Ridley's Reign of Terror

An ice hockey fan from north of Boston and the genre’s most beloved troll, Ridley enjoys reading contemporary and historical romance, as well as the odd erotica novel. As someone who uses a wheelchair, she takes a particular interest in disability themes.

Phantom Waltz by Catherine Anderson

Phantom Waltz - Catherine Anderson

Originally posted at Love in the Margins.


If you know me at all, your heart just skipped a beat when you saw the title for this review. For years I have told anyone who would listen, and a few who wouldn’t, that this was the worst portrayal of disability I have ever read. Of the dozens of romances I have read featuring disabled main characters, I’ve run across many more misses than hits. Only this book, though, has made me too angry to review it.


Over three years of trying to read this book to give it the sound thrashing it deserves, I’ve never been able to sit down and read straight through. Every time I’ve tried, I’d want to Tweet something off every page I read. The patronizing fuckery is thick on the ground in this book, and all that Tweeting and blockquote collecting makes for a slow read. As a result, I’ve read this book the way children of the 80s and 90s watched movies on TV – in little chunks here and there over a long stretch of time.

Because I didn’t read this book in the conventional way, I’m not going to review it conventionally. Instead I offer you:


Eight Easy Steps For Writing An Offensive Portrayal of Disability

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Hot Knight in Paradise

Hot Knight in Paradise - Sofia Harper This was an enjoyable, category-style read with a tight plot and fun setting. The writing was flat and confusing at times, but not enough to diminish my enjoyment too much.Full review posted at Love in the Margins.

Veiled Desire

Veiled Desire - Alisha Rai Originally posted at Love in the Margins.Leyla Karimi can’t help herself. If her smoking-hot neighbor’s going to walk around in his underwear with no blinds in the windows while she’s sitting on her back patio one night after work, well, she’s just going to go ahead and watch. Nevermind that Dr. Mason Barrett is four years her junior and her younger brother’s best friend. She’s just going to look with her eyes, not with her hands. No harm, no foul, right?Only problem is that Dr. Hottie’s noticed his audience, and he’s not about to forget anytime soon. He’d believed his crush on his buddy’s sister wasn’t reciprocal and that she saw him as a little brother. Now that he’s seen her watching him with hungry eyes, everything’s changed. And he’s about to make his move.First things first, I guess. I’m friendly with this author on Twitter and she gave me a copy of this book and a couple others. I started following her after reading a few of her books and liking her voice and the way she writes multicultural romance. Rai writes stories with characters from many different backgrounds without making a plot point out of it. They are what they are, and that’s that. In a genre where characters from marginalized populations are often used as teachable moments, I find this sort of multiculturalism refreshing.So anyways, the book. Veiled Desire is an erotic novella packing equal amounts of heat and romance. It’s a friends-to-lovers story, so the conflict is of the “is this worth the threat of losing this friendship” and “her brother is totally gonna freak out” variety. It’s not a terribly stiff conflict, but it’s just right for the story length. They acknowledge their mutual desire, they act on it, they discover sexual compatibility, and then they ride off to the promise of the condomless sex of HEA. It’s really all I could ask of an erotic novella.I really enjoyed the way Rai handled Leyla’s sexuality. Due to some mixture of growing up in an Iranian family and being busy with work and family responsibilities as an adult, she’s a 31 year old woman who’s had only one sexual partner. Despite this inexperience, she has full control of her sexuality. She masturbates, owns vibrators and knows what she likes. While out to dinner with Mason she whispers into his ear, “I want to do that to you. When we’re done here, I just want to get you alone and watch you come for me.” Leyla is a grown-up woman with a grown-up’s understanding of her sexuality. Mason may be more experienced, but they hook up as equals. It was satisfying to read an erotic romance where a heroine’s inexperience isn’t fetishized.Unfortunately, some of the sex was a no for me. I found their first hookup kind of too much, too fast and there’s some food sex involving chocolate cheesecake and a nipple. But one scene in particular kind of bothered me. In it, Mason has penetrated Leyla without a condom. When she objects, saying she’s not on the pill, visions of babies dance in his head and this happens:Hell, no wonder the human race procreated like crazy. It took a strong man to deny this biological urge. “I won’t come inside of you.” Even as he said it, he recognized the ridiculousness of the words.Her laugh was half amused, half regretful. “Dr. Barrett, you know better.”He did know better, but he just did not fucking care. That was the problem. For a solid twenty seconds, he didn’t say anything, didn’t move, couldn’t move. The walls of her pussy rippled around him where he was buried so still inside of her. He swore he could feel every tissue, every inch of her. He released her hips and clenched his teeth. “Climb off. I can’t do it.”She seemed as reluctant as he was to separate their bodies, but he guessed she was just stronger than he was, because she dismounted and knelt on the bed next to him.I couldn’t read this without thinking of The Myth of the Boner Werewolf. It may be a genre staple as shorthand for father material or as proof of how powerful his attraction to the heroine is, but it renders the hero into a sort of unthinking animal I can’t get down with.Final Assessment: Anyone looking for a good, quick erotic romance with a solid emotional connection should not be disappointed. You just might need to suspend your belief in spots. B-
Making the First Move - Reese Ryan Originally posted at Love in the Margins.Over the past five years, Melanie Gordon has worked hard to make a name for herself in her field of business. Dating, her social life, family relationships – everything in her life has taken a backseat to her career. When she’s offered a major promotion and named the branch manager of a brand new regional office, it appears that all of her work and sacrifice has finally paid off. There’s a hitch, of course, in that the office is in Cleveland – where she had fled from with her tail between her legs five years ago.As if that’s not enough, Melanie’s friend and sort-of colleague Raine Mason tosses a spanner into the works by acting on a simmering, unspoken attraction between them on the night she gets promoted. Although she’s notoriously demanding when it comes to men, Mel’s pretty sure he’s the perfect man. He’s smart, handsome, and the dedicated head of a non-profit that finds employment for disadvantaged populations. But he’s in San Francisco, so what’s a girl to do?I freely admit that I grabbed this debut novel from author Reese Ryan because I was browsing through Carina’s contemporary romances and the black couple on the cover stood out. (I’m easy, what can I say?) While I enjoyed the book, and will try another by this author, I didn’t love it. It felt like a debut novel. I wanted to be transported by her story, but the writing kept getting in my way. It was dry and prescriptive with an overabundance of fiddly little details that bogged down the narrative. Characterization was flat; the good characters were perfect, the bad characters downright villainous.What kept me reading was the story’s freshness. It transcended a number of tried and true romance conventions without crossing too far over into chick lit territory. I enjoyed reading about a grown-up woman with a serious career, a full life and a history of past relationships. Melanie was this capable, confident woman that you don’t often get in romance. She’s not perfect, and she grows as a person over the course of the book, but she’s complete. Raine doesn’t swoop in and solve her problems or gift her with a sexual awakening, he enhances and supports her. Theirs is a true partnership of equals and, clumsy writing aside, I’m always here for that.Another element that jumped out at me was the emphasis on the markers of middle-class life. Like a lot of chick lit, the book frequently name dropped brands and specified the food they ate in restaurants. Unlike chick lit, though, they weren’t exclusive brands. They were Sevens jeans and Stella McCartney purses and plates of beef osso bucco. They were the sorts of things you can find at your average suburban shopping mall. I’ve always read brand name dropping as a sort of aspirational escapism, so I found the brands in this book an unusual detail. I’m still not entirely sure how to read it.Final Assessment: An entertaining read with a strong focus on the heroine’s journey, but it does occasionally bog down in unnecessary detail and bland telling. C+

Do Over

Do Over - Mari Carr This was an unremarkable story of a middle-age-ish couple rekindling their romance over their 25th anniversary. The sex was hot and well-written, but the story lacked conflict and purpose.

The Story Guy (Novella)

The Story Guy - Mary Ann Rivers

Originally posted on Love in the Margins.


Carrie West, city librarian, has hit a bit of a rut in her life. She’s just canceled an Alaskan cruise after breaking down in tears (at work!) at the idea of playing the thirty-something year old third wheel to her very happily married parents. She swears to herself and her friends that she’s content in her singlehood, but she can’t resist reading the personals section of a local want ad website. As she’s reading through the listings early one morning, an ad simply titled “Wednesdays” catches her eye:


'I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only. I won’t touch you below the shoulders. You can touch me anywhere. No dating, no hookups. I will meet with you for as long as you meet me, so if you miss a Wednesday we part as strangers. No picture necessary, we can settle details via IM. Reply back with “Wednesdays Only” in the subject line.'


The novelty and intrigue of this unusual listing, as well as the picture of a thoroughly handsome man about her age, has her responding to his ad before she can talk herself out out of it. An email and some chat messages later, she’s on her way to finding out what sort of man likes kissing so much that he’d put out an ad for it.


This is a difficult review for me to write.  I follow the author on Twitter and had high hopes for this book. It got great press with not one, but two glowing reviews at Dear Author. Everyone in my circle of reader friends was reading it, and after each of these friends read it, they turned to me and said “I wonder what you’ll think about this one,” which was code for “this book contains disability.” I wanted very much to love The Story Guy, but unfortunately for everyone involved, I didn’t enjoy the book very much.


To begin with, the author’s voice and style failed to draw me in. It’s written in first-person present, but doing a find-and-replace on the pronouns to replace all the I’s with “she” wouldn’t have changed much at all. Instead of using this voice to get deep inside Carrie’s psyche and personality, the author pretty much only uses it to shroud Brian in mystery and create some suspense by withholding his story and motivation from the reader. I never felt immersed in Carrie’s thoughts and feelings. I felt as though I was meant to picture myself in her place, which makes some later parts of the book fairly problematic. Also, I found the author’s language a bit too flowery and melodramatic, especially where dialog is concerned. Here’s a bit from a phone conversation between Carrie and Brian:


'“I would slide my hands around to your front, once it came apart, and at first, I would just hold your breasts in my hands, barely touching with my fingertips where the fullness of them spills over your bra.”'


This is not how phone sex sounds in real life. Phone sex is awkward and impulsive and silly and intense. If they’re speaking in polished romance novel language, where’s the charming vulnerability that creates intimacy?


Perhaps because I wasn’t transported by the author’s voice I found a number of plot elements off-putting. The “insta-lust” when their lips first meet and their claims that it was the best kiss either’s ever had felt like a romance cliche. Carrie’s lack of respect for his boundaries - getting him to break his “no touching” rule, taking his phone and adding herself without his permission, pressing for a date - made little sense with how barely acquainted they were and her self-assurances that she was complete as a single woman. Additionally, the co-worker who dispenses sage relationship advice felt like a token gay guy, and Brian’s recounting of the time a man responded to his ad then showed up at the park seemed to be played for laughs.


But, of course, the thing that troubled me the most was the role Brian’s sister Stacy played. You find out about halfway to two-thirds into the story that the reason Brian is unavailable is because he’s the guardian and sole familial caretaker of his severely brain-injured younger sister, and this gave me all sorts of complicated feelings. I’ll admit that I rolled my eyes at how conveniently (for the plot) Brian was alone in this role. His father had died young and his mother ran off to Florida after cocking up Stacy’s care and losing guardianship. As someone who’s read a lot of disability-themed romance novels, I found this familiar set-up frustrating. Pick a book with disability in it and nine times out of ten the disabled character was abandoned by loved ones in their past.


The reason this set-up frustrates me is because it’s generally used to make a non-disabled protagonist look good, and The Story Guy is no exception. Although he tells Carrie at length about how hard it is to be a caregiver - and it really is - she, and the reader by extension, sees it as evidence of what a great guy he is. Consider the following quotes:


'The care he gives her one day could be the thing that hurts her the next. To live with that fear, and never have any confirmation that anything you did was the right thing? It’s astonishing, every kiss he’s ever given me.'


'To have the love of this man, who knows what it is to sacrifice his life for love, I would have waited longer.'


Not only does caring for Stacy makes Brian a dreamboat in Carrie’s eyes, she further objectifies Stacy by making Brian’s caretaking into a compliment for Carrie. Her boyfriend has no time for anything because he’s busy being a saint, but he makes time for her, and isn’t she the luckiest? Bleh.


The ending then goes and makes this more obvious. We know already that Brian’s a superman, Carrie’s shown us how accepting she is of Stacy by fixing her breathing tube without flinching, we’ve seen Stacy accept Carrie by smiling at her, so now it’s time for the HEA - where Brian puts her in a home and Carrie promises they’ll visit every week. Whether or not the reader thinks Stacy should be institutionalized isn’t the point. Because the narrative never discusses what best meets Stacy’s needs, or Brian’s reasons for trying to do it all himself, Stacy and her care is reduced to a plot shortcut. She existed to bring out heroic qualities in the protagonists, and now it’s time for her to conveniently leave the picture. Even if this isn’t strictly ableist, it’s still lazy, and maybe a little contradictory (is Brian less heroic now?).


Final assessment: If you can read this with your heart and turn off your shame detectors, this is probably a great melodramatic sort of read. Unfortunately, the magic dust didn’t work on me and the component parts were deeply troubling. D.

His Kind of Woman

His Kind of Woman - Nona Raines Trans romance? Yes, plz.

Games People Play

Games People Play - Shelby Reed This sounds like another cliched take on disability, but maybe I'll read it and find out.

Heart of the West

Heart of the West - Penelope Williamson Yay! This is being re-released as an ebook! I've always wanted to read it, but I couldn't manage the tissue-thin pages in the paperback.

Fault Lines

Fault Lines - Rebecca Rogers Maher I like this review of the book posted at Romance Novels for Feminists.

The Wedding Fling (Harlequin Blaze Series #734)

The Wedding Fling (Harlequin Blaze #734) - Meg  Maguire It's too late to write a full review now, but I wanted to put this down before I forgot.I was reading along when this paragraph stuck out for me as saying a lot in just a few lines:Will stared over the water for a moment, and Leigh studied his eyes in the dying sun, bright as a blue glass pendant she’d admired in the shopping district the previous morning. She wondered who had raised this man and given him those eyes, and what they thought of the life he’d made for himself, so far from New York City.I'm no judge of literary prose or merit - a lit professor once wondered aloud why I hadn't dropped his class when I was clearly out of my league - but I liked how that last line looked. I was then really tickled when both the provenance of his blue eyes and a blue glass pendant appear later in the novel. It was like an easter egg or something.Some parts strained credulity, but I really enjoyed the book overall.

Curve Ball

Curve Ball - Charlotte Stein This is a short little novella so there's not a ton to discuss. It's a girl-carries-a-flame-for-her-older-brother's-friend story featuring a curvy heroine and a muscular hero, but the story is almost inconsequential. The beauty of this book is in the telling. It's told in first-person present tense from the heroine's point of view, which I typically loathe. Stein, however puts on a clinic for How It Should Be Done. The heroine's personality is front and center, pouring from the little asides and stream of consciousness. You feel all of her emotions along with her as she puzzles them out with the reader. Occasionally she breaks out in Pratchett-like lists, at one point making me break out in hysterical laughter in the middle of some seriously hot sexual tension:c) There is something pressing into the small of my back, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t a tube of Rolos. And if it is, he really needs to tell me where he bought such an enormous packet.I love Rolos.If this were an HFN rather than an HEA, I'd give it five stars. The emotion and passion was just completely awesome and the narration was pitch-fucking-perfect. I just thought the ILYs at the end felt rushed and unnecessary.Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to buy and read everything Stein has written.

The First Move

The First Move - Jennifer Lohmann Wendy's review piqued my interest.

Innocent Hearts

Innocent Hearts - Radclyffe I'm so glad I read this book! It made me feel all warm and fuzzy in a drinking chocolate while playing with kittens sort of way. It's a tender romance between two people who respect each other and a total breath of fresh air for me.


Bittersweet - Noelle  Adams I'll try this for free. Why not?


True - Erin McCarthy I will start by saying that I only read this because I got it for free and I wanted to be able to offer a counterpoint to what I saw as a determination to sweep the book's problematic elements under the rug and dismiss its critics as oversensitive. I didn't start it with an open mind: based on the first chapter posted at Dear Author, I fully expected to not only dislike the book, but to hate it. In the end, the book proved so unenjoyable for me that I couldn't finish it.What made it so unenjoyable for me ended up not being all the problematic stereotypes - although there were plenty of those, believe you me - it was the awkward writing. McCarthy wrote some of the weirdest dialog and prose I've read in a while. She had questionable metaphors ("Fear flooded my mouth."), not-quite-similes ("She made those fuzzy circle scarves that were like an acrylic barrier between your skin and the wind.") and really mangled the whole first-person narration thing. For example, there's this line shared in the middle of an account of her being sexually assaulted: “I had long, dark-red hair, which made it easy for him to entwine his fingers to control my head and my neck, holding me so I couldn’t move.” Unless red hair has extra grip than other colored hair - and my heart goes out to gingers everywhere if it does - the middle of a traumatic event is the wrong time to info dump about her hair color.If you can hang with her writing, your reward is a steaming pile of stereotypes about race and poverty. The first chapter is lousy with it.“It was too far to walk back to the dorms, and it was the kind of off-campus neighborhood that had my dad raising his eyebrows and suggesting I go to college in some cow town like Bowling Green, where there were no dirty couches on sagging front porches and no residents’ smoking crack in full view of the street.So walking back was not happening, because I didn’t smoke crack and I was no risk-taker. At all.Yet sitting there alone with Grant while my roommates were off having a good time almost seemed riskier than strolling through the ghetto. Because it was sort of like perching over a public toilet seat without actually touching anything. It was difficult. Awkward.”I'm not totally sure what my favorite comparison was, to be honest. Using a racially charged word like "ghetto" along with the also fraught crack-smoking was some primo shit, but parallelling a poor neighborhood and a gross toilet seat was also pretty amazing. Just in case you missed the POOR NEIGHBORHOOD IS FULL OF BLACK PEOPLE vibe, the chapter closes out with a throwaway fried chicken reference ("... I followed Tyler down the metal stairs, the smell of fried foods strong in the hallway...") I don't think any of this was necessary to establish 1. that the heroine can't leave the apartment on her own or 2. that she's fairly sheltered and unaware of her privilege. Seeing as how all the protagonists are white, I don't see how any of the racial imagery was relevant.And I'm gonna go ahead and say this in all caps: SEXUAL ASSAULT ISN'T A MEET CUTE. Seriously. While she's in this apartment she can't leave on her own, a friend of the hero's roommate tries to force fellatio on the heroine. He's stopped by the hero swooping as her white knight. It serves no purpose but to introduce the hero and heroine and make the hero look like a champion. No one calls the cops, (although I get that, as cops are almost useless with SA) and the heroine doesn't seem to react to it much. Directly after it, she accepts a ride home, alone, from the hero, who she doesn't know. Makes perfect sense in Romance Logic, since we know he's the hero, but I found her willingness to trust her own character judgement so quickly just bizarre. The would-be-rapist shows up again halfway through the book to sow some drama, and that's about it. It's a pretty superficial plot device.I didn't finish it, so I can't say from personal experience, but I'm pretty sure there's a generous helping of ableism as well in the form of the hero's younger brother, who has Down Syndrome. I did notice everyone spoke to him like they would to a puppy, but all the dialog was so forced that I'm wary of attributing to malice what can be explained by incompetence. And don't even get me going on the portrayal of poverty. The hero is trying to work his way out of poverty caused by his mother's drug addiction. Because this is Romancelandia, OF COURSE they're poor because their parents were lazy, bad people who had the weak character to fall prey to addiction. This one gets an F, for fuck you.

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The Wedding Plan
Abby Gaines