Stacking the Shelves (372)

Stacking the Shelves

Welcome to the final STS post of 2019. Come to think of it, this is the final STS post of the entire decade.

This is a weird week – in more ways than one. Yes, it was Xmas and now we’re in the doldrums between Xmas and New Year’s. You know, that time when even the folks who have to go to work don’t do much more than pretend to get shit done. I’m saying that from the perspective of someone who worked mostly behind the scenes. Front-facing positions never get to pretend.

But those doldrums mean that not much is being put up on NetGalley or Edelweiss and not much that’s requested is being approved. With both holidays on Wednesday, you’d think there wouldn’t be much going on in the publishing world at all.

Except for the WTF’ery in Romancelandia. The Romance Writers of America stepped in sh*t so hard that they may not survive the blowback of the feces hitting the oscillating device. If you’ve been fortunate enough to miss the story of the shenanigans, here’s a different link from yesterday’s to the continuing saga, this time to File 770.

Which led directly to both yesterday’s review and the purchase of the Brothers Sinister “box set” by Courtney Milan. (Mine are ebooks so no actual box.) And Audible had a sale. And I picked up some short stuff to finish out the year and then got other short stuff because the first short stuff was so damn good. And the December Amazon First Reads freebie.

So many books, so little time, as always. Happy Holidays!

For Review:
Mark of Eon (Eon Warriors #5) by Anna Hackett

Purchased from Amazon/Audible:
Alice Payne Rides (Alice Payne #2) by Kate Heartfield
The Brothers Sinister: The Complete Boxed Set by Courtney Milan
The Darwin Affair by Tim Mason (audio)
The Fire Opal Mechanism (Gemworld #2) by Fran Wilde
The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Gemworld #1) by Fran Wilde (review)
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
The Toll by Cherie Priest (audio)
Toward the Midnight Sun by Eoin Dempsey

Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

Review: The Governess Affair by Courtney MilanThe Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Brothers Sinister #0.5
Pages: 96
Published by Courtney Milan on April 21st 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes &

She will not give up. Three months ago, governess Serena Barton was let go from her position. Unable to find new work, she's demanding compensation from the man who got her sacked: a petty, selfish, swinish duke. But it's not the duke she fears. It's his merciless man of business -- the man known as the Wolf of Clermont. The formidable former pugilist has a black reputation for handling all the duke's dirty business, and when the duke turns her case over to him, she doesn't stand a chance. But she can't stop trying -- not with her entire future at stake.He cannot give in.Hugo Marshall is a man of ruthless ambition -- a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner's son to the right hand man of a duke. When his employer orders him to get rid of the pestering governess by fair means or foul, it's just another day at the office. Unfortunately, fair means don't work on Serena, and as he comes to know her, he discovers that he can't bear to use foul ones. But everything he has worked for depends upon seeing her gone. He'll have to choose between the life that he needs, and the woman he is coming to love... The Governess Affair is a novella of about 32,500 words.

My Review:

Courtney Milan is an author who has been highly recommended to me on multiple occasions. After reading The Governess Affair I certainly understand why.

This wasn’t quite what I expected based on the blurb – but in a good way. I haven’t been reading as much romance as I used to, particularly historical romance, because the characters and the situation have become increasingly difficult to identify with. Love may conquer a lot, but it doesn’t conquer ALL.

Heroines with agency often feel anachronistic, while heroines without agency just aren’t worth bothering with.

But The Governess Affair was an extremely pleasant surprise. Heroine Serena Barton has grabbed her agency with both hands and is hanging onto it as if it is her only hope – because it is. Even though the deck is stacked high against her from the very beginning, she never lets go. At the same time the way that she takes that agency feels like it fits into her time and place. Because what she is demanding is her due in that time and place – no more and no less.

The hero, Hugo Marshall, is every bit as fascinating because he’s the kind of person that we know must have existed but doesn’t usually find himself the hero of a romance. He’s not particularly handsome. Not that he’s ugly either, just that he’s relatively ordinary.

He’s definitely not an aristocrat. In fact, the aristocrat is the villain of this piece and deservedly so.

Instead, Hugo Marshall works for a living. Admittedly he begins the story as the villainous aristocrat’s “fixer”, but it is definitely work. Hugo’s not striving for a life of idle luxury, just enough money and contacts to stake himself in business. He’s ambitious, hard-working and just plain hard. (Take that wherever your imagination wants to go)

But Serena has made herself a problem for Hugo’s employer. It’s Hugo’s job to eliminate his employer’s problems – one way or another.

He doesn’t resort to murder. It’s not that kind of problem elimination. Hugo’s usual methods are payoffs and ruination.

The problem is that Serena doesn’t want a small payoff because it won’t be enough to fix HER problems. And he really can’t ruin her because his employer has already done that.

And Hugo discovers that he can’t bring himself to do it again – no matter how much his own future rides on the outcome.

Escape Rating A-: I’ve had this book in my virtually towering TBR pile for almost seven years. It zoomed to the top of that rather large pile this week when the news of the dumpster fire at the Romance Writers of America broke on Xmas Eve. It’s a story of WTF’ery, of tone policing, of organizational idiocy, of having no clue about the way that social media works on the eve of 2020, and of trying to lock the barn door after the horse has gone while attempting to pretend that there was never a horse in the first place AND blaming the jockey for raising the alarm about the missing equine. A brief summary – with documents – can be found at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. The TL;DR version is that RWA officially blamed an author of color for calling out racism in the industry and pretty much the entire industry except the pearl-clutchers clapped back. HARD. Courtney Milan is the author blamed for calling out her own experience. So I wanted to send love both in the form of a review of something I had already purchased and the purchase of something new.

Which led to a deep dive into that TBR stack to see what I had on tap. And this is one of the things I had, the prequel novella in her Brothers Sinister series (The entire rest of the series was the purchase of something new). And it was a lovely read.

As is obvious from my comments above the rating, I liked both Serena and Hugh very much. And I’m saying that even though Serena’s predicament isn’t one I usually have much interest in reading about. Because the story isn’t ABOUT her pregnancy. It’s about her taking her future in her own hands and standing up for her own self in a society that expects her to do neither.

And I loved her internal voice, that she’s standing up NOW because she didn’t stand up then. She gave up her own voice once and it cost her dearly. She refuses to do it again – no matter what follows.

I found the relationship between her and her sister Freddy fascinating on multiple levels, and not just because Freddy clearly has agoraphobia. The way that the sisters love each other, support each other and have absolutely no understanding of each other all at the same time feels so real. I identify with Serena’s position completely while still being able to see where Freddy is coming from – even knowing that she would drive me bonkers too.

Hugh’s aspirations and his work ethic make him a different kind of hero for a story set in England in the immediate post-Regency period. The only member of the aristocracy we really see is Hugh’s employer, who is essentially the rotter that kicks off the whole story. He doesn’t get nearly as much as he deserves. What I loved about the story is that, at least in Hugh’s internal voice, the glitter of the Regency is exposed for the sham it was – or at least the sham the “nobility” were.

The romance between Serena and Hugh is an enemies into lovers romance that sparkles with wit and banter. They fall in love by talking to each other with both of their keen intellects on display at every turn.

I also loved the way that Hugh helped Serena get past her trauma. The sensitivity of that scene reminded me very much – and very favorably – of a similar occurrence in Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match.

The end of The Governess Affair is a teaser for the first complete novel in the Brothers Sinister series, The Duchess War. And at the end of my reading of The Governess Affair, while I decry the reason I found myself hunting this book up, I’m glad that I finally did.

Ebook Review Central, Carina Press, June 2012

Before I get into this month’s features, let’s talk about the 2012 RITA Awards. I swear it’s on topic.

The 2012 RITA Award Winner for Contemporary Single Title Romance, announced July 28, 2012 by the Romance Writers of America, was Boomerang Bride by Fiona Lowe, published by Carina Press in August 2011. Congratulation to Fiona Lowe, to her editor Charlotte Herscher and to her publisher Carina Press.

An ebook-only title won. The other nominated books, worthy contenders all, were traditionally published print books. I can only say, “Wow” or maybe shout, “WOW!”

But this is the Ebook Review Central issue for Carina Press’ June 2012 titles. Not that basking in the glory of that RITA win isn’t terrific. So, let’s fast forward to June and take a look at the newer titles. Maybe there’s a RITA winner in there, too.

The big winner, and the number one featured title, is Shannon Stacey’s Slow Summer Kisses. Even though this title isn’t in her Kowalski series (more Kowalskis starting in September!) that didn’t seem to matter to her fans. This novella, available separately and as part of the Carina Press Editors Choice Volume 1, contains all the hallmarks of a signature Stacey contemporary romance. Anna Frazier and Cameron Mayfield have been involved with each other before, and they have a second chance, not just at love, but also a do-over at life. The question is whether or not they’ll take it. If you like contemporary romance at all, give Shannon Stacey a try. You’ll be glad you did.

Book number two this week is The Ravenous Dead by Natasha Hoar. There are two things to understand about this book. It is straight-up urban fantasy, and not paranormal romance. Carina Press does branch out into genres other than romance, and The Ravenous Dead, and its predecessor in The Lost Ones series, The Stubborn Dead, reflect that branching. Speaking of the series, read the first book first; backstory for this tale of the Order of Rescue Mediums is required. And it was excellent in its own right. Rachel Miller, the main character and member of that Order of Rescue Mediums, doesn’t just see dead people, she gets the stubborn ones to ease on down the road to wherever it is they go next. The ones that really, really don’t want to go can get pretty nasty. Like trying-to-consume-the-medium nasty. Very dark magic requires very big rescue. Sounds like fun.

Coming in third this week, and appropriately so, is His Heart’s Obsession by Alex Beecroft. Third is ironically appropriate for this title because the story itself is about a love triangle. Three for three. What’s different about this particular triangle is that it takes place during the Age of Sail, the late 1700s, and that all three sides to this triangle are men serving in the British Royal Navy. Two Lieutenants, one Captain. Both of the junior officers are gay in an era when being found out would get them, not just cashiered out of the service they love, but killed in disgrace. The Captain is straight, and has no idea that one of his Lieutenants harbors an unrequited and totally unfulfillable passion for him. And the other LT? He’s in love with his fellow junior officer, a man who thinks he’s a privileged ass. A lot happens in this novella to turn this situation around to the real possibilities. Beecroft is know for his historical accuracy in addition to his ability to tug heartstrings and craft believable characters.

Any month where Shannon Stacey has a book, it’s really easy to figure out which title is number one. Which means that September, October and November probably already have  one slot taken, since that’s when the three new Kowalski books are coming out. I’m really looking forward to them!

Picking numbers two and three is often a horse-race. There are always a few books with close numbers of reviews and ratings. Take a look at the list and see if you can spot the runner-up. Leave your guesses in the comments, just for fun.

That’s this week’s feature. Congratulations again to Fiona Lowe and Carina Press on the RITA win!

Be sure to come back next week for Dreamspinner Press’ June 2012 titles. It will be a big list!

Hot Buttons Popping : RWI, RWA, RRW and LGBTQ writing contest discrimination

In many romance novels there’s a scene where one party rips open the other party’s shirt, and there are buttons popping all over the place. The last few days have been just like that in the Romance Publishing world, but so far, no one is heading towards the usual steamy sex scene.

But there is so much steam that even Publishers Weekly noticed. LGBTQ authors were steamed to discover that after several years of doing quite well in the “More Than Magic” contest sponsored each year by Romance Writers Ink (RWI), the Oklahoma Chapter of Romance Writers of America (RWA), same sex romances were specifically disqualified from competing in the 2012 contest. The reason given was that “some members of the chapter felt ‘uncomfortable’ with the same-sex entries.”

The information about this discomfort was revealed in an impassioned message that Heidi Cullinan, the President of the Rainbow Romance Writers (RRW), posted on her personal blog. The Rainbow Romance Writers are a Special Interest Chapter of the RWA.

The Rainbow Romance Writers specialize in LGBT romance. It says so right there on their home page. Romance Writers Ink states their own purpose, quoted from their website, as:

The purpose of RWI is to promote excellence in romantic fiction, to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy, to provide a general basis of mentorship to any writer who is actively, and seriously striving to become published and thus establish a career in the romance genre, as well as to provide a camaraderie for writers within the romance publishing industry.

Disqualifying an entire group of career-focused romance writers because they write same-sex romance seems to run counter to this charter.

Probably as a result of the attention brought to bear on this issue, RWI has cancelled the 2012 contest. This is a loss for everyone involved. Contests like this are one of the ways that genre authors (any genre), gain recognition. Being able to say that their book won a contest represents a terrific sales boost. There had to have been a better way.

Speaking of contests and sales boosts, what about the Romance Writers of America? Because the RWA contains special interest chapters like Rainbow Romance Writers and the Chick Lit Writers of the World, the RWA does not police the guidelines for any contests its chapters might choose to have. After all, the Chick Lit chapter does only admit Chick Lit, and asking them to allow anything else would just be, well, weird. On the other hand, expecting a general chapter like Romance Writers Ink, which is not a special interest group, to accept all forms of romance seems reasonable to most readers.

Which comes back the Romance Writers of America. There are no categories in the RITAs (their annual awards) for same-sex romances. There is a category for Young Adult romances, and there is one for Inspirational Romances. Why Inspirational gets its own category but same-sex doesn’t is a head-shaker to me.

I’m not a member of any of the organizations involved, not RWA or RWI or RRW. So why do I care?

First. I publish Ebook Review Central. I cover several LGBTQ publishers. I cover those publishers because their books are popular. ERC is not about my personal taste, and it never has been. It’s always been about promoting ebooks, about what is getting read, what is interesting to readers, and also what my fellow librarians have a difficult time finding reviews for.

Second. Awards and Contests matter. It’s difficult to get started as an author, and incredibly hard to keep going. The kind of recognition represented by winning a contest means increased sales every time a reader sees the list of award winners, and every time an agent or a publisher sees an author’s list of credits. Being automatically disqualified because of the genre one chooses to write in is just plain wrong.

Third. Romance is already stigmatized. We have enough problems without creating internal ghettos. Let’s stop poking sticks at each other.

Fourth and most important. Prejudice hurts everyone. Always.

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