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597. Romantic Times Rewind: December 2015 Reviews


Sarah Wendell: Hello there. Happy New Year and welcome to episode number 597 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell, with me is Amanda, and we are traveling back in time to December 2015 for this month’s RT Rewind. We are taking a look at the reviews in this issue, and along the way we’re going to talk about audiobook series, historical romance, Jesus by Volume, and the ever-so-small range of grades in this issue. We also take a side trip into the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, so if this is a series you read, get ready. We take a long tangent, and it’s a lot of fun.

Inside the show notes and at or, you will find a post with pictures of all of the reviews and the books we’re talking about and some visual extras, and, and there’s even a player embedded in the post. You can just hit Play and follow along; it’s lots of fun. Because, you know, podcasting, famously a visual medium. We need to, you know, add some visual aids to the experience. Plus I link to a review that I’m very proud of from, oh goodness me, 2007.

Hello and thank you to our Patreon community for not only making sure that the show is happening in your ears every week – thank you, folks – but making sure that every episode is accessible through the transcript hand-compiled by garlicknitter. Hey, garlicknitter! [Hey! – gk] Thank you so much for your support. The Patreon support means a lot, and I have a compliment this week!

To Leah D: There’s a lot of decluttering and tidying going on in the world ‘cause it’s January, and there are many thoughtful gifts and mementos from you that are being kept because they and you are too important to the people in your life. Thank you for being such a good gift-giver!

Each pledge makes such a difference, and I deeply appreciate your support. I also want to say hi to Kathy, who just joined the community. If you join, there’s a Discord, and it’s really great. There are bonus episodes, and there’s a lot of fun shenanigans. So if you are at all interested, have a look at

Support for this episode comes from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association. Hi, folks! The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association would like to invite you to a special event for writers of romantic speculative fiction. HEA Quest is an online-only four-hour event featuring three stellar panels of industry experts, including Monique Patterson from Bramble, who’s a past podcast guest; Sarra Cannon of Heart Breathings; and Becca Syme from the Better-Faster Academy. This event is hosted by the Romance Steering Committee of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association, and the event will finish with breakout rooms for networking with fellow authors. If you write any combination of fantasy, science fiction, and romance from paranormal to space opera, please join the HEA Quest on Saturday, January 20th, 2024. For more information look for the link in the show notes, or to register, go to Thank you to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association for underwriting this episode and for hosting such a cool event. I am all about HEA Quest. To find out more and to register, go to the link in the show notes or look for the link inside the show notes at under episode 597.

Are you ready to start this episode? Strap in, get your beverages, get your snacks, get your seatbelt. We’re traveling back in time to December 2015. On with the podcast and this month’s Romantic Times Rewind.


Sarah: Are you ready to go back to 2015? To December 2015?

Amanda: I’m ready!

Sarah: I should have done this in December’s episodes. We’re going to do this for January’s episodes; it’s fine. Where were you in December 2015?

Amanda: I was in Boston! I think, I graduated from grad school in May, so I was still in Boston. I just left that shitty job, and I just, I think November 2015 is when I became a full-time employee of Smart Bitches. I think it was that November.

Sarah: Wow-how, you’re right!

Amanda: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: In December 2015, we were moving to Maryland. That was when we moved; it’s been almost eight years.

So thank you to Shannon Stacey for this, for this issue. We’re going to look at the reviews.

Amanda: We sure are!

Sarah: We sure are. Now, we can start with the cover. This is an interesting cover. It’s very visually memorable –

Amanda: Yes.

Sarah: – buuut at the same time it’s ver-, it’s a stock image. It’s a blue drapery with a rose on it and then Elizabeth Hoyt’s book, the, the Maiden Lane book –

Amanda: Yes.

Sarah: – with the big yellow dress is at, is, is –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – is big, and then beneath it are three more Elizabeth Hoyt Maiden Lane books.

Amanda: No, this is not the fourth book.

Sarah: No!

Amanda: ‘Cause the, the ones below it aren’t one, two, and three…

Sarah: Oh no! I wonder –

Amanda: This is the ninth book.

Sarah: – wonder why they picked those. For the color?

Amanda: Probably the predec-, the previous ones? So –

Sarah: Hmm.

Amanda: – Sweetest Scoundrel is number nine, and then the ones below it are six, seven, and eight.

Sarah: Mm.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: So this was the last four; you’re right. Can you imagine saying, I’m going to write a thirteen-book historical romance series now?

Amanda: No! Feel like no one’s really doing that now. It’s interesting how much historical romance has, has changed.

Sarah: Oh yeah. I feel like you’re lucky if you get to three books. Like, if you get three –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – in a trilogy and they’re all published, I feel like you’re very lucky.

Amanda: It’s interesting because when I would pick books up, the longer a series was, the less likely I was going to pick it up, ‘cause it feels like such a big commitment?

Sarah: Oh yeah, you have homework, right?

Amanda: Yeah, and I don’t want to, like, jump in the middle anywhere. But now I feel like I miss it. Like, in terms of historical romances, I feel like there are only a few major names consistently publishing now.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: But I kind of miss it!

Sarah: It is kind of fun to go, like, immerse yourself in a world, right?

Amanda: Yeah, for a while, for sure. But yeah, I just, I really miss those, like, Kelly Bowen historical romances? I really liked hers, but now she’s switched to historical fiction –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – and like World War II and World War I –

Sarah: It’s so huge –

Amanda: – historical fiction –

Sarah: So…

Amanda: – which is not my thing.

Sarah: No, not my thing either.

Amanda: So yeah, I, I’m really, like, missing some really good sexy new voices in historical romance, but that’s not where the money’s at right now.

Sarah: No, it’s not.

Every time we talk about the Maiden Lane series I think, Okay, I should, I should read it. And then I look at how many books it is, and I’m like, But that’s a lot of books! [Laughs]

Amanda: The audio is so good. Ashford –

Sarah: Ohhh?

Amanda: – McNab does the audio for all of them. I think I’ve made it, I think I listened to books one, two, and three pretty, pretty quickly in succession. I always want to go back to it, but just kind of like fall off. I didn’t like book two as much? But book one and book three I really liked. I think we’ve talked about this with audiobooks: I’m very picky about my narrators, as I’m sure everyone has their own personal tastes?

Sarah: Yes.

Amanda: So when you have a single narrator doing voices for opposite genders?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: That’s the quickest way for me to tap out, if I don’t like, like it, like, you know –

Sarah: How they’re doing the voice?

Amanda: Yeah. But so far Ashford McNab does a very, really good job. Like, the hero in the third book, Charming Mickey, is like this Irish river pirate?

Sarah: As you do.

Amanda: The voice she does for Charming Mickey: so good. So good. So yeah, I, I highly recommend them on audio, Sarah, so if you’ve got credits to burn, time to burn, need some background stuff –

Sarah: They are all –

Amanda: – I think they’re good!

Sarah: They are all in Hoopla, and I have put them in my Favorites list.

Amanda: I really liked – and I hadn’t finished it ‘cause I had to return the copy, my library copy before I could finish it – but I was really enjoying the first Pennyroyal Green book on audio.

Sarah: Oh, I like that series a lot. I like that series –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – a great deal. That’s a – those are fun. Like, that was, that’s Caroline Linden, right?

Amanda: No, that’s Julie –

Sarah: No, that’s Julie Anne Long.

Amanda: – Julie Anne Long.

Sarah: Julie Anne Long and Caroline Linden, to me, they have a similar, like, tenor to their writing. It’s very, like, they’re very funny. They’re, they’re a little bit light. And I don’t mean light like they don’t deal with serious things, but it’s not like – it’s, it’s more about comedy of manners and dialogue with both of them, which I like a lot. I should just go reread some historicals and stop kvetching.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: I agree with you about narrators, though. One thing that I really struggle with, and I struggled with this for the, The Blonde Identity? There were two narrators because the chapters are from alternating points of view, and the problem is when one narrator does the other narrator’s character voice and they don’t match.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: But I like this cover. It, it – [sighs] – it’s not very interesting? I like the colors? I would remember it, but also you’re right: it, it’s not really about the book? Like, why is the rose the biggest thing?

Amanda: I mean, obviously it gives me Beauty and the Beast vibes –

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: – the color palette?

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: But it, the cover feels more like an advertisement. Like, I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw this layout minus the, like –

Sarah: Headlines.

Amanda: – the callouts to what’s inside?

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: But, you know, I could see this as a layout in an ad tucked in the middle of this issue.

Sarah: Yeah, for sure.

Shall we start with Historical Romance, since we’ve been chatting about it?

Amanda: Yeah. Let me, let me scroll –

Sarah: There’s a –

Amanda: – through.

Sarah: There’s a lot of features. This, this issue is full of Amanda-bait.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: This whole –

Amanda: I recognize a lot. A lot of titles in here for sure.

Sarah: This issue is a lot of Amanda-bait, y’all.

So something I did with this round: I thought it was interesting how very, very different, not only the number of books per genre in last month’s, in 2004? Not only the number of books per genre, but the names of the genre were different, and so I started thinking, Okay, well, how, how much did it change? Right now, so this is 2015 in December, in Historical, there are twenty-four historical romances being reviewed releasing in December 2015, plus five historical fiction. I don’t, I don’t think that there are twenty-four historicals coming out from traditional presses in one month right now.

Amanda: No. I mean, like, you could probably make it work if you think about indie –

Sarah: Oh, for sure!

Amanda: – and self-pub, but yeah, not –

Sarah: That’s where historical is now.

There are two two-star reviews in this collection, one from Samhain for Karen Kay’s Black Eagle, and then one by and published –

Amanda: I think we can understand why –

Sarah: I think so, yeah.

Amanda: – maybe that got a –

Sarah: We’ll just leave that be. [Laughs] Let’s not go near there. And then Barbara Dan’s Home Is Where the Heart Is, published by Barbara Dan, also got a two-star.

But the review I wanted to talk about is on page 18. It is A Whisper of Desire by Bronwen Evans. Now, the description is, is fine, but the review –

Amanda: I started reading this one. So I don’t look at yours before I pick mine?

Sarah: Yeah?

Amanda: And I’m like, What the fuck is this review?

Sarah: This review is terrible!

Amanda: And then I go…

Sarah: This is a terrible, terribly written review!

Amanda: …mentioning it.

Sarah: Okay –

Amanda: Thank God!

Sarah: – like, what – okay. Okay. Okay. So the re-, the, the, I’ll start with the summary. This is the E-book – now, we’re not capitalizing the B in book now. We are, we are putting a hyphen in, and the E is capital; they’ve upgraded their style guide.

>> E-book, A Whisper of Desire from Loveswept, download for $2.99, Bronwen Evans, four and a half stars, Hot, setting: Regency England.

So this is the summary:

>> The Duke of Lyttleton, Maitland Spencer, has bedded yet another woman.


>> Lady Marisa –

Amanda: Good for him.

Sarah: >> – Hawkestone –


>> – doesn’t remember the events from the evening before when she awakes, but she begins to worry that the “Cold Duke” could be troublesome for her future.

I am already confused and have some questions, but that’s fine.

>> As the rumors begin to spread, Marisa has no choice but to take the duke’s hand in marriage. Maitland finds it tough to constantly feed her sexual appetite, but the pair start to settle nicely after a quick start. Then evil is found lurking around the corner, and Maitland must decide if protecting his new bride and his heart is worth risking his life.

My guy, your wife likes sex. Just go to Bone Town and live happily ever after.

Okay, so I’ve, I’ve, this – okay! Sure! All right! I like it when there’s an insatiable sexuality on the part of the heroine. Usually they have to be like –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – Oh, convinced! But here’s the review, and this review is absolutely dreadful. Okay. I don’t even understand what this – okay, this –

Amanda: Let’s, let’s remind everyone that this got four and a half stars –

Sarah: Four and a half stars!

Amanda: – with this review.

Sarah: Yes, thank you!

>> Regency novels aren’t for everyone, but if you are a lover of romance and don’t mind a little heat, Evans’s novels are the way to go. She constantly reminds us what passion is all about, and because she is so on point with her facts and lively characters, you just can’t go wrong. Her latest is suspenseful, well written, and a great read all around.

What the hell is that review? This tells me exactly nothing. I mean, if you like books like this, I guess this one’s okay. Like, what?! I read that three times thinking that there must be some subtext that I’m missing? Like, I am missing what they’re trying to say without saying it, but I, I have no idea.

Amanda: And also, even if you don’t like Regency, you might like this one. Like, is someone who doesn’t like historical romances going to bother reading…? [Laughs]

Sarah: Like, who are they trying to convince here? What’s the audience for this review supposed to be thinking when they – I, I’m – you’re already reading this section ‘cause you want to read historical romance, right?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: So, like, what is this re-, this review is, I was blown away by how terrible that review was.


Sarah: And it’s also all cliché. Like, I do not like clichés. This is just, It’s the way to go; what passion is all about. This sounds like the signature file on an AOL email. Her books are what passion is all about! Like, what the – oh God, this review just, as someone who edits reviews a lot, I was really taking this very personally. [Laughs] It’s not even my review!

Amanda: I’m going to, what I, I feel like I should do is I should just copy and paste a bunch of these reviews and make like a Franken-review for – [laughs] – book?

Sarah: Oh my God, my face right now. Don’t you fucking dare!


Sarah: This, these characters rang true – like, no. Okay.

Amanda: [Laughs] I picked a review similarly for why you picked this one in that, like, this feels like a generic, just like jumble of words that you could just put to any book.

Sarah: Word salad! Yes!

Amanda: Yeah. It is a word salad. So I picked, it’s on page 19, The Striker by Monica McCarty, and to refresh everyone, this series was like What if we made Navy SEALs, but they were Highlanders? What if they were Scottish Highlanders?

Sarah: In –

Amanda: That’s what this series is.

Sarah: – 1300s Scotland!

Amanda: Yeah. So it’s like historical romance Navy SEALs was the premise for this series. [Laughs] And the review is:

>> The tenth book of the Highland Guard series is as powerful as the others. It is the highly romantic tale of lovers forced to make difficult decisions. The consequences of their actions turn this into a deeply emotional, rapidly paced, well crafted read.

That’s it. Like, this does not feel tailored to the book at all? And is so vague and generic in its critique.

Sarah: It could be, it could be about anything. It is like –

Amanda: Could be about anything!

Sarah: – refrigerator poetry reviews, right?

Amanda: Yeah, I could write this about, like, the Bon Appétit magazine I read while I’m on the toilet. Like –

Sarah: [Laughs] It’s, it’s just word salad. And there is certainly – I’m often in it – an audience that consumes romance like snacking, like literary snacking, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that; I do it all the time. But I wonder if some of these reviews are for people who are like, Am I going to like this? Yes/no. Like, this is just a very specific binary, and they’re all like, Oh no, these are fine.

Whereas the, the two-star review – like, let me grab one of them. Black Eagle got two stars in part because there’s details of tribal life, but it’s not enough to carry the plot and stilted dialogue and improbable action? Like, okay, that is a review: I understand what the problem is with that book.

And the other two-star review is:

>> It’s interesting, it’ll grab readers’ attention from the get-go.

We have already wasted a bunch of words on cliché, by the way, right there?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: >>Sometimes the flow is interrupted by the unbelievable plot. It’s a sweet story with a serious heaping of faith. It’s sluggish; readers will eventually discover the entire point of the story if they have the patience to finish.

Like –

Amanda: See, I –

Sarah: – that actually tells me something!

Shall we move on to Mainstream Fiction?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: All right, Mainstream Fiction. In this section there are eleven total reviews. All of them are between three and four point five Top Pick. Like, there’s, there’s a very – it’s three, four, four and a half, four and a half Top Pick. And two reviews use the language “Nothing short of _____” as their concluding point, so again, we’ve got some word salad. I picked a review on page 26 for Branching Out by Kerstin March, four point five stars. We’ll do the same thing; I’ll read the summary first.

>> Shelby Meyers is about to marry Ryan Chambers. Despite their different backgrounds, they have a strong connection that will be tested in ways neither of them imagine. Shelby has fears she will be like her own mother was with her, absent for most of her life. She is in no hurry to become a mom, as they are both busy people. When Shelby disappears without any word, Ryan is rocked off his foundation and fears she is gone forever. Both learn that sometimes your, the past has to be revisited to turn your future into something worth fighting for.

So here is the review:

>> Branching Out begins where Family Trees ends, reunited with familiar characters and great new ones. Characters are charming, but a few are not who they appear to be. The storyline is believable and has curves that enhance the plot without overshadowing the plot. March is an up-and-coming writer who has done the research in the area the story takes place, and it shines through.

Okay. Curves that enhance the plot without overshadowing the plot? What? Again, I am bothered by the quality of this word salad.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: This word salad is not to my liking. Anyway.

Amanda: So I picked, on page 25, Girls Who Travel by Nicole Tre-leave-us? Trill-of-us? [Trilivas]

Sarah: I think it’s Trill-of-us; I think you’re right, yeah.

Amanda: Trilivas.

Sarah: I saw this one; I’m very intrigued.

Amanda: Four and a half stars. The summary is what got me –

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Amanda: – ‘cause I, I was like, What is this? I mean, like, one, good for her, but two, I’m like, I don’t under- – I need more context in the summary as well. So the summary is:

>> Kika Shores –

Sarah: ‘Kay.

Amanda: >> – is meant to travel, not work in corporate America.

Sarah: Me too, Kika!

Amanda: Same…yeah. [Laughs]

Sarah: Sign, sign up on the line; there’s a long line of us.

Amanda: >> When her time at Voyage Corp –

Sarah: [Snorts]

Amanda: >> – is cut short, a babysitting gig in London pops up and gives her the opportunity of a lifetime, to be on the go and to reunite with her Irish love, Lochlan.

What is Voyage Corp? Like, it seem, it sounds to me like it’s a –

Sarah: Travel –

Amanda: – travel company?

Sarah: – company? [Laughs]

Amanda: Yeah! And she was like, I thought I would travel, not be chained to my desk at this travel company. And then a babysitting gig in London, like, I was working in corporate America; now let me babysit your kids in London.

Sarah: I’m going to guess that the incomes at those two different positions are slightly different?

Amanda: Yeah. [Laughs]

Sarah: I’m going to guess that the income is a little variable between babysitter and corporate America, although, you know, salaries are weird; maybe I’m wrong.

Amanda: Yeah. And then the summary continues:

>> However, her travel plans go slightly different than anticipated. On her adventure, Kika finds that there’s a lot to discover in a new place.

So we have woman up-, upset that she’s –

Sarah: Meant.

Amanda: – in the rat race in corporate America.

Sarah: She’s meant –

Amanda: She just wants to travel.

Sarah: – to travel.

Amanda: [Laughs] She’s meant to travel! Then gets a babysitting gig in London? And also hopes to reunite with some long-lost Irishman that she fell in love with.

Sarah: But there’s a lot –

Amanda: It’s a lot.

Sarah: – to discover in a new place. Yeah, no shit; water is wet and ice is slippery.

Amanda: [Laughs] So yeah, the, the summary more than the review got me, ‘cause I’m like, What is going on here? And the, and the review does mention that this is a slightly unrealistic scenario.

Sarah: You don’t say. Yeah.

>> Though the overall plot appears a bit too convenient, readers won’t let a slightly unrealistic scenario spoil their trip to London alongside Kika.

Amanda: And also, they describe the characters as animated. What the fuck does that mean?

Sarah: I don’t know.

Amanda: Do they talk with their hands? Are they Italians? What, like, I don’t understand what animated characters means in this description.

Sarah: I still couldn’t tell you what I’m going to find in this book.

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: Like, I, one thing I like about the way that we talk about books right, right now in 2023/2024 is that we identify and share the tropes that we’re talking about so we can find other books like the ones we want to read. We all like our own flavors. This is just, Here are some words, self-discovery and animation, and her journey is nothing short of lovable. Here’s another Nothing short of. But this doesn’t tell me anything! It’s very frustrating.

Amanda: Is it like, you know, the, the mystery white Airheads flavor of, like, you just, you don’t really know –

Sarah: Yeah. It’s –

Amanda: – what the flavor is.

Sarah: – it’s just some flavor.

Shall we move on to Teen Scene?

Amanda: Teen, ugh. Where, where New Adult reigns supreme, yeah.

Sarah: Oh, it’s all New Adult in here. There’s some science fiction and there’s some, like, paranormal and futuristic, but a lot of it is the angsty, life-changing drama of New Adult. New Adult, I will say, New Adult makes me tired. It’s just too many feelings –

Amanda: It’s –

Sarah: – too many emotions all in one place. It just, it was never my genre, and that’s fine. If people like it, that is awesome. The thing that is popular does not always have to be what I like, but New Adult makes me very, very tired.

Amanda: I feel like New Adult – and I use it separate from shorthand of, like, big feelings, but more of like, We’re in this nebulous, gray period of, like, not in high school but not quite on your own anymore. We’re in this sort of like transitionary period. And so that’s kind of how I use it, as a, a signifier now of, like –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – this character’s not a high school student anymore, but they’re not on their own.

Okay, so I picked a book called Light of Day by Allison van Diepen on page 30.

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: And – [laughs] – my note in parentheses was, Jesus Christ.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: So I’m going to read both. I’ll read the review first. This got three stars.

>> The pace of Light of Day is so fast that it suffers in the area of character and relationship development. There’s so much going on plot-wise that the connections between the characters are not given enough time to manifest, keeping all relationships at the surface. The storyline is interesting, though, and relevant to current times.

Sarah: Okay!

Amanda: A three-star review.

Sarah: Okay, there’s –

Amanda: The part –

Sarah: – too much going on, but at the same time, three is the lowest marker you get in this section. There’s nothing below this, sooo this was not good –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – but still three stars. Okay?

Amanda: Yeah. So this is in, still in Teen Scene; it doesn’t label it as New Adult; it doesn’t label it, like, have any sub-labels.

Sarah: Right.

Amanda: And the, the last sentence is what got me, like:

>> The storyline is interesting, though, and relevant to current times.

So hold onto that sentence as I read the summary.

Sarah: I will stick a pin in it.

Amanda: >> Gabby Perez is –

Oh, by the way, CONTENT WARNING, TRIGGER WARNING for this book summary.

Sarah: Oh yes, ooh yes! Yes, heads – hoo! Yeah, okay.

Amanda: Yeah.

>> Gabby Perez is shaken to find out from a cute stranger named X that her and her friends’ drinks were drugged. She’s also horrified to learn what her fate would have been had it not been for X. Someone is forcing young girls into prostitution.

Sarah: Oy.

Amanda: >> Interning at a radio station, Gabby is determined to get the word out about what’s going on. When a friend of Gabby’s goes missing, Gabby and X team up to search for the girl. But who is X really, and what is his motive in helping Gabby? And what is she going to do about the intense attraction between them?

I’m sorry –

Sarah: That’s a –

Amanda: – that doesn’t matter! Someone is drugging young women –

Sarah: There’s trafficking going on! I don’t care about your pants feelings!

Amanda: Yeah. But the, the storyline’s interesting and relevant to current times.

Sarah: Indeed. I echo: Jesus Christ! [Laughs]

Amanda: Yeah! I was like, Wow. That’s pretty heavy.

Sarah: Woof! Mine is on page 28, and I picked this because it is always great to encounter a truly fantastic hero name. This is for This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, and it is four and a half stars.

>> This Raging Light is messy, but so is life. Lucille is in over her head and lashes out. In love with the wrong person, she’s also incredibly determined to do right by her little sister and be a loyal friend. This novel is so real. Mistakes are made and horrible accidents happen, and no supernatural hero can step in to save the day. That is up to Lucille. Laure’s debut is brilliant and not to be missed.

I don’t understand.

Amanda: It’s so real!

Sarah: It’s so real, man. Okay, so here’s –

Amanda: But also messy.

Sarah: But also messy. So here is, here is the review, or the summary, rather, and mild, mild CONTENT WARNING for ableist language.

>> When her dad goes crazy and her mom walks out the door, it is up to Lucille to maintain the house, pay the bills, and take care of her little sister Wren. There are few worse times to fall in love with Digby, her best friend’s twin brother.

[Laughs] I’m sorry!

Amanda: What is, what is…

Sarah: I have a general rule that I never ever want to make fun of someone’s name, ‘cause most of the time people don’t choose their own names, and they come with a lot of meaning, and it’s, it’s not cool to make fun of people’s names, but when it’s a character – [laughs] – I’ve got to say, I’m sorry, Digby?

Amanda: Digby.

Sarah: Anyway, let me finish up with Digby here. [Clears throat]

>> – with Digby, her best friend’s twin brother, and the last thing that Lucille needs is yet another concern, let alone the sweet, funny, not-single Digby.

Amanda: So I was just curious –

Sarah: Uh-oh.

Amanda: – what the name Digby means, where it hails from.

Sarah: Oh no.

Amanda: And the first one that comes up is, it’s an English baby name meaning farm by a ditch.

Sarah: Okay!

Amanda: Or town by the ditch.

Sarah: Okay.

Amanda: So English and Norse.

Sarah: All right, Digby Shire. All right, dig Digby. Okay. I mean, I feel like we’ve, we’ve, we need, we deserve a good hero name.

Shall we move on to Inspirational? We have got –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – an excellent job in this one. So we –

Amanda: Lack of boilers, still. Lack –

Sarah: Lack of boilers, but I think I’ve got something pretty good.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: So there are twenty-four inspirational novels published in this month, and they are all three to four and a half stars Top Pick, plus a Gold, and I still –

Amanda: And I –

Sarah: – don’t know what, what, what are we trying to do? We have Top Pick, Top Pick Gold?

Amanda: Well, Sarah, I told you, you can’t one-star Jesus.

Sarah: That’s true. You cannot.

Amanda: That’s not allowed.

Sarah: You just, you’ve just got to create some room at the top and then, like, make three star the one – this is like when I was in graduate school and if you got a C it was failing. Fuck that!

Okay, so on page, ‘scuse me, on page 35, Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden, four and a half stars, Top Pick. Okay, here we go. The review is:

>> Once again, Camden delivers a masterpiece of literature as she breathes fresh life into a timeless tale of a surly wounded hero and a sweet, wholesome heroine. With its almost-tangible setting and vibrant characters, the story evokes shades of both Jane Eyre and “Beauty and the Beast” in turn, but is so much more compelling. Sharp, witty dialogue and a tale of generational tragedy will keep readers entertained and enthralled until the very last word.

Okay! Great. Here’s what’s cool:

>> Quentin Vandermark makes a stunning return to the family’s cliffside estate and discovers that Sophie van Riijn –

I think I’m saying that wrong; it’s R-I-I-J-N. Re-zhin? Reen. Reezh. It’s probably Dutch, so I’m screwing it up. Anyway.

>> Sophie has been using the rooftop of the abandoned mansion to work as a volunteer for the recently created Weather Bureau. On a mission to quell the rumors of a family curse, Quentin resents Sophie’s presence, yet finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. Despite their conflicting beliefs and purposes, will a shared love of Quentin’s son be enough to unite their hearts?

She is an amateur volunteer meteorologist, and she’s squatting in his house! This is amazing!

Amanda: I feel like inspirational loves a heroine with, like, a quirky little interest.

Sarah: Cool –

Amanda: Hospital nutrition –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – weather –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: Like –

Sarah: She’s an amateur meteorologist for the recently created Weather Bureau, and she’s just hanging out on the roof of this guy’s house, and she’s like, I’m sorry, meteorology demands it. I love that! That, just hell yeah! I’m very excited about this!

Amanda: [Laughs] So there are two that I want to mention.

Sarah: Excellent! I cannot wait –

Amanda: The –

Sarah: – tell me everything.

Amanda: The – it’s also interesting that we have the most opinions about – [laughs] – the inspirational category! So the review I initially picked was on page 76, and it’s Romance by Design by Gail Gaymer Martin, and I’ll read the review first:

>> This book takes place in Boston –

And immediately I was like, Er? What?

>> – which is a nice change from the author’s usual location, Michigan.


Sarah: Fuck Michigan!

Amanda: >> This is a sweet, descriptive tale with a character longing to find peace and a sense of belonging. There are some scenes that are perfect for the upcoming holiday season.

And then the summary:

>> Hunter Evans is an interior designer at a prestigious Boston firm. He meets Morgan Branigan at a charity event he was forced to attend. He’s not pleased when he learns that Morgan is the new designer at their firm, hired to bring her country flair to the modern design team.

Sarah: Oh, that’s not going to work.

>> He’s ev- –

I know.

>> He is even less impressed by the fact that his boss is throwing them together on projects, hoping they can mesh their ideas together to win contracts. Can they learn to work together, or will Morgan and her constantly jingling charm bracelet push Hunter over the edge?

Sarah: [Laughs] Frigging charm brace- – oh my God, is the charm bracelet like her whole personality?

Amanda: I don’t know. I hate like a jingling jewelry. I hate coins in a pocket; I hate the jingling noise. I’m, like, making sure everything in my purse is, like, strapped down so you don’t hear my house keys or anything, so I’m with Hunter on this one, for sure. [Laughs]

Sarah: Wow.

Amanda: But I’m also curious: anyone who sets a book in Boston or just like anyplace that you’re very familiar with, I’m always curious whether they get the details right or not. So.

Sarah: Girl.

Amanda: You know, we’ll –

Sarah: Ma’am, ma’am.

Amanda: And then as I was scrolling –

Sarah: Wait, before you move on?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: You need to see the cover for Romance by Design. I will put it in the –

Amanda: Okay. Oh boy.

Sarah: Oh, it’s, it’s –

Amanda: Oh boy.

Sarah: It, it, it’s – [long pause] – it’s real bad.

Amanda: Is that the original cover?

Sarah: I do –

Amanda: If you go to, go to the Kindle version and then –

Sarah: Oh God, it’s even worse!

Amanda: – a man appears!

Sarah: There’s a man! [Laughs]

Amanda: A surprise man.

Sarah: So the, the – [laughs] – so half of the cover is this woman with extremely vibrant green eyes. When you were younger, did you live through the era where you could change the color of your eyes with contacts?

Amanda: I think so?

Sarah: ‘Cause I –

Amanda: I mean, I’m not a contact person –

Sarah: I am not either –

Amanda: – ‘cause I don’t want to stick anything in my eyeballs.

Sarah: – but they were huge when I was in high school, and I graduated high school in ’93. So like in 1991, ’92, ’93, there were people in my high school who had those contacts, and their eyes were that bright, nuclear green. So the first thing I’m looking at this, it’s like, Oh! She’s got those colored contacts from the ‘90s.

Amanda: Oh boy.

Sarah: So in the, in the Kindle version there’s this guy leaning over in a gray suit that looks like it’s for a wedding, and he –

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: – he has just said, that guy right there with his ears and his arms crossed, he has just said, Hey, baby. Like –

Amanda: I thought it was like, Hey, do I hear that charm bracelet? Like –

Sarah: Do I hear that charm bracelet? I’m gonna rip your arm off. But then on the paperback cover it’s the same chick with the bright green eyes, but then there’s like a –

Amanda: It’s like paint swatches.

Sarah: – paint swatches and curved over a floor plan of a house, but the problem is, the green of the paint swatches exactly matches her eyes, and it is extremely distracting.

So tell me the other book you were interested in.

Amanda: Yeah. So I was, after I picked that review I’m, like, scrolling through to get to the next section, and I see the cover for Shelley Gray’s Whispers in the Reading Room, and it’s on the next page, 37, and it’s two people in a library, and a woman is dressed in red, and she’s holding a candle between them. And I’m like, I like the composition of this cover, and then I read the review and description, and I’m like, This actually sounds kind of cool.

Sarah: That cover –

Amanda: So the –

Sarah: – is gorgeous.

Amanda: I know! The review is:

>> This concludes the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery Series, and it ties up things perfectly. Gray is a master at integrating rich details and historical accuracies to create an engaging tale that will take the reader back in time. Strong secondary characters are well integrated. It is a shame to see this series end.

So fine review; whatever.

Sarah: [Mumbles doubtfully]

Amanda: But the summary:

>> Lydia Bancroft loves her job at the library. Due to her family’s financial situation, she feels pressured by her mother, who frequently reminds her of the importance of marrying well. Despite being engaged, Lydia is intrigued by the mysterious gentleman who frequents the library. She learns his identity, Sebastian Marks, when he rescues her from her abusive beau. Sebastian and Lydia develop a friendship, and they soon find themselves suspects in a murder that occurs outside his nightclub?

Sarah: Oops!

Amanda: [Laughs] What?!

Sarah: Hate when that happens.

Amanda: >> Is it the work of the Society Slasher –

Sarah: Oh God.

Amanda: >> – or is one of them harboring a dark secret?

Sarah: Oh boy.

Amanda: So I’m like, This took a turn, and I’m interested.

Sarah: Ohhh my!

Amanda: A librarian survive, like, helping solve a murder outside a nightclub amidst the backdrop of the Chicago World’s Fair.

Sarah: Okay, this sounds kind of good!

Amanda: Right?

Sarah: How much Jesus you think is in there?

Amanda: That’s, that’s my thing with inspirationals or, like, this section. I like, Is it Jesus-friendly? Like Jesus-heavy?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: How much Jesus – like, what’s the –

Sarah: Is it God –

Amanda: – Jesus content?

Sarah: How much is God directing the plot? Like, how much is there an actual –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – deus ex machina, except like it’s actually God messing about in the plot?

Amanda: What’s the, what’s the JBV? The Jesus by Volume –

Sarah: Jesus by

Amanda: – percentage of this book? Or is it just like closed door, there’s no kissing or anything? You know, like, I, I wish the grading rubric would specify how religious the book is. That would be helpful to me as a reader.

Sarah: [Laughs] I’m trying not to laugh into the – the JBV!

Amanda: What’s the, what’s the JBV of your book? [Laughs]

Sarah: Ah, love it. I think one thing that’s really ins-, interesting about the inspirationals, and we’ve talked about this for the last couple of issues, that the subjects, the jobs, the setting, the historical period, it is everywhere. Everything is open. Like, you will find these all over the place: World’s Fair, 1812, 1704. Like, you’ll just go everywhere. The wideness of all of the elements is so vast, I feel like if you’ve written a historical that isn’t quite going to fit with historical romance, you just massage a little God into it, and then you can sell it to one of the inspirational publishers, ‘cause they seem to be the most open, the inspirational publishers seem to be the most open to the most variety of setting and plot. And yet, all these people are white.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: So you’ve got to have white people –

Amanda: And people not really having sex, right? You’ve got to –

Sarah: No, no, there’s not going to be any –

Amanda: – no sexual content.

Sarah: – there’s not going to be any shtupping; sorry. Jesus by Volume.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Would you like to go first in Mystery/Suspense/Thriller? Also, for the record, there are twenty-eight reviews in this section. Twenty-eight books in the same –

Amanda: And they’re all boring!

Sarah: It, all between –

Amanda: I feel –

Sarah: – three and four point five stars Top Pick and one Top Pick Gold.

Amanda: Yeah. And I know you found something to read here –

Sarah: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Amanda: – but for me, like, I’m not a big romantic suspense reader –

Sarah: No, me neither.

Amanda: – so that kind of nixes a lot of those out there, and mystery, thriller, like, I prefer mine skewing more towards like on the horror side of a mystery?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: But the first review in this section on page 40 is for Dean Koontz, and the book is called Ashley Bell. And I’ll, I feel like you don’t really need to read the review, because you just need to read the summary. And I’ll just read the summary!

>> Bibi Blair’s doctor tells her she has a form of brain cancer and only a year to live.

Sarah: Oh!

Amanda: >> But Bibi makes a miraculous overnight recovery. Everyone is astonished. Struggling to understand what has happened, Bibi consults with a woman named Calida Butterfly, who convinces her that she escaped death because she has a mission to save someone named Ashley Bell. But who is Ashley Bell? It quickly becomes apparent that Bibi has mysterious and dangerous enemies who are willing to do anything to stop her.

Sarah: What?

Amanda: Right? So growing up in my very rural high school and the library, the school library that we had, we had to read books through, like, AR Reading Program, and you would read a book and take a test on it, and you get points and blah-blah-blah. But our options were very limited? And I remember our library had a lot of Stephen King and a lot of Dean Koontz, which is wild to read as a like fourteen-, fifteen-year-old. [Laughs] Like, they’re just wild. I read a lot of him between the ages of like fourteen and fifteen and then haven’t touched anything since, and it’s like –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: – Wow, good to know –

Sarah: Still.

Amanda: – the brand, the Dean Koontz brand is still going strong –

Together: – in 2015.

Amanda: Have you read a Dean Koontz book?

Sarah: Not a chance, no.

The book I wanted to talk about is on page 43, and like you said, I do sometimes find books that I want to read here? And I read this section thinking, Okay, which ones would I want to read? Death Comes to Kurland Hall by Catherine Lloyd is on page 43, and one of the things I like about this section, because mystery, suspense, and thriller are all very distinct genres in terms of, like, plot and expectation? At the top of each review – what’s this magazine called this month? RT Book Reviews? Yes.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: It keeps changing its frigging name! RT Book Reviews will tell you some of the key elements about the book before they give you the review. So Death Comes to Kurland Hall is listed as mystery, amateur sleuth, historical, which is okay! I’m listening. It has four and a half stars.

>> This superb series contain rich historical details that transport readers into village life. The mystery is intelligently constructed and aided by the nicely crafted characters motivated by devious intentions. Scandalous revelations uncover the true killer, and the ending is as surprising as it is satisfying. Enhancing the novel is the complex relationship between Lucy and Major Kurland, who often argue over Lucy’s role in the investigations. Lucy is headstrong and tenacious, and the relationship develops through mutual admiration, while the, the duo prove to be a formidable crime-solving team.

So this is the third book in the series, but I was already like, Ohhh? A long, complex relationship developing over multiple books between two intelligent people who solve crime? I am interested?

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: So here’s the summary:

>> Lucy Harrington has returned from, home from London to help with her friend Sophia Giffin’s wedding. As wedding guests arrive, Lucy and her father are asked to allow Mrs. Chingsford and her daughters to stay at the rectory. Lucy soon learns that Mrs. Chingford, Mrs. Chingsford is a disagreeable woman who has her sights set on Lucy’s father, the village rector. Lucy is dismayed after her father proposes to Mrs. Chingsford; however, the engagement is short-lived when Mrs. Chingsford is found dead at the bottom of a staircase in Kurland Hall. Was it an accident or murder? It appears Mrs. Chingsford had plenty of enemies who wanted the mean-spirited widow dead. Lucy and Major Kurland agree to investigate together as they search for a killer who has their sights set on silencing another guest at Kurland Hall.

Ohhh, we’re pushing nasty ladies down the stairs now, are we?

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: So if you’re curious and you are like, Wait a minute! I will tell you this is the third book in the series; they are all available on Hoopla and in KU, so you can read them as part of Kindle Unlimited and you can listen to them on Hoopla, which is what I will be doing, and the first one, if you want to start there, is called Death Comes to the Village, and I have it queued up on my phone.

Amanda: [Laughs more]

Sarah: I, I mean, you give me some smart people in a, you know, limited social space and a historical period where they’re not, like, running around a ballroom; they’re in a village. This, this person is obviously the rector’s daughter. Like, I’m already like, Okay, and, and, yes, and, yeah, okay, mm-hmm? Yeah, okay, I’m in! Let’s –

Amanda: Every time you say, I’m like, Rector?…

Sarah: Damn near killed her!


Sarah: Shall we move on to Science Fiction and Fantasy? It’s a –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – whopping section: there’s eight total books, four to four and a half stars Top Pick.

Amanda: You, you pointed something out about this section.

Sarah: Yes, I did. Okay.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Bottom of page 47, in the corner it says:

>> For reviews of futuristic sci-fi and fantasy romances, please visit our paranormal section on page 64.

But those are not the same thing!

Amanda: They’re not. They’re not. If I want a fantasy romance, I’m expecting it to be the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section.

Sarah: Right, because we’ve already discussed the finer elements between paranormal and fantasy, and they’re not the same.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Sci-fi, futuristic, and fantasy definitely not the same, but I expect them to be reviewed in the same sect- – okay. I’m very confused by this editorial decision on this part –

Amanda: Yeah, and, like –

Sarah: – but they made, they made this decision eight years ago, and I’m like, Damn it! [Laughs]

Amanda: That’s fair. I know, but, like, they call out, like, subgenres at the top, like fantasy adventure…

Sarah: Don’t see steampunk!

Amanda: …science fiction. Like, yeah! Why can’t they just put romance in there? Like –

Sarah: It’s very weird. But okay.

Amanda: – bizarro.

Sarah: Yep.

So the book that I want to talk about is on page 46. It is called Warlords and Wastrels. It is by Julia Knight; it is a fantasy; it got four and a half stars.

>> It’s a bit surprising that after the huge war-torn political and magical complications of the middle part of this fine trilogy, Knight reins the scale right back for this smaller but intense story of a few small groups tearing each other apart in the snow. But it fits for Vocho and Kacha.

Okay, if I was reading those names, this is V-O-C-H-O and K-A-C-H-A, I would trip every time and have to double-check who I was talking about.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: That would mess up my reading, my, my reading speed for sure.

>> The characterization and psychological depth here are still stellar throughout, and Knight really makes you feel the peril of their environment, as well as the less physical threats, whether to self-image of sense of duty or anything else. That closer focus just reaffirms that the real satisfaction in this story is Knight’s well crafted, specific setting and the characters she very much brings to life throughout.

You need to look at the cover. I linked to it –

Amanda: I saw. No, I looked, yeah, I clicked on it.

Sarah: Wow! Okay. So –

Amanda: It gives me that, the, like, cool guys don’t look at explosions –

Sarah: Yes.

Amanda: – sort of vibe.

Sarah: It’s an illustration. It’s a style that you don’t see a lot anymore. There’s stuff exploding behind them. He, he’s, they’re sort of back to back at an angle. They’re both wearing leather and waistcoats and belts. I mean, this has a very steampunk-y vibe, except that they’re holding swords and there’s no gears and top hats, but they’re very shiny and dirty. Like, he is just a sweaty, sweaty dude, and they’re in some kind of catacombs, and it looks Bad. Ass. This cover –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – looks amazing. I am very into this cover. And the, the tagline on the cover is Peace is for cowards.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: But this is The Duelists trilogy.

Amanda: Well –

Sarah: If anyone is curious, The Duelists trilogy begins with Swords and Scoundrels, then Legends and Liars, and then Warlords and Wastrels. And it looks like these two are just the pair through the whole thing?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: But the covers –

Amanda: They’re siblings, yeah.

Sarah: – the covers are Bad. Ass.

Amanda: Well, the taglines are, book one is Dying is for amateurs.

Sarah: Yes!

Amanda: Book two is Honor is for fools, and book three is Peace is for cowards.

Sarah: Okay –

Amanda: That’s, that’s a, that’s a vibe.

Sarah: That is entirely a vibe, and this is, this is like a cover that chews on the scenery, it’s so good. But yeah, that looks, that looks pretty badass.

Amanda: I feel like this issue is just titled “December 2015: Amanda Rants,” because this is like the second or third rant I have…

Sarah: Okay, well, I’m, I write down subtitles while we’re recording –

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: – and I have already written “What’s the JBV, Jesus by Volume?” but now I have to say this is –

Amanda: I like the JBV one. [Laughs]

Sarah: – “Amanda Rants.” I mean somebody gave me a subtitle, a subtitle field in the podcasting software, so I was like, Well, I better start putting something pithy.

Amanda: Yeah.

I picked the review for Chimera by Mira Grant, which is on page 47.

Sarah: Yep! Heard of that.

Amanda: Do love a Mira Grant book, aka Seanan McGuire. And the review is:

>> The third and final installment in the Parasitology trilogy is not a disappointment.

Good to know.

>> Grant’s analysis of the complexities of a symbiont living in a host’s world with full self-perception and personal choice never lacks depth or provocation. Sal and Nathan’s relationship, cross-species and real, is touching and complicated. The only slight nitpick is that the mutation adaptation of the tapeworms seems abnormally rapid. There’s also the slightly unnerving fact that the main villain is a narcissistic tapeworm.

Can I trademark that phrase? That’s – [laughs] – that’s one that’s in the review.

>> No one will find a flaw in the ending. However, they may question the rapidity of its occurrence.

Sarah: Narcissistic –

Amanda: Definitely makes me want to – yeah, narcissistic tapeworm. Definitely makes me want to read that series; I haven’t read this series by Mira Grant. However, I do not think this magazine should be reviewing sequels and subsequent books in connected series. I feel like it is not worth the space.

Sarah: That’s really interesting, because I just reviewed a book, I just went over a book three; the last one was a book three. Why do you think they shouldn’t be reviewing the subsequent books?

Amanda: So if they’re a standalone, sure.

Sarah: Mm-hmm?

Amanda: That’s great.

Sarah: Yeah?

Amanda: But I haven’t read this series before, and I just read the review for the last installment of the book –

Sarah: Right.

Amanda: – and a little bit of a spoiler that the villain is maybe a narcissistic tapeworm. Maybe that’s a big reveal that the villain is actually a tapeworm. Who knows? I don’t.

Sarah: Ohhh, so the problem here is that they’re giving away a lot in the review without –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – without – see, that’s really interesting, ‘cause I know when I edit reviews and, like, somebody was reviewing a book two and was just sort of talking about things, and I was like, Hang on; is all of this a spoiler for book one? They’re like, Oh, yeah, yeah, it is! So, you know, we hide it because you don’t want to spoil the book.

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: I mean, I know when I’m looking at a series, I won’t read the descriptions of like book two, three, or four because I know what happens in book one and then that gets boring, like So and so are now married. Oh, well!

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: I guess it works out.

Amanda: I think, like, if you’ve already started –

Sarah: I see what you’re saying.

Amanda: – the series, you’re probably going to give book three a try.

Sarah: Yeah, for sure!

Amanda: And you’re probably not going to be seeking out reviews of book three –

Sarah: No.

Amanda: – because you want to read it for yourself.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: You know, obviously this doesn’t apply to, like, standalone series books like in historical romance or whatever where, like –

Sarah: Right.

Amanda: – the current plot doesn’t hinge on anything happening in prior books.

Sarah: Right.

Amanda: So I think, like, just reviewing book one of a series should be it. If you’re reviewing the sequel or final book in a trilogy or whatever, I think it’s a waste of space that you could have given to another book. I feel like it’s unnecessary –

Sarah: Or you could do an abbre- –

Amanda: – for those kinds of books.

Sarah: You could do an abbreviated – because, I mean, remember, part of the purpose of this book is also to tell librarians and booksellers what’s coming out and, like, to, you know, which ones do they want to stock? It’s, I think it would be enough to not give away so much of the plot development. Like, This is not going to disappoint you if you’ve kept up this world; this is a great final to the end; everything is wrapped up well; the, the story is just as strong. That’s all I need to know. This, you’re right, this is a lot of spoiler, and that’s kind of unfortunate, because you don’t, you don’t really have a choice; it’s just there. Like, you can’t choose –

Amanda: Yeah! Like, it makes me curious in the series for sure. But yeah, like, I don’t know if what I’m reading is supposed to be known to me, the reader, who has never picked this up before.

Sarah: Right.

Romantic Suspense has –

Amanda: Oh, boo!

Sarah: Yeah, it’s thirteen books.

Amanda: Pass.

Sarah: You will never guess the range. You’ll never ever guess the range: it’s three to four and a half stars Top Pick.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: I, I don’t understand why Romantic Suspense is separate. I don’t, I don’t understand why the review sig section is so small, like the, the range is so small. I’m like, Yeah, okay. None of these grab me, so we’re just going to move on to Contemporary.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Okay!

Amanda: Okay.

Sarah: So, Contemporary: there are thirty-five books in this section, and again, the range is three to four and a half stars Top Pick. That’s a four-point range, and it’s –

Amanda: There’s no way.

Sarah: – it’s so silly. I mean, odds are not in their favor that this range is right. Even if you just had this, this, these, this section, just these thirty-five books, that is way too close to be realistic. I will say, however, in a moment that probably gave some people a lot of heartburn, there are two books in this section called Controlled Burn, one by Shannon Stacey, and one by Nikki Duncan, and I know that it really bugs people who are working on a book when another book with the same title comes out in the same month. That sucks.

Amanda: Well, this is back when, like, firefighters were the thing, right?

Sarah: Oh yeah! Oh yeah.

So this is another review where I was like, What is this? It doesn’t, I don’t understand! Okay, so this review is for Samantha Chase, I’ll Be There, four stars. This is the review:

>> The Montgomery clan returns, and the matchmaking uncles are at it again. The chance to revisit with family members is a bonus, as they all put in their two cents’ worth of advice.

Together: That’s two sentences!

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Holy cow! What is – and, and the first line of the summary is:

>> After a devastating mountain-climbing accident –

Like, what?! That sounded like everyone was having, like, a really bad meal at a diner and uncles were being annoying, and no! It’s, like, falling off a mountain! But no, this, the review is four stars, Hot, two full sentences.

What about you?

Amanda: Yeah. The reason why I picked this one is not because of the review content or anything like that. It’s on page 54. It is the first review in the Contemporary Romance section. It’s The Harder You Fall by Gena Showalter.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Four and a half stars –

Together: Hot.

Sarah: Top Pick.

Amanda: Top Pick.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: And this goes back to, they reviewed a Kresley Cole, like her Russian mafia erotica books, and gave it like a Top Pick like, you know –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – one of the highest grades, and I’m like, Mm, I love Kresley Cole, but I would not rate that book that highly. Same with this one: Gena Showalter, I started reading her when she was writing mostly paranormal romances. I feel like I’m a little bit more forgiving in paranormal romances with heroes who are, like, self-destructive or domineering or whatever, ‘cause my little brain compartmentalizes and been like, They’re demons! How do they know that this is unacceptable? [Laughs] So that’s how my brain works.

However, Gena Showalter’s contemporaries are pretty much the same brand of self-destructive, self-sabotaging, domineering heroes, but just in a contemporary set dressing? And I hated this book. I hated this book –

Sarah: Wow!

Amanda: – I hated this series. I think I only read this one and maybe another one. Like, there might have been like a prequel or something in this series. And I was like, I’m good. I don’t think Showalter’s contemporaries are for me, and just, like, moved on. And I’m like, I’ll just stick with the paranormals; that’s fine. Seeing, seeing two books in RT that both got highly rated from authors that I’ve enjoyed before and have read those books and definitely would not give them as high a grade as they are getting?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: Definitely makes me question if my tastes as a reader match up with reviewers, and I think that’s a hard thing to do?

Sarah: Yes. ‘Cause, I mean –

Amanda: And it’s like –

Sarah: – their point is to sell magazines. They’re not –

Amanda: Yeah! So it’s like I, I don’t trust the grades –

Sarah: Yeah, me neither!

Amanda: – as being an accurate reflection?

Sarah: Nope!

Amanda: And I think it’s, one, it’s all about finding reviewers that you match with –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – and I think that’s why our site works so well is people find their sort of like reading match –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – to our reviewers.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: You know, tastes align, thoughts and feelings align, or we’re given the space to explain our thoughts and feelings, and someone can be like, Oh, I picked this up too, but I disagree with you and this bothered me less or this bothered me more.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: But for the magazine, they are restricted by space, which puts them at a disadvantage, to where we don’t really get to know the reviewers –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – and learn to, like, trust what they’re saying? Or get to know the reviewers in a way of, like, Oh, this person reviews a lot of paranormal, and I read a lot of that, but, like, we have different tastes on heroes or heroines or whatever.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: So yeah, it was just like after reading this review and the Kresley Cole review I’m like, I don’t know if I would turn to this magazine for reviews. I think for me, like, I would use it as a resource to see what’s coming out?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: And maybe just read the summaries, but I think if I were consuming this magazine as it was coming out, I don’t know if I would give the reviews any credence whatsoever for, for my own reading purposes and how I would use it.

Sarah: I think it’s more of a purpose of Here are the books coming out this month that you want to be aware of as a romance fan.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: I, it’s much more of an awareness tool than a critical tool. I mean, that’s part of why the site was cofound-, we, I, you know, cofounded the site because there was very, very little criticism of books and saying, No, this doesn’t make any sense, and it was bad!

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: You can’t have this many books without some of them being bad; it’s thirty-five books in one genre, for heaven’s sake!

Amanda: They can’t all be like good to great.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: There’s no way.

Sarah: So Paranormal, as we scroll for nineteen miles.

Amanda: I loved this particular session –

Sarah: Okay.

Amanda: – section this month.

Sarah: Tell –

Amanda: I saw a lot of good names that, like –

Sarah: Tell me why!

Amanda: – made, made – I mean, we got Thea Harrison?

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: We got G. A. Aiken.

Sarah: Yes, we do!

Amanda: Kate Baxter’s warrior, like, warrior vampire books I liked for the most part? We got Kresley Cole.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda:  J. R. Ward makes an appearance! We got some, like –

Sarah: Oh man!

Amanda: – heavy hitters here. And it made me –

Sarah: Jacky Frank! Jacquelyn Frank is in here; that’s a name I haven’t read in a long time.

Amanda: Katie MacAlister, Rachel Caine –

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: – is here.

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: Like, it really took me back and made me so happy to, just to, like, revisit these, like, names and titles.

Sarah: Yep.

Amanda: I definitely smiled a lot, like, just seeing some of these books, ‘cause I remember have gooding, like, good memories reading these authors and these books in particular, so I love this particular section of them.

Sarah: So what book did you pick?

Amanda: So – [laughs] – this one wasn’t a good one. This one made me confused a little bit, but it’s for a book called Disciple by Jody Wallace on 65.

>> Readers are well advised to start with the short preceding novella Tangible before embarking on Maggie and Zeke’s main event.

Also, thank you for pointing out that maybe we should do some background reading…

Sarah: Yes, this reviewer knows how it works.

Amanda: Yeah.

>> Apart, the stories are not as strong, but together they build an intriguing world with a ton of romantic and paranormal tension.

Sarah: Ohhh!

Amanda: >> Maggie makes a wonderful nontraditional heroine, relying on her will and her brain more than her biceps –

Which I feel like is a sentence at odds, because traditional heroines don’t rely on their biceps in general?

Sarah: Yeah, I would say the opposite –

Amanda: Right?

Sarah: – would be the nontraditional, but okay.

Amanda: Yeah.

>> – while Zeke would soon, would sooner take on a platoon of vampires or zombies than deal with an emotional situation.

Sarah: No, thanks!

Amanda: Man, you got to get yourself to therapy. Come on.

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: >> Good protagonists, an ex-girlfriend from hell –

Sarah: Ugh!

Amanda: >> – a dash of humor, and some great action scenes make this a terrific read.

Yeah, I definitely paused at This man would rather fight vampires and zombies than talk about his feelings. [Laughs]

Sarah: No, thank you.

Amanda: Which, like, reminds me of when you bring up of, like, a man is angry because you made him feel a thing.

Sarah: Yes. Yes, you’ve made me feel a feeling and I must fuck it out of you.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Or something.

Amanda: I, like, that’s what it reminded me of, but, like, come on, guy! Like, if you would rather fight terrible monsters –

Sarah: Than talk about your feelings? I don’t have enough pages in this book to wait for you to get emotional fluency –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – enough to function as an adult human being. Like, we’re, I’m done.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Like, I’m not, I deal enough with the emotionally immature in my real life? I don’t fantasize about that being a hot thing. Like –

Amanda: Also, you’ve got to look at the cover, Sarah. Oh my God, let me, let me –

Sarah: Hang on; pulling it up. What? What happened to them? Disciple: Urban Fantasy Forbidden Protector Hero Romance. Dreamwalkers, part two. What is happening to them?

Amanda: They’re about to be Men in Blacked with the, you know, the, the light, I feel like?

Sarah: Oh man.

Amanda: But then they’re, like, sleep-kissing. Like, that’s a weak kiss.

Sarah: So this what people who tell you not to stand in front of the microwave think happens to you when you stand in front of the microwave.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: They are so overexposed; like, they’re about to be vaporized?

Amanda: Oh yeah.

Sarah: It’s a, it’s a very –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – white, white, white photo; it’s very weird. Okay.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Wow. I, I am, I am, by the way, really, really over the titles that are nineteen words long; like, I’m super over it. Disciple: Urban Fantasy Forbidden Protector Hero Romance. I understand that that helps with –

Amanda: I think, is it like an SEO thing?

Sarah: It is absolutely an SEO discoverability thing.

Amanda: Okay.

Sarah: I completely understand the reasons why; I hate it a lot. ‘Cause we’re running out of adjectives. An addictive, a compulsive, a – I’m like, Okay, how ‘bout a scrumptious? Start using some interesting adjectives, and I will be –

Amanda: Scrumptious Protector Hero.

Sarah: Yes, that’s right.

So the book that I picked – okay, so you just went, were like, Oh my gosh, I remember this era; I remember these books. I love this. Okay.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: I had no idea that any of this happened in this – any of this happened in the J. R. World Ward – War, Ward world – that’s a tongue-twister. I had no idea any of this happened. I read this; I was like, Oh! There’s a J. R. Ward book! It’s called Blood Kiss! It got four stars –

Amanda: It’s a spinoff!

Sarah: I had no idea there was a spinoff! I knew –

Amanda: It’s a spinoff!

Sarah: – nothing about this!

>> Megastar Ward has decided to launch a spinoff series from her Black Dagger Brotherhood books.

And I stopped and went, Wait, she really did? Oh my gosh!

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: No way! [Laughs] I had –

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: – no idea! I was not paying attention. Now, to be fair, I was also moving house at this time, like when this came out?

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: I was packing up my house and moving my house, but I had no memory of there being a, a spinoff series, and I was laughing so hard when I read this. Like, wait, this happened, for real? Oh my goodness!

Amanda: Yeah. Oh yeah.

Sarah: So anyway, if you’re curious and you didn’t know there was a spinoff series either, the spinoff features:

>> new, somewhat younger individuals fighting for their place in the Black Dagger legacy. The first book focuses on Paradise, the blooded daughter of King Wrath’s first advisor, who must break through centuries of societal programming to become a female warrior. Per usual, there are multiple storylines playing out, and quite a few members of the brotherhood make appearances. If you love the brotherhood series, you are bound to enjoy this one as well.

So do they still fight guys that smell like Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder? That’s the important thing: are they still –

Amanda: I mean, my guess –

Sarah: – fighting –

Amanda: – probably.

Sarah: – the powder puff demons? Is that’s what – I’m guessing so.

Amanda: Part of me wants to go back. So I’m looking at my Goodreads.

Sarah: Ohhh, that’s a dangerous journey!

Amanda: I know. I’m looking at my Goodreads, and I read the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, I only read up to book three – when did I read book three? – and I stopped at book three.

Sarah: [Laughs] And I was done!

Amanda: I stopped at book three – when did I read this? I wish it would show me – because this was the book, and I don’t know if you know anything about this series, and the names –

Sarah: Oh, I know a lot. I definitely read the first one, and I read the one where Wellsie gets killed? Is that the first or the second one? It’s early.

Amanda: Oh, I don’t remember.

Sarah: And I was like, Oh, I don’t, I don’t know if I want to read this, ‘cause they just killed off my favorite character. And then I, I wrote a review –

Amanda: …probably comes back.

Sarah: No, she doesn’t. She’s dead-dead.

Amanda: …Oh boy.

Sarah: But I read up to the point – TRIGGER WARNING: if you’re listening to this where other people can hear you, I’m about to say something very gross – I remember reading up to the point where the guy who was the cop had black jizz. I don’t remember what book that was, but there was definitely some –

Amanda: I think everyone hated the cop.

Sarah: We, well, I mean, he was terrible.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: I wrote a, I wrote like a, a review that was basically like the backstage actors talking about the plot that they’re in? Like, what the fuck is happening here? Black jism, I’m pretty sure. Yeah, this was, that was Lover Revealed

Amanda: Okay.

Sarah: – and I will put a link –

Amanda: So I –

Sarah: – to the review in the show notes, because I’m very proud of this review. I gave it a D+, but the review is very funny.

Amanda: So I read Lover Awakened, which was book three. That’s as far as I made it in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. I read it fifteen, fourteen-ish years ago.

Sarah: Okay! So clearly top of mind –

Amanda: And –

Sarah: – you remember everything about it.

Amanda: – I gave it five stars –

Sarah: Oh!

Amanda: – and this was the tortured hero; like, literally he was like a former blood slave. His name was Zsadist, but a Z-S-A-D-I-S-T? His name was Zsadist –

Sarah: Ooh.

Amanda: – and the heroine’s name was Bella, and after reading this book I gave it five stars. I was like, This is peak literature.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Amanda: We can only go down from here; I will not be continuing this series. We’re going to preserve these feelings where they are, and I am done. And I – [laughs] – never picked up a Black Dagger Brotherhood ever again!

Sarah: Oh man.

Amanda: I was like, We have peaked at book three. Goodbye! [Laughs]

Sarah: Oh. My God. I –

Amanda: But part of me’s like, Should I, should I go back and continue? Should I?

Sarah: No, I think you should go back and reread book one and see what Past You and Present You think of, think about it.

Amanda: Well, book one, book one and book two I only gave four stars –

Sarah: Ohhh!

Amanda: – and then book three I gave five stars.

Sarah: So, wait, book three is Lover Awakened.

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: Okay.

Amanda: They’re pretty routinely rated above four stars and have, like – I mean, the later ones obviously you can see people have tapped out on reading them? ‘Cause the first book has three hundred thousand ratings.

Sarah: Oh yeah. But at the time that these came out, they were very unique and – [sighs] – one of the things that I –

Amanda: That’s a 2000s PNR, baby! [Laughs]

Sarah: That’s right! It’s 2000s PNR, and it’s a secret society, and it’s, you know, violent hypermasculinity with references to biker gangs and – there, there, okay. Okay, okay, so in, I just looked up Lover Unbound, which is Vishous [actual character name], Viscous’s book, which is book five.

Amanda: Yeah, the names are something, huh? [Laughs]

Sarah: Oh yeah. And then, what’s the cop’s name? His name’s like Bob – Butch! [Laughs]

Amanda: Butch.

Sarah: Butch…

Amanda: They have Phury with a Ph?

Sarah: Yes. Puh-hury…

Amanda: Yeah, there’s Rehvenge –

Sarah: Khrevenge.

Amanda: – with an R-E-H-V-E-N-G-E?

Sarah: Kh-rrr-evenge [so kind of a guttural rolled R at the beginning there]. No, I like Viscous. Viscous and Butch.

Amanda: Geeze Louise! Oh my God.

Sarah: Black jizz. Black jizz! That was where we went with that series, and I was like, And I am done, thank you!

Amanda: I just appreciate – look, Ward leaned so hard into this, and sure, it’s pretty corny stuff –

Sarah: It’s corny and it’s –

Amanda: – but –

Sarah: – problematic.

Amanda: – but the commitment to the bit –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Amanda: – [laughs] – even, even in the most recent book –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Amanda: – which is, let’s see book twenty-two –

Sarah: Oh, Lord have mercy.

Amanda: – which came out – ooh, it’s coming out next year! We’re still going! Okay, so that doesn’t have enough information.

Sarah: Wait, and that’s, that’s not the spinoff; that’s the main one.

Amanda: That’s the main one! So book twenty-one is –

Sarah: Holy balls.

Amanda: – Lassiter? And Rahvyn, R-A-H-V-Y-N. We’re, it’s, we’re still going.

Sarah: Did she invent some dudes?

Amanda: We’re still going!

Sarah: She must have in- –

Amanda: I don’t know. There’s, oh! Sahvage, 2021, S-A-H-V-A-G-E?

Sarah: Sahvage! Ra-, Rahvyn!

Amanda: Sahvage!

Sarah: Rahvyn, R-A-H-V-Y-N, Rahvyn. Lassiter.

Amanda: Blay, Blay and Qhuinn –

Sarah: Oy.

Amanda: – Q-H-U-I-N-N.

Sarah: Wow, this is so weird.

Amanda: We’re, yeah, we’re, it’s still – hasn’t changed a bit!

Sarah: You know, you, it’s good to know that some things are perennial, even if they’re not for me.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Shall we move on to Urban Fantasy?

Amanda: Yes.

Sarah: Okay. So we’ve got five whole books between four and four and a half stars, Top Pick. Page 68’s Alien in Chief, Gini Koch, four and a half stars Top Pick: if you read the description, you don’t need to read the series. This is the same problem we’re having before? This is –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – book twelve of sixteen, this series.

Amanda: Yeah, we talked about one of these other books in a previous episode –

Sarah: Yeah.

Amanda: – because I…

Sarah: Kitty Katt Martini.

Amanda: Kitty Katt Martini! You don’t forget a name like that!

Sarah: No! And if – you know what? And if, and if eight years later we, we laugh at the name, that means it was memorable, so good job. But, like, if I read the description, I don’t need to read the series now. I just read everything that’s happened up until now; it’s book twelve of sixteen. I don’t –

Amanda: I feel like most of these books in here are continuations.

Sarah: Mm-hmm. And I get it; it’s hard –

Amanda: Alien in Chief

Sarah: – to review a continuation of a series, but also, other, other reviewers are pretty clear: Yeah, you don’t want to start with this one. Don’t do that. Except for that mad lad in that one episode, in that one issue that was like, Ah, it’s book five; start here; it’s fine. You’ll be fine.

Amanda: Yeah! But also, why can’t this be fed into Sci-Fi and Fantasy?

Sarah: I don’t know! I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

What choice, which one did you pick?

Amanda: I mentioned Wicked Ever After, Delilah S. Dawson’s book –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: – on page, hmm, 68.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Amanda: And this is where I made a note to rant about subsequent books, because this is another one.

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Amanda: This is the last installment of a series. But I just want to point out that the, the hero is named Criminy Stain. [Laughs] That’s the only thing I wanted to mention!

Sarah: Criminy Stain.

Amanda: He’s a Bludman and a ringmaster –

Sarah: Okay.

Amanda: – and his name is Criminy Stain.

Sarah: And his human love interest is Tish Everett. Criminy Stain: that sounds like something like my grandma would say? Like Jiminy Christmas! Criminy Stain! Criminitly!

Amanda: Criminy Stain.

Sarah: Oh, okay, that’s a good, like, rather banal curse word.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: Okay. Moving on into Series. There are two two-star reviews, and the book that I wanted to talk about is not one of the two-star reviews, because the thing about the series reviews is that they do put the summary first, but the review is often like one sentence, and it doesn’t tell you anything about why it’s getting two stars. The book that I wanted to call your attention to is on page 78. It is a Harlequin Special Edition; A Princess Under the Mistletoe by Leanne Banks is reviewed, kinda, on page 78. I mean, they’re not really reviews; a lot of these are not really reviews.

>> Sara Smith is a fraud, a pursued princess in hiding, not a real nanny. But her feelings for her sexy, single dad boss and his children are very real. Working in the small kingdom of Chantaine, widower Gavin Sinclair becomes very attracted to his children’s nanny. His life is too complicated for romance, especially with the enigmatic Sara, right? Fast-paced dialogue, a riveting storyline, and charming characters make Banks’s tale flow well. Her imaginative settings and the royals in this fictional fiefdom give this holiday tale some pizzazz, while the temporary-to-forever family gives it heart.

That’s actually a pretty robust review for this section? So I was like, Oh, that’s really interesting! And then I looked at the cover, and if you look at the cover of this book, this guy, that guy is twelve years old –

Amanda: Well, I made a note that the series is called Royal Babies? Maybe he’s the baby!

Sarah: He is so young, this cover model; look at him! He is –

Amanda: He’s a baby!

Sarah: – he’s twelve years old, this guy! He looks like a, like a politician-to-be. Like –

Amanda: Yuck.

Sarah: Also, Amanda, on page 80, I wanted to make sure, don’t miss that big-ass hat. That’s a good big hat!

Amanda: I – [laughs] – we need a, we need a Hat Watch.

Sarah: Yes! This is a –

Amanda: We just, like, find the big hat –

Sarah: We have the missing –

Amanda: – in the book, in the –

Sarah: – the big hats in this issue. It was all the way down in Love Inspired Historical before we get a big hat.

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: So what book did you pick?

Amanda: So I picked, on page 72, Triplets Under the Tree by Kat Cantrell, and it’s the Harlequin Desire line. One, I think there’s a misused word in this review, but two, I read this and I was like, Holy shit. This sounds fucking bonkers!


Sarah: All right!

Amanda: And you’ll see why!

Sarah: I love a good fucking bonk- – I didn’t read this one, so I am, I am ready. I’m looking at a big hat, and I am ready to receive.

Amanda: Okay!

>> MMA fighter Antonio Cavallari and his wife were reportedly killed in a plane crash, leaving Caitlyn to raise the surrogate triplets she agreed to carry for her sister.

Sarah: Oh! Oh boy.

Amanda: >> Everything changes when a year later Antonio shows up on her doorstep, intent on getting his life back, despite suffering from amnesia.

Sarah: Oh yes!

Amanda: [Laughs]

>> They agree to –

Sarah: Amnesia!

Amanda: I know!

>> They agree to live together while he concentrates on regaining his memories. Can they move on once the truth of the past is revealed? The soap-opera-style storyline is easy to read, and the characters are easy to care for. However, Caitlyn’s initial reaction to Antonio’s marriage doesn’t jibe with her declarations of love. The MMA aspects are a real highlight and gave Antonio’s personality and actions a sense of authenticity.

Jibe I don’t think is right; I think they meant jive with a V? Not a B? To jibe is to, like, sneer at, right?

Sarah: Well, yeah, there’s, there’s two meanings!

Amanda: Really!

Sarah: Jibe is to be in accord, or it’s to utter taunting words. It means –

Amanda: That’s how I know it as –

Sarah: – both. That’s –

Amanda: – is, like, to taunt or mock.

Sarah: But that’s not – yeah, I a-, that’s super weird. So yeah, that’s a weird word choice right there. And wow!

Amanda: But anyway, MMA fighter –

Sarah: Surrogate triplets!

Amanda: – reportedly died, who’s like, his wife’s sister is carrying their surrogate triplets. He shows up a year later and has amnesia!

Sarah: Surrogate triplets! Who has any kind of time for anything if you’re raising sur-, if you’re raising triplets? Oh my God!

Amanda: I want, I want to know the, the, the depth of his amnesia. Does he think Caitlyn is his wife? Does he know who Caitlyn is?

Sarah: How is he determined to get his life back, despite suffering from amnesia? Like, what parts does he not remember? Are you going to read this –

Amanda: That’s what I want to know.

Sarah: – so I can find out? You should, you should read this book and find out.

Amanda: I don’t like ba-, like, I don’t like books with babies.


Amanda: I don’t –

Sarah: Just ignore them! There’s only –

Amanda: I don’t love a pregnancy storyline!

Sarah: There’s only three; they don’t take up much room!

Amanda: There’s only three!

Sarah: So shall we move on to Erotica?

Amanda: God, this section was –

Sarah: Oof. All right.

Amanda: – something!

Sarah: So, seventeen books. We do have a two-star for Kate Pearce’s Tribute, and the range is two to four and a half Top Pick for seventeen books. I feel like that’s a lot more reasonable.

Page 82, four and a half star Top Pick, erotic romance, ménage, m/m, BDSM, Coming Back by Lauren Dane.

>> The third book in Dane’s Ink & Chrome series focuses on a torrid trio, second-chance romance.

Okay! I understand what I’m getting here.

>> Sexy, witty dialogue is interspersed with soul-baring discussions as these characters confront their pasts and learn to become stronger, more confident people who are better able to deal with life’s challenges and feel worthy of each others’ unconditional love. Sizzling sex scenes spiced with kink deepen the emotional connection between the three, making this unconventional romance shine while their devotion to each other adds a special sweetness to their dirty good times.

That’s a good review! I understand exactly what I am getting here: sweetness, emotion, lots of sex. Got it. But did you read this series, or were you more into the other Dane series, the futuristic space one?

Amanda: I read the futuristic one, but Elyse liked this series and, I believe, reviewed one and two in the series for the site?

Sarah: Of the Ink & Chrome books? Yeah. We’ll put links in the show notes.

Amanda: Yeah. Yeah, the, I remember the covers being very beautiful.

Sarah: Oh, the covers are gorgeous! I’m pretty sure there’s – yeah, if you scroll down, the covers are on the next page because there’s –

Amanda: Yeah.

Sarah: – a full-page ad for Lauren Dane. I also love that Lauren Dane’s logo for all of her branding is Lauren Dane: Read Hard.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: I like that. But yeah, the, the covers for the Ink & Chrome were very ethereal, which is weird because it’s about guys who fix motorcycles and do tattoos, I think?

Amanda: Yeah, but these, the women on these covers have some gorgeous tattoos, so.

Sarah: Oh, they really do. Truly beautiful.

So what, what did you pick?

Amanda: Oh boy. So I picked Stepbrother, Mine

Sarah: Ohhh!

Amanda: – by Opal Carew on –

Sarah: Ooh!

Amanda: – page 82. If you can guess what that one’s about! [Laughs] The review here doesn’t matter to me. It’s the summary, ‘cause…

Sarah: All right, bring it on!

Amanda: The summary –

Sarah: I’m ready.

Amanda: – is a lot.

>> Dana’s much-married mother dumps her at Mason’s home after she marries his father.

Sarah: Eh?

Amanda: >> Sixteen-year-old Dana is left to fend for herself until she meets Mason, who makes sure she’s protected from his father’s warped behavior.

Sarah: Oh God!

Amanda: Yeah.

>> Dana convinces herself that she’s in love, but Mason, who is older and developing feelings for her, eventually leaves to avoid the temptation. Ten years pass before they’re reunited. Dana’s mother forces her to find a new way to finance her grad studies, so Dana decides to sell her virginity to the highest bidder.

Sarah: Oh dear God! Oh wow!

Amanda: Yeah!

Sarah: Okay!

Amanda: I know!

Sarah: That’s a whole other book! [Laughs] We had a book –

Amanda: >>Millionaire –

Sarah: – in the first part!

Amanda: >> Mill- –

 [Laughs] I know!

>> Millionaire Mason is not about to let Dana fall into anyone’s bed, especially his perverted father’s.

Sarah: Oh dear God!

Amanda: That’s –

Sarah: Oh, gr- bleah!

Amanda: I know, right?

>> The fact that Mason is dedicated to his Dom lifestyle is the only remaining roadblock to Dana’s dream. Mason is sure that he can convince her to take his money without the sex, but she insists, and things only get more intense.

It’s like a seven-layer bean dip of yuck.

Sarah: [Laughs] And it’s only 288 pages! You know this book is just like bang-bang-bang-bang-bang.

Amanda: No, thank you!

Sarah: Oh wow! That is quite a note to end this episode on.

Amanda: [Laughs]

Sarah: I am so impressed.


Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you, as always, to Amanda for traveling in time with me. We do a monster recording session to record this and the ads episodes, and they are so much fun, so thank you especially to Amanda, and thank you to Shannon Stacey for sending me so many wonderful PDF issues of Romantic Times.

I am curious: what is your ideal Jesus by Volume? [Laughs] I don’t know if I, if you can tell that I was bent over away from the mic because I could not stop laughing, and I can’t, like, edit out if I’m laughing right into the microphone; I need to move my whole head. I was bent over laughing at that Jesus by Volume.

I will have links to the review that I reference and to HEA Quest in the show notes and at You can also find all of the Romantic Times content at

I don’t want to miss the opportunity to name the reviewers from Romantic Times magazine December 2015 who wrote all of the reviews that we talked about, and those are Jaime Geraldi, Kathe Robin, Danielle Valente, Patsy Glans, Susannah Balch, Meghan Watts, Carrie Townsend, Leslie L McKee, Jill M Smith, Sandra Martin, Victoria Frerichs, Nicola O, Barbara Pizio, and Jacqui McGugins.

And speaking of reviews – I want to turn this back to myself; you don’t know how uncomfortable that makes me, but I asked for reviews ‘cause I didn’t have any, and y’all have come through so, so very, very much. I want to thank wethreeimuras for this review, which is completely making my day:

>> Sarah Wendell’s podcast has been going for 12+ years, and is always the first listen of the week for me.

I’m so honored!

>> Not only do I get great reading recommendations, but the kind, supportive community of readers, authors and other folks has enriched my life in so many ways.

Thank you so much. It is a massive honor to be your first listen. I’m always excited when a new episode of my favorite shows drops, and so I’m, I’m really honored that I’m in your favorite lists, so thank you. 

And thank you to everyone who has left a review for the podcast. I don’t know where my Apple reviews went, but woo, darn! They’re back! So thank you, thank you, thank you!

And as always, I end with a terrible joke. This joke comes from a librarian named James in a Southern town who emails me the best links all the time, and this time James the librarian sent me a joke. [Laughs] Are you ready?

What does the cannibal who’s late for dinner get?

Give up? What does the cannibal who’s late for dinner get?

Gets the cold shoulder.

[Laughs] It is so bad! Thank you, James, and thank you for being a librarian. It is a very hard job right now, so please don’t think that we don’t appreciate it. I appreciate it very much.

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we will see you back here next week!

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at

[end of fun music]

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