Parliament House, Canberra
From Friday 6 March to Sunday 8 March, I was at the Australian Romance Readers Convention (ARRC) in Canberra. It was my first romance convention and exciting, exhausting, fun and challenging all at once. Because I’d never been to an ARRC before, I didn’t really know what to expect. Technically, I was on the Organising Committee (I’m a member of ARRA – the Australian Romance Readers Association and on the Executive Committee also) but my role was “Sponsorship Coordinator”, which sounds fancy but really involved wrangling the massive sponsorship spreadsheet of doom and emailing loads of people about stuff, so it’s not like I can actually take any credit for how it all went or anything.
I have to say the organisers went above and beyond. Because I was involved a little bit behind the scenes, I know something of just how much effort went into it. I guess I spent about half the actual convention helping organise things and doing volunteer stuff but basically, I just did what I was told and went where I was needed. The organisers had their fingers on so many pulses at once; I’m just staggered by their achievement. This is a volunteer organisation and I shudder to think just how many woman hours went into arranging ARRC.
Why I read it: I reviewed this one for ARRA. (NB: This review first appeared in the ARRA members November 2014 newsletter.) The book was provided to ARRA by the publisher for review.
What worked for me (and what didn’t): Cain Ford owns a strip club, “Penny’s” in Miami. His parents and sister were killed in a drug related murder and Cain feels some responsibility, in particular, for his sister’s death. He feels he should have looked after her better and if he had, she would not have been with their parents when they were attacked. Cain made a lot of money from underground fighting and then opened a strip club with the express purpose of giving girls who choose that line of work (for whatever reason) a safe place. He actually goes further than that – he will help girls get out of that line of work and into something better if he can – this includes paying for therapy and helping them get an education and/or get clean of drugs. He has a strict “no sleeping with the staff” policy and he runs a clean place – strictly no drugs and no prostitution. The girls can do whatever they wish as long as it’s legal and he will see they’re protected and offered opportunity to move on if that’s what they want. Cain’s halo is very sparkly and the only thing that saves him from being a complete white knight is that he has a darker edge to him. He is not above using violence or setting someone up for a drug offence if it means protecting his girls. He can be pushy and he does a thorough background check of any potential staff but he’s mostly just a really good guy – except that he will cross the line in pursuit of a good cause.
**NB – this review first appeared in the March ARRA members newsletter**
Too Busy for Love by Tamsin Baker – C- Too Busy for Love is a short (about 35 reading pages) erotic m/m novella featuring rich mergers and acquisitions man – Thomas and a younger architecture student/part time gardener, Luke.
Even though Australian spelling it used (eg mum), the book is set in America. I think Luke is about 19 or 20 – he is two years away from an architecture degree. The bonus for him working at Thomas’ estate is access to the extensive library for study after work. When Thomas stumbles across Luke late one night, he is instantly attracted and promptly propositions Luke. Luke hesitates because he’s not sure he’s gay.
Thomas doesn’t usually do any form of relationship and prefers no-strings sex but Luke has him thinking about other things.
I admit I was troubled by the idea that having sex in itself is the identifier of sexuality. I believe sexuality is more complicated than that. I also found it a bit unlikely that this 19/20 year old man would not have checked out a bit of gay porn on the internet, perhaps done a little solo experimenting – but apparently he has not. There is also a bit of pronoun abuse – when the main characters are both men it can sometimes be confusing which “his” we are reading about.
It is a very short story so there isn’t a lot of time for deep characterisation or deep discussion of sexuality issues either for that matter. I think it works better as an erotic story because most of the page count is filled with pretty hot sexual encounters between Luke and Thomas.
I didn’t really see them fall in love. I didn’t see why they fell in love. I saw why they were attracted and their definite sexual chemistry. The story does have a romantic epilogue – I wouldn’t have minded having more details about their relationship apart from sex within the story though.
I have a review up at the ARRA blog today – Dark Witch by Nora Roberts. I think it’s fair to say that I prefer her stand alone romantic suspense stories to her trilogies in a general sense. This was entertaining enough but a lot of it felt like set up for the series and there wasn’t really enough of the romance for me. That said, I expect I’ll read the rest of the series.
**NB This review first appeared in the February ARRA newsletter**
The Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir – B+ This delightful novella is the second book in the “Cool Cats” series. There were supposed to be three, but I think the third book has been shelved for now. The first book was Girl With the Cat Tattoo (scroll down the link for my mini review). I liked Geek better but both a fun and quirky stories. Both stories feature a cat’s POV.
In Geek, the cat is Sam. He has been through a number of different owners but has yet to find his “forever owner”. When he meets Emerson Foshay, maker and repairer of musical instruments, he has high hopes. Sam has a secret super-power – he can “mindmess” with people. This is usually only in the form of getting them to empty the cat litter tray or buy him the expensive cat food, but when he sees how tongue-tied Emerson gets around Lola Brown, a regular customer in the shop, he steps in to help. Both Emerson and Lola get a POV but I admit I had a soft spot for Sam here.
With Sam’s help Emerson and Lola begin a relationship and Emerson starts to overcome his shyness. However, it’s not all smooth sailing and when Sam is “found” by his former (evil) owner, Emerson no longer has Sam’s “mindmessing” to help him and things fall apart. Even worse is to come however, when Sam’s former owner (because: reasons) wants Sam destroyed and before too long Emerson and Lola have to put aside their own problems to rescue Sam before it’s too late.
It is a fairly short story but the romance is very satisfying and Sam the cat is just awesome.
It’s All Geek To Me by JL Merrow – B This is a cute little short – just under 50 pages. JL Merrow is one of the few authors I’m prepared to spend $2.99 on at that word count. I think it takes a particular talent to write an engaging and complete short story and while the subject matter is fairly light, I think she does a good job here.
Jez is a non-geek rugby-loving lab technician who has a bit of a complex about his looks after his ex did a number on him. When his friend Tel is in the hospital having broken both legs in a car vs. bike accident where he came off the definite loser, Jez is tasked with finding a comic book to replace the one damaged in the crash. Upon arrival at the comic store, he becomes deeply smitten by Rhys, the gorgeous guy behind the counter. Jez, desperate to impress Rhys begs “geek lessons” from Tel. It actually plays into his Jez’s lack of confidence and so it made sense and even though it was a bit of deception it was the kind I find fairly easy to forgive.
**This review first appeared in the January ARRA members newsletter.**
Bonjour Cherie by Robin Thomas – C+ Beth Jenkins is a 21 year old under-achiever still living at home with her parents, working at the local IGA store. She’s smart, but she’s not as smart as her older sister and, knowing she can never win, she gave up competing. She has one burning ambition. To go to France.
She has very little money and no immediate prospects of fulfilling her dream, but still. She’s taking Introduction to French lessons at the local TAFE, run by gorgeous Frenchman Andre LeBlanc. Andre is urbane, pretty to look at and even better, he’s French. Unfortunately, it seems he doesn’t share her attraction. She hasn’t given up – she knows they’ll be just perfect for each other if only he’d notice her.
When hunky Zach Mills joins the class, sparks fly. He’s flirty and charming but he’s also built like a mechanic and he’s a local so she associates him with a small town life – a life she doesn’t want (even though she’s not actually doing much about it herself).
Zach comes to her rescue in little ways but she continually rebuffs him – he’s not what she wants – she wants Paris and Andre.
The book is very light-hearted and it’s not difficult to see what the barrier to Beth’s romantic dreams is when it comes to Andre and that there’s much more to Zach than first impressions. I couldn’t help feeling that Beth ended up being a little too ‘material girl’ when it came to Zach – he wasn’t acceptable boyfriend material as she assumed him to be – it was only later when, to paraphrase Pride & Prejudice, she saw Pemberley (metaphorically speaking) she realised that maybe she’d made a mistake.
I was pleased that by the end of the story Beth had decided to start living her life and reaching for her dreams rather than waiting for them to come to her and of course, there is a happy ending. There is a very Australian vibe to the novella and it was a fun evening’s read.