Performancing Metrics

Friday, October 18, 2013

Period Drama Montage "It's Raining Men"

Author Susan Elizabeth Phillips posted this on her Facebook page the other day and it's downright amazing.  God bless the creator of this most wonderful video.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Book Mini-Review: Fire Inside by Kristen Ashley (Chaos #2)

Book cover of Fire Inside by Kristen Ashley (Chaos #2, motorcycle romance)
Mmm, a biker hero....rugged, surly, tough, alpha.  I'm usually more of a rakish duke fan, I admit, but there's something so manly and delicious about a badass biker falling in love.  And though I'm by no means an expert when it comes to biker romances, it seems that few authors write them better than Kristen Ashley.  The most recent installment in Ashley's Chaos series, Fire Inside, is an opposites-attract love story that's intense and hot and straight-up engrossing.

Summary: Lanie Heron isn’t looking for love—no surprise, considering her last serious relationship nearly got her killed. So when Lanie propositions Hop Kincaid, all she wants is one wild night with the hot-as-hell biker who patrols with the Chaos Motorcycle Club...

For Hop, Lanie has always been untouchable. She’s too polished and too classy for his tastes. But when she gives Hop the once-over with her bedroom eyes and offers him a night in paradise, he can’t say no. And he doesn’t regret it when he finds that Lanie is the best thing that’s ever happened to him—in or out of bed. Now the trick will be to convince her of that. — Goodreads

My thoughts: Despite some things that didn't sit well with me (see notes below), I really enjoyed Fire Inside.  It's the third Kristen Ashley motorcycle book I've read and it won't be the last.  Ashley crafts a super-steamy romance that I really loved.  For those new to the series, Fire Inside is a good introduction to the world of Tack, Hop and all the uber-alpha bikers of Chaos (and I mean uber).  At the same time, Ashley is very good at writing female characters with agency.  Her women are fully realized characters who have lives and relationships outside their romantic concerns.  Ashley's females have friends, jobs, hobbies and interests outside the men in their lives.  I wish more romance writers would create similarly real women.  Tack and Lanie's love story in Fire Inside isn't simple or easy, but it felt authentic, and it's that quality that make Ashley's books so compelling.

A few caveats for those who haven't read Kristen Ashley before:
  • The bikers have a pretty unique vernacular, what I think of as "Chaos speak."  Half the time, her heroes don't use complete sentences and they almost always drop the 'g' from -ing words.  It's a rhythm that suits the lifestyle, but it may take some adjusting for Ashley newbies.
  • Ashley's books are looooonnnnng — a lot of them are 500+pages, Fire Inside included.  Don't expect a quick read.  At the same time, I find her books to be almost unputdownable.
  • Those bikers like it dirty.  Just sayin'.
  • Finally, the most troubling part about the Chaos books, something that unsettles me a great deal.  Fire Inside uses "bitch" liberally to refer to women and isn't shy about throwing around the c-word.  A feminist friend recently explained to me why she finds it so disrespectful to call a woman a bitch, and it's made me think long and hard about the sexist power of that word.  Plus, in my opinion, there are few things more offensive than a man using the c-word to derogatorily describe a woman — a serious turnoff for me.  It's very much a part of the alpha male Chaos culture Ashley's created and though it's easy to imagine such characters using it, I still hate it (though, for the record, so does Lainie).  Related: I think it's offensive for one woman to call another that.  As for women reclaiming the c-word, I get that but I still can't use it myself.
Rating: B+
Publisher: Forever
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Length: 528 pages
Sensuality: Very hot

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan (Brothers Sinister #2)

Book cover of The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan (Brothers Sinister #2)
Confession: I have a massive girl crush on Jane Fairfield, heroine of Courtney Milan's The Heiress Effect.  She is clever and brash, yes, but I mainly love her because she is a total badass, inasmuch as a Victorian lady can be a badass.

Summary: Miss Jane Fairfield can’t do anything right. When she’s in company, she always says the wrong thing—and rather too much of it. No matter how costly they are, her gowns fall on the unfortunate side of fashion. Even her immense dowry can’t save her from being an object of derision.

And that’s precisely what she wants. She’ll do anything, even risk humiliation, if it means she can stay unmarried and keep her sister safe.

Mr. Oliver Marshall has to do everything right. He’s the bastard son of a duke, raised in humble circumstances—and he intends to give voice and power to the common people. If he makes one false step, he’ll never get the chance to accomplish anything. He doesn’t need to come to the rescue of the wrong woman. He certainly doesn’t need to fall in love with her. But there’s something about the lovely, courageous Jane that he can’t resist…even though it could mean the ruin of them both. — Goodreads

My thoughts:  Courtney Milan continues to be a never-fail author for me.  The Heiress Effect isn't my favorite Milan book, but it's a very good read and Jane may be my favorite Milan heroine (she has some stiff competition, though).  Jane is wickedly brilliant (or brilliantly wicked, I can't decide) in her attempts to deliberately make herself unattractive to would-be suitors, all to protect her younger sister from their controlling uncle.  Her blithe insults and casually clumsy zings are perfectly crafted and I found myself alternately laughing and gasping aloud at her audacity:
"[S]he complimented the Marquess of Bradenton on the cut of his coat, assuring him that his unfortunate slope-shoulders were 'almost unnoticeable.' 
And when he sputtered in response and turned away, she set down her serviette and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. 
'Don't feel embarrassed,' she said.  'It's acceptable to lose the flow of conversation.  Not everyone is clever enough to think of something to say immediately.'"
Behind the gaudy and crude mask, however, Jane is almost paralyzed by her self-isolation.  Milan's heroines are often rather solitary figures with a small circle of intimates, and Jane is no different.  Apart from her younger sister, she has not a single friend and she keeps it that way deliberately, despite her loneliness.  Enter Oliver Marshall, the one person savvy enough to glimpse the real Jane beneath the mask, primarily because he wears one himself.  While Jane spends much of the book trying to maintain her facade, Oliver is forced to grapple with issues of conscience.  I loved that in order to cope with his politics-versus-personal dilemma, Oliver seeks out advice from his adopted father, Hugo Marshall, the hero of The Governess Affair (my review here).  Hugo is one of my favorite heroes in recent memory and I was thrilled that Milan brought him back for an encore.

The love story between Jane and Oliver progresses rather slowly because it's initially not so much a romance as it is a recognition of equals followed by a begrudged friendship. She is attracted to him at first because he is the only one who recognizes who she really is; he feels sorry for her then begins to admire her determination.  That admiration is rather breathtaking, given Jane's public persona, and as usual, Milan describes it in a beautiful and simple way:
"'If people want you to stop talking, or to stop dressing the way you do, or to change who you are, it's because you hurt their eyes.  We've all been trained not to stare into the sun.'"
Eventually, the two manage to bring things to the next level, but it takes some time to get there.  Given how often couples in historical romance novels seem to jump right into bed, however, I appreciate that Milan makes a reader wait until things progress naturally and believably.

I always enjoy Milan's seamless integration of Victorian social issues into her romances (women's health concerns in A Kiss at Midwinter, middle class poverty in This Wicked Gift, etc.) and The Heiress Effect is no different.  Jane faces sexism and misogyny at virtually turn:
"She's the worst of the worst — a woman with no birth to speak of, who thinks that her hundred thousand pounds makes her my equal.  A woman like her, running about, spouting her tripe...She does damage to us all."
The social inequality Jane encounters is not exceptional for Victorian times, but her manner of dealing with it certainly is.  There's also a secondary romance that briefly explores colonialism and racism, and though I liked the couple, I felt that the resolution there was a bit too slick.

The Brothers Sinister series has been extremely successful so far and Milan has already set up the final two novels well.  There's enough tension between Sebastian and a certain lady that I'm fairly certain they'll be the focus of The Countess Conspiracy while Oliver's reform-minded sister Free will then get her home book.  That one is intriguingly titled The Mistress Rebellion (Milan notes this might change).  Regardless of titles, I'm confident Milan won't disappoint.  Oh, and P.S.: I adore Milan's covers.  I wish more self-published authors would put in the money and effort to have such lovely images.

Rating: B+
Publisher: Courtney Milan
Publication Date: July 15, 2013
Length: 281 pages
Sensuality: Hot

The Brazen Bookworm romance novel book reviews

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author in return for a fair and honest review.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Little Lion Challenge: Make a Little Roar! (#littlelionchallenge)

Little Lion Challenge: Make a Little Roar #littlelionchallenge
My nephew is pretty much the cutest thing ever and since he was born in February, he's been a bright spot in our lives.  He had a rough go at first, though, and had to spend the first few months in the hospital.  He's a tough little guy and he's been an uberchamp through everything, earning him the moniker Little Lion Man (yeah, his parents are big Mumford fans).  We're all so thankful that he's home now and even though he needs a lot of care, he's doing great.

Through this all, my sister-in-law and brother have been amazing.  They are endlessly cheerful and positive and I'm pretty sure they've earned a lifetime's supply of Prosecco and Brunello (their respective drinks of choice).  The past five months have been challenging for them, but they've met each obstacle with a determined attitude.  They are my heroes.

In recognition of and gratitude for all the help they've received over the past several months, the Little Lion Man's parents are asking their friends, family, acquaintances and random strangers to help them pay it back by paying it forward.  I don't generally share personal stories on this blog (Twitter, on the other hand...) but I'm so proud of the way my sister-in-law and brother have dealt with this situation and I thought I'd share this idea with you.

If you're interested or if you just want to check out the little guy's handsome face, please check out Heather's post about the #LittleLionChallenge on her awesome Baltimore family blog, cool(progeny).  If you do choose to join, don't forget to use the #LittleLionChallenge hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, etc.  They're aiming for 1,000 kind deeds to begin with and hope to grow even beyond that.

So far, participants in the challenge have done fun things like buying Starbucks cards for strangers or giving drinks to delivery men or putting money in strangers' expired parking meters.  My BFF already beat me to the challenge when she dropped pies off at her local firehouse and now I'm trying to think of an equally cool way to celebrate the Little Lion Man, who is clearly worth of a massive celebration.

The Brazen Bookworm book reviews

Monday, July 15, 2013

Novella Review: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers (contemporary romance novella)
Synopsis:  I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park.  Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life...isn’t she?  But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted.  After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore.  And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined.  Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life...that he won't share with Carrie.  Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost.  But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One...even though she has no idea how their love story will end? – Goodreads

My thoughts: Holy emotional roller coaster, Batman.  The Story Guy was only 120 pages?  Because it sure felt like a full-length novel.  There was plenty of buzz going around Romancelandia about Mary Ann Rivers' debut book, and I dove in expecting a sweet, easy read.  Instead, I found myself completely immersed in a super steamy read that had me choked with emotion for a significant number of pages.

The relationship between Carrie and Brian starts off as, well, not really a relationship.  Just kissing, no touching below the neck.  It begins sweetly, and Brian's bashful demeanor charmed me just as quickly as it did Carrie – the guy can blush with the best of them.  As soon as Carrie tries to turn the relationship beyond a weekly snog session, though, Brian shuts her down (no surprise, as the deal was for kissing only).  The novella then becomes a contest of wills in which Carrie tries to break down Brian's barriers in hopes of creating something more.

I'm generally not a fan of stories told in present tense, but it works in The Story Guy.  It heightens the intimacy between Carrie and Brian and it also keeps the story suspenseful.  More than once, I found myself wondering how on earth Rivers could end this book in a satisfying manner.

The Story Guy isn't flawless.  I was frustrated by the amount of time it took to find out Brian's story, and I felt the ending was a bit slick.  The book also raises some provocative issues that I'll skip here for fear of spoiling some major plot points.  If you're interested, Liz hosted a discussion post where she and the commenters dissected The Story Guy far more articulately than I could.  Regardless, I found The Story Guy compelling and I look forward to whatever Mary Ann Rivers gives us next.

Rating: A-
Publisher: Random House (Loveswept)
Publication Date: July 8, 2013
Length: 120 pages
Sensuality: Erotica
The Brazen Bookworm (romance novel book reviews)

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for a fair and honest review.
Romance novel book review