The Master by Tara Sue Me

Jul. 24th, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


The Master

by Tara Sue Me
February 2, 2016 · Berkley
RomanceErotica/Erotic Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by garlicknitter. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Tara Sue Me’s New York Times bestselling Submissive series continues with a delicious new story that explores the thin line between pleasure and pain. . . .
She’s ready to try again. . . .

Sasha Blake is scarred from a BDSM session gone wrong, but she can’t deny how much a strong Master turns her on. Determined to overcome her fears and rejoin the Partners in Play community, she asks Abby and Nathaniel West to set her up with a Dom who can help her feel safe again as a sub. They know the very experienced Cole is exactly the kind of man who can push all of Sasha’s buttons—and she soon wants to go much faster than she had planned. . . .

Cole knows that Sasha is not the kind of submissive he needs. He wants someone who will serve him 24-7, not a part-time partner. Still, the further they go into their play, the more Cole begins to wish he could make Sasha his all the time. . . .

When forbidden desires turn into scorching action, Sasha and Cole come face-to-face with their demons—and realize their scorching relationship might be too dangerous to last. . . .

Here is garlicknitter's review:

I initially had a hard time getting into this story, but once I did, I enjoyed it very much. I think the initial problem was because this is book eight in a series, none of which I have previously read. The story started off with a meeting of a lot of characters who would be well known to fans of the series, but of course for me it was like being dumped into a group of strangers. I had trouble remembering names and kept mixing people up until I had hung out with them long enough to have some idea of their individual personalities.

So, basic story: Pretty much everyone in this book is into BDSM to various degrees. All the named characters are or have been members of the same play group. Some of them have already formed long-term relationships (presumably in earlier books). Sasha, the heroine, is a submissive, but (TRIGGER WARNING for abuse) she was hurt badly by her previous Dom in a scene where he had her bound and gagged and they had not set up a safe signal. (He ends up being permanently kicked out of the group because of this incident and his behavior afterward.) Sasha still wants to be a sub because that’s what turns her on, but now she’s prone to panic attacks when asked to do some things. She asks for help from the play group, and they pick out a Dom to retrain her, someone they know has the experience to really help her reestablish trust. (At first I was like, uh, does she get any say in who retrains her? But within the first few chapters it is clearly stated that if she doesn’t want to work with their choice she can ask for someone else.)

The Dom the group chooses is Cole. Not everyone thinks he’s a good choice, because he’s apparently really intense when he plays. (I don’t feel like this really came out in the book – it’s stated repeatedly that he’s so intense, but the described scenes didn’t seem especially intense to me – I kind of assume any kind of BDSM play would be intense to the participants, and the scenes read about like I would expect, given that.) However, intense or not, Cole is really good at taking care of subs and keeping them safe, which is exactly what Sasha needs. He starts off carefully with her – one of the first things he tells her is he won’t be having sex with her. He’s just going to retrain her in being a submissive. I wasn’t initially sure what he meant by that, since (like most non-participants, I imagine) I tend to think of BDSM relationships as being about kinky sex, so taking the sex out doesn’t seem to leave much to do.

Of course that’s an oversimplification. Sasha needs to get past her trust issues, and for that she needs someone utterly trustworthy – Cole can be that guy for her. He’s very clear what behavior he expects from her and very strict about enforcing his rules, but he makes it clear that even when he punishes her for breaking his rules, he will always make her as safe as he can. For one thing, every time she uses a safe word, he praises her lavishly. Also, when he tells her what he expects from her before they play, he always asks her if she has any questions. He doesn’t assume he always knows what’s best for her, he checks with her, and when he thinks she has concerns she’s not being open about he uses his Dom powers to push her to be more candid.

Of course the no-sex thing doesn’t last. As Sasha progresses in her retraining, as she becomes stronger, she wants more domination. She genuinely enjoys submission. Serving a Dom turns her on, being bound turns her on, being flogged turns her on, etc. She knows Cole is good at all those things, and she also finds him incredibly hot, so naturally she comes to want more from him. She knows he was previously in a 24/7 Master/slave relationship, and she’s intrigued and wants to try a taste of that, but he spends the first half of the book explaining why she’s not ready. He’s explaining to himself as much as her; he also finds her incredibly hot and likes her submissive style. Eventually, at the end of her initial retraining, they do have sex, and once that happens he gives in to what they both want and agrees to a temporary Master/slave relationship, which is a resounding success. The rest of the conflict is a typical “I love him/her, but he/she deserves better/isn’t ready/wants something other than what I have to offer,” which is neatly resolved with friends of each pointing out that they seem to be stupid in love with the other and maybe they should follow up on that.

Without being a BDSM aficionado, I’d say this book does a good job demonstrating the principle that being a Dom is not just about ordering subs around and using them to get off – job number one is taking care of the sub, keeping them safe, giving pleasure as well as taking it, and making sure that even if some of the play hurts, it doesn’t actually harm.

Grade? I’m going with a B+. The writing was clear and didn’t get in the way of the story. This is a big deal for me – clunky writing can make it impossible for me to engage with a story. The characterizations were reasonably believable – or at least I was able to ignore potential issues like how does a journalist (Cole) have this much money? As stated above, I found the final emotional conflict pretty typical, but it was handled nicely and I was happy for everyone at the end.

The Master by Tara Sue Me received an A in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

Fantasy, Erotica, & More on Sale!

Jul. 24th, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

Attention all magazine readers! The Texture Premium app is on sale for Amazon Prime members.

Prime exclusive deal for 1 year: $4.99 per month for the first year of Texture, which means you get unlimited access to 200+ magazines in one app. It automatically renews at $9.99/month after the first 12 months. Cancel anytime.

Truth or Beard

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid is $2.99 at Amazon! This is part of today’s Kindle Daily Deals. I know Reid is an auto-buy author for many of you and this one has an enemies to lovers feel to it, judging by the description. Readers say it has Reid’s trademark humor and quirkiness, but warn there’s a scene where the hero is with another woman. I know that’s an off button for some.

Beards, brothers, and bikers! Oh my!

Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James, recent college graduate and perpetual level-headed good girl, has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life.

His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her…

But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Jessica James has spent her whole life paralyzed by the fantasy of Beau and her assumptions of Duane’s disdain; therefore she’s unprepared for the reality that is Duane’s insatiable interest, as well as his hot hands and hot mouth and hotter looks. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang, the Iron Order.

Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk?

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This book is on sale at:





A Desperate Fortune

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley is $1.99 for TODAY ONLY as a Kindle Daily Deal! It’s also being price-matched. Like Kearsley’s other books, which are very popular and rarely discounted, it has strong romantic elements and dual timelines. Many readers loved Sara, a woman who’s been diagnosed with Asperger’s and takes a job as a codebreaker, but other readers found the book took a while to get going. And, in case you missed it, check out Susanna Kearsley on our podcast!

The highly anticipated, brand-new timeslip romance from New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread-its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher.

But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects. As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take… to find the road that will lead her safely home.

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Crash Into You

Crash Into You by Roni Loren is $2.99! This is an erotic romance with BDSM and suspense elements. Oh, and a second chance romance! There is a menage scene which some readers wished there was a warning about. So…menage warning, ahoy! It’s the first book in the Loving on the Edge series, doesn’t have a cliffhanger, and has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.

Brynn LeBreck has dedicated herself to helping women in crisis, but she never imagined how personal her work would get, or where it would take her. Her younger sister is missing, suspected to be hiding from cops and criminals alike at a highly secretive BDSM retreat-a place where the elite escape to play out their most extreme sexual fantasies. To find her, Brynn must go undercover as a sexual submissive. Unfortunately, The Ranch is invitation only. And the one master who can get her in is from the darkest corner of Brynn’s past.

Brynn knows what attorney Reid Jamison is like once stripped of his conservative suit and tie. Years ago she left herself vulnerable only to have him crush her heart. Now she needs him again. Back on top. And he’s all too willing to engage. But as their primal desires and old wounds are exposed, the sexual games escalate-and so does the danger. Their hearts aren’t the only things at risk. Someone else is watching, playing by his own rules. And his game could be murder.

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Vengeance Born

Vengeance Born by Kylie Griffin is $2.99! This is a fantasy romance and the first in a series. Readers commended Griffin’s original world-building. However, others found that the pace of the book dragged in certain spots because of said world-building. Ah, such is often the crux of fantasy romances.

There is no mercy in the demon realm. No escape. In this place of desperation and conflict, anyone who is not pure bred is virtually powerless. Until an unlikely champion is born…

Annika, half-blood daughter of the Na’Reish King, longs for more than her tormented life among her father’s people. Conceived in hatred and bred as a tool of retribution, she’s gifted with a special talent that can heal as well as destroy…

With the Na’Reish vastly outnumbering them, Kalan, a Light Blade warrior, knows the future of humankind depends on him alone. Incursions into human territory and raids for blood-slaves by the Na’Reish Horde have increased. As Chosen-leader, he faces the task of stopping the demons-and convincing the Council of aging Light Blade warriors that change is necessary for survival.

When Annika learns Kalan is a prisoner in her father’s dungeon, her dream of escape seems within reach. She agrees to free him in exchange for his protection once they reach human territory. Now, marked for death for helping him, Annika must learn to trust Kalan as they face not only the perilous journey to the border but enemies within the Council-and discover a shocking truth that could throw the human race into civil war…

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Posted by Elyse

Wonder Woman has been my favorite film so far this year, and it’s clearly resonated with a lot of romance readers (and women in general). For this edition of Stuff You Should Be Stitching, I’m focusing on Wonder Woman-themed awesomeness.

Now, you might have noticed that this column title changed from Stuff You Should Be Knitting. That’s because I’m going to try and focus more on cross stitch, needlepoint, sewing, and crochet as well. I’ll try to feature as many free patterns as possible too.

Stitchy Bitches unite!

First up, look at this beauty:

A modified triangular shawl with a red background and the Wonder Woman logo in gold.

This is the Wonder Woman Wrap by Carissa Browning and it’s free on Ravelry!

I literally gasped when I saw this. I have a lot of knitting planned–like 6 shawls by Christmas. I just bought yarn for a Find Your Fade. I still really, really need to make this for me.

Can you imagine wrapping up in this in the office, fighting professional injustice?

Also free is the Wonder Woman sweater by Natalie Bursztyn.

A woman models a pullover sweater designed to look like Wonder Woman's bodice against a blue backdrop with stars.

This is a seamed sweater, with a raglan sleeve and requires knowledge of colorwork.

If these projects are too large, there are smaller ones available too!

The Wonder Woman Scarf by Konchan Ie Me is also free on Ravelry! Once again this pattern involves some level of colorwork. It’s also reversible!

A long scarf with tassled ends. On one side is the Wonder Woman logo against a red backdrop. The other side is blue with white stars.

Lastly for knitters,  we have Wonder Woman Fingerless Gloves by Ducky Dame. This pattern is available for $4 on Etsy and could be a great stash-buster.

A pair of red fingerless gloves with the Wonder Woman logo across the back of the hands.

There are a TON of awesome Wonder Woman cross stitch patterns out there–don’t believe me? Just Google. Here are a few of my favorites.

This pattern by Hall Stitch is available on Esty for $3.75 and I love how it features just the shadow of Wonder Woman, her logo blazing through in white. It requires five floss colors and is available as a PDF download.

A dark blue shadow of Wonder Woman stands fiercely, her logo, the stars on her outift and her headband glow white. Her logo and name are stitched next to her in blue and red.

Susan Owenby of The Bored Zombie is offering this awesome cross stitch pattern for free! I especially love the 3-D detail of the Lasso of Hestia hanging on Diana’s belt.

Wonder Woman stands with her arms raised up against a blue and white striped background. Her lasso is a small braid that's looped and stitched onto her belt.

If you’re looking for a smaller project, there’s always this Wonder Woman logo available on Etsy for $2.75.  It’s a digital file and requires five colors of floss.

The wonder woman logo in a round shield. The interior of the shield is blue and the edge is red with white stars.

If you are happiest hooking, then you’ll be delighted by some of these awesome Wonder Woman crochet patterns.

My personal favorite is this gorgeous throw. I love how bold the colors are, and the black outline really makes the image pop. It’s designed by Nicole Pellegrino and is available for $8. The difficulty level is listed as easy, so it could be a fun project for beginners.

A throw blanket draped across a sofa. The Wonder Woman logo is in the center, with red above and white stars on a blue field below. There are red and blue borders.

Fans of arugami (crocheting small stuffed dolls or animals) should check out this free pattern. This adorable Wonder Woman doll would be great to give as a gift to an adult or child, or just to keep on your desk.


A small crocheted Wonder Woman doll.

Another amazing free pattern is this Wonder Woman headband with Diana’s long raven locks. Look at how adorable it is! The designer lists it as a beginner pattern too! I may have just died from the cute!

A super adorable baby wears a hat that is crocheted to look like Wonder Woman's headband with her long black curls flowing out from over it.

Last but not least is a sewing pattern for this Wonder Woman inspired apron. It’s available for $8 on Etsy and comes as a PDF download. I can’t sew or cook, but I have serious apron envy.

An apron on a dress form. The skirt is blue with stars and the bodice is red. There is gold trim along the bust and waist.

I’m going to a new Little Yarn Store this week and I may just have to get some yarn for that first shawl pattern.

I know so many of you are knitters, stitchers, hookers, and crafty crafters, so I want to make sure you know about the SBTB Ravelry Group! Come join us!

Did Wonder Woman inspire your crafting? What are you stitching?

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Jul. 24th, 2017 07:00 am
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Posted by Redheadedgirl


Hate to Want You

by Alisha Rai
July 25, 2017 · Avon
RomanceContemporary RomanceErotica/Erotic Romance

This is the book that I was most excited to get at RT. When people saw that it was out in the wild, the most inhuman noises were made, and it was worth all of those noises.


So much angst. So much pathos. EVERYTHING HAPPENS SO MUCH.

Nicholas and Livvy are the scions of a grocery store partnership dynasty, started by their grandfathers after World War II. Ten years before the book began, Nicholas’ mother and Livvy’s father died in car accident, and Nicholas’ father bought Livvy’s mother’s share of the company for pennies on the dollar, leading to a schism the likes of which the grocery world had never seen. Livvy and Nicholas were a very happy couple until that point. Then Nicholas dumped her, Livvy left town, and in the intervening ten years, Livvy would text Nick to come to her on her birthday, where they would bang in the ancient and honorable tradition of “only one night, no one needs to know.”

Everyone has this idea that there is no way this plan could go wrong for them, but then it always does.

But her last birthday, Livvy didn’t summon Nick, and Nick was like, “Welp, I’m gonna wash the girl right out of my hair” but then her mother has a medical crisis. Livvy comes back to town and finally, it’s time to deal with all the festering crap. Will Nick and Livvy figure their shit out? Or even make a decision that they even could figure their shit out?

What I loved about this story is that here were two families who let themselves be defined by one event…but they were different events.  For Nick’s family, and specifically his father, it was the car accident. For Livvy’s family, it was the fact that Nick’s father cheated her mother out of their share of the company. Everything all of these people have done in the intervening ten years all lead back to those two moments in time.

Rai has described this as, “Romeo and Juliet without all the sexism crap and with an HEA” and….kind of? I mean, feuding families, yes, but it’s missing a bunch of the other elements that make up R&J. Children of feuding families falling in love is not exactly a trope that Shakespeare made up, and I know I’m being a bit snobby right here.

I very much liked how Rai worked in the history of the Japanese Internment Camps during WWII. Livvy’s grandfather was a child of Japanese immigrants, and when they were sentenced to a camp, they gave most of their belongings and assets to Nick’s family. Luckily, Nick’s family held them in trust for Livvy’s family and didn’t steal them (that was a thing that happened), and the two families were inseparable…until they were separated by a series of TERRIBLE CHOICES.

There’s a lovely through line about tattoos and the art people put on their bodies and the reasons for the art they choose. We’ve had a post or two about the book-related tattoos some of our delightful Bitchery have, and I know how deeply personal tattoos are for people, and that’s no less true here.

Often in books (not romance, I mean books in general) side characters can feel under-developed. They just sort of exist to nudge the plot along while the main characters get all the character development. One of things Rai has taken the time to do is make sure she knows what the motivations are for all of the supporting characters. They all have their own inner lives. We don’t spend a lot of time dealing with the needs and wants of Livvy’s sister-in-law (as an example), but I believe that Rai knows what they are, and that made her breathe on the page. Nick’s sister, Livvy’s mother, Nick’s father… all of these people are full characters in their own right.

In certain moods, I love me some angst, and this had SO MUCH ANGST. SO MUCH. Nick and Livvy were SO DAMAGED by the actions of their parents. Because families that have a fuck ton of money have the ability to use that money to bully younger generations, they both felt like they could not simply walk away from the mess together. (Please note: Livvy’s family no longer has their fuck ton of money, and Livvy is the one who walks away.) It’s so complicated, and so messy. I highly suggest reading this with a big glass of wine or a pint of ice cream (or both, don’t let me limit your experience).

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Posted by Guest Reviewer


No Mistress of Mine

by Laura Lee Guhrke
August 30, 2016 · Avon
RomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by ReneeG. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Historical category.

The summary:

USA Today bestselling author Laura Lee Guhrke is back with the latest in her dazzling An American Heiress in London series, in which a reformed rogue finds all his honorable resolutions tested by the only woman who ever broke his heart…

After spending his youth as one of the wildest rakes in the ton, Lord Denys Somerton has devoted the past six years to putting his past behind him. He is determined to fulfill his duties, find a suitable wife, and start a family, but that plan changes when Lola Valentine—the red-haired temptress from his past—returns to London, sparking the same irresistible desires that almost ruined his life once before.

Lola is a woman with no romantic illusions. She knew love would never be enough for a British lord and an American girl from the wrong side of the tracks. For Denys’s sake, she walked away from him and the glittering life he offered. But when an unexpected inheritance brings her back to London, Lola discovers the passion between them is as hot as ever. Can they vanquish it, or will it burn out of control again and destroy them both?

Here is ReneeG's review:

No Mistress of Mine is the fourth book in the An American Heiress in London series and is second-chance-at-love catnip with competence porn sprinkles on top. It isn’t necessary to read the other books in the series in order to follow and enjoy this one. And, unusually, this book takes place in 1892 – shout-out to late Victorian industry!

Our stars, Denys (a British lord) and Lola (an American cancan/music hall star) have quite the past. They met in Paris when Denys was a young and irresponsible lordling and Lola was dancing said cancan. Lola moved to London with Denys, where he set her up in a little house in St. John’s Wood after she gave in to his mistress request. He mortgaged his property to finance her star turn in a play that quickly closed due to her poor acting abilities, so Lola ran away, back to Paris and dancing, where Denys followed her and proposed. Lola broke Denys’ heart when she turned him down, implying she was choosing an American investor as her next conquest and returning to America with him. Whew, that’s the backstory.

Our story opens with Lola’s American investor dying suddenly and leaving her his half ownership interest in a London theatre along with a nice chunk of change; the other half of the theatre is owned by Denys’ dad, Lord Conyers. After his wild, passionate, and expensive (failed theatre runs are not cheap) fling with Lola, and subsequent return from Paris after the failed proposal, Denys settled down and took over the family’s business concerns, including the theatre, and discovered he enjoys working for a living. Of course, Denys is a fabulous businessman and has done a tremendous job becoming wealthy and boring, but now he is toying with the idea of settling down with a childhood friend to start producing the next heir. But Lola’s back in town and she has a plan to both fulfill her dream of becoming a serious actress and to ditch the music hall singer/dancer persona once and for all – and she needs Denys’ help to do it.

What I enjoyed the most about the book was the competence porn and the “using of the words.” First, Lola had studied very hard to become a dramatic actress while performing in her own one-woman show in New York (which she had devised and updated, according to the limits placed upon her by her backers). It seemed realistic, based solely on my love of Hollywood and Broadway musicals, that Lola’s backers would want her to keep doing the type of show that was making them money (the old “wink and jiggle, song and dance” act), regardless of Lola’s desire for Shakespeare. It took the death of her “American protector” to free her to pursue her dream in London.

While realizing that the only way she would have a chance at a serious dramatic role involves using her inherited half of the theatre, Lola is also very aware that she will cause Denys pain when she comes back into his life. She apologizes for what happened in the past and spends much time trying to explain about her past (and thinking naked thoughts about Denys). Denys, practicing advanced therapeutic techniques not often seen in Late Victorian London, gradually hears her and comes to understand why she acted the way she did (while also thinking naked thoughts about Lola). Witty banter and genuine communication happen. It doesn’t occur overnight, but over time harsh feelings are softened. Real naked-times happen, not as a weapon from the past but as a gift for the present. The pacing of this was well done – Lola didn’t blurt out what happened to her all at once, but placed pieces of herself before Denys to help him understand her better; they didn’t hop into bed for revenge or old-time memories but because they had hot pants for each other now.

The part which let me down was the ending. Spoilers ahoy!

After killing it onstage in her first role (which she earned through an audition, not because she half-owned the theatre, BTW), Lola decides to toss it all aside when Lord Conyers threatens to tell Denys and the world about her first lover. I just didn’t believe Lola would tuck her tail and run away – again – not after the growth she went through to take her career back into her own hands. After all, she came back to London, where she had flopped like a dying fish, to realize her dream, a dream that sustained her through all the bad in her life. This giant Gong Show plot device was a clumsy way of dragging Lola off the stage so she would be free marry Denys.

After Lola says that society will always see her as trash, Denys sets up a Surprise! proposal to show Lola that he knows best, and uses his friends and their American wives to persuade Lola to stay.

This was a step too far for me. None of the wives had met Lola personally, but they all agree to stand with her against the ton. But let’s take a moment and think about this – wouldn’t you want to meet the woman who was the heartbreaking ex-cancan-dancer-actress-mistress of your husband’s friend and make up your own mind? Wouldn’t that seem rather necessary, especially if you were a just-married American heiress being called upon to use your new social clout to protect said heartbreaker from the slings and arrows of London Society? Do these wives have any ability to say “nope, not gonna ‘til we do tea” to their husbands?

In Romancelandia, an ex-cancan-dancer-actress-mistress (especially if she reforms into a serious actress who does Shakespeare) can grab a happy ending with a lord and get to be part of the ton by jumping through some hoops to make herself respectable. And when you have to reform a shady lady so she is fit for said society, you sometimes have to stretch the story to make it fit that HEA. It just seems a bit much to take away poor Lola’s strength and purpose to make that stretch.

Because the ending seemed so rushed and pulled out of the ether, especially after all the work establishing Lola as a strong, successful woman and the effort Lola and Denys put into their relationship, I had to lower my initial grade. Still, No Mistress of Mine was a mostly enjoyable story, despite how personally disappointing the ending was.

I’d like to thank everyone at SBTB for the opportunity to write these reviews. It is great fun to contribute to a site I love so much!

No Mistress of Mine by Laura Lee Guhrke received a B- in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Jul. 23rd, 2017 05:00 pm
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Posted by Redheadedgirl

This is a movie that starts tense, stays tense, and ends… still pretty tense. It’s also a masterclass in film structure, and I would put it up there with Hell or High Water as one of the best constructed movies of the modern age.

It also had one of the most effective teaser trailers I’ve ever seen.

Dunkirk tells the story of the Miracle at Dunkirk, a week at the end of May and beginning of June, 1940 where the bulk of the British Expeditionary Forces and the remaining French army were surrounded by the German army on all sides. A superhuman effort to get as many of the 400,000 troops out of France was more successful than expected, due to the use of the Little Ships of Dunkirk: civilian fishing boats, ferries, pleasure yachts, and lifeboats that were shallow enough to come up to the beaches and gather up as many people as they could. When Churchill put Operation Dynamo, the evacuation plan, in motion, he expected to evacuate around 35,000 troops. In the end, the number was over 338,000.

It’s one of those turning points in history: if the BEF had been crushed by the German army in that week, that probably would have been it for the Allied forces. Stuff You Missed in History Class did an excellent two part episode covering the events leading up to the Dunkirk evacuation, and the evacuation itself, and I highly recommend it.

Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Interstellar) got the idea for this movie over 20 years ago, but realized that he wasn’t a good enough filmmaker yet to make the movie he had in his head, so he shelved it, and worked on movies with big scopes and big budgets and played around with narrative and made himself into the filmmaker that could make this movie the way he wanted to.

The movie is structured around three POVs: land, sea, and air. On land, he tells the story of the men on the beach – it takes about a week in their time. On sea, the story is one of the little ships, and we’re with them for one day. In the air, there’s three Spitfires providing air support to the  operation, and we’re with them for an hour. The narratives cut back and forth between POVs, until they overlap and eventually end with all the narratives ending at the same place.

It’s basically the movie version of the Golden Ratio. I can’t stress enough how much I liked how well put together each storyline was and how well they wove together. Nolan has talked about how he used a mathematical structure to put things together, and what this does is it makes the entire film extremely atmospheric and claustrophobic.

In the land section (it’s referred to as The Mole, because of the breakwater that was used as a dock, since most of the harbor at Dunkirk was destroyed), most of the action is experienced through the eyes of a young soldier, Tommy (FIonn Whitehead, aka Not Harry Styles), as he makes it through the town of Dunkirk to the beach, and onto various ships as he tries to get home. He hooks up with Alex (Harry Styles) and some other people, while the officers (Kenneth Branagh and James D’arcy) manage the evacuation.

On the sea, Mark Rylance plays a man who owns a pleasure yacht, and when the call goes out that the Navy is activating the civilian fleet go to Dunkirk and help, he chooses to pilot his own ship, instead of letting the Navy commandeer her (in general, most of the Little Ships were piloted by the Navy). With him is his son and another kid from their town, and they pick up Cillian Murphy from a wreck along the way.  Cillian Murphy is only credited as “shivering soldier” and is completely traumatized by his experiences.

In the air, Tom Hardy flies a Spitfire and shoots down German planes. We get to see his face once, and most of his scenes are just him, in his cockpit.

There are a bunch of things that make this movie so effective. One is that the Germans are mostly a completely unseen threat. You never see them, except in planes. You don’t know where they are or where they’re coming from. The movie starts almost in media res: all Nolan needs you to know is that the bulk of the British army is on this beach, and there’s no way out but across the Channel.  You don’t need to know anyone’s backstory, or motivation, except for what is immediately important: get off the beach, get as many people on the boat as possible, shoot down those planes.

Another thing is the music. Hans Zimmer did the score, and his partnerships with Nolan has been REALLY good. I like Zimmer’s music a lot, but he has a tendency toward sameness, except when a director can really get him to focus. Most of the score involves a low drone in the background, reminiscent of the sounds of a diving plane, or an air raid siren. It adds to sense of dread and urgency. (I like using Zimmer’s music as a writing sound track. I’m wondering how well this will work added to my “writing” playlist.)

My main criticism is that I wish that either Fionn Whitehead or Harry Styles had blonde hair. They looked a LOT alike so it was hard to keep them straight. That’s kind of the point- the swirling mass of humanity was supposed to be faceless, but I spent a lot of time going “Is that… which kid is that?”

Also, yes, it’s a dude heavy movie – there were women involved at Dunkirk, mostly as nurses on the ships (the heroine in The Secrets of Nanreath Hall was a Dunkirk nurse), and they are seen, but not really involved in the main thrust of the narrative. Honestly, I’m okay with this particular facet. Others might feel differently.

It’s also an exclusively white movie, and there were four companies from the Indian Army Service Corps at Dunkirk.  (I could not find quickly any concrete information on other soldiers of color in the BEF, other than a forum that said “Well, there wasn’t really a color bar for the British army” so if anyone has more solid sources, please do post them.) (Edited to add: Slate has a good article on accuracy in the movie, and they do address the Indian Army Service Corps issue – that it would have been good to see them, even though yeah, it would have been less than a thousand among hundreds of thousands. And there were French soldiers of North African ancestry who were also part of the evacuation.)

What I liked best was what I can learn about storytelling: what are different ways to tell a story that makes the point the creator wants? Take risks! Trust your audience! And if you have an idea for an art, but you think you might not be ready to make it yet so it works in the way you want it to, it’s okay to shelve it and develop your skills until you’re the creator you need to be for this piece of art to match your vision.

I am not gonna lie. I cried when those Little Ships came across the horizon. In the Imperial War Museum in London, the Tamzine, the littlest of the Little Ships, stands next to a Spitfire and other vehicles of war. And she’s just as important. She had a job to do, and she did it.

Dunkirk is in theaters now. Tickets (US) are available at Fandango and Moviefone.

Librarians, Cowboys, & More!

Jul. 23rd, 2017 03:30 pm
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Posted by Amanda

For 100 Days

For 100 Days by Lara Adrian is 99c! This is a contemporary erotic romance and the first in a trilogy, so there MAY be some cliffhanger action going on, but I didn’t see anything about that in any reviews. Readers also recommend this book for fans of alpha heroes, so if that isn’t you bag, you may want to reconsider!

Struggling artist Avery Ross is barely scraping by. Bartending at a trendy New York City restaurant for an overbearing boss and two weeks away from losing her apartment to a condo developer, she’s desperate for a break. So when she’s offered a temporary housesitting job, she takes it.

Living at one of the poshest addresses in Manhattan is like entering a new world–one that catapults her into the orbit of billionaire Dominic Baine, the darkly handsome, arrogantly alpha resident of the building’s penthouse. What begins as a powerful attraction soon explodes into a white-hot passion neither can deny.

Yet as scorching as their need for each other is, Avery doesn’t expect Nick’s interest in her to last. Nor does she dare to dream that the desire she feels for this scarred, emotionally remote man could deepen into something real. For Avery has secrets of her own–and a past that could destroy her . . . and shatter everything she and Nick share.

FOR 100 DAYS is the first novel in a passionate new contemporary romance trilogy from New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Lara Adrian.

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Broken Resolutions

Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade is $1.99! Readers thought the book was missing a lot of the romance, while others loved the pairing of a shy librarian and a reclusive author. However, readers also say it’s a series that gets better and better. Have you read this one?

Romance has never had a happy ending for librarian Penny Callahan, who could write the book on cheating, heartbreaking liars. So she’s made a resolution: no men for the next twelve months. If she can just get through the library’s New Year’s Eve singles night, she can return home to her pajamas and a good book. But when she finds herself checking out a hot hunk with an irresistible smile, an evening in the stacks becomes a lot more tempting…

Reclusive author Jack Williamson never should have trusted his mother. Even though he’s trying to avoid being recognized, she guilts him into attending a dating meet-and-greet—where an adorable librarian makes him question his lonely lifestyle. Is this just a fleeting, flirty scene? Or could love be the next chapter for them both?

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Dangerous in Diamonds

Dangerous in Diamonds by Madeline Hunter is $1.99! This is the fourth book in the Rarest Blooms series, but it can be read as a standalone. Readers loved the “bad boy” duke hero, but some say there’s a big reveal or twist at the end that caught them off guard. It has a 3.9-star rating on Goodreads.

There is only one man who can shake Daphne’s composure.
And there is only one woman who can resist Castleford’s outrageous brand of seduction.

The Duke of Castleford has been so bad for so long that scandal can’t be bothered to rise up around him anymore. To alleviate the boredom of his privileged life, he occupies himself with drinking and whoring, not to mention the occasional duel. When something piques his interest, however, he has been known to emerge from his ennui and employ his considerable mental faculties to finding answers to the questions that fascinate him.

When Daphne Joyes rejects this notorious hedonist’s seduction, she assumes that he will forget about her and continue on his path to hell. Instead her beauty, grace and formidable composure captivate him, and she becomes one of those fascinations to him. That he intends to have her, and soon, is actually the least of the dangers that his pursuit of her presents. More troublesome is his interest in her past and her history, and the way he keeps poking his nose into the secrets behind the distant relative’s bequest that gave him ownership of the property where she lives.

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Rope ‘Em

Rope ‘Em by Delphine Dryden is 99c! This is an erotic romance with cowboys! It’s also the second in the Giddyup series and the first book is also on sale! There is a trigger warning for this book for attempted sexual assault. However, readers loved the chemistry between the hero and heroine, as well as the BDSM elements.

Returning home to help out with his brother’s dude ranch is cool with Ethan. After all, he’s as comfortable in the saddle as he is roping a calf. But what’s really jangling his spurs is a chance to indulge his kink in the ranch’s monthly Giddyup event. Did someone say suspension bondage? Yee-Haw!

When Victoria realizes her family’s number one goal in sending her to college is to get her hitched to a husband, she drops out one semester shy of graduation. But paying her own way turns out to be the hardest lesson of all. Thankfully she’s found her way to the Hilltop Ranch. A place to get away and refocus. And get herself all tied up. . .

Sure, Ethan’s pretty handy with that length of rope. But it turns out the expensive design school wasn’t a total waste for Victoria. Bringing an “academic” approach to their play—and Ethan’s hobby—is opening up new possibilities. Like maybe the chemistry between them is something more than a game. . .

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Always a Bridesmaid by Lizzie Shane

Jul. 23rd, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Always a Bridesmaid

by Lizzie Shane
September 13, 2016 · Lizzie Shane
RomanceHistorical: European

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Jillian Boyd. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Contemporary category.

The summary:

She’s all heart. He’s all business.

Parvati Jai knows better than to pin any romantic hopes on Max Dewitt. She may have had a crush on her best friend’s older brother since she figured out what boys were good for, but she’s looking for Mister Forever – not a workaholic entrepreneur with a romantic attention span that tops out at two weeks. Yet with her business failing, her newly-engaged best friend vanishing into a love bubble, and even her teenage niece announcing she’s getting married, Max becomes the one person she can rely on – and the idea of a little fling with him becomes even more tempting.

Max knows his little sister’s best friend is off-limits…until Parvati confesses she once had a crush on him and he can’t help seeing her in a new – and very intriguing – light. He’s never been good at letting people past his charming facade, but something about Parvati makes him want to let down his defenses.

But even if he lets himself fall for her, how can he convince a woman who knows all about his love-’em-and-leave-’em ways that he finally wants forever?

Here is Jillian Boyd's review:

Even though Always a Bridesmaid is a spin-off from Lizzie Shane’s Reality Romance series, this one works perfectly fine if you haven’t read that series. This book gives you just the right amount of context. Our heroine, Parvati Jai – lifelong besties with Sidney Dewitt, the protagonist from Planning on Prince Charming – is the owner of a little indie coffee house in Eden, California. She’s single, which makes her the odd one out among her sisters and cause for a lot of gentle familial concern.

But the being single thing is the least of Parv’s worries – her business is failing, and fast, and she’s run out of ideas to keep the coffee house going. In addition to that, her 18-year-old niece announces her engagement at Parv’s parents’ wedding anniversary party, and her bff Sidney is caught up in her own wedding planning business (not to mention the reality show she hosts, where she’s responsible for planning fairytale weddings for deserving brides). For Parv, the feeling of loneliness is an ever-creeping menace.

There’s one bright spot in her life though – Sidney’s brother, Max. Loyal customer at her coffee shop, in her life since she was six years old, the object of a very long-standing crush.

Max Dewitt was tall and muscular enough that he should have looked like a wrestler in a monkey suit, but instead he looked like James Bond – a sexy, super ripped James Bond with perfectly styled dark brown hair and steely grey eyes that somehow managed to be warm when he smiled at her. Which he did now, revealing perfectly straight, perfectly white teeth. And the dimple… really, the dimple was just unfair. Sex appeal overkill.

It’s… not hard to see why, is it?

A big theme in the book, apart from friends-to-lovers (and if this is your catnip, delve right in) is the expectations familial legacies bring with them. Parvati’s folks have been together since they were both nineteen. Her father is a retired and highly respected pharmaceutical researcher – who used to work for Max and Sidney’s mother. Her mother was a developmental psychologist and educational adviser to the governor of California, and has a best-selling book and a career as a motivational speaker.

Add to that four fiercely intelligent career women as older sisters, all of them married and with kids, all of them with CV’s which are… well, impressive does not begin to cover it. Max and Sidney, meanwhile, are the children of two steely-eyed career people. As mentioned earlier, their mother owned a pharmaceutical company, and their father is a powerful business mogul who has based himself mostly in Switzerland. There are some pretty messed-up dynamics between the Dewitts and their kids, who both own their own businesses but continue to operate under the shadow of their own upbringing.

It’s a lot to live up to, and Parv spends a lot of the book feeling like she’s failed at life because she isn’t more like her sisters and parents. Which, at points, does make you feel like you want to take her aside and tell her everything will be fine, love, you walk your own path and other stuff to that tune. But Parv feels so relatable – whether you’re at a cross-roads with your working life, or you’re a bit deflated because everyone around you seems to be settling down. Sure, everything’s drawn in broad strokes, but there will be moments where you go… “ah, yes, it me, just a little bit.”

“And I never once felt like I could relax. Five years of stress, Max. The only place I felt like myself was in my stainless steel palace of a kitchen. Which was too big, really, for a coffee house, but I indulged because it was the only place I could breathe.”

Max – the owner of a security agency – can get annoyingly protective. There’s a lot of mention of Parv being “off limits,” to the point where it’ll make you roll your eyes. There are a few bits of plot that get brushed over and not given a satisfying ending. And the tension between Parvati and Sidney goes on for far too long. But this is, by and large, a good book which reads at a zippy pace. It made me want to delve into the series it’s been spun off from – which revolves around a The Bachelor-style reality show called Marrying Mr. Perfect – and makes me want to read the books in this new series as well. Especially the next book, tackling the relationship between Max’s tech guru Candy and bodyguard Pretty Boy (oh my Christ, Candy is proper heart-eyes material).

If you’ve been feeling a bit low, Always a Bridesmaid does the business as a pick-me-up read and does it very well. Fair warning though – it will make you want cake. Like, a lot.

Always a Bridesmaid by Lizzie Shane received a B- in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

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Posted by SB Sarah

Organization AcademyWelcome back to Stuff We Like, a regular column where we shop and share items we think you’ll love.

By reader request, I’m building a Stuff We Like series on one-bag packing and tools to help you organize and travel light. My goal is to show how I travel with one bag, and since my next trip is to RWA in Florida, I have plenty of examples to share.

So far, here’s what we’ve got:

Today? Packing everything else! We’re going to talk about packing cubes and luggage options for quicker, lower-stress travel.

There are three ways I’ve tried packing clothing and shoes for trips, both by car for a weekend or by plane for nearly a month.

  1. Rolling clothes into tubes and packing them into a suitcase or bag
  2. Rolling clothes into tubes then putting them inside an airtight compression bag, which goes in my suitcase
  3. Rolling clothes into tubes then putting them inside a packing cube, which goes in my suitcase

Obviously, I roll up my clothes. This isn’t earth shattering but it makes it a lot easier for me to see what I have, and keeps most of my clothing low on wrinkles.

To be completely honest, I love compression bags. I love how they squish everything down to a smaller size, and I can fit a lot into my bag when I use them. But there’s a serious flaw: when they spring a leak, and they do, they’re useless.

Compression bags work by loading up all your clothing items into a giant zip-top bag with a one-way air valve, usually at the bottom. You close the bag, then roll up the bag, forcing the air out of the valve, leaving your clothes extremely squished and flat.

It’s like the clothing version of a vacuum sealer removing air from around food you’re going to store in the freezer for awhile.

Compression cube bag in action
Travelon Compression Bag 2 Pack – $20

Note: that’s not me. I can’t wear a watch that big.

There are a few kinds of travel compression bags I’ve used, including some from Travelon ($20) and from Eagle Creek ($30). I loved them – especially when packing bulky things for colder weather. I could squish down anything and everything and fit more in my bag.

But like I said, leaks end the joy real fast, and they’re difficult if not impossible for me to effectively repair, especially in a hotel. Just about all the bags I’ve purchased eventually started to leak.

So now I use packing cubes, and while they don’t squish as much as compression bags, I can pack a lot in them, and everything is very organized.

Packing cubes come in a bunch of different sizes, but for the most part, they’re nylon bags, often square (hence “cube”) with a zipper closure. There are big ones for sweaters and jeans, and small ones for undergarments or socks.

I have two sets from two different places. eBags’ packing cubes have been all over the world with me. 

eBags six piece packing cube set $50 - $75 (depending on sale)
eBags six piece packing cube set $50 – $75 (depending on sale)

The eBags six piece packing cube set is currently about $50, though the full price is nearer to $75 (eBags frequently has sales, however, so keep checking back if there isn’t a discount code at present).

I can usually fit my clothing in the medium and small sized ones, and then socks, undergarments and extras go in one of the long narrow rectangles. The tops are a mesh fabric so you can press a lot of air out, but they don’t stay compressed, obviously.

Tip: the easiest way to load a packing cube I’ve found is to place large items in first, rolled up if possible. When it’s about 3/4 filled, zip the top closed on two out of the three sides, and turn the cube so it’s like a bag with the unzipped part at the top. I can usually fit a few more items in that way before I close it.

eBags also makes a new ultra-light packing cube, which looks very cool, but the thing with cubes like these? They last for such a long time in such good condition I don’t need to replace mine (though there are some tempting options, including these from Eagle Creek which combine packing cubes AND compression!).

Plus, Amazon has a bunch of packing cube choices, too – including some from their own Amazon Basics line for $16-$25.

Amazon Basics Packing Cubes

And I just found this, should you be looking to equip yourself or need a gift for someone who is traveling: there’s an eBag value pack that includes packing cubes, shoe sleeves, and the eBags toiletery kit (which I use and love) for $70-80 (depending on sales).

ebags toiletry kit, shoe bags and packing cubes in titanium grey


The other packing cubes I have are from Tom Bihn, and I’m going to cover the cubes and the Bihn luggage I use in a moment. (I have to apologize in advance if this is your introduction to the Bihn items, as they can be very addictive.)

Packing cubes help you stay organized once you arrive, too. I tend to group like items together, and for things like workout clothing or garments I don’t need to hang in the closet, I can drop the unzipped cube into the dresser drawer at a hotel. It’s pretty handy.

So, on to the next part, which is where you put the packing cubes once they’re carrying your excellent, cultivated wardrobe for your trip:


There are so many suitcase options out there, and they change almost as fast as color trends do. Backpacks in different shapes, roller bags with two wheels – or ultralight hard shell roller bags with four wheels! I saw a bunch of those when I traveled recently. You have a lot of choices.

I’m not going to cover all of them, but I am going to show what bags we use most often, and why.

For one bag travel, I’m not a fan of roller bags. Roller bags can be great great if you have mobility challenges, or if wearing a backpack isn’t an option for you – above all, do what works best and easiest (and safest!) for you.

The problem with roller bags is that the wheels and the handle do two things: they take up a lot of space, and they make the shape of the bag itself rigid and fixed. With overhead spaces (and airplanes as well) getting smaller and smaller, and with bag checking fees getting higher and higher, I want to know that the bag I’m carrying won’t need to be gate checked, or checked into the cargo bay for me to claim at the baggage area at my destination.

Backpack style bags work very well for me, especially because there is very little space used by the bag itself. No wheels, no handle, no structure. It’s soft sided and very handy.

I do use a roller style bag (from Costco! It’s indestructible, that thing) when I have to carry extra stuff with me, like bulky swag or larger items like notebooks and paperback books to give away at RT. But my goal with 90% of my travel is to use my backpack-style bag.

There are two we love (and I’ll show a few other options, too):

eBags Mother Lode Weekender

The eBags Mother Lode Weekender Convertible ($129)

My husband usually uses this one and he loves it. We recently traveled for a week with stops in Zurich, Greece, and France, and fit clothing and toiletries, plus two changes of shoes for two adults for 8 days in this bag. You can fit a lot in this bag (which does make it heavy at times, I won’t lie).

This bag opens like a suitcase and has a large main compartment and a bunch of pockets. He’s so familiar with using it that if he packs it for the two of us, or for us plus the kids, we have assigned areas for different items so everyone knows where key things are like charging cables (pocket at the top) or keys (side zipper). When we traveled to Australia in 2014, which was when I became addicted to one-bag travel, he carried this for the three of them.

The benefit to a soft sided backpack style like this one: it fits almost anywhere, including itty bitty overheads (if it’s not stuffed silly). We’ve traveled on a few very restrictive budget airlines, like EasyJet and the like, and the bag has always fit in the overhead with no problems. And while these are not backpacks designed to be worn constantly for hours on end, like the ones you’d wear for trail hiking, they are comfortable enough and manageable for travel to and from the airplane and airport.

Another benefit: there have been a few times I’ve traveled and put my backpack bag under the seat in front of me when there was no overhead space, and it fit just fine. I also have very short legs and my feet never touch the floor on any airplane seat or chair I sit in, so having the bag under me meant I could rest my feet on it, and I was pretty comfortable for once.

There are other soft-sided one-bag options that have cult followings online, such as the Red Oxx Air Boss and Mini Boss ($265 and $245 respectively). Doug Dyment, the writer and host of, a site devoted to one-bag travel tips, helped design the Air Boss, and recommends it. Wirecutter recommended the Tortuga Outbreaker ($249), which is designed to be comfortable while wearing the bag for extended periods. And if you search “one bag travel” there are so many recommendations and suggestions. You could go down a rabbit hole for weeks researching everything (ASK ME HOW I KNOW THIS).

I’m highlighting a good number of options because the one I ultimately went with is on the more expensive side – I ended up haunting eBay for weeks until I won an auction for the bag I wanted in my price range. This meant I couldn’t be picky about the color, but I wasn’t too bothered about that.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut

Tom Bihn is a Seattle-based company that makes luggage and bags out of superbly strong materials, and it has a cult following much like… just about anything on the internet.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut soft sided bag in grey
Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45, $295

I like the Aeronaut (45, or original recipe – there’s a new, smaller one, the Aeronaut 30) over the eBags one for a couple of reasons. One, I’m pretty short, and the size and shape of the Aeronaut makes it easier for me to manage.

Two, the backpack straps tuck inside the bag so it can be carried like a suitcase or worn on my back:

Bihn backpack straps showing

And three, it has one large main compartment, two smaller ones on the side, and a zipper pocket on one short side as well. I’ve gotten very used to packing it. This is the bag I took with me for three-plus weeks all over Australia, and I’ve carried it almost everywhere since then.

I also have a few packing cubes designed specifically for the Aeronaut that fit the two side pockets that work great for shoes. With the Aeronaut, I can carry clothing for a week-long conference or vacation and have room left over for gifts I might pick up. At RWA, this is likely what I’ll be carrying, and it’ll hold my clothing, workout gear, toiletries, swag, and podcast recording equipment, too.

If you enjoyed this series, you can get more from the Organization Academy newsletter, where I share early content, exclusive tips, plus news on the development of the course series I’m building about using Google Calendar (and other tools!) to make your life easier:

With this series, I’ve covered packing list organization, toiletries, and luggage based on the research I’ve done for my own one-bag travel quest. What do you use for your own travel? Is there a topic I’ve missed that you’d like me to elaborate on? 

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Posted by Amanda

Sarah: For all the fond memories I have of this movie, they’re collectively rather vague. I clearly remember two scenes: the one with the scarf and the sword, and the one where she’s got a tin foil hat on. So this will be an interesting rewatch to see if my fond romantic memories of what probably amounts of 2 minutes of screen time match the full feature-length film however many years later.

Carrie: I have to confess that I have never had any desire to watch this movie.

Elyse: I have sooo many childhood memories about this movie. It will be interesting to see if it holds up. Back when this movie came out the dreamiest dudes were: Kevin Costner, Patrick Swayze and Mel Gibson. This movie featured at many sleepovers. RIP Patrick. Costner still holds up. Fuck you, Mel.

RHG: I have not seen this movie since the early 90s, and boy, do those titles and the style take me back. I feel like I’m not experiencing this correctly by watching it on streaming and not VHS.

Carrie: Also I miss Whitney.

Sarah: She does imperious very well. And she’s surrounded by chaos. Have fun with that, Frank.

Carrie: I see that someone watched some Steve McQueen to prep for this. And some Michael Keaton.



Carrie: Hey, according to IMBD, Costner said he based his performance on McQueen (you, sir, are no McQueen). So I was right!

Sarah: I remain shocked that I can remember things from that many years ago and yet forget things that happened a few minutes ago. My brain is a weird place.

The gunshot opening scared the hell out of me. And the cat.

Elyse: Cue Elyse jumping because she didn’t remember there was a silent opening and then gunshots.

I forgot Rachel’s sister knits!

Sarah: The opening is a little noir. He’s a sensitive man in tight pants who cooks and reads and eats out of the stainless steel pot, and leaves his knives in the grass.

Elyse: Ah yes the “someone broke in and masturbated on the bed” scene. Many sleepover giggles were had.

Carrie: May we pause for a moment to contemplate Client #1’s ponytail.


Carrie: That business with the intercom was great.

Sarah: HE DRIVES AN EL CAMINO. Why my brain didn’t hold on to THAT piece of info I do NOT know. “The front is like a car and the back is like a truck….”

Carrie: People always forget that kids have ears.

Sarah: And hey, adorable young dude. There’s Frank’s reason for working. Why is that little dude alone by the pool?! Children + pool + quiet is NOT OK. Oh, great, nanny reading a magazine. That’s not much better.

Carrie: I like that Frank cares about the chauffeur when everyone else is all “whatever”. I think I ship them.

RHG: “Maybe a tough guy?”

“This is my disguise.”

HA. Look, I do not blame Frank for wanting to tap out of this shit right away. It’s a hot mess.

SECURITY UPGRADE MONTAGE. I like how Frank takes Henry the driver under his wing. I remember thinking the evasive driving lessons were BADASS, and I WAS RIGHT.

Carrie: I miss music videos but my God that “Run to You” video is heinous.

Sarah: I don’t believe entirely that Stoic Frank would be emotionally moved by her music video but what do I know?

I have to ask y’all. Did you have the soundtrack? I’m pretty sure I did. Oh, yeah, I definitely did. I remember all the words to the songs, including “Queen of the Night.” Wow, brain, you do hold on to weird things. Nice job.

Elyse: I may be downloading the soundtrack to this movie tonight.

RHG: Other hilarious memories from the 1993 Oscars: Two songs were nominated, and Whitney performed them as a medley. I remember Billy Crystal introducing them as “‘Run to You’ and “I Have Nothing.”


Elyse: The concert scene is what I remember the most. Whitney in a cape. ROCKING A FUCKING CAPE.

The scene where she drops the cape and is wearing her techno-metal outfit holds up to all my memories.

Whitney Houston taking off a cape to reveal a metallic warrior-esque outfit

Carrie: It’s so weird that she’s all, “Someone sent me a nasty letter? What? How could that possibly be?” Even pre-internet people got those letters. In the age of twitter they seem positively tame. That doesn’t mean it’s not awful, just that her naivete is surprising.

RHG: Hold up, you fuckers, you’re telling her not to get hysterical when she just found out that somebody walked into her house. You really think that’s a good idea?

Carrie: There’s so much about this movie I don’t get. Have they never had a similar situation with crowds like in the club? How do they usually handle it? That’s not stalker stuff, that’s standard how to manage a concert stuff, and she’s not new, she’s a megastar. So what the hell?

Sarah: How is it she’s that famous and he can take her to random places without her being recognized? Like, because they’re in a country music bar, no one would spot her? That’s very strange.

Elyse: One of the things that’s interesting about this film is how the ideas of wealth and success and celebrity hold up over time. When you compare Rachel’s house to the houses featured in celebrity magazines today (or hell, Johnny Depp’s private island) it doesn’t seem incredibly opulent. Frank makes about $104,000 annually which isn’t anything to sneeze at, but remember, he gets shot at for a living and is the best in his field.

Is this a reflection of an increasingly celebrity-obsessed culture? Conspicuous consumption? I’m not sure.

Sarah: “Politics and showbiz is the same thing these days, Frank.” This was in 1992. Dude.

Elyse: And then comes the scene that launched Elyse’s love of romantic suspense. Frank carries Rachel in his arms to safety.

Carrie: I’m impervious to him carrying her out of the club but him tucking her in is super sweet.

Elyse: Frank tucking Rachel in is the classic romantic suspense flip of “look how gentle I can be when I want to even though I am a hardened bodyguard/ detective/ mob boss/ were-hedgehog MC gang leader.”

Sarah: Ok. Hotel staff would not be cleaning a star’s suite while she’s still in it, especially while she’s sleeping. There’s no way.

Frank eats apples weirdly. Or is that peach? Either way.

RHG: Tony wants to swing his dick around, fine. But a paring knife isn’t balanced for throwing and… you know what, never mind.

Sarah: OK, Frank’s “Did you seriously pull a knife on me” face is my favorite.

Kevin Costner as Frank looking incredulous.

RHG: THAT IS GIBBS’ BASEMENT (and aw, she makes sword swooshing noises when she’s playing with the katana WHICH YES IS ACCURATE)

Elyse: “I don’t want to talk about this again.” Because the romantic suspense hero communicates through knife throwing and boning. Is a fact. It has been written.

RHG: I used to like Kevin Costner a LOT. But Frank, my dude, maybe you could get a real spoon? Just one for your sad lonely life? (Also throwing knives works better for me if I hold it by the tip of the blade, not the hilt, but anyway.)

Sarah: Here’s a thing I learned:

This film was originally proposed in the mid-’70s, starring Diana Ross and Steve McQueen, but was rejected as “too controversial”. The film concept was to be attempted again in the late 1970s, with Ryan O’Neal and Diana Ross cast as the leads. The project fell through after only a few months because of irreconcilable differences between O’Neal and Ross, who had been dating.

Carrie: Sy is an asshole but he has a point when he says that Frank has a job to do but so does Rachel.

Aw, Rachel is adorable. How much time did you spend coming up with that approach, Rachel? Cause it’s super cute.

Sarah: And Whitney asking him on a date is so cute.

Carrie: Also their date is super cute.

Sarah: I’m wondering if I’m going to believe the romance. I like how the mystery is built, and I like the angles of the obsessive fan vs. the predatory insider.

Elyse: We have now reached the point in the romantic suspense plot where the heroine realizes that resisting the hero’s protective instincts is futile.

Also Rachel wants to bone Frank. Which is fair. He did carry her offstage in a shower of sparks.

Carrie: I realize that every romance novel in this genre depends on sleeping with the client but it’s a terrible and unethical idea to sleep with the client.

Elyse: I love how they display Frank’s rage by having him literally walk through steam. THANKS MOVIE!

Sarah: Kevin has man feels. And kicks the shit out of someone. Dude. Seriously not cool.

Wow, did that damage my opinion of Frank. My brain didn’t remember that part.

Kevin Costner slowly removing a scarf from Whitney Houston's neck

Elyse: The scene where Frank beats up a guy purely because he’s pissed off doesn’t translate well. I don’t remember how I felt about it as a kid, but as an adult it’s upsetting and it makes me like his character a lot less. It’s also super lazy writing.

Carrie: DUDE beating up random restaurant workers is NOT COOL DUDE.

I strongly urge him to press charges.

The sequel: “For Once, The White Guy Does Jail Time”

Elyse: Soooooooo… Frank’s emotional trauma stems from the fact that he was busy burying his mom when the president was shot? Okay…

Sarah: Scarf scene! Yup, still holds up. He illustrates how delicate her life is, how much danger is right in front of her. Subtle and obvious and pretty good tension. I can see the awkwardness between them but I think there’s pretty good chemistry, too.

Elyse: Another romantic suspense trope: hero displays his virility (check out my sword/boner that’s sharp enough to cut a scarf) which immediately seugues into sexytimes.

RHG: Okay, the transition from her singing to the piano at the afterparty was MASTERFUL. Also this is a hell of an Oscar campaign.

Elyse: Back to the money thing: $1000 a plate to see a super famous singer in a private concert?

Carrie: If performers cancelled show dates because of threats no shows would ever happen. I mean, she’s right to cancel them but also this is a speculative fiction version of stardom.

Sarah: I also like how Rachel doesn’t let him decide everything for her, particularly as pertains to their relationship. I might be building more into this film than is there, but there’s a bunch of tensions I find compelling – that he works for her, that he’s supposed to protect her, she’s setting limits with him, he’s setting boundaries for her that she doesn’t like, he’s getting paid a lot of money and struggles with that… there’s a lot going on.

The part where she has a job to do to, that’s kind of the point. There has to be a balance between her doing her job, and setting boundaries.

Carrie: If things are so awful that she’s cancelling concert dates wouldn’t they bring her dog to the cabin too? Stalkers love hurting dogs. Did they just leave the big dog at the mansion? NO ONE BETTER HURT THE DOGGIE!

Sarah: Hold up, is that Chekhov’s toy boat?

A motorized toy boat

Carrie: For a professional Frank knows jack shit about gun safety.

Sarah: Mr. Frank, put a lifejacket on that child. Between water safety and gun safety you’re pretty terribly trained.

RHG: Why doesn’t Fletch know how to swim? There’s, like, multiple pools.

Sarah: Costner really needs a gun safety course. I know dickall about firearms and I know better than than to point a loaded gun at someone’s face as a gesture.

Carrie: Why are we spending all this time on his angst when it’s her sister that got shot?

RHG: So, the “You pay a flat fee, and the hitman goes until the target is dead” isn’t like, the WORST payment model (after all, most targets are going to go down quickly), but you have to think that in the case of Rachel, where it’s taken several attempts, which all involve at least some overhead, there’s a point where he has to go “this is more work than expected, please pony up more cash or I’m not doing it.” Right? At some point your hourly gets REALLY low. You know, for a hitman.

Elyse: I also hate that the sisters are in opposition rather than supportive of each other. I don’t need more women tearing each other down.

Sarah: “You know you’re white!”

I think that chess conversation might be the only reference to race in the whole movie.

That’s just fascinating and kind of incredible then and now. Like, the whole film’s attitude is, “We aren’t acknowledging this facet of the story. Are you? Why?”

Chekhov’s boat indeed.

Carrie: I like the idea of a community of bodyguards. Like they all meet at a bar once or twice a year and bitch about their jobs and how bad their blood pressure has gotten. Not Portman, though because I’m pretty sure he’s the villain.

Sarah: I have a fair amount of respect for the increasing tension, that the hired killer won’t stop, that it’s not over, and she has to keep going, and so does he. They sort of work out their own balance – kind of. Their relationship is largely unresolved.

I also want to say how much I love this woman in gold with hair like hair has rarely haired since the early 90s.

Carrie: Also I ship Frank and Tony. Frank, Tony, and the chauffeur whose name I keep forgetting. I would watch that movie.

RHG: Oh, Debbie! Hi Debbie.

Carrie: Oh dear, hello Debbie Reynolds, we all miss you. I was not prepared.

Elyse: There are so many shiney bolero jackets at the 1992 Oscars…

Sarah: Robert Wuhl! Hosting the Oscar’s! Making sexist jokes! Oh, Lord.

RHG: Ugh, sexist Oscar Host jokes. Ugh. Who do you think you are, Seth MacFarlane?

Elyse: Robert Wuhl is hosting The Oscars?

RHG: Check the envelope! Make sure it’s the right award! (Too soon?)

Carrie: In conclusion I’m super invested in all of the relationships EXCEPT the romantic one. They needed more date time and less mutually douchey and inconsistent behaviour. They don’t have much chemistry except on their date, and that’s mostly because she makes him laugh. Fletcher and Tony and the chauffeur all had more meaningful relationships with Frank than Rachel did.

Sarah: So I had to stop just after Rachel ran off the stage at the Oscars, and come back to the movie the next morning, which gave me a lot of time to think whether it was working for me. With one glaring, inexcusable exception, this is totally working for me. There’s a mystery. There’s Kevin Costner, who seems to think he’s in a noir movie. There’s Whitney Houston, who seems to be embracing the idea that she’s in a romance. The two of them already have enough conflict through the plot and their respective characters, so the additional “what genre are we in?” conflict really works for me.

The exception: Farmer loses control of himself and beats the shit out of some poor dude (in the credits as “Cuban Husband” played by Joseph Hess) who was having a smoke. The idea that this other man is the disposable outlet for Frank’s manpain and feelings of loss of control really makes me angry. Like, How do we show up upset Frank is since Kevin Costner doesn’t move his face a whole lot? Let’s have him use the considerable deadly force of his training against some dude having a smoke. He’s perfectly in control of himself, aware of how much damage he can do to another person, and then he’s not – because of Rachel – and… surely there were better ways to demonstrate that turmoil.

The major elements are totally working for me. The storytelling decisions in that scene do not. Elyse is totally right – it’s lazy.

Elyse: And once again a woman is expected to be embarrassed for “inconveniencing” others over concerns for her safety.

Sarah: Also, a question: if the assassin of stupid was the one hired by her sister, who jacked off and left a note on the bed? The blonde obsessive guy? That’s kind of a crime, too, right?

OK, a note on the ending from teenage Sarah watching this movie: the scarf and glasses at the end? I thought that was the absolute height of glamourous. Ridiculous levels of chic. I’ll be honest, though, that plane looks kinda crappy.

Can there be a sequel about Fletcher, please?

RHG: One last song before parting forever.

Sarah: Also: seeing Whitney’s face saying goodbye to Frank is making my eyes sting.

Whitney Houston lovingly looking at Frank as she says goodbye

And then the Casablanca ending – I was totally sniffing a little except they move their heads around a LOT while kissing. WHAT THE HELL.

Elyse: And on to the bittersweet ending. I think they kept it fairly ambiguous as to whether they wind up together and I’m okay with that. (My husband says they are definitely not together but I disagree. He’s just in IA working, ok?!)

RHG: Ending on the freeze frame is a bit much, movie.

Carrie: I did like how well Whitney conveyed that 90% of her life is performance – not just the onstage parts but dealing with her team, the public, other professionals, etc etc. I know people will say that she’s just playing herself, but she was so good at turning that “Benevolent Star” smile on and off.

Sarah: Does this hold up for me? Yes, for the most part. The demonstration of Frank’s fractured emotions through inexcusable violence is terrible. The ways in which the genres Costner and Houston are playing plus the plot conflicts was a lot of my catnip, even if their acting, particularly Costner, didn’t give me much to work with. Actually, now that I say so, I’m wrong – he’s so blank I can embellish a lot onto his performance.

Also: I want a remake of this movie with Rihanna in the lead. As I said in a text conversation, she’d act with one eyebrow and win an Oscar. Not sure who should play the Costner role, but Rihanna would be brilliant in a remake. I’ve already written a good third of the script. With all my (zero nonexistent) screenwriting experience.

My grade: B+.

RHG: Does this hold up? I don’t…. Think so? I got kinda bored there in the middle. And it’s one of those things that especially now, the amount of work that went into those letters is completely unrelatable. Not when you can just make a Twitter bot.

Elyse: I’d give the movie a B.

RHG: But Whitney is at her best here, and she wasn’t even 30. So what have I been doing with MY life?

Did you watch The Bodyguard along with us? What’d you think? Are you a fan of the scarf & sunglasses pairing?

Three Sweet Nothings by Nikki Sloane

Jul. 22nd, 2017 06:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Three Sweet Nothings

by Nikki Sloane
December 12, 2016 · Shady Creek Publishing
RomanceContemporary Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by VeronicaMcD. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Five years ago, we’d been together and on fire, but the flames burned us both. Now she’s back in my life and is all my wildest fantasies in the flesh.

I want her. The desire is too powerful to argue against, but I’m not interested in what we had. This is an arrangement about pleasure and finding out who we are behind closed doors. There won’t be talk of love or any sweet nothings whispered by either of us.

This time, I’ll control the heat between us and make sure neither of our hearts get too close to the flames.

Here is VeronicaMcD's review:

I have to start this review by admitting that erotic romances are not my usual cup of tea, and when I looked at the sign up sheet, I did not expect to pick the category for my review. However, I changed my mind when I saw that there was a Nikki Sloane book nominated, and that it was one from her Blindfold Club series that I didn’t realize had been published. I read the rest of the Blindfold Club books last year after reading a SBTB guest review of a prior book. Three Sweet Nothings is the fifth book in the series.

The main characters are Kyle, an attorney and the brother of a previous book’s heroine, and Ruby, also an attorney, and Kyle’s law school girlfriend with whom he endured a terrible break up after law school because of a giant misunderstanding. Both those statements might be a turnoff for some readers, so it’s important to highlight this from the start: this is a second chance romance, and much of the conflict comes from two lawyers not being able to use their words (the ultimate irony, in my humble opinion).

Kyle and Ruby are an interesting pair, because she has trust issues and he has commitment issues. Kyle was raised by two parents that are shown to be very narcissistic and cold, and he lacks the ability to be emotive, especially when that emotion is love. Because of Ruby and Kyle’s previous relationship, Ruby has trouble trusting anyone. However, rather than talking through their issues like adults with professional background in rhetoric, Kyle draws up a sex contract. Basically, the premise of the book is that Ruby and Kyle agree to bone as much as possible, but not to be in a relationship. Kyle somehow thinks this arrangement will fix all of their trust issues and make it possible for them to have a “real” relationship. Um, okay.

The erotic portion of the romance comes in with the contract, which includes willing lists. I found this book interesting because neither Kyle nor Ruby is very into kink at the start of the novel. A lot of the sex scenes involve Ruby and Kyle trying something new to them, which was both refreshing for an erotic romance and, frankly, pretty cute. I tend to enjoy Nikki Sloane’s writing for two reasons: she writes realistic dialogue and phenomenal sex scenes. I felt that this particular story was enough of a departure from previous books that it didn’t feel formulaic. Unlike prior books in this series, the characters aren’t directly involved in the sex club as employees or clients, which I actually liked.

Despite enjoying the book for the most part, there were some problems. During the last few chapters, there was another major conflict, and I wanted to bang my head against the wall. Ruby and Kyle argue and are in a situation similar to the one that caused their original break up, and they basically behave as though they have learned nothing! They are no more trusting, and no better at just talking about their feelings! I was so frustrated, and I was curious to see how the situation got resolved. The resolution actually happened very quickly, and to me, it was out of nowhere and the mutual groveling was not proportional to how bad the argument was.

Another problem I had was that one of the most enjoyable parts of the novel were the cameos of characters from previous books. I liked Kyle and Ruby, but I think that this speaks to the fact that there wasn’t enough development of them that they were not the most memorable part of their story. Sloane also used quite a bit of this book to set up for the next book in the series. This is fairly typical of the books in this series, but there wasn’t any build up for Kyle and Ruby in previous books, so for me, the book lacked balance between the main couple and the secondary characters.

I think that this book would be an A- or B+ as a stand alone novel; however, in the context of the series, I give it a B-. I just didn’t see the same level of character development and plot just didn’t meet my expectations for a Nikki Sloane title. I would still recommend the book, as it’s a good read, and if this sounds like your style, the other books in the series are also great.

Off the Clock by Roni Loren

Jul. 22nd, 2017 02:00 pm
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Posted by Guest Reviewer


Off the Clock

by Roni Loren
January 5, 2016 · Berkley
RomanceErotica/Erotic Romance

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Meg. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Erotic Romance category.

The summary:

Overtime has never felt so good…

Marin Rush loves studying sex. Doing it? That’s another story. In the research lab, Marin’s lack of practical knowledge didn’t matter, but now that she’s landed a job at The Grove, a high-end, experimental sex therapy institute, she can’t ignore the fact that the person most in need of sexual healing may be her.

Dr. Donovan West, her new hotshot colleague, couldn’t agree more. Donovan knows that Marin’s clients are going to eat her alive unless she gets some hands-on experience. And if she fails at the job, he can say goodbye to a promotion, so he assigns her a list of R-rated tasks to prepare her for the wild clientele of The Grove’s X-wing.

But some of those tasks are built for two, and when he finds Marin searching for a candidate to help her check off her list, Donovan decides there’s only one man for the job—him. As long as they keep their erotic, off-the-clock activities strictly confidential and without strings, no one will get fired—or worse, get attached…

Here is Meg's review:

When I read through the preview of Off the Clock, what struck me initially about the story were the paragraphs of exquisitely written smut being written by one of the characters — then the author of those sentences groaning and pitching the draft of his script away. It was the perfect depiction of every person ever who has tried to write a sex scene.

I’m not sure when I last bought an erotic romance so fast.

The book centers around two sex therapists who once attended school together. During a week of spring break when Marin is 18 and Donovan is a grad student, Marin winds up helping Donovan develop a series of audio fantasies that will be used in sex therapy. It culminates in them coming together for one magical encounter before Marin’s life implodes in a heartbreaking way that you’re not expecting.

Leap to eight years later. As full-time guardian of her teenage brother, Marin is now a sex psychologist specializing in research but with barely any practical experience in dealing with patients or her own sexuality. As Amanda noted in her review, this tends to be a common trope for heroines in this area. But the book sells me on it given what Marin goes through in the years between encounters with Donovan.

She takes a job as a therapist, way outside her comfort zone, at celebrity rehabilitation complex The Grove to afford her brother the chance to attend the school of his dreams. There, she literally runs into Donovan, who has become world-famous as the Orgasm Whisperer for the work that she largely helped him with. The chemistry between them is stronger than ever, and despite them recognizing it is a VERY BAD IDEA ™, they can’t keep their hands off each other.

The book is pleasant subversive in a lot of ways. A lot of the erotic romances I have read tend to lean more on the side of tons of sex scenes with a loose plot weaving the story together. Off the Clock is the opposite. There is a lot of time and care taken into developing Marin and Donovan, and they don’t frequently bump uglies until more than halfway through the book. It treads the line of being a BDSM story, but I wouldn’t say it entirely goes there. Almost every sex scene served a purpose in furthering Marin and Donovan’s relationship or their own personal growth. This serves to make the already hot acts nearly scorching, because of how invested you get in Marin and Donovan as actual people and not characters merely there to insert tab A into slot B repeatedly.

And you’ll never see a bottle of wine the same way ever again.

The natural friction points you would expect between Marin and Donovan aren’t there. Marin doesn’t mind she’s uncredited for being a big inspiration for the work that made Donovan famous. I was fully expecting Donovan to hold Marin’s evasion about her age over her, but he doesn’t. He’s surprised and shocked, but never mean about it. It’s obvious the two respect each other immensely.

I had a tough time with the grade of this book, because as much as I love Marin and Donovan, I hated the cliche way that Donovan’s fuckbuddy, Elle, is written. Even though I know she’s the star of the sequel, along with the utterly adorable and seriously hot Lane, there was nothing in this book that made me want to read her story.

Most of the cast surrounding Donovan and Marin are lovingly fleshed out, especially Marin’s brother, Nathan. Marin’s true allyship of her brother is so lovely to read. The patients at The Grove range from heartbreaking to hilarious, with one of my favorite scenes being Marin literally walking in on some quite naughty action going down … on her desk.

That’s why Elle’s actions are so jarring. While I know she will be fleshed out in her own story, the cartoonish way she is depicted in Off the Clock is jarring compared with the way pretty much every major character (and most minor ones) are shown. It reminds me of Paris Gellar of Gilmore Girls before she became one of the best characters in the series. If Elle goes the Paris route of awful to awesome in her own book, sign me up.

Speaking of Lane, I’m normally not into threesomes, but I would had totally gone for one with Marin, him, and Donovan. Just saying.

The other thing that threw me off is the last sexual act depicted in the book – when Marin and Donovan have anal sex. It’s half personal preference (I am just not into that sort of thing) and half the wrong tonal note. Even though it’s shown that Donovan has taken care to prepare Marin, it seems like they went from zero to 10 very fast in that area and I found myself wincing. A lot. It’s dismissed with a line that Marin used the sex toys available to her to explore in that area. I wish the subject had been introduced earlier in the book during the part where Marin was experimenting with said sex toys prior to being with Donovan. Maybe I wouldn’t had been wincing so much on Marin’s behalf there at the end.

Neither of these ruined my overall enjoyment of the book, and I loved the ending and how it showed the characters continuing to grow even after the hookup. Marin’s personal victories made me nearly stand up and cheer, especially.

If you enjoy your erotic romance with a hefty dose of meaty plot, some angst, and some frankly fantastic characters, then Off the Clock is the book for you. This is my first from Roni Loren, but it won’t be the last.

Off the Clock by Roni Loren received a B+ in a previous review by Amanda.

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Posted by Guest Reviewer


How I Married a Marquess

by Anna Harrington
April 26, 2016 · Forever
RomanceHistorical: European

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by NoeRD. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Long Historical category.

The summary:

Josephine Carlisle, adopted daughter of a baron, is officially on the shelf. But the silly, marriage-minded misses in the ton can have their frilly dresses and their seasons in London, for all she cares. Josie has her freedom and her family . . . until an encounter with a dark, devilishly handsome stranger leaves her utterly breathless at a house party. His wicked charm intrigues her, but that’s where it ends. For Josie has a little secret . . .

Espionage was Thomas Matteson, Marquess of Chesney’s game-until a tragic accident cost him his career. Now to salvage his reputation and return to the life he loves, the marquess must find the criminal who’s been robbing London’s rich and powerful. He’s no fool-he knows Josie, with her wild chestnut hair and rapier-sharp wit, is hiding something and he won’t rest until he unravels her mysteries, one by one. But he never expected to be the one under arrest-body and soul . . .

Here is NoeRD's review:

If I had to sum up in a few words what I thought of this book, I would say: It’s the first too stupid to live heroine I like. No, no, cross that. Both main characters where pretty stupid or reckless in the course of the book.

The thing is I found them endearing most of the time and the banter between them was very entertaining too. So, let me begin again with this review.

The hero, Thomas Matteson, son of a duke and Marquess of Chesney, by himself is an ex-spy that wants to become a spy again. We are told that he was shot a year ago and this had something to do with him not being a spy now. He has something that I assume is post traumatic stress disorder and some anxiety issues because of this and he is desperate to go back to his old ways and not let this event define the rest of his life. So, because the War Office is not minding his requests, he feels he has to get a recommendation from a very powerful lord who has asked him to catch a highwayman who is robbing his guests in some country state.

Enter Josie Carlisle. She is the adopted daughter of a baron and because a lot of pompous asses won’t marry her for this reason, she is pretty much on the shelf. She is, most of the time, very smart and ballsy. She still takes care of the orphanage where she lived prior being adopted and is very independent by that time standard. She meets Thomas in the very powerful shady Lord’s house and the chemistry between them is off the charts. They can see right through each other and is a lot of fun to see how they try to outsmart the other.

Although I found the book very fun to read, the pace just perfect and the characters endearing (I like that word!), there were some flaws that could kill the book for you if you don’t get in its hype.

Firstly, I mentioned Thomas anxiety issues. As a partner of someone with anxiety issues I understand Thomas’s problems and motivations, but the book falls in the misdirection of pretending love cures them all. Thomas is first attracted to Josie because she “calms” something in him in their first meeting, and he decides to pursue her because he wants to know why. Then, his sleep anxiety disappears the first night they spent together. That’s not how anxiety works for most people and it could be harmful for your relationship to pretend that love is a magic cure. The only part when it’s done right is in a scene when Thomas and Josie are alone and a shot is heard in the distance and Thomas gets in full panic attack mode. Josie intuitively tries to appease him and does it by the way she speaks to him not through her mere presence.

Another thing that bothered me was that for all the admiration that Josie’s badassness causes in Thomas, he doesn’t trust her 100%. Sure, when he asked her not to do something she went and did it, almost getting herself killed. But near the end of the book, he locks her in a cell to stop her from meddling in his plans instead of telling her those plans and asking for her cooperation.

Then there is the issue of Thomas’s spy skills. He is like the worst spy ever. Thank God he chooses love above his country, because there would be no Queen alive otherwise.

Which brings us to the matter of “The secrets.” Josie has a secret that is very obvious from the start and is revealed around the 30% mark of the book. I had no problem with that. There also is a veil of secrecy around the details of Thomas’ shooting and it makes you wait for it and then is… meh. So I didn’t get why the secrecy in the first place.

All in all, beside its flaws I really enjoyed this and will look forward to reading more books from Anna Harrington.

How I Married a Marquess by Anna Harrignton received a B+ in a previous RITA Reader Challenge Review.

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Posted by SB Sarah

In the Bitchery HQ Slack this week, Amanda shared this link to the ever-outstanding Kelly Faircloth on Jezebel:

Men Are Apparently Adopting Ambiguous Pen Names to Sell Psychological Thrillers to Women

From Kelly’s write-up:

“…there is a huge market demand for psychological “Girl Who” thrillers, often featuring dead or missing women, written largely by women for female audiences. And the guys—and their publishers—want in.

Her source, a Wall Street Journal article with a truly cringetastic headline:

These Male Authors Don’t Mind if You Think They’re Women

Well, thank heavens, because you know I was worried about it.

Jessica Jones rolling her eyes mightily and dropping her head to her chest

The WSJ article is behind a paywall, but the salient details are also on The Guardian:

Riley Sager is a debut author whose book, Final Girls, has received the ultimate endorsement. “If you liked Gone Girl, you’ll love this,” Stephen King has said. But unlike Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girls, Luckiest Girl Alive and others, Final Girls is written by a man – Todd Ritter. This detail is missing from Riley Sager’s website which, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, refers to the author only by name and without any gender-disclosing pronouns or photographs. (His Twitter avatar is Jamie Lee Curtis.)

Ritter is not the first man to deploy a gender-neutral pen name. JP Delaney (real name Tony Strong) is author of The Girl Before, SK Tremayne (Sean Thomas) wrote The Ice Twins and next year, The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn (AKA Daniel Mallory) is published. Before all of these was SJ (AKA Steve) Watson, the author of 2011’s Before I Go to Sleep.

“Literally, every time I appear in print or public,” Watson says, someone asks about why he uses initials. It was his publisher’s decision to avoid an author photo and to render his biography non-gendered. He has never hidden, but when Before I Go to Sleep went on submission, editors emailed his agent and asked, “What is she like?” Watson found the mistake flattering.

Right, because with profit, they’re “okay” with you mistaking them for women.

I’m so relieved.

Never mind the incredible violence faced by, you know, actual transgender individuals.

Wow, did that entire reading experience leave me with side eye and a frown. There’s already plenty of barriers to entry within publishing if you’re not a white dude, so this was the news equivalent of rubbing a cat backwards from the tail to the shoulders.

This part of the WSJ article particularly rubbed Amanda the wrong way, as it did Kelly Faircloth. She wrote at Jezebel:

One of the authors featured has gone so far as to try on a bra so he didn’t make any obvious mistakes that might throw female readers out of the story. Wonder if he also gets the infuriating emails or the creepy DMs or the generally patronizing bullshit?

…Nevertheless, if only being a woman in, say, serious nonfiction or literary fiction were as straightforward as publishing under the name Steve.

Well, thank God the bra question was addressed.

Given that Elyse and Amanda both love thrillers, especially those that focus on women, they had a few things to say about this discovery.

Amanda: Since I just got Final Girls, I’m kind of bummed about this, Elyse.

Elyse: Dudes ruin everything.

Amanda: It’s weird how my excitement for the book just got sapped out of my body.

RedHeadedGirl: It’s one thing when women are exploring the things that make the world unsafe for us.

It a whole other thing when it’s men and since they are, you know, one of those things, it feels exploitative.

Elyse: THAT.

RedHeadedGirl: DUDES.


Sarah: Because Money.

Elyse: I guess I have two books to donate.

I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers written by men, and I have no issue with that. I think the reason this is squicky for me is that so many of the “Girl” mysteries deal with deep female POV, and that POV is often dealing with themes like toxic masculinity and gaslighting by men.

Sarah: The whole picking another name thing seems a lot like gaslighting.

Elyse: Yes. I have written about why I really love this new trend of female driven psychological thrillers. It’s reclaiming a genre that commodifies violence (often sexual) against women. It’s about female rage and about reclaiming our bodies. For me the genre works because it subverts the traditional narrative in a genre dominated by men.

Sarah: It’s a familiar feeling. An unpleasant one.

Amanda: Going back to RHG’s comment about women exploring things that make them feel unsafe, I’m skeptical of a man being able to accurately write a woman’s experience.

I’m not saying it can’t be done, but (as an example from the WSJ article) how is trying on a bra really going to get to the heart of the experience of living as a woman and having to factor in your own safety to your daily routine?

It all just feels like a gimmick to me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, given the amount of violence that often occurs against women at the hands of men.

Sarah:  And…cue the sound of us all nodding and grimacing as one.

I’ve been pondering this for the better part of a day, wondering if my reaction is outsized or uneven. For example, JK Rowling adopted the Galbraith pseudonym to write without the expectation and pressure that came with the Rowling surname on the cover. I get it.

These individuals masking their gender to sell thrillers, as RHG pointed out, feels exploitative, not because of the pseudonym, but because of the pseudonym and the subject matter of the genre – not to mention the politics of gender identity – in the exploitation and insecurity inherent in identifying as female.

That said, it is entirely possible that I’m cranky and there are much better uses for my ire and snarly energy.

What about you? Are you a thriller fan? What do you think? What’s your reaction?

Movie Review: Their Finest

Jul. 21st, 2017 08:00 am
[syndicated profile] smartbitches_feed

Posted by Carrie S

Their Finest is a British movie that had limited release in the USA. If, like me, you missed it in theaters, you can see it now on iTunes. This movie is slow and matter-of-fact but it snuck up on me and had me bawling my eyes out by the end. It’s billed as a romantic comedy, but due to a plot development near the end and a significant amount of tragedy it’s better described as a drama. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers, but here’s one I know none of you will mind:

There are two dogs in the movie, and they both end up fine. One of them ends up adopted by a strict but fond Helen McCory. We should all be so lucky.

Their Finest is a movie about a woman who makes a movie. Catrin, played by Gemma Arterton, gets a job helping to write a propaganda film (The Nancy Starling) in London during the Blitz. She’s supposed to provide the women’s touch on a film that, by order of the government, is to broadcast a sense of “authenticity and optimism.” Her co-worker, Buckley, is cynical and sexist but also very good at making a coherent story out of almost anything.

Buckley is played by Sam Claflin. Sam is one of the prettiest men ever to live, and as an actor he has perfected the art of wordlessly broadcasting intense and unrequited longing. It’s a relief that he spends the movie under an unfortunate, though period appropriate, mustache, as otherwise I would have spent the entire movie staring at him in a trance. He’s sardonic and bitter and funny and horrible and has fantastic chemistry with Gemma Atherton.

Catrin and Buckley typing side by side
Smart is Sexy!

Gemma plays Catrin, our heroine, and she is simply perfect. Whether she’s standing perfectly still or walking and talking very quickly across a set, she simultaneously broadcasts vulnerability and steeliness. In keeping with all opposites-attract type romances, Catrin and Buckley constantly look like they can’t decide whether to strangle one another or just start ripping off each other’s clothes in the middle of the office.

Back to the plot: Catrin meets middle-aged twin sisters, Rose and Lily, who took part in the evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk. They stole their drunken father’s boat, but never made it to Dunkirk because the engine gave out. They got a tow home from a bigger ship and took some of the soldiers from that (overcrowded) ship. One had a dog in his kit bag, and another, who was French, tried to kiss Lily.

Catrin brings this story, minus a few details, to the movie people, who are thrilled. “It has authenticity, optimism, AND A DOG!” one of them crows. Soon she and Buckley are writing non-stop as the Rose and Lily of The Nancy Starling become pretty young women, their abusive drunk father becomes a funny drunk uncle, a fictional love triangle forms around the fictional Rose, and the dog has a stirring action scene.

There’s just so much to unpack in this movie, which is quiet and slow (at about two hours, it felt like more) and restrained in the most British way but which tackles sexism, the war, grief, friendship between women, the creative process, the art and business of making movies, and some very nice hats. Helen McCrory does what she always does, namely takes a small role and simply walks away with the movie entirely. Bill Nighy promises Catrin that “Between you and I, we’ll have them weeping in the aisles” and then delivers on that promise. The whole cast has a chemistry which manages to progress from mass antagonism to a sense of comfortable familiarity. The actors who play actors combine certain narcissism with real warmth. When Bill Nighy sings a song with the line, “Will ye go lassie, go/and we’ll all go together,” to the cast, they feel like a real family, truly at ease with one another, and truly comforted during dangerous times by each other’s company.

Throughout is presence of war. Although this film is very funny in a deadpan way, I was surprised to see how many people have described it as a romantic comedy. It doesn’t have a romantic comedy ending, and anything funny transpires against a terrifying background. At one point Catrin has to literally step over corpses to get to her flat. “I’ll be alright after a cup of tea,” she tells her husband, only to be informed that the water main is out, a development that even the stoic Catrin cannot tolerate with equanimity. The making of The Nancy Starling is serious business that might affect the course of the war, and the war takes such a toll that at one point they fear that they’ve run out of enough people to finish it.

Towards the end of the movie, something happens that could make the viewer feel cheated. I felt shocked and sad, but not cheated, and here’s why:

  • The movie takes the time to follow through the ramifications of the event.
  • An arc has, for all intents and purposes, been resolved.
  • The movie has been hinting all along that all kinds of unforeseen events can and do happen, whether they be the result of bombs, guns, or, in one character’s case, being hit by a tram while on leave. Death is sudden and arbitrary. This is a theme all throughout the movie so when it causes a sudden tonal and plot twist, it feel both shocking and inevitable.

This movie was marketed as a romantic comedy, and up to a point it has the structure of one – very attractive people, the unappreciative husband, the witty banter, the chemistry, opposites attracting, etc. However, one of the running themes of the movie is that the movie within the movie keeps having different agendas and themes tacked on to it. The Nancy Starling is an action movie and a war movie, it’s a love story, it has comedy and tragedy, it’s meant to inspire America to join the war, and it’s meant to motivate the British to keep fighting. That’s not even a complete list of all the jobs that the poor Nancy Starling is expected to do. Through the writing of this film, Catrin is insistent that the film is, at its core, the story of Lily and Rose.

The Rose and Lily of the movie within the movie, piloting the boat
The fictional version of Rose and Lily

Similarly, Their Finest is marketed as a romantic comedy, but at its core it’s not the story of one couple or another. It’s consistently Catrin’s story. This means that while many characters undergo significant arcs, Catrin’s arc is the only one that matters and…

it requires her being alone for a while. Buckley dies so that from a character arc perspective we can see Catrin face being alone and independent instead of bouncing from one relationship to a volatile man to another. Basically he’s fridged for feminism.

The movie is also an ode to the women who kept Britain running during the war. They are paid less than men, they are resented and feared by men, and yet they are expected to manage the impossible. When Catrin finally goes to a screening of The Nancy Starling, she sits by an older woman who weeps copiously through the movie and explains that she’s seen it five times. “It’s our picture isn’t it?” she says, patting Catrin on the hand, “They’re our girls.”

I cried like a baby.

Their Finest is available for streaming/purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google:Play, & iTunes.

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Posted by SB Sarah

I almost titled this episode, “Same Library, Different Tastes.” While having dinner the other night, I was talking to Adam, my excellent spouse, about a series he was reading, and I realized we hardly ever talk about what he’s reading. I’ll go on for hours about what I’m reading (and I have!) but unless I’m asking him if he’d enjoy a book I just found, he doesn’t talk much about what he reads, and he reads a lot. So he made cocktails and I handed him a microphone, and we talked about it.

We don’t like any of the same things, but we both love reading. So I asked questions about his favorite series, books he’s enjoyed that I’ve successfully recommended (YES!), and what makes a narrative world appealing.  Adam likes to read fantasy, and he loves never-ending world building and deep nerdy dives into back story, so he’s a very avid and engaged reader. But he keeps most of it in his head. So I ask him nosy questions about that. We also discuss series and trilogies he loves, including Game of Thrones, Libriomancer, The Inheritance Trilogy, and a lot more – expect a big list of books.

Listen to the podcast →
Read the transcript →

Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

We also mentioned Elyse’s Bachelor and Bachelorette recaps.

And if you’d like to try it, here’s a recipe for Bee’s Knees, my new favorite cocktail.

And! The RWA Signing! July 29, 2017, from 3:00 – 5:00pm! 

Hundreds of romance authors in one place, and all proceeds of book sales go to literacy organizations. Some of your favorite authors are likely to be there, like Alyssa Cole, Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Julie James, Cecilia Tan, Beverly Jenkins, and Jill Shalvis. And, for the first time, I’ll be signing, too – yay!

The signing is at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Pacific Hall. Saturday, July 29th from 3-5pm. And if you come and find me (I’m in the Ws near the cashiers) and mention the podcast, I have a special sticker for you – if you’d like one.

Get all the details at:


If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes. You can also find us at PodcastPickle and on Stitcher, too. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

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What did you think of today's episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that's where you hang out online. You can email us at or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don't forget to give us a name and where you're calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

This Episode's Music

Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.

This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “La Caravane.”

You can find their two album set with Caravan Palace and Panic on Amazon and iTunes. And you can learn more about Caravan Palace on Facebook, and on their website.

Podcast Sponsor

This episode is brought to you by Too Scot to Handle by Grace Burrowes. This New York Times bestselling series with its “heartfelt emotions, humor and realistic, honest characters [is] a fan favorite,” raves RT Book Reviews.

In this second book of the Windham Brides series, Burrowes delights Regency romance readers once again with an irresistible rough-around-the-edges Scot who takes on saving an orphanage to win over the fiery, intelligent woman who captures his heart.

As a captain in the army, Colin MacHugh led men, fixed what was broken, and fought hard. Now that he’s a titled gentleman, he’s still fighting-this time to keep his bachelorhood safe from all the marriage-minded debutantes. Then he meets the intriguing Miss Anwen Windham, whose demure nature masks a bonfire waiting to roar to life. When she asks for his help to raise money for the local orphanage, he’s happy to oblige.

Anwen is amazed at how quickly Lord Colin takes in hand a pack of rambunctious orphan boys. Amazed at how he actually listens to her ideas. Amazed at the thrill she gets from the rumble of his Scottish burr and the heat of his touch. But not everyone enjoys the success of an upstart. And Colin has enemies who will stop at nothing to ruin him and anybody he holds dear.

As Tessa Dare puts it, “Grace Burrowes is a romance treasure.” Don’t miss Too Scot to Handle, on sale wherever books are sold this Tuesday, July 25th.

Transcript Sponsor

When It’s Real

Our podcast transcript is being brought to you by When It’s Real by #1 New York Times bestselling author Erin Watt.

A pop star. A regular girl. The world’s watching…

Wealth, fame and a real-life romance she never expected—seventeen-year-old Vaughn Bennett lands it all when she agrees to become a pop star’s fake girlfriend in this smart, utterly addictive novel.

School Library Journal calls it “a fast-paced, ‘he said, she said’ page-turner.” Kirkus Reviews writes: When It’s Real is “undeniable fun” and “a quintessential beach read.” You’ll fall head-over-heels in love with this electrifying and addictive new romance.

Under ordinary circumstances, Oakley Ford and Vaughn Bennett would never even cross paths.

There’s nothing ordinary about Oakley. This bad-boy pop star’s got Grammy awards, millions of fangirls and a reputation as a restless, too-charming troublemaker. But with his home life disintegrating, his music well suddenly running dry and the tabloids having a field day over his outrageous exploits, Oakley needs to show the world he’s settling down—and who better to help him than Vaughn, a part-time waitress trying to help her family get by? The very definition of ordinary.

Posing as his girlfriend, Vaughn will overhaul Oakley’s image from troublemaker to serious artist. In return for enough money to put her brothers through college, she can endure outlandish Hollywood parties and carefully orchestrated Twitter exchanges. She’ll fool the paparazzi and the groupies. She might even start fooling herself a little.

Because when ordinary rules no longer apply, there’s no telling what your heart will do…

You can find When It’s Real wherever books are sold.

Remember to subscribe to our podcast feed, find us on iTunes, via PodcastPickle, or on Stitcher.

making space to be creative

Jul. 20th, 2017 11:32 pm
[syndicated profile] wwdn_feed

Posted by Wil

One week and about ten hours ago, I decided to step away from Twitter for a little bit. The specific details aren’t important, and I suspect that many of you reading this now are already nodding in agreement because you grok why. But I took it off my phone, and I haven’t been to the website on my desktop since. For the first 48 hours, I spent a lot of time wondering if I was making a choice that mattered, and thinking about how I wasn’t habitually looking at Twitter every few minutes to see if I’d missed anything funny, or to see the latest bullshit spewing forth from President Fuckface’s mouthanus. I was, ironically, spending more time thinking about Twitter since I wasn’t using it than I spent thinking about it when I was.

It started out as a 24 hour break, then it was a 48 hour break, then it was the weekend, and here we are one week later and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything important. I feel like I’ve given myself more time to be quiet and alone, more time to reflect on things, and I’ve created space in my life to let my mind wander and get creative.

I’m not creating as much as I want to, and I’m starting to feel like maybe I’ll never be able to create as much as I want to, but I’ve gotten some stuff done this week that probably wouldn’t have gotten done if Twitter had been filling up the space that I needed.

Here’s a little bit from my blog post that became a short story that grew into a novella that is now a novel, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything:

My mother was leaning against her car, talking with one of the other moms, when we arrived. My sister was throwing a Strawberry Shortcake doll into the air and catching it while they watched. I walked out of the bus and across the blazing hot blacktop to meet her.

Willow, catch!” My sister cried, sending Strawberry Shortcake in a low arc toward me. I caught her without enthusiasm and handed her back. “You’re supposed to throw her to me!” Amanda said, demonstrating. Her doll floated in a lazy circle, arms and legs pinwheeling, before falling back down into my sister’s waiting arms. The writer in me wants to make a clever reference to how I was feeling at that moment, about how I could relate to Strawberry Fucking Shortcake, spinning out of control in the air above us, but it feels hacky, so I’ll just talk about how I wanted to make the reference without actually making the reference, thereby giving myself permission to do a hacky writer’s trick without actually doing it. See, there’s nothing tricky about writing, it’s just a little trick!

It’s still in the first draft, and I may not keep all or even any of it, but after putting it aside for months while I was depressed about too many things to look at it, it feels so good to be back into this story.

Oh, speaking of writing, I got notes back from the editors on my Star Wars 40th anthology submission. I thought that, for sure, they’d want me to rework a ton of it, but all they asked me to do is change a name! And they told me it was beautiful! So I’ve been feeling like a Capital-W Writer for a few days.

And speaking of feeling happy for a change, Hasbro and Machinima announced that I’m a voice in the next installment of the Transformers animated series, Titans Return. And it feels silly to care about this particular thing, but Daily Variety put my name in the headline, which made me feel really, really good.I’ve always felt like the only thing that should matter is the work, and that the work should be able to stand on its own … but that’s not the reality even a little bit. Daily Variety is the industry’s paper of record, so when it chooses to put you in the headline of a story, people pay attention and it matters in the way that can make the difference between getting called for a meeting, or the last ten years of my life as an actor.

It’s also a good reminder that, even if I’m not getting the opportunities I want to be an on-camera actor, it is entirely within my power to create the space I need to be a writer.


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