Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable
Posts tagged book reviews
Worst. Review. Ever.
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What I learned from my worst review

(this post is based on the Marketing for Romance Writers 52 Week Challenge)

Dudes. I have one published novel. You didn't think I was actually going to call out a particular review, did you? That way lies madness and possibly career suicide.

Here's what I know that I didn't know five months ago.

Don't. Read. Reviews.

Especially don't read early reviews. Good or bad, they will do nothing for your mental health. Nada.

Also don't respond to reviews, even those that totally missed the boat on what you were trying to convey. You don't know that reviewer. By putting a book out there, you are inviting people to read your book, but also you are inviting criticism. That's how it works.

So yeah. Stay away. No good can come, really, from reading reviews. If you must, get a trusted friend to vet them and send you the good ones. And recognize that you can't please everyone. What you think is earnest and heartfelt, may be silly or bitchy to someone else. Write your book truth, then go write another one.

Step away from the reviews.

New Feature!

clem-onojeghuo-400043 We're closing in on the home stretch here folks. And with any book launch comes...book reviews!

You guys, I got my first real review this week! And it was kind of awesome. The good folks at RT Book Reviews got ahold of The Pick Up, and I think they kinda liked it!

"Temple’s debut is a slice-of-life romance firmly rooted in the small town and domestic. Full of snippets of family life and dinner conversations between friends, The Pick Up is cozy and sweet, and the developing relationship between a parent and teacher contains compelling psychological realism. It’s well written, although at times its wholehearted embrace of the quotidian felt like it needed a bit of spicing up. This is the first in the Up Red Creek series. Readers are sure to enjoy it for its lovable cast of characters and sheer heart."

And because good news should be shared, I've set up a review page, so we can share the love! If you read The Pick Up and love it, tag me, so I can boost you and your kind words in the process!

This is your friendly reminder that The Pick Up is out March 5, but if you pre-order the e-copy it from Riptide now, you'll get it 48 hours early!

 

 

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#tbt review: Wolfsong by TJ Klune

#tbt reviews is a periodic feature in which I gush about a book I finally got off my TBR pile. I don't read fast enough to review new releases. This is what you get. 29233804

I often don't realize how much enjoyment I get from a book is determined by random circumstance.

TJ Klune is new to me. I've been suffering from were- and shifter fatigue for a long (LONG) time. In many circumstances, I wouldn't have picked up Wolfsong, much less devoured it in two days. But sometimes things come together in the perfect circumstantial storm.

Circumstance 1: It was on sale on Amazon.

Circumstance 2: I couldn't sleep.

I read the first third of Wolfsong at 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I couldn't sleep after a freak storm tore up three trees in my parents' yard and made noises like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park while it tried to blow rain and wind through the seals on our door.

Turns out that shit's scary.

Wolfsong is happy and sad, lyrical and tragic, and also occasionally scary. It's a great 2 a.m. read.

What's it about?

Ox is just Ox. He's just a guy. Not very smart, not great at words or friends or (really) self-esteem.

Joe is a werewolf. Maybe that's a spoiler, but you can probably guess from the cover and the blurb. Joe loves Ox, Ox loves Joe, but it takes a long time and a lot of angst for them to get there.

Angsting gay werewolves at 2 a.m. is my jam, just so you know. Actually, it was more like 5 a.m. by the time I got to the really good angsty bits, but still...my jam. When Joe finally professed his love, I cried. Hard. I'm a sucker for that kind of thing.

There's pack. There's love. There's violence and blood and heartache. It's all told from Ox's simple, honest point of view. I'm not usually one for first person narration. I usually like both my romantic leads to have a chance to tell their story too. The narrator's voice has to be really clear and grounded for a single first person POV to work, but when it works it sings.

Wolfsong sings.

If you ask Joe, Ox smells like candy canes and pine cones, and like epic and awesome. It sounds silly, but it's so right in the rhythm of the narrative that I'd get it printed on a t-shirt and wear it just to see who notices and comes to gush with me.

In the meantime, I bought the audiobook, just to double down on the experience. Kirt Graves' narration is also epic and awesome. Tragically, it has no discernible scent.

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#tbt Reviews - Top 100 Romance Novels

book-1760998_1920 Sometimes I feel like I came to romance novels late. I didn't have an older sister who would sneak me her battered dog eared books when our mom wasn't looking. My friends were more likely to read Tolkien. I went straight from reading Nancy Drew and the Babysitters Club to epic fantasy and then I lived there for a long time.

I didn't actually pick up my first romance novel until I was probably 27 or 28. I didn't even know it was a romance novel. It promised me vampires and I was still riding the Twilight wave (I know, I know. We'll talk about that some other day. Along with the time I had to buy the complete series of 50 Shades of Grey, even though I've never read it to this day). I bought what I thought was a vampire novel, and by page 50 there were blow jobs, and by page 178 I was hooked.

All this to say that Goodreads published their list of Top 100 Romance Novels and I have read exactly 24. Not a stellar record, but not bad given my late start. If you're looking for well vetted titles, I have a few recommendations.

Twenty-four books is lot. I'm not going to review them all here. A few (like Wallbanger which I really liked) were also in this earlier post of best rom coms. Some, while I did read them, I honestly just don't remember well. But there's enough here to keep you going through the our long winter nights.

Beyond the Highland Mist, Karen Marie Moning

743599KMM is my homegirl. Okay, we don't actually know each other, but I love almost everything of hers. Her Fever series consumed my life when I read them, and if you like urban fantasy, dark broody alpha heroes, and slow burn (seriously slow. I'm still not 100% sure they're really together), read that series now.

If you like slightly more traditional romances, the highlander series is lovely. I like the later instalments with the Keltar men, but might as well start at the beginning and bask in all the tartan, no?

 

The Bride, Julie Garwood

107779This one, along with Julia Quinn's The Duke and I, is like historical romance 101. Sadly, I still haven't read The Duke and I. But I did read this one! It has all the tropes. Misunderstood youngest daughter. Highland laird. He wants her. She doesn't want to want him, but maybe she does, just a little. We all know what's going to happen, but it's all so frigging sweet I bought in before the end of chapter 3!

 

 

 

Cut and Run, Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

5199022I've already talked about Ty and Zane. I talked about this exact book in fact. But I love there are queer romances on Goodreads' list, and I'm still working through my re-read of this series. The first instalment is still problematic from a writing perspective. There are too many adverbs. Too much lip licking. The plot doesn't follow anything approaching convention. But Ty and Zane are so compelling as partners, as lovers, as men and ultimately, as characters, that I can't tell you enough to read this series.

 

 

Dark Lover, J.R. Ward

42899The Black Dagger Brotherhood were not my gateway to vampire romances, but they followed close on the heels of that initiation. Yes, the language is a little goofy (everyone talks like a gangster). The spelling is weird (there are names like Rhage, Zsadist, Tohrment and well....you get the idea). But the sex is hot, the writer is committed to her world building, and there's enough angst in later instalments to keep me engaged. Also, Dark Lover refers to its hero as being so ripped it looks like he's hiding paint rollers under his t-shirt, and I live for descriptors like that.

 

 

Fallen Too Far, Abbi Glines

16070903I'm getting older every day, and that means I struggle with NA as a genre more and more all the time. But Fallen Too Far hits all the buttons that used to keep my nerdy epic fantasy-reading teenage self awake at night thinking about boys, for better or worse. Hardworking girl with no allies left in the world catches the eye of the hot bad boy, toils away like a Disney princess until the hot bad boy is finally won over by her innate goodness, love follows. 15-year-old me is salivating. Also, just go ahead and buy the sequel up front, because this book ends on a giant cliffhanger and you're going to want to know what happens next.

 

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell Don't read this. I mean you can. I love the story. But I can't get through it. There are just too many damn words. I feel bad as both a reader and a writer to say it, but there it is. Thank god they don't make 'em like they used to.

giphyDo, however, watch the BBC mini-series. It's 4 hours. It always seems to be on Netflix. It features Richard Armitage in a stiff collar, standing in a snowy courtyard, begging the woman he loves to look back at him as her carriage pulls away. Also, there's a young Brendan Coyle in a pre-Downton Abbey role, but we're all here for Richard Armitage.

Promises, Marie Sexton

7493186This is the first gay romance I ever read and it will be one of my favourites forever. It's contemporary romance at its best. Matt and Jared are just guys. There are no vampires. No bad boys.  No serial killers. No tartan. Just two people trying to find their way to love. I don't even know what else to say, besides read this book.

 

 

 

 

So there's seven recommendations for the next time you are looking for something old-but-new-to-you to read. Like all lists, I would debate some of the winners, and some of my favourites aren't there. What about you? How many of the hundred have you read? What's not on the list that should be?

9/100 Must-Read Romantic Comedies?

There was a bit of stink lately on Twitter about whether or not Romantic Comedies were a different genre from Romance, and whether or not one had more value than the other. I didn't catch the whole debate, but I think the argument was that romantic comedies show people working through their differences to come to a happy ending, while romances are just about who can get out of their corset faster. Ah, the age old debate between plot and smut. To which I say..

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All this to say, the folks at BookRiot put together a list of the 100 Best Romantic Comedies. Whether this is part of the romance vs romantic comedy debate, or whether it's just a well timed post, is TBD.

100 books is a lot though, and maybe you're one of those people who can pin a list of 100 books and work your way diligently through it. I am not one of those people. If you suffer from a tiny attention span like yours truly, I thought I'd post a condensed and vetted list from the top 100, so you know where to focus your attention (and where not to).

51tkhnogrml-_sx319_bo1204203200_Beautiful Bastard, Christina Lauren

This book makes me a liar when I say smut and plot can co-exist. This book. What can I say? I like smut for smut's sake, but this one's just not very funny. From the moment he starts groping her in chapter one and she goes with the "I don't want him, but my nipples are hard, so let's bang anyway" trope, to the moment in chapter three where she refers to her "power panties", I was confused, then horrified, then just plain old pissed. I could write a whole rant about this book and I only read the first three chapters, but I think you get where I'm going here. Maybe it's an enjoyable read under different circumstances, but at a minimum, I can't see how it can be considered a comedy.

bridget

Bridget Jones' Diary, Helen Fielding

I read this when it first came out. That was a while ago. I was still in high school, so I wasn't really the target demographic. I didn't much like Bridget, or either of her apparent suitors. And now that I'm a smug married, I'd probably still find it narcissistic and boring. The movie though, is still adorable. It (mostly) marks the end of Hugh Grant's era as a bumbling stammering heart throb, and of course has Colin Firth as (the other) Darcy. If you need a Bridget in your life, go for the film version.

51bn4gnyjjlLove Lessons, Heidi Cullinan

Heidi's one of the main reasons I started reading m/m romance, so her books in general have a special place in my heart. Love Lessons is definitely one of those books you should judge by its cover, mostly because the cover is gorgeous, and so are Kelly and Walter. There are Disney princes, deep dish pizza, and just enough angst to keep it all humming together nicely! I have some reservations about NA as a genre, but this is one of the exceptions where I'll overlook some of my hang ups and just enjoy the ride.

51avbg4fkwlMuch Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare

Truth, I probably haven't ever actually read Much Ado. We read mostly about dead kings (fictional and otherwise) when we did Shakespeare in high school. But the 1993 film version with Kenneth Brannagh is just about the perfect movie (the actual perfect movie shows up later in this list). The cast is impeccable. You've got Denzel Washington's swagger! Michael Keaton's Dogberry's pathetically earnest bumbling! When this first came out, I had an epic crush on Robert Sean Leonard. As an adult, Emma Thompson's "were I a man" speech is heartbreaking. At any age, the scene in the garden (you know which one) is hilarious.

northangerNorthanger Abbey, Jane Austen

This is by far Jane's (she lets me call her Jane) breeziest novel, but still one of my favourites. Catherine Morland is me and I am her, once she gets to Northanger Abbey. I am totally the girl who thinks the only reasonable explanation for why my cat is staring at nothing late at night is because he can see the ghosts I can't. Catherine and I would totally be BFFs.

 

the-duke-and-iThe Duke and I, Julia Quinn

Ok, ok. I know the Bridgertons are like Romance Novel 101, but I have never finished this book. And that's a tragedy, because the parts I have read are adorable and hilarious and I want to read so many of the others in the series, but I feel compelled to read series in order. I blame my public library for this; The Duke and I always has an extensive waiting list, which means I can only have it for three weeks at a time with no renewals and, as I've posted before, I'm not the fastest reader in the world. I've finally borrowed a friend's dog eared copy. I'm optimistic that I'll finish it this time!!

princess-brideThe Princess Bride, William Goldman

We've all seen the movie, right? If you haven't, close your browser now and go watch it. Seriously. Go!!! It is, in my mind, the Perfect Movie. Every time I watch it, I'm all "this is the best scene!!" then three minutes later I'm all "NO! This is the Best Scene!!!". Never get involved in a land war in Asia!! I'm not a witch, I'm your wife!!! MLTs!!! But the book is a masterpiece of its own. The annotations! The parentheses! This is after stew, but then again, everything is after stew. The book is satire and romance and everything else, and most people don't even know it exists. So once you're done watching the movie, read this book.

sweetest-thingThe Sweetest Thing, Jill Shalvis

Jill Shalvis's blog is a really sweet and human chronicle of day to day antics in the high Sierras. It features klutzy women, alpha men, and more than a dog or two. Her books are similar. I read a review once that said there's not much tension in the "will they or won't they" of Shalvis's main characters, but they're just so darn likeable that it really doesn't matter. I think this is a fair summation of the early Lucky Harbor books for sure. I like the third instalment (Head over Heels. Two words: shower sex) better, but they're all pretty cute.

wallbangerWallbanger, Alice Clayton

So obviously this story started out as a cute plot bunny. What if a woman with an orgasmic dry spell winds up living next to a...well...noisy neighbour? We know how this is going to end. The book is 300 pages of verbal foreplay, which is basically where I live as a writer and a human being so, yeah. It gets a big thumbs up from me, even if the writer seems a little too pleased with her banter sometimes. We all have our demons.

So there you go. The nine of the hundred best rom coms that I have read (or seen, or am currently reading, or tried to read) and can recommend to you, or caution you against.

How about you? What was missing from the big list? Any titles that should have made the cut? Of the other 91 titles that I haven't read, where should I start first?

#tbt Review - Hard Time, Cara McKenna

19091520I read a lot of older books. Not old books. Not Dickens or Melville (not often anyway). Just stuff that's not currently on the new releases page at Amazon. My TBR pile's enormous and I'm not much of a spender, so I'm constantly trying to catch up on stuff I already own. I've never gotten close to clearing the queue. I blame my writing habit for taking up my free time. Also my full time job that limits my available reading hours. So I've decided to introduce #tbt reviews, and maybe you'll find a few oldie but goodie titles to add to your gigantic TBR pile.

So Hard Time. Published in 2014. I actually read this one not long after it came out, but I re-read it recently and I'm inspired to gush.

The first time, I read Hard Time in a day. It was the kind of reading where you open up the first page, and suddenly it's three hours and 100 pages later and dinner's cold and it's bedtime, but you stay up for another hour anyway, even though you'll be wrecked in the morning. And then you read it over breakfast, squeezing every last possible second out of your coffee because you have to leave for work, but the foreplay...

OMG the FOREPLAY!!! He writes her letters!!!

All I can do is watch your mouth. I watch your lips and I think about kissing you, when I'm alone at night...Sometimes I watch your hands...I watch your hands and I imagine them...on me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a second.

The premise: Annie's a librarian recently moved to Michigan. She's in a romantic and sexual dry spell after her last boyfriend turned out to be a nasty drunk who never learned you don't hit girls. Part of her new job involves outreach at the local correctional facility. That's where she meets Eric, an inmate with a learning disability and a penchant for writing the most smoulderingly hot where's-my-chardonnay letters to poor lonely Annie.

Let's be honest. This book should not work. Lonely librarian. Felon with a sensitive side. Sexy pen pals. This book should die a lonely death on Cliche Hill.

But holy moly it works. I've actually even referred to it in other reviews on Goodreads. "For a better book on how to write sexy pen pals, try Hard Time by Cara McKenna." Yeah, you heard me.

So why does it work? A couple things stood out to me on this second read.

1. Eric's a believable as both a bad boy and a romantic

Bad boys are a thing in romance, I get that. But badly written bad boys are a massive pet peeve of mine. Either they're alpha douchebags who are apparently attractive for being uncaring of their woman's feelings but dynamite in bed, or else they're not really bad boys at all, just guys with labels and improbably huge vocabularies*.

Eric's a blue collar (at best) guy, and while his letters to Annie are Amazing with a Capital A, they're remarkably sweet and simple. He knows he's not much of a catch. He gives her an out at the end of every letter. But he has wants, he expresses them. Simply. He's not crude, but he also wouldn't know purple prose if it bit him in his well defined abs. And after he's released, he expresses everything, from his relationship with his family to his desire for Annie, in the same blunt way.  He doesn't want to be anything more than just a man who loves Annie and tries to do right by his family, and that makes him a well realized character in my opinion. Sometimes less is more.

And the other reason this book works is...

2. Annie's a real person with a sex drive

So the premise is that Annie hasn't had any interest in sex or being with a man since she left her previous relationship. That condition clears itself up right quick after Eric starts writing to her. You could argue that this is another example of a damaged woman being healed by the power of her man's magic love wand, but we've already covered that this book isn't going to die on Cliche Hill. And once Annie's sex drive wakes up, it feels fully awake in a human way. She's got some fantasies about dark brooding Eric doing dark brooding things to her, but he's really much happier when things are all sweet and mushy between them, and they have to work to find a balance. She buys her underwear at the Gap. She talks about masturbation. She's just like a real person!!

So lonely librarian. Romantic ex-con. Actual human beings with actual human feelings and preferences. That stuff's like catnip for me. If you missed it the first time around, take this #tbt recommendation and go back and read it now.

Here's some links to help you out:

Amazon

iTunes

*seriously. I tried to read another bad boy romance recently, but he kept saying things like "her mouth was hot and velvet as I caressed her with my tongue. We explored each other lazily" even though he had admitted chapter 1 he could barely read. So he's a drop out with a Regency lexicon? I chucked that offering out the window.