A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.


I realized I hadn’t addressed author relationships or beta reading in my disclosure post, so I added a paragraph.

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Full Disclosure

I have this info on one of my pages, but in light of recent events, I want to make it all very clear.

I am not an author or an aspiring author. The only writing I’ve ever had published and/or paid for is book reviews/articles about books and a few personal essays, unrelated to romance.

Actually, to be completely honest, I’ve toyed with writing a non-fiction book (also unrelated to romance) but I’m super lazy so the odds aren’t good.

To my knowledge, I only know one romance author IRL, and I never review or mention her books. (Or even read them… it just feels too weird!) I’m friendly with some authors online, though they may or may not be authors whose work I enjoy. I try to disclose whenever I’m reviewing a book by someone with whom I have a more personal relationship. I’ve never beta-read and am unlikely to; if I do, I’ll disclose. I did once spot read a book solely for formatting errors, as a favor.

The only connection I have with a publisher is that I write for “Heroes and Heartbreakers,” which is owned by Macmillan. What I choose to write for them is very much up to me. This was also the case at “Dear Author.”  I appreciate the autonomy I’ve had at both sites; I’m not sure I could work any other way.

I did not feel I could go on writing for “Dear Author” after yesterday’s revelations. The idea that I might have inadvertently reviewed, or even commented on, a book written by Jane made me extremely uncomfortable. It was sheer luck that she writes in a genre I don’t read very often — but I have done a First Look for at least one NA book at “Heroes and Heartbreakers,” so I kind of feel like I dodged a bullet there.

And I don’t like secrets in general, and don’t want to be involved with them.

If you have any questions at all about my knowledge/involvement, please feel free to ask me, here or privately. I can speak only for myself.

If you’re an online friend of mine and have an authorial/publishing relationship I don’t know about, I’d really appreciate you telling me.


Looks a Little Different Around Here

I’ve removed the grade categories from this blog. I may also remove the “reviews” category, though I’m still pondering. Perhaps I’ll rename it… suggestions?

This is a move several of my blogging friends have made, and it resonates with me. It’s a way of moving past formats and expectations that came from outside forces — Amazon, GoodReads, NetGalley — and focusing on what we really want to say.

RRR Jessica wrote a piece some time ago about how blogging had changed in recent years, and one of the things she pointed out was the uniformity of review format. At the time, I didn’t really grasp what was wrong with this, but I think now that it’s an expression of review bloggers becoming cogs in the industry. Nothing intentional or sinister about it… but I know that when I receive an ARC, it makes me feel like I need to take a more “professional” approach to the review. And that inevitably changes my voice.

I’m not entirely giving up ARCs or professional reviews, because I get a lot out of it. I appreciate the people I get to work with, the opportunity to reach a wider audience, and that I earn a little money, even if it’s more symbolic than anything else. (I bought my husband’s birthday present with money I earned! It’s really from me!) But I’m cutting way, way back on ARCs. There’s nothing like realizing that a book you really wanted to read has become homework to make you see the downside of them. And as I think someone else pointed out — Sirius? — that defeats the purpose of getting them early, because the anticipation is gone. I can totally see getting a book read and reviewed sooner than I otherwise would have because I waited for it to be released. And even if I don’t, it will be done with much more enjoyment.

And that is, after all, what this is supposed to be about. Our love for books and reading and the fun of sharing our opinions.


Lonesome Polecat



A blogger I follow raved about a book and I jumped to request it. The second I hit the button, I knew I’d made a mistake, but alas, NetGalley has no backsies. I’d completely forgotten that this blogger and I don’t have similar tastes. Sure enough, reading this book is Such. A. Slog.

I really miss having reading twins. My most similar friends from paperbackswap and GoodReads barely review any more; Mean Fat Old Bat is just about a perfect fit, but doesn’t review often.

Probably what I really miss is GoodReads. Sniff.

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You know that thing where reviewers are nervous about reviewing books that go outside their own culture, in case they miss something or get it wrong? That just hit. Right after writing a long, thorough, mostly positive review.


Semi-reviews: Holiday Weirdness Edition


I’ve had a perfect storm of blogging weirdness lately. My computer’s fan broke, making a ghastly noise whenever I used it.  The holidays. A new phone to drive me crazy and distract me with games. Some very hard to write reviews. And a whole lot of feeling like I’m not doing a good enough job, and having trouble concentrating, and being stressed by review books.

I’m going to tackle it by doing what I did after my “review vacation”a few months ago: I’m going to attempt to write something about everything I’ve read recently — which isn’t much — but give myself permission for it to be very short and/or meaningless. Just whatever it is I have to say, who cares if it’s any good. I’m hoping that will help me break out of the perfectionism trap.

I’m also reading some out of genre, to try and recapture my reading excitement.  I seem to be most drawn towards memoirs.

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan. Historical romance. Grade: B

What tickled my fancy: A wonderful plot surprise; intriguing insights into Victorian England.

What ticked me off: As often with Milan’s work, felt too deliberate.

Who might like it: Everyone seems to love it but me.

This one is causing me a lot of angst; I may review it, but I’ll have to reread first and I’m not sure I’m up to it. Not that it was bad — there are some terrific ideas and strong characters. But I’m having a hard enough time reading without rereading. Who knows though, maybe it would help.

Fairyland by Alysia Abbott. Nonfiction: memoir. Grade: A-

What tickled my fancy: Testify!

What ticked me off: Veered into memoir cliche at times.

Who might like it: Anyone who grew up in a less traditional home or who enjoys reading about people who lived in unusual ways.

This was kind of a stunning read for me, because I grew up in a very similar situation to the author – in the midst of the counterculture of the 1970’s — and I almost never get to read anything that reflects my reality. In fact, one way in which the author and I differed is that she loved sitcoms like “Family Ties” and I loathed it, because to me it was nothing but lies lies lies.  This does a really good job of depicting the time as it was for the kids, who had to deal with not having the structure and established cultural norms than most kids yearn for. And it shows some of the benefits of living in an experimental, questioning way as well.  Abbott is really honest and unsparing of herself, and she creates a very loving picture of her father that made me cry for him.

Iron and Velvet by Alexis Hall. Urban fantasy pastiche; f/f. Grade: C

What tickled my fancy: Sharp, funny prose. Delightfully British.

What ticked me off: It didn’t seem to go anywhere much and I kept stalling.

Who might like it: I’m not sure. I can’t pinpoint its audience.

I did review this at Goodreads, but it was like pulling teeth.  It took me so long to read it and I had so much trouble following it, and I just didn’t know what was the book and what was me. Add in the author being a friend and oh bother. I gave it 3 stars mainly because at different times I might have gone with either 4 or 2.

A Lost Love by Carole Mortimer. Category romance. Grade: B

What tickled my fancy: Delightfully nutty.

What ticked me off: Could’ve used more redemption for the cruel, rapey hero.

Who might like it: Fans of older Harlequin Presents.

A woman estranged from her husband and kept away from her baby son fakes her own death after an accident and has plastic surgery so she can see her baby. What can you say but wow.  The prose is basically adequate, but the passion runs thrillingly high. There’s also a side-story which at first I thought was a waste of space, but turned out to have an unusual point of view about children and adoption. (Heroine’s sister-in-law is freaked out because her husband wants to adopt an older child and she doesn’t know if she can cope, and this is shown more sympathetically than judgmentally. Of course all ends happily.)


OMG You Must Read this Post, It’s Awesome!


I’ve been reading the other TBR challenge posts today and noticing that other readers have also been very happy with their hyped book*, whereas often the reaction to a hyped book is disappointment. I’m thinking of a couple of potential reasons:

— These hyped books have passed the test of time. Readers have been loving on them for quite a while, not just when they first came out.

— The hype is further away. We don’t feel as much pressure to like the book which can result in a negative reaction.

— Since the hype is further away, it’s also easier to pick a book we know is likely to work for us, without pressure.

This isn’t universally true, of course. I often see people read The Windflower for the first time and go WTF.  But then, lots of really popular books have serious WTF elements to them, so that’s not surprising.  (My failed read, A Knight in Shining Armor being another case in point.)

Anyway, if you’re a person who tends to respond negatively to hyped books, perhaps the key is to wait a while and see what shakes out over time. If the book is truly good, there will still be plenty of people around to discuss it with later.

* I’m not counting Wendy’s mixed reaction to Duke of Shadows because that’s a known bug.


Someone Changed Their Privileged Opinion on the Internet!



Twitter led me to a fascinating piece about a challenge to read only science fiction written by women, and the reaction of two science fiction reviewers, one of whom had to eat some serious crow. (And did so with honesty and grace.)

This would be a fairly useless challenge in our women-dominated genre, but I imagine could have equally enlightening results if the parameters were changed to reading only romance by authors of color.

The piece mentions Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing several times. It’s been decades since I read that, but I recall finding it infuriating, because after setting up the entire argument about how women’s writing is suppressed, Russ then went on to use exactly the same excuses in regards to her ignoring writing by women of color.

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It’s Weird Out There



I’m currently writing a piece for “Heroes and Heartbreakers,” and collecting titles on a particular theme. It happens to be one simply bursting with new books right now — the popularity of certain television shows likely contributing to the trend — and many are self-published. I’m finding myself reluctant to use any of the self-published titles, and I feel bad about it. I don’t want to discriminate against indie authors, and a lot of the books have very intriguing premises. But even though I’m only mentioning books, not reviewing them, I feel uncomfortable with the possibility that a book I tacitly promote could be riddled with errors, or really obvious fanfic.

I think the freedom authors get from the ability to self-publish is terrific, but right now I’m thinking of an old fake “Saturday Night Live” commercial my husband told me about, which had the tagline: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  Something to think about, from the people at Trojan.”

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How Do You Choose Your NetGalley Books?

If I could have one Christmas wish, besides the one about all the children singing together in peace and harmony yadda yadda, it would be for NetGalley to have excerpts.

 I’d love to take more advantage of the opportunity to try new authors provided by NetGalley.  It would be so much fun to be one of the people who finds a hidden gem and brings it to people’s attention. And I also feel like I should move outside my comfort zone and give new authors a try, so my reviewing doesn’t get stale. The library has a limited selection, and my job is primarily to review new books anyway, so that’s not much help.

Theoretically NetGalley makes it risk-free to take chances on a book, and in terms of finances that’s certainly true. And it’s great for me, because I love to try before I buy — it’s always been true that the vast majority of books I buy are those I’ve already read.

But when I get something that’s really not for me, that I wouldn’t have ever requested if I’d had any idea about what the author’s style is like… then I still have to do something about it. And that’s a whole lot of no fun.

Any advice on choosing NetGalley books? What makes you click or not click?

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