by too much homogeneity, too much sameness, eventually fails. I agree with certain aspects of the push for more diversity in books and in romance, but I worry that the constant repetition of the phrase does nothing to point attention to and celebrate the diversity that already exists in these communities. Writers are there, writing stories about non-dominant cultures, characters who don’t fit the dominant mold of rich, white, cis-gender. Those writers have been there, writing their stories this whole time. Perhaps it’s time we all paid attention to them and started reading their stories. Perhaps it’s time we celebrated their tenacity in providing some much-needed diversity within a system that has pushed for homogeneity to its own detriment for years and years.

Is that a controversial answer?

4. What is one book everyone should read?

Oh, come on. I can’t pick just one. Here’s a list of five, presented without comment:

In Search of Lost Time – Marcel Proust
Middlemarch – George Elliot
The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
A Lady Awakened – Cecilia Grant
About Last Night – Ruthie Knox

5. What is your favorite genre and why?

Romance, in most of its forms. Love is at the root of most human interactions (of the good ones, at any rate). And rather than giving a backseat to love stories or using them only to further a plot point or to bring some human relevance to a story about a disaster or whatever, I prefer a genre that places them front and center, that elevates the themes of redemption, forgiveness, and grace that are at the heart of the best sort of love. And I’m not opposed to a well-written sex scene, so there’s that.

Armchair BEA 2014 – Day 1 – Introduction

Design by Amber of Shelf Notes

So it’s time once again for Armchair BEA. I have a feeling my participation this year is going to be a bit spotty, because I’ll be out of town and likely without much Internet connection in the beginning of the week (read: today), and I’ve been really busy lately.  But, whatever! I’ve had a blast participating in this book blogging extravaganza the last two years, and I’m determined to participate as far as I’m able. Anyway, it begins with an introductory survey, which I answered while in a supremely neurotic mood. Enjoy!

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? Where in the world are you blogging from? 

Hi, my name is Kelly, and I read way too much. I’ve been blogging here about books and neuroses for about two years. You know how sometimes people fall into blogging, like they just meant to go out for a cup of coffee but then they ended up starting a blog? That’s sort of what happened to me. One day I was intensely aware of my age, intensely aware that creativity and brilliance used to be so easy for me, so commonplace that I thought I could count on them forever, but I realized that it had been a long time since I had intentionally created anything (much less something good). And I’m the type of person who can’t have those revelations without trying to do something about it (because the alternative is just too depressing, as though to be dying and self-aware of the dying is just too much and also too normal, if you know what I mean), so I kind of started a blog. But I was weeks and weeks into it before I realized why I’d done it. Maybe I’m still working on that realizing thing.

Oh, and I’m in California.

2. Describe your blog in just one sentence. Then, list your social details — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. — so we can connect more online. 

Neurotic woman who thinks too much reads romance novels and erotica and then has thoughts, occasionally writes about them. @darjeeling44

I think that sentence is going to become my new Twitter tag line.

3. What genre do you read the most? I love to read because ___________________ . 

See #2. I also very occasionally read nonfiction and even less often a bit of classical literature. I’m keen on ancient literature and epic poetry, but it’s been a few years since my last glut of epics.

I identify as a reader. I can’t go anywhere without a book, and I have a hard time not talking about what I’m reading. (This is problematic at work, where I have to put in extra effort.) When I got married and then had kids, I added two huge roles to my identity… now, in addition to being Kelly, that weird tall lady who reads things, I’m “wife” and “mom,” and those roles can tend to swell and overtake the landscape that was there before, like they’re some kind of strange nonnative species that just has to obliterate whatever it finds. When I read, I’m taking a stand against that obliteration; I’m standing up for me. At least, that’s how I see it. (Seriously, don’t tell my husband that I worded it this way… I don’t think he’d understand.)

4. What was your favorite book read last year? What’s your favorite book so far this year? 

I wrote a post summing up my favorite reads of 2013. So far this year… I have loved Deeper by Robin York, Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare, Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid, all the Chocolate books by Laura Florand, Control by Charlotte Stein (and, actually, all the books by Charlotte Stein), and Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers.

5. Spread the love by naming your favorite blogs/bloggers (doesn’t necessarily have to be book blogs/bloggers). 

I love a whole pile of book blogs, but I’ll confess that I spend most of my blog-reading time at Reflections of a Book Addict, Truth, Freedom, Beauty and Books, Miss Bates Reads Romance, and Badass Romance. I’m also very keen on my friend’s makeup reviews at Beauty in Budget Blog and Via Lucis, this fantastic blog about photographing Romanesque architecture.

So, there you have it. **waves**

Romance as entertainment, catharsis, and activism – my guest post at Book Bloggers International

Hello friends! I’ve been throwing a lot of words around this week, but I wanted to direct your attention to a guest post I wrote for Book Bloggers International.  I wrote about some of the reasons I’ve been a reader of romance fiction for over twenty years and highlighted some authors and books who are doing a stellar job writing romance novels that incorporate social issues into their narratives and take an activist stance on those issues (sometimes in very subtle ways… sometimes not so subtle.)  Anyway, the question I ask is whether there is a tradeoff in a novel’s entertainment or cathartic value when it embraces activism.  Read the post to find out my answer (should be super obvious) and let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter.

Also, I stayed within the romance genre, but I think the question could easily be applied to other genres, including literature.  So, even if you don’t read romance fiction, feel free to join in!

Also, check out this video of an armadillo gathering leaves with awesome rhythm. It dances much better than I.

Jane Austen January – Emma – some early thoughts

I decided to do something a little different this year and start out my annual Jane Austen re-read with Emma, which is never in the running for my favorite Austen novel and sometimes finds itself in the position of least favored.  It’s been several years since I last read it, and I don’t think I have ever done it justice, as a reader.

Let me see if I can explain.  I read Pride and Prejudice first, and then I spent so much time watching the 1995 BBC adaptation that it supplanted the original; when I read the book, I was most often struck by its deviation from the adaptation.  Sometimes I took the trouble to read the book carefully and critically, to consider new (to me) ideas and challenge my assumptions about the book.  Sometimes I read it for the comfort of a familiar and amusing story.  But no matter what I sought from the reading of it, I have always approached P&P with respect.  I know it’s brilliant, and I know that after 20 or so readings (and God knows how many viewings of the various adaptations) that I have just scratched the surface of all the truth and wisdom Austen crammed into it.

Emma, on the other hand, I have never — ’till now — bothered to read carefully and critically, nor have I ever found it particularly comfortable (or comforting).  When I read it, I did because I thought I should, not because I particularly wanted to or anticipated any benefit from it.  I was first introduced to its story through the movie adaptation Clueless, and I very incorrectly assumed that the original was a bit frivolous.  Emma is such a difficult character to like, and there are so many troubling aspects to the story (Mr. Knightley’s being vaguely creepy, perhaps, or Emma’s and Harriet’s friendship being so unequal — and frankly awful — or the entire Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill comedy of errors story seeming like such an interruption to the main story line), that I honestly could not be bothered to take it seriously.  Emma is a fun, light, and entertaining comedy of manners and nothing more, I thought.

I was wrong.

Now about halfway through the book, I am not finding anything particularly fun and light about it.  In fact, the whole thing seems overshadowed by impending doom.  The action opens with loss — the loss of Miss Taylor — and with Emma seeing her future stretching out before her, bleak and lonely.  Emma, in desperation, seeks an unequal friendship with young, naive Harriet Smith, whom Emma pretty much captures and isolates like a pet, removing her from the company of good people among whom Harriet could have a happy and prosperous life and setting her on a path that cannot end well.

Later in the story, when Mrs. Bates, Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax are introduced, the story grows darker still.  Miss Bates is a natural foil for Emma, except that Miss Bates is poor where Emma is rich, and Miss Bates loves and approves of everybody (while viewing herself in a somewhat self-deprecating sort of way) where Emma is contemptuous and critical of everyone, including herself, at times (moreover, most of Emma’s criticisms of others apply directly to her, so I read her criticism of the neighborhood as an extension of her dislike of herself.).  Take away Emma’s wealth and shift her twenty years into the future and she’s actually in a much worse position than Miss Bates, who is at least harmless and well liked…

And then there’s Jane Fairfax, whom Emma avoids and abuses simply because Jane, out of everybody in the neighborhood, best demonstrates the sort of young woman Emma knows she ought to be but isn’t.  When Jane Fairfax is around, Emma cannot escape from her self-disgust (though she does try to take Jane Fairfax down a peg or two by inventing the notion that Jane, a much prettier woman than Miss Campbell, the girl with whom she was brought up, either supplanted Miss Campbell in the affections of her husband or nursed an unrequited affection for him; Emma then shares this invented notion with Frank Churchill, which action is one of the most ridiculous and dangerous things Emma does in the entire book.).  Moreover, Emma fears not only that Jane Fairfax acknowledges Emma’s deficiencies of character and application but also that other worthy people (Mr. Knightley and Miss Taylor/Mrs. Weston) do as well.  Honestly, none of that is fun and light.

Jane Austen does not have to be sparkling and enjoyable in order to be interesting, however, and I am finding in this reading of Emma that it might be the most interesting (read: thought-provoking) of all of Austen’s novels.  Here is a story about a woman who is allowed to be perfectly awful, whose sterling qualities are difficult to find amid all the jealousies and pettiness of her youth and pride.  But I honestly don’t believe that Emma is in any way more awful than I was at 20.  Emma isn’t nice, kind, or pleasant; she doesn’t inspire pity (she is, after all, “handsome, clever, and rich.”); and she doesn’t actually suffer all that much on her road to love.  Given all of this, it seems typical for readers to dislike Emma just as much as she dislikes herself; however, I find myself, on this read-through, at least, giving Emma (and, through her, myself) the permission to be unpleasant.  We’ll see how that continues as I progress to the novel’s second half.

Let’s discuss!  From the conversations I’ve had with some of you on Twitter, I don’t think I’m alone in my habitual approach to Emma.  What do you think Austen was about with this book?

(I’m planning another post on some of the perviness to be found in Emma, by the way.)

Jane Austen January – a late start

It’s January!  That means lots of things, actually (for instance that it’s outrageously cold pretty much everywhere in the country except where I live; or that I’m still slightly hung over from last Wednesday; or that I’m struggling to write the correct date on things; or that it’s eerily quiet where I work because most folks don’t return from break for a few more weeks, so I’ve been spending an astonishing amount of time watching videos on YouTube instead of working…), but chiefly that it’s time for me to get my Austen on for my 16th annual Jane Austen January.

“16th Annual” makes it sound super official, but this is really only the second year that I’ve invited other folk to participate with me… sooo….. And I haven’t been bothered to do any of the things you’re supposed to do if you want folk on the Internet to do a thing.  I don’t have a cool graphic.  I mean, I could make one, but it wouldn’t be cool.  It would be this:

Jane Austen January Bitches

I don’t even have a linky, because I don’t know how to insert one in a post, and — frankly — I can’t be bothered.  Anyway, all are welcome to participate to whatever extent, but I totally understand if I end up alone at this party.

This year, I plan to read Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Persuasion.  I’ll probably end up listening to all three books (I’m partial to the recordings narrated by Flo Gibson).

So, if you’re interested in participating, awesome!  Just read some Jane Austen, and let’s talk about it in the comments, on your blog (if you have one), or on Twitter.  What Austen will you be reading this January?

Ménage à review – Kelly, Kim and Tasha take on Secrets and Lords by Justine Elyot

Joining me on the blog today are my buddies Kim from Reflections of a Book Addict and Tasha from Truth, Freedom, Beauty and Books.  We had a lot of fun reading this book together and discussing it on Twitter, and we had even more fun writing this review together.  But enough introduction…the title says it all, honestly.

Cover image, Secrets and Lords by Justine Elyot

Summary, courtesy of Goodreads:

The summer of 1920 brings illicit liaisons to stately home Deverell Hall. Lords, ladies, butler and maids all succumb to the spirit of the roaring 1920s as sex and scandal take over.

From the author of bestselling Mischief titles ‘Kinky’ and ‘Game’, Justine Elyot’s ‘Secrets and Lords’ is a historical erotic novel that will seduce anyone who loves period drama Downton Abbey and delight fans of The Great Gatsby.

Lord Deverell’s new wife has the house in thrall to her theatrical glamour. His womanising son, Sir Charles, has his eye on anything female that moves while his beautiful daughter, Mary, is feeling more than a little restless. And why does his younger son, Sir Thomas, spend so much time in the company of the second footman?

Into this simmering tension comes new parlour maid, Edie, with a secret of her own – a secret that could blow the Deverell family dynamic to smithereens.

Kelly: So why did three seemingly normal women decide to read a book based on that description? Are we so far gone that we’ll read anything?  

Tasha: Yes.

Kelly: Good point.  Anyway, it was either this or Office Toy.

Kim: Or Forced By Bears.

Tasha: Or a reread of Spank Me Mr. Darcy?

Kim: Dear God we’ve read a gauntlet of bad books recently. You’d think we’re masochists or something.

Tasha: We read them so others don’t have to.

Kim: Good point. We’re like book reading heroes in some way!

Tasha: We provide a valuable public service!

Kelly: Speak for yourselves… sometimes I encourage people to read the awful books, just so I can talk about them with people who share my horror.  That said, I’m not encouraging anyone to read this one.

Tasha: Aw come on. It was definitely one of weirdest historicals I’ve come across in a long time. It had an identity crisis.

Kim: That it did.  It was at times trying to be an erotica novel, other times trying to be some type of book that made a stance on issues (it failed here terribly), I got a feel of Downton Abbey fan fiction, as well as an attempt at historical satire.  I’m not sure it succeeded in any of these things….

Tasha: Yeah, the satire part was weird. I felt like I was reading The Perils of Pauline sometimes.

Kelly: Yes, and that tone really clashed with the attempted erotica.  I didn’t know whether I was supposed to take a prurient interest or be disgusted by it all. (I opted for the latter.)  You know, my least favorite thing about it, identity crisis notwithstanding, was the writing. For a book without a clear idea of what it wanted to be, the writing was consistent and consistently bad.

Kim: Just to give you an example of the bad writing – I’d like to provide my favorite passage: “….before arriving at the well-named Green Drawing Room.  It was very green, and very golden, and very velvety, and very cold – in style rather than temperature.”  Seriously?

Or, you can have this quote “…flexing her hips in shameless come-hither.  Although, she thought half-coherently, he already was hither.  Could she beg him to come more hither?”  Umm…really?

Tasha: “The act of love. The thing she despised and feared, and yet was fascinated by.” LOL

Kelly: See what I mean? I liked the made up words, myself.

Kim: “Her bare shoulders were treated to the featheriest of kisses up to her neck and she shivered, looking at the bed through half-closed eyes.”

Kelly:“She shut her eyes tight when he discovered her nipples, undisguisably hard and swollen. ‘Mmm, how’s that?’ he whispered, and her answer came by way of her bottom…” Yeah. Featheriest and undisguisably. Just… No.

Tasha: You are undisguisably upset by this featheriest description. lol

Kelly: It’s true. After I finished that scene, I started skipping around. The combination of undisguisably dull prose describing every detail of the maids cleaning or setting up for the dinner service and uncomfortably detailed purple prose during the sex scenes just grossed me out and bored me, in turns.

Kim: Not only was the writing bad, but the characterizations were horrendous as well. Edie, the main heroine, is supposed to be this woman who’s all about women’s rights.  There is no evidence supporting this beyond the sentence that told us she was big with women’s rights.  That’s how the characterizations go with most of the characters.  A sentence about them is written and that’s it. I’m a reader that enjoys being shown things, not told.

Tasha: The thing with Edie was, none of her actions ever made sense. She wants to know her mom, so instead of like, writing her a letter or something Edie’s going to pretend to be a servant in her mansion? Makes perfect sense! Not. And then she sneaks around and spies on her employers at night–through actual key holes! I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a character so stupid before whom I was actually expected to root for.

Kelly: I wanted awful things to happen to her.  Let’s talk about women’s issues for just a second. Part of what bothered me so much about this book (or, to have full disclosure, the parts of this book that I read) was that Edie was ostensibly all for women’s rights but actually she ends up perpetuating all of the awful stereotypes.  TSTL, unable to think around Charles’ manly charms, utterly controlled by her (bizarre) desire for a douchebag…

Tasha: …saying no when she means yes…

Kim: YES! Not only that but she’s boring as hell.  I’m not sure what anyone saw in her.  Her personality is so whiney and uppity. She thinks she knows what is best for EVERYONE and tries to force everyone into actions that she approves of for them.  It got hella annoying after awhile.

Kelly: Edie isn’t the only unsavory character (actually, all of the characters are rather awful).  Charles is basically a douche-canoe.  He has no redeeming qualities (other than his ability to bone, I suppose).  

Tasha: Hey, never underestimate an ability to bone.

Kelly: I don’t know… I’m usually skeptical of anyone who’s basically a walking penis. Anyway, he’s set up in the narrative as a dilettante who seduces (and impregnates) all the pretty maids. Edie is repeatedly warned to stay the hell away from him. Then she (very creepily) spies on him having sex with his own stepmother….

Kim: Creepy!

Kelly: For reals…. and that’s when the shit gets awkward.  You see, Charles’ stepmother is Edie’s mom.

Kim: Oh snap!

Kelly: And Edie doesn’t think it’s right that Charles and her mother are doing the horizontal nasty, so she — and I’m not fucking kidding — offers herself to Charles if he promises to stop fucking her mom, and, because she doesn’t want to tell anyone that she’s Lady D’s daughter (and not just a housemaid), she explains her objection as a moral one. It’s wrong that Charles is fucking his stepmother, so instead he should fuck Edie. Makes perfect sense, right?

Kim: She’s totes a martyr.

Tasha: Well, someone has to sleep with him or he’ll go blind.

Kelly: True story. And then they have all kinds of awkward sexual encounters.  Just how awkward could it be, you ask?  Well… take it away, Kim!

Kim: Let’s just say after Charles spends an evening pleasuring Edie, he decides to stake his claim and shove his fingers in the step-mother/mother’s face.  She proceeds to lose her mind with jealousy.  Edie’s all pissed and Charles is like “BABY I DID IT FOR YOU” and Edie’s like “aww yeah you did. It’s coo”

Kelly: Yeah.  See? Awkward!

Kim: Did anyone else feel that this book was misogynistic?

Kelly: It was dripping with misogyny.

Tasha: Among other things. LOL I was more creeped out by the mother/daughter dynamic and how Charles was modeling Edie in her mother’s image, honestly. But it’s true that all the female characters are either catty (or murderous) bitches or stupid. Or both.

Kim: Oh God the whole Edie/Mom dress up thing. Tasha, I’m leaving that fabulous Freudian scene in your lap.

Tasha: Thank you, I think… So it doesn’t take Charles–or the reader–long to figure out Edie is actually Lady D’s daughter, since they look EXACTLY ALIKE. And seeing as how Edie’s hard-to-get routine has captivated him, soon they’re sleeping together and then he’s like, Hey! While your mom’s out you should try on some of her clothes. And once Edie’s dolled up like her mom Charles is all, “HOT.” But things become even more awkward when he suggests they have a little fun bump-and-grind in her mom’s bed. NOT FREUDIAN, not Freudian AT ALL.

Kim: “Come on babe. Put on your mom’s clothes!” “No, Charles! What would she say if I put them on?” “BABE. IT’S HOT.” “Aww yeah…I guess. It’s coo”

Tasha: Oh! And then he takes her, a servant, to dinner with the family dressed in her mom’s clothes. Awesome idea.

Kim: Not only are there creepy parts like that, but the ending of the book could literally make your head explode with all the craziness.  

Kelly: And how. Actually, I’m OK with everyone I know slogging through this book just to get to the end. It’s pretty dang awesome.  Ready for a spoiler?  Good.  

So Lady D (Edie’s mom) takes the crazy train to murder land because Edie stole her man and because Lady D thinks Edie tried to sabotage Lady D’s marriage , and so she tries to kill Edie after rather creepily spying on Edie and Charles getting it on outside, in full view of anyone, by a pond.  But Lady D is really bad at murder. Her best plan consists of saying to Edie, once Charles has left, Hey girl, you need a bath. Oh look! Let’s swim in this pond! So Edie is all, LOL, k.  So they get nekkid–and that’s not weird at all, right?–and then Lady D tries to drown Edie. But Charles comes back (for no stated reason) and knocks out Lady D, then gives Edie mouth to mouth. Then they go back to the house to take a bath.

Why? Who knows.

After their bath, Charles sends a footman after Lady D, but she’s already dead by the time the footman finds her (suicide? Who knows.). Then Charles and Edie take off in his car to get the magistrate, but instead the car crashes and rolls breaking their legs or something.  

Tasha: LOL And like, the next day they’re fine.

Kim: Even though a car legit crushed Charles’ legs.

Tasha: My favorite thing about the ending was where Edie was like, “Oh, I just realized I couldn’t possibly live a mansion and be rich–even though that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing for the whole book–so I’m going back to London. And if you want me, you have to give up your inheritance and your title, Charles!” And then he totally does it. Like, What?

Kim: “CHARLES. WHY DOES ANYONE WANT MONEY!? GIVE IT UP! I’m worth so much more than a warm home, servants, and the best of everything.” “But babe I love money. And cars. And women. And your mom.” “But I still need you to give up everything. Penniless existences are so much better.” “Ok babe…it’s coo.”


Kim: Aww yeah they did. OH – have we mentioned that there is also an obligatory gay character? Who’s having a relationship with the footman? OH OH and that the chauffeur runs away with Charles’ sister? Any of these storylines sound familiar?  That’s right….it’s straight out of Downton Abbey.

Tasha: So would you two read another Justine Elyot book?

Kelly: Oh HELL no. (Unless it was once again a choice between that book and Office Toy or Forced by Bears.  Then… maybe.)  (Or if y’all read it first and pinky swore that it was more interesting.)

Kim: I’m going with HELL YEAH. I laughed SO HARD through SO MUCH of this book.

Tasha: LOL I think I would, too. If she narrowed down what she wanted to do with the novel it would be good. Or better. Or less bad.

Kelly: Or maybe just more boring?

Tasha: That’s a possibility, too. I guess if it wasn’t for the trainwreckiness this novel would have been undisguisably boring.

Kim: I’ve looked at her other books and nothing sounded as humorous as this one. Whomp whomp.

Kelly: Either way, if you guys end up deciding to read another of hers, I’ll join in, too.

Kim: Simply for the made-up words, right?

Tasha: It’s creativity!

Kim: All in all I was totally entertained by this book. Because it was funny. Even though it didn’t mean to be. And was crazy. And weird. And velvety.

Tasha: And green. And there were secrets. Also, lords.

Kelly: And highly detailed ormolu cleaning.  But my favorite part was when Edie and Charles got their legs crushed. It felt like justice.

Tasha: True. My favorite part was when Charles stuck his smelly fingers in Lady D’s face. Or when Edie actually looked through a keyhole, I can’t decide. So many memorable moments and we learned how to clean on top of it!

Kim: It takes a lot of scrubbing. While on your knees. With your ass in the air. Scrubbing. And scrubbing. Followed by some more scrubbing.

Kelly: While a douche-canoe looks on.

Kim: Thank God we read this book. Apparently I’ve been cleaning all wrong.

Tasha: It just wasn’t hard enough. HAHA

Secrets and Lords was released on May 30, 2013 by Mischief, a division of HarperCollins UK.  If you’re curious, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.

Kim, Tasha, and I send our thanks to the publisher for sending us copies through NetGalley.

Review – The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz with bonus Q and A


See, I told you you’d be hearing more from me about this book.  I love all four books of The Original Sinners: The Red Years, and I love them differently.  If you’re interested in hopping on this bandwagon (and you should be), please check out The SirenThe Angeland The Prince.  A warning, though… once you read one of Tiffany Reisz’s books, other authors’ attempts at bdsm erotica will seem a bit lame.  Honestly, that’s not a bad thing.

There’s punishment – and then there’s vengeance.

Nora Sutherlin is being held, bound and naked. Under different circumstances, she would enjoy the situation immensely, but her captor isn’t interested in play. Or pity.

As the reality of her impending peril unfolds, Nora becomes Scheherazade, buying each hour of her life with stories-sensual tales of Søren, Kingsley and Wesley, each of whom has tempted and tested and tortured her in his own way. This, Nora realizes, is her life: nothing so simple, so vanilla, as a mere love triangle for her. It’s a knot in a silken cord, a tangled mass of longings of the body and the heart and the mind. And it may unravel at any moment.

But in Nora’s world, no one is ever truly powerless – a cadre of her friends, protectors and lovers stands ready to do anything to save her, even when the only certainty seems to be sacrifice and heartbreak…

My Review

The Mistress is an excellent conclusion to the Original Sinners: The Red Years quartet. No matter how you approach these books as a reader — whether you’re looking for a hot story to light your fire or a nuanced and intricate tale you can really sink into — there is plenty to love and enjoy. Though I noticed some pacing issues throughout the first half (that may or may not have been committed on purpose), the second half of the book more than made up for it. And the ending — so perfect and fantastic and funny and (a little bit) sadistic… I really can’t recommend this series highly enough. Anywhere Reisz wants to take me as a reader, I want to go.

If you’re into spoilers or you’ve already read The Mistress and are hankering for a discussion about it, my book buddy Kim and I discussed The Mistress at length over at Reflections of a Book Addict. I’m not kidding about the spoilers, though… Proceed with caution.

Q&A with Tiffany Reisz

1.  RwA: What is your favorite thing about The Mistress or, if you prefer, about the entire series?

Reisz: My favorite part of The Mistress is Grace Easton’s character. Her purpose in the books is allegorical (read The Gospel of Luke if you want to see how), but her character is very real and was an absolute joy to write. I wanted to bring in an outsider to see Søren with new eyes, eyes of faith and an open-heart. Suzanne in The Angel viewed him with a jaundiced suspicious eye. Grace’s eyes were much more enjoyable to see through. And she sees the real Søren. Her view of him is the purest in all the books.

2.  RwA: Was there anything about The Mistress that took you by surprise or pulled you in a new direction while you were writing it?

Reisz: I was surprised by how much I cried writing it. Just sobbed like a baby. I knew how it would end but I was so moved by how much Nora loves. It caught me off-guard. I knew it intellectually but it wasn’t until she faced losing her loved ones that I discovered (and maybe her too) how much she loved them.

3.  RwA: I caught some of the literary/Biblical references sprinkled throughout The Mistress, but I’m sure I missed just as many or more.  What are some of the references readers might discover in this or the other Original Sinners books?

Reisz: In The Mistress, Grace is one big reference to the Gospel of Luke. The last line of the book is an allusion to a famous verse in the Gospel of John AND a reference to Sarah in the Old Testament. Kingsley and Søren have a David and Jonathan relationship. And the three of them—Nora, Søren, and Kingsley—are my unholy Trinity.

4.  RwA: What is the significance of the Jabberwocky as a monster, a safe word, and/or a tie that binds Eleanor and Søren?

Reisz: The Jabberwocky is a nonsense poem and yet it isn’t. The Jabberwocky is a monster and a knight in shining armor comes and cuts his head off. Personally I’d rather have Jabberwockies in the world than men with swords. It’s emblematic of misunderstood monsters who the world thinks need slayed but really should just be written about.

5.  RwA: How does writing The White Years compare to writing The Red Years?

Reisz: Writing the first book of The White Years, The Priest, was ridiculously fun. Nora Sutherlin as a teenage girl? It was a blast. I think The Priest is the most fun I’ve ever had writing. I hope readers find it equally fun to read!

Thank you, Tiffany, for answering my random questions!  I’m looking forward to reading anything you care to write.

Blog Tour Giveaway

Tour-wide Giveaway: **Open to US ONLY**  (1) Kindle 6” E-reader, (10) Signed copy of The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz, (3) e-book of The Mistress, (4) e-book of The Mistress Files, (1) 10 minute phone call with Tiffany Reisz, (1) Swag Bag containing: 4 signed bookplates, bookmarks, 1 Original Sinner button, and 1 Original Sinner pen.

Follow this link to a Rafflecopter giveaway to participate. All winners will be drawn on August 11th and notified by The Novel Tease via email provided.

Author Picture

Tiffany Reisz lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her boyfriend (a reformed book reviewer) and two cats (one good, one evil). She graduated with a B.A. in English from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and is making both her parents and her professors proud by writing BDSM erotica under her real name. She has five piercings, one tattoo, and has been arrested twice.

When not under arrest, Tiffany enjoys Latin Dance, Latin Men, and Latin Verbs. She dropped out of a conservative southern seminary in order to pursue her dream of becoming a smut peddler. Johnny Depp’s aunt was her fourth grade teacher. Her first full-length novel THE SIREN was inspired by a desire to tie up actor Jason Isaacs (on paper). She hopes someday life will imitate art (in bed).

If she couldn’t write, she would die.

Twitter: @TiffanyReisz



The Mistress was released on July 30, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Harlequin MIRA.  If you like, you can buy this book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or you can find out more about it on Goodreads.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

The ethics of blogging – Armchair BEA 2013 – Day 4

It’s day 4 of Armchair BEA, and today’s discussion topic focuses on ethics in blogging — how do we, as bloggers, navigate ethical waters?

I’m having a difficult time contextualizing ethics and blogging in general.  It’s hard to imagine that there’s a universal ethical code that could be applied to something as diverse and traditionally uncontrollable as the Internet, and it’s equally hard for me to imagine myself conforming to that universal code.

I do have a personal ethical code, however, and it governs my interactions on the Internet just as much as my daily interactions in face-to-face land, though there are a couple of subsections that apply only to my Internet life.

  1. Be kind.  I put this one first because I think it’s the most important and because it’s the one I have the hardest time achieving.  Sometimes I just don’t feel kind.  Sometimes people annoy me or say ridiculous things.  Sometimes books are bad.  Sometimes I’m just tempted to use my wit to cut.  I try to find a balance between my natural impulses towards snarky humor (I don’t want to suppress myself, after all) and my natural horror of hurting other people’s feelings.  When I manage that balance, the result is kindness, I think.
  2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and follow through on every promise.  Again, this one is a bit of a struggle.  The thing is, I want to be all things to all people, even though I know it’s impossible.  I want to do all the things.  I want to volunteer for every job and keep all those balls afloat and all those people happy by being practically perfect in every way.  You can easily see how things go awry.  While I totally suck at managing my time in my real life (and consequently totally suck at following through on all those promises), it’s easier to succeed on this point on my blog.  If I request or accept a book for review, I read and review it (on time), though I use my own discretion in deciding whether to write about it here on the blog or just on Goodreads.
  3. An “honest review” means you actually have to be honest, even if you didn’t like that book.  Sometimes it’s difficult to square the need for honesty with the need for kindness.  The thing is, if I hate a book, I don’t think it’s unkind to the author to say so honestly whether here on my blog or on Goodreads.  There are a lot of books I’ve hated, and even more that bored the pants off me, and I don’t see the value in pretending that there are only OK, good, and excellent books.  That said, this kind of honesty requires sufficient explanation to be useful.  What help is it to anyone to say, “I read this book. I didn’t like it.”  If you state exactly what you didn’t like about the book, however, along with an honest accounting of the things you did like, your review becomes something like constructive criticism.
  4. Err on the side of caution.  Sometimes I buy books, sometimes I borrow them from friends, and sometimes I receive them from a publisher via NetGalley or directly from an author.  I like to think that the method by which I obtain a book does not have an impact on how I feel about that book, but who knows?  Maybe I’m so flattered at the few direct inquiries I’ve gotten from authors that I plop my rose-colored glasses on when I open their books.  It doesn’t take that much extra effort to tack on a disclaimer when I receive a book for review, so I do it.  I’d rather be unnecessarily nice about the whole thing than be accused of misleading readers.
  5. Stay true to the point of the blog.  I started this blog to write about books, to force myself to be a better reader by paying more attention to what I was reading and what it all means, in the grand scheme of things.  I didn’t start blogging to sell books or promote the publishing industry in general.  While I know that readers, authors, publishers, bloggers, agents, etc. are all part of an interconnected ecosystem and that, therefore, this blog is not an island unto itself, I personally feel more comfortable about the whole business when I stick to reading books and writing about them.
  6. Be careful about copyright.  I’m not a lawyer (I don’t even play one on TV), and I don’t want to have to talk to one about my little blog.  So I try always to post images that are my own or that are part of the public domain or wiki-commons (and I follow the latter’s advice on citation).  In general, I use embedded videos on YouTube whenever I want a multimedia experience.  For book covers, I link image URLs from Goodreads.  Sometimes I have an idea of something that I really want to put in a post (most of the time I’m just winging it), but if I can’t find it on YouTube, Goodreads, public domain or wiki-commons, I won’t risk using it.

Given that I’m a hobbyist blogger toiling in obscurity and neither spending nor making any money on this blog, I kept my ethical code recounting very simple and very personal.  Every situation is a little different, but I suspect that bloggers who approach ethical questions with the impulse to try to do what’s right will generally find their way.

On literary fiction – Armchair BEA 2013 – Day 3

It’s day 3 of Armchair BEA, and today the topic is literary fiction: What books have you read this year that would fit into this category? Is there anything coming up that you’re particularly excited about?What authors/novels would you recommend to someone new to the genre? Are there any misconceptions or things that you’d like to clear up for people unfamiliar with literary fiction? What got you started into this kind of book? Name a novel that hasn’t received a lot of buzz that definitely deserves it.

I ranted yesterday about my reservations with distinguishing between literary and genre fiction, so today I’ll (try to) content myself with answering the question.  I don’t read a lot of literary fiction — some years, I don’t read any.

What is literary fiction, anyway?  It’s a non-genre genre, and perhaps it’s best defined by one thing that it isn’t, and one thing that it is. It isn’t genre fiction, and it is (must be) identified as literary by an accepted critic whose merit as judge and gatekeeper everybody who is anybody approves.  It tends to be written by men (for a variety of reasons, including: books by women tend to be sidelined as chick-lit or the slightly better-named women’s fiction, and most reviewers bestowing literary status are men and may be less inclined to review books written by women, though probably not for nefarious reasons… in our culture, we tend to assume that books written by men are for everybody, but books written by women are for women and thus are not mainstream), and I suspect the idea is that the books that are touted as literary fiction today will end up being the classics of tomorrow.  I wonder how many of them will actually make the cut.

So why don’t I read more literary fiction?  I like good books, and I recognize and appreciate quality writing where I find it — why wouldn’t I read a genre that is vetted for quality?  Honestly, it’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ fault (everything is, actually).  I know, I know – Tess is a classic and bears no resemblance to modern literary fiction.  The thing is, having spent the better part of a decade reading the classics, that sea of venerable men and a few worthy ladies, I’ve come to associate literature with sexism/misogyny.  Tess is just a fine example of it, even if Hardy was being ironic (and I’m not entirely convinced that he was).  So I’ve been making a concerted effort to avoid misogynistic literature and cultivate a more feminist library.  I’ve been a lot happier, in general.

I know — I’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and I’m terribly wrongheaded and all that — I know!  But I’m just being honest, here.  It’s probably a temporary thing, but for now, that’s where I’m at.  Have any of you gone through anything like this in your reading, where you purposely avoid an entire section of the bookstore because those books make you angry?  Did you grow out of it after a while?

Lastly, these books are probably not considered literary by the gatekeepers at the NYT, but they certainly struck me as being more literary than otherwise.

Blogging and genre – Armchair BEA Day 2

Well, it’s day 2 of Armchair BEA, and today, there are two topics: Blogger Development & Genre Fiction.

I’m certain I’m imposing my own insecurities on the question, but I have to be honest and admit that the very notion of assessing my development as a blogger makes me feel a bit inadequate.  The truth is that I consider this blog to be a hobby, a thing I do because I enjoy it, not because of any external pressure to perform.  Even if no one read this blog, I would still write it.  With that starting position, I feel very little compulsion to promote my blog, and if I drop off the map for three weeks because I’m unbelievably busy, I don’t feel at all bad about it.  That’s not to say that I don’t take this blog seriously — quite the opposite — but I don’t measure success in terms of popularity or marketability.  I have a job, and this blog isn’t it.

That said, I have developed quite a lot over the past year.  For one thing, I’m a better reader than I was.  For another, I’m a better writer.  Best of all, this past year of blogging has helped me to chip away at my habitual reserve, to make some friends (never easy for me to do), to say some true things and put them out there for all the world to see (should the world go out of its way to find my little corner of unreserve…), to try new things.  It has been a fantastic year, but these successes can be measured only on my peculiar scale.

Abrupt subject change: I’m all about genre fiction!  To be honest, I think all fiction can easily be categorized as genre fiction of some sort or other.  I know folk have a strong inclination to distinguish literary fiction from the sordid genre type, but this inclination seems like misplaced snobbery to me.  All fiction is the work of scribbling human hands to explain some part of the human experience.  Maybe that explanation comes in the form of alien planets or vampire stalkers or amorous dukes and barmaids or neurotic narrators recounting their entire misspent lives; the connecting thread running through each of those stories is the humanity of their authors.  (In case you’re curious, I did just lump Children of the MindTwilightAny Duchess Will Do, and In Search of Lost Time into one category, Aristotle be damned.)

Some authors undoubtedly write better than others, some come closer to achieving a real art, some have more skill at using the lies of story and narrative to tell a truth about who we are as humans, but when we assign categories to writers, we hobble ourselves as readers and limit the artistic reach of those writers.  (We also inflate the egos of those writers and critics fortunate enough to be the gatekeepers of literary quality.)

I suppose I should scramble down from my soap box now and talk about the kind of stories I most want to read.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good story.  When I was in elementary school and junior high, I read whatever I could get my hands on: library books, school books, my mother’s books, etc.  I didn’t precisely have a favorite genre because I was just obsessed with the written word and all the knowledge it contained.  The first book I read that truly took my breath away was Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming.  In junior high, I discovered fantasy books, and I read The Hobbit and tried to read The Lord of the Rings (I didn’t succeed in reading it until I was 20 and had achieved something like patience); I read Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony, and a bunch of truly terrible Dragonlance books.  Then I read Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series (books 1-4) and W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neil Gear’s The First North Americans Series.  Then I read Les Miserables and discovered that what I liked most in all those stories I’d read was any inkling of the redemptive power of love.  Strange as it might be, it was a short skip for me from Les Miserables to romance novels, because that’s where all the love stories hide.

These days, I read romance novels almost exclusively.  Some of them are terrible, and some of them are incandescently wonderful.  I highly recommend each of the following.