Playing the Part by Darcy Daniel

Why I read it:  I was provided with a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Anthea Cane is a successful actress—well, action star. Her films are mostly about how hot she looks silhouetted by fiery explosions. But Anthea is determined to prove she’s more than just a body. With the role of a lifetime up for grabs—a serious adaptation of her favorite novel—Anthea sets off to her small hometown in the name of research.Cole Daniel is a blind farmer with no patience for divas, especially one who mercilessly teased him as a young boy. When Anthea shows up using a fake name and pestering him into letting her stay, he can’t pass up the opportunity to torment her just a little.But Anthea won’t let the stubborn farmer deter her from her goal, even if he is hotter than any man she’s ever met. Cole finds his form of payback less than satisfying when Anthea keeps turning the tables on him, proving her mettle and gaining his respect. Will Anthea’s research land her a man, as well as the part?

Warning:  This review may be mildly spoilerish.  It is also a bit on the ranty side.
What worked for me (and what didn’t):  Anthea Cole is an action movie star who wants to be taken seriously as an actress.  When she receives notice that her favourite book, The Farmer’s Wife, is being made into a movie, she begs the producer for an audition.  She has 3 weeks to prepare and convince him she’s perfect for the part.  She returns to her hometown of Mayfield in New South Wales, determined to find a farmer to help her win the role by letting her work on the farm.  Cole Daniel is a blind farmer who was teased mercilessly as a child by Anthea.  Even though Anthea uses a fake name, Cole isn’t fooled.  He agrees to ‘help’ her, intent on exacting some revenge for her past treatment of him and teach her a lesson.

Blindsided by Sayer Adams

Why I read it:  I saw it recommended in a list of rock star hero books and bought it for 99c from Amazon a while back.  I had a hankering for a rock star and Mari Carr’s Fix You wasn’t released yet, so I picked this up.
What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  Can two people who can’t overcome their own pasts help each other move on and find happiness? When a disillusioned rock star is confronted by an anxiety ridden travel writer, he has a week to prove he’s not one of the bad boys she’s sworn off. But first he has to convince himself and find out why she’s running herself into the ground by running around the world.Chelsea Spencer is a travel writer who has spent the last six years traveling at a punishing pace that leaves little time for food or sleep. When her body shuts down in the Australian Outback, her doctors give her strict orders to stay put for two months. Chelsea complies by staying in Seattle with her brother, but for Chelsea, stopping is more hazardous than running. Old anxiety and panic fueled by feelings of helplessness flood Chelsea when her mind isn’t otherwise occupied and the months seem like torture. All she wants is to get back on the road without any further complications; like a broken heart.

SPOILER WARNING:  I can’t truly explain my thoughts about this book without giving spoilers.  You are warned.

Two Tickets to Paradise

This is the latest Dreamspinner Press anthology, which I picked up from NetGalley. 
Because there are so many short stories included, I’ll change up my usual review format and talk briefly about each one.  
A Good Night’s Sleep by Anna Martin – B- – Two guys backpacking through Thailand and Malaysia meet on a train and hook up (yep, train sex).  The story is very short, so the hopeful kind of HFN is appropriate.  I know I got this from NetGalley and I can expect to find some errors which (hopefully) won’t be there in the final version, but can I just say that Sydney, Australia is spelt with a “y” and not an “i”?  
Fall Forward by Jamie Love – D – 2 college guys take their first vacation together.  I didn’t really enjoy this story; it was a bit clumsy and delved into boring minutiae.  
Reconnecting by Claire Russett – B – Physics professor meets up with the ex who broke his heart at a conference in Corfu. Quite good but I didn’t get the excitement over getting a free 16GB flashdrive as conference swag – are they that expensive?  

Mending and Moving On by Cecilia Ryan – B – Two guys meet up in Spain – one is nursing a broken heart (although, not that broken because he connects pretty quickly with the other guy, let’s face it). Apart from that I don’t like it when adults, especially guys “giggle”, I did enjoy this one.  It was quite sweet overall and had a believable hopeful kind of HFN.  But, do men really say I don’t like being “penetrated”?
The Jeep Guy by Eric Renner  C- This was an odd little story which took me a while to work out – Guy meets another guy during a beach vacation.  The story is told initially via blog posts but by the end that device seemed to have been dropped, but without any real explanation.

All at Sea by JL Merrow – B  Story about first love on holiday on the Isle of Wight with a sweet surprise at the end.  Touching and happy. I liked it.

Haunted by Jana Denardo – C  Story about a ghost hunter writing and his photographer boyfriend.  I was expecting a ghostly conflict but it was more about the writer being worried his boyfriend was bored/unhappy about all of their working vacations – which was sorted out by one simple conversation.

Something Different by Sean Michael – B  Very sexy story about 2 ex-lovers getting back together after 10 years apart, when they bump into each other while they are both holidaying in Las Vegas.  I wouldn’t have minded a longer story  and to know more about the how of their future, but I did believe they would make it. 

Perpendicularity by Mal Peters – B-  Cute story about a pro snow boarder and a chef who meet in the French Alps. It has a hopeful HFN ending.  Strangely, the story was told in 1st person present tense which felt a bit odd.  I would have happily read more of these two however. 

Sunlight on Water by Susan Laine – D  The clumsy writing made this one difficult for me to finish “He had that surfer thing going on and the surfboard next to him emphasised the impression” (ya think?).  Young guys meet on the beach. One is a hustler but nevertheless; insta-love. Did not like.

Off the Tracks by Chelle Dugan – C-  This was a kind of odd time travel story.  A lot of telling not showing (which I can kind of understand in such a short format, but still).  I liked the style but the time travel thing threw me a bit.

All You Need by Dar Mavison – B-  Relationship in trouble story – a couple go to New York for a weekend and find some common ground.  If the story had’ve been longer, perhaps I would have more confidence that their problems were over, but it’s a more hopeful than happy ending. I liked the alternating first person POV and how the same problems were shown from each man’s perspective.  What they also had in common was that they didn’t want the relationship to end.

Know Nobody by GR Richards – C-  Story about an older guy who takes a trip to somewhere he knows nobody so he can hook up.  He gets lucky with three (!) younger men after “undies night” at a local gay bar.  His BFF turns up and they suddenly realise they belong together.  Lots of sex but not much emotional connection.

New Lease by BG Thomas – C+ A guy who’s been someone’s dirty little secret for 20 years is still grieving his death and goes to their holiday rental considering suicide. He meets a handsome man there who awakens his dormant libido and gives him hope for the future.  I liked the style but struggled a bit with why anyone would have put up with that for so long.

Krung Thep, City of Angels by Zee Kensington – C Young guy hooks up with older more experienced traveller in Bangkok.  The young guy felt very young – much younger than 23.  Hopeful happy for now ending.

Overall Grade:  B-/C+

Beginnings and Ends by Suzanne Brockmann

Why I read it: I’ve read and enjoyed all of the Troubleshooters books and I’m a fan of Jules and Robin so I downloaded this one as soon as it was available.

What it’s about:  (the blurb from Goodreads)  After years of playing the tormented actor, Joe Laughlin, on the hit television show Shadowland, Hollywood star Robin Chadwick Cassidy is ready for a change. Joe’s character embodies the real demons of Robin’s past—his struggle with his sexuality, his battle with alcoholism—and portraying the part has taken a heavy toll on his personal life. Robin’s husband, FBI agent Jules Cassidy, has noticed the strain and will do whatever he can to make Robin happy. And what Robin has in mind will forever transform his career, his marriage, and his family.

What worked for me (and what didn’t): It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what the beginning and end the title speaks of is – the end of the series and an addition to the family.  I really don’t think that’s a massive spoiler.  And, it’s not that you actually see much of the latter in any event.  If the story had been more about the “beginning” and less about the “end” I think I would have enjoyed this one a lot more.  I didn’t have massive hopes.  I was never expecting an A read – the story is only 38 pages long after all.  I expected a vignette maybe – a Jules and Robin slice of life.  What I got however, was a lot of stuff about Shadowland – a fictional TV show set in a fictional world.  

I was fairly confused by the way the Shadowland portions of the story were conveyed.  Here is the opening of the story:

Shadowland, Episode 60,
“Eighth of Nine Lives”
Starring Robin Chadwick Cassidy as Joe Laughlin Los Angeles,
present day

Richie West ambushed me. The meeting is supposed to be about my contract for the next Pierce Cane movie, but I realize within seconds of walking into his office that this is about my past few weekends and the current rash of rumors. 

Academy Award nominee Joe Laughlin! Thank you for coming in!…

Brockmann, Suzanne (2012-06-01). Beginnings and Ends (Short Story) (Kindle Locations 37-41). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
At first, I thought these bits were part of the script.  But that couldn’t be right.  Then I thought “how does the viewer know what is going on in Joe Laughlin’s head?”  Then I thought, maybe it’s a voiceover.  That made sense. But the bits in italics didn’t seem to fit as voiceovers either.  Who says this?  Even in their heads?

I’m so fucking stupid. I can’t believe I actually thought Richie West was going to guide my coming out, like a Sherpa leading me to a higher plain where honesty and truth prevailed. I can’t believe that I didn’t know— instantly— that if I did come out, he would drop me like a stone. He’d be certain that I would never again open a picture in this town.

Brockmann, Suzanne (2012-06-01). Beginnings and Ends (Short Story) (Kindle Locations 96-99). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
It didn’t help that these bits changed tense from past to present.
There are 6 “chapters” and 3 are devoted to the Shadowland episodes. On the face of it, that would suggest that equal time is devoted to both storylines.  That would be incorrect.  The Shadowland chapters are longer.  I’d say they make up at least 2/3 of the 38 page short. They are over the top dramatic and, to me, unbelievable.  I thought that I would not enjoy watching such an overwrought tv show.  I did not enjoy reading about it.  The basic storyline was Joe Laughlin coming out.  Not all that dissimilar to Robin’s own coming out in a very public manner in Force of Nature – when he kissed Jules on a boat in full view of many TV cameras.  In fact, the story seemed to me to be largely redundant.  It had already been told – except much better in the Troubleshooters series, with Jules and Robin themselves, characters I cared about.  I did not and do not care about Joe Laughlin. He is one step too removed from reality for me.
On a positive note, we did get a Jules and Robin sex scene which fans have been panting for.  There was a part of the story where Robin had inadvertently had alcohol in his mouth.  A big deal was made of it but it didn’t really go anywhere.  (I have very little experience with alcoholism.  I assume the information in the book is true.  But, such a big deal was made of it, why then did it go nowhere?).  Jules and Robin hire a surrogate and that would have been a story I would have gobbled up.  But it was just a sentence or two.
Overall, this was extremely disappointing.  The book cost $1.99.  If I had enjoyed it, I wouldn’t have minded too much, but given that I did not, I’d have to say it’s over priced.  People who bought Born To Darkness in hardback got the short free in the back of the book.

What else? So, I was disappointed.  After I read the story and unrelated to doing so, I went to my Facebook page to check on my news feed.  I don’t do much on Facebook – mainly I follow some favourite authors.  Suzanne Brockmann is one of them.

On Saturday, she posted this on her Facebook page:

BEGINNINGS AND ENDS is being totally trashed on Amazon for not having enough Jules and Robin…? If you liked it, please post an honest review. If you didn’t like it, that’s okay, too. But like the song says, “Don’t be a dick about it.”

I expected therefore that there would be many many negative reviews on Amazon based on her post.  I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t like the book either.  I wondered what being a “dick about it” meant.  I went and had a look.  There was ONE 1* review when I looked on Sunday.  There were 28 reviews in total, 18 of them were 5* – all from squeeing fangirls gushing about how wonderful the story was and many specifically referencing the 1* review in some manner – “I don’t understand the uproar here…” etc.  (Updated, there are now 30, 20 of them 5*).
I feel pretty uncomfortable about Ms. Brockmann siccing the posse onto Amazon.  I was even more so when I realised she was reacting to ONE negative review.   While I wouldn’t have said “SHAME ON YOU AND A POX ON YOUR PUBLISHER FOR SEEING THE DOLLAR SIGNS” as that reviewer did, I did agree with much of her sentiment.  It won’t surprise you to know that this review has been downvoted so much that it appears lucky last on the list.
When I finished Beginnings and Ends, the phrase that came to mind was “self indulgent”.
After reading the Facebook post and checking out the Amazon review, I feel that applies even more.

Grade:  D

Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue by Stephanie Laurens, narrated by Matthew Brenher WARNING: It’s Ranty

Why I Listened: That’s a question I asked myself numerous times throughout the book.   Seriously though, I reviewed it for the Speaking of Audiobooks column at AAR but my review (rant) is just too long for the column.  So, with permission, I’m posting it here.  Read on at your peril.
What it’s about:  Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue is the first book in the Cynster Brides series by Australian author Stephanie Laurens.  Heather Cynster, daughter of Martin and Celia, is abducted from a soiree in London.  The abduction is witnessed by Viscount Breckenridge, a not-friend of hers. They don’t get along – he thinks she’s too young for him (there’s a 10 year age gap) and keeps his distance, she thinks he considers her a child.  Breckenridge follows and tries to rescue her but Heather has discovered that the kidnappers wanted only a “Cynster daughter” not specifically Heather and given that she’s being treated well (they hired a maid for her, for “countenance”) she thinks it is best to stay in their clutches and extract information about the villain behind the scheme so as to protect her cousins and sisters.  Breckenridge goes along with it and follows, keeping watch.  If that sounds like a flimsy excuse for a plot to you, it would be because it is.  Given the amount of time Heather spends with the kidnappers, she actually finds out precious little about them and even when she does, it is in brief conversations and DAYS are going by.  She’s not frightened or in any way traumatised – it’s the most pathetic kidnapping in the history of the activity.
What worked for me and what didn’t:  Torturous.  Tedious.  Tautologous.    In audio, Ms. Laurens habit of describing everything at least three times is so very much more annoying than in print.  In print, I skim and I probably only read one word in three, which means I can keep up with the gist of the story but do not want to hit something.  I found the same does not apply to audio.  I definitely wanted to hit something.
If I had a dollar for every time Breckenridge was described (sometimes within the same paragraph as “the Foremost Rake of the Ton”, I’d be able to buy myself a Kindle.  Possibly two.   Breckenridge, or, as I like to call him FRT, is, to make matters worse, a very poor excuse for a rake.  Depending on what part of the book you are listening to, he has either bedded “countless” ladies, or  not as many as everyone thinks.  However many ladies he has bedded, in his experience, most ladies don’t take any active part in the process (presumably they just lie there and think of England) and only a few have shown anything like passion.  So, when FRT eventually beds the heretofore virginal Heather Cynster, he’s overwhelmed, stunned and amazed by her enthusiastic response – she’s active, takes the initiative, passionate.  In one scene when she’s, er, “going downtown”, he reflects that he didn’t let ladies to that to him but she was different – WHAT?  See? BAD rake.  He should be booted out of the Society of Regency Rakes forthwith.  Besides, anyone who knows anything about the Cynsters would know that if he was really that bad, Devil and his “ilk” wouldn’t let FRT within coo-ee of pure Heather.
Then there’s Heather – at the beginning, she’s given up searching in the traditional ballrooms of the ton for her “hero.  She’s decided (not unlike her cousin (?) Amanda from On a Wild Night) to search in the racier environs to find the man who will sweep her off her feet.    Later, when offered marriage by FRT due to the damage to her reputation, she refuses and states that she had resigned herself to being a spinster and wants to look after homeless children so her reputation or lack of it doesn’t matter.  Next thing, she’s contemplating how it turns out that FRT is her perfect hero if only he would love her.  Hur?
The villain is the worst villain in the history of villains.  We don’t know his identity, but, after hiring people to abduct Heather, he includes a maid for countenance on the journey.  Then, when she does escape with FRT, he follows, not to get her back – no!! He follows to make sure that the “bounder” who has her treats her well.    There is very little in the book about the motivations of the villain other than that he’s only doing it because his mad-ass mother has made some sort of squirly bargain with him which forces him to “ruin the reputation of a Cynster daughter”.  It is clear that he will be the bad guy in the series until he is eventually the hero of the final story in the trilogy.
Anyway, Heather and FRT escape together but due to (some more ridiculous) circumstances, they are forced to continue on foot and this takes a number of days.  They head for Richard and Catriona Cynster’s estate and on the way there the “romance” part of the book begins.  There is literally NOT SO MUCH AS A KISS before chapter 9.  Their very first “romantic encounter” is also the full monty.  There follows 3 chapters of sexytimes, each described in torturous purple prose – three times.  
Once FRT and Heather arrive at the Vale there ensues further torture for the listener.  FRT has vowed never to love (and thereby be vulnerable to another).  Problem is, he’s already in love.  Okay, so:  New vow.  He won’t tell her how he feels because that would give her too much power over him.  Problem: she’s declared she won’t marry a man who doesn’t hold her in true “affection” which even he  knows is code for “love”.  So, he decides to show her his feelings by the power of his “mighty wang of lovin’”.  Meanwhile, she’s decided she loves him but won’t marry him unless he loves her too and tells her so.  She’s having no success in drawing out a declaration and so decides to show  him her true feelings with her “magic hoo-ha”.  *sexytimes*.  Problem: afterwards she thinks he was just pretending in order to get her to agree to the wedding and says no  anyway when he proposes yet again.  It was enough to make me bang my head against a wall.  Repeatedly.  Over and over again.  Many times.  It takes an injury to FRT to sort matters out (I won’t give away what sort; it’s not quite “pecked to death by pigeons” (TM Julia Quinn) but,  oh man –  over-the-topsville it is).
I decided to listen to this book because, while I do grind my teeth these days at the triptych descriptions and the overuse of the word “evoke” (in all of its many many iterations) , and all the “him being him”s  and “her being her”s  I have nevertheless really enjoyed some of Ms. Laurens books  (Devil’s Bride, On a Wicked Dawn, The Ideal Bride, A Gentlemen’s Honor). But I’m not a big fan of Simon Prebble’s narration of her books.  He’s a bit too overwrought for my taste (I listened to two of the Black Cobra quartet which he narrated).  This one has a new-to-me narrator and I thought it was worth trying.  Sadly, Matthew Brenher is the opposite of overwrought.  While he does use some expression in his voice, there’s no passion or excitement – the intonation during a scene where they’re sipping tea is the same as during the time they’re traversing “passion’s landscape” (yes, that is a direct quote.)  I thought his voice for our hero FRT was quite good, but Richard “Scandal” Cynster has developed an alarming Scottish accent in the 9 years he’s been living there and Catriona, from the sound of her,  has apparently taken up chain smoking – and sometimes she slipped into a more Yorkshire accent than a Scots one which was a bit disconcerting.  A brief appearance by Michael Anstruther-Wetherby (one of my favourite Laurens heroes) and his wife Caro was even more troubling.  Michael sounded prissy and rather like he’d been castrated.  In fact at the end of each sentence he uttered, I mentally added “and where ARE my testicles anyway?”.  Caro sounded like she was in her 50’s and frumpy .  Heather’s voice was okay, but Mr. Brenher does suffer from that common problem with male narrators where the female characters sound like they’re men in drag.   

Also, I know that Ms. Laurens can write an extremely long and convoluted sentence, but I wondered whether Mr. Brenher had done any pre-reading before the narration performance.  There were    these       pauses in odd and unexpected places which made      the sentences sound       like they had   just abruptly       stopped.  It was so prevalent throughout the book, it was very off-putting.  Because I was tortured by the silly plot and the overwrought descriptions, I had plenty of time to notice each occasion.

What else?  The book came in at more than 15 hours of listening time. Given that most of it was adjectives, it could easily have been trimmed by half and nothing would have been lost of the plot (what there was of it).
I’ve decided I have to break up with Stephanie Laurens on audio.  I just can’t bear it anymore.  It may be that I will try some more in print where I can skim to my heart’s content and therefore save a layer of enamel on my teeth, but it won’t be soon.
Grade:  D
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