Reading Like Mad

Trying to meet a “deadline.”

I’ve been reading more than I have in quite some time, which is lovely. I’ve read a few books by Christine Bell that I’ve enjoyed – and many others I :X can’t remember at the moment.

This is just a quick update – with more substance to follow when I don’t have the “eek panic rush” thing.

But I wanted to know – what are you reading? And what books would you recommend?

I’m Done with Evil Mothers by Guest Joanna Chambers

Greetings! Darlings, as patient as you have been with me, Joanna Chambers has been the same. This post was supposed to go live in *mumbles* and … clearly that did not happen until right now. Fortuitously this is still very on point. So without further ado … What Ms. Chambers has to say.

I’m Done with Evil Mothers

BeguiledI have a gripe, and it’s this: I’m sick of reading about evil mothers in romance novels. I’m not saying there’s no room for evil mothers at all but I would like to see a lot fewer of them. I’m not asking for the sugar-sweet opposite extreme. I’m asking for proper characterisation. Nuance. I want to read about mothers who are recognisable as people. People who try their best, and sometimes fail. People who make mistakes but not because they are utterly malevolent. Just because they are as flawed as the rest of us.

I’m not sure what it is that bothers me so much when I read egregiously – sometimes bewilderingly – evil mother characters, but it’s not just that I am a mother myself – it’s something deeper around the casual vilification of women. When a book features an evil mother, there’s something of the Witchfinder General about it. Someone needs to be blamed for the bad things that have happened.

Someone needs to be the scapegoat. And it’s a mature woman. A witch. That just chafes.

It might be argued that the egregiously evil mother is so obviously over the top that she does no real damage. Readers know she is not *really* real. But I don’t want characters who read like cartoons! I want to believe in what I’m reading. I want to be drawn into the story. I want to *feel* it. And how can I feel it when some woman in metaphorical horns and a forked tail is sweeping around, behaving in a manner that makes no real sense?

The worst thing about the egregiously evil mother character is that it’s lazy writing. It’s too easy to give characters a painful childhood at the hands of an unarguably evil person. Too easy to create conflict by having a puzzlingly malicious woman do horrible things then conveniently exit stage left at the end of book, dead or scorned forever. She can tear through the story like a plague and the characters don’t have to do anything but react, puppets to her evil schemes, liberated by her death or exile. They certainly don’t have to do any interesting work for their own redemption. They don’t have to face up to truths about themselves or change. They just need to get rid of a witch.

EnlightenedWhy does this bother me so much, you might ask?

Well, lots of mothers (myself included) are pretty good at criticising themselves, without needing any assistance from anyone else, thank you very much. When I became a mother at thirty, I discovered that I’d gone overnight from being a capable person to being a novice at something again. I made lots of mistakes – and I still do, all the time – you’re always a novice, because just as you’ve got used to one stage, your children move on and you have to learn again. Being a mother is an eternal case of “fail better”. I wish I was a perfect mother, I really do, but I’m a very imperfect one. And it’s only now that I am (an imperfect mother) that I give my own mother a (retrospective) break.

The thing is this: there’s a journey to be had in life, lessons to learn. I feel – I feel strongly actually – that fiction can take you further along that road. That fiction can be a template for life, a parable for understanding others. For tolerance and empathy and all of those things we strive for. It can be a prism, exposing the colours of your thoughts and making you examine them. I’ve had my own beliefs tested and stretched by reading fiction. It’s powerful stuff.

So my plea is this: let’s give mothers a break in romance novels in future.

Bio: Joanna Chambers always wanted to write.  She spent over 20 years staring at blank sheets of paper and despairing of ever writing a single word.  In between staring at blank sheets of paper, she studied law, met her husband and had two children.  Whilst nursing her first child, she rediscovered her love of romance and found her muse.  Joanna lives in Scotland with her family and finds time to write by eschewing sleep and popular culture
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The Dream AlchemistWhen the sun goes down, their passion awakens…and so do their nightmares.

Somnus, Book 1

Centuries ago, a man with Bryn Llewelyn’s dreamwalking ability would have been a shaman or a priest. In this time, he’s merely exhausted, strung out on too much caffeine and too little sleep.

Sleep means descent into Somnus—an alternate reality constructed of the combined dreaming consciousness of ordinary humans. A place he’d rather avoid. Trouble is, his powers don’t include the ability to go without sleep indefinitely. At some point his eyes close…and his nightmare begins.

As a teen, the treatment that cured Laszlo Grimm’s sleep disorder stole his dreams—and his ability to feel emotion. Petrified of needing more “treatment”, he clings to familiar rituals and habits. But lately his nightly terror has returned, and when he meets Bryn in the real world, the man seems hauntingly familiar. Not only that, Bryn awakens feelings in Laszlo for the first time in years…

Slowly Bryn and Laszlo realize they are both unknowing pawns in a plan of unspeakable evil. And that their powerful attraction could release the destinies locked within them—or be the instrument of their doom.

Warning: Contains the stuff of your lustiest dreams—and most frightening nightmares. You may want to read with a candle at the ready…just in case the lights go out.

So what do you think? Have you noticed this trend? Are there other tropes you’ve been seeing that you’re sick of? Also I’d like to note nobody is saying the books pictured are guilty of blanket evil mothers. Just that Ms. Chambers wrote them – and aren’t they pretty? :D

An Update, SMSG14 Information, & Giveaways

Hello my friends and darling readers who are much better people than I am. I wanted to say thank you, and that I’m sorry.

I took away the hiatus message … but it is obvious I’m still not really on top of things. I will continue to try, and attempt to post on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. We’ll see. Life really really kicked my ass this year. And considering I’ve had a time where [we] had to deal with six deaths in a month … yeah.

Anyway. I’m sorry. I really REALLY appreciate you sticking with me.

So, that’s the update. There’s just so much going on in bookland that is holy fucking crazy that I don’t even want to mention it here. Honestly if you don’t know, I say avoid it. It’s toxic. However, if you’re one of the “curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought him back” types like I am … I generally comment on “the things” on twitter.

Now! For … happier things. This year I’m just clearly not on top of things, but I’d been planning SMSG14 for honestly the last two years, unofficially. In 2012 I promised Lori that ALS would be the focus charity of 2014. I definitely still think this is a very noble cause and important issue. I’m adding other issues because of a few reasons. First of all, the ice bucket challenges that raised so much awareness and money this year. Secondly, there are major humanitarian crises out there. (Crises is the plural of crisis yes?)

So, the basics. If you’re new here… SMSG stands for “Social Media for Social Good.” It’s my annual charity fundraiser where I ask the romance community (and frankly everyone) to open their hearts and their wallets for a worthy charitable cause. In 2010 (I did this at TGTBTU) – and the charity was (RED) to help fight AIDS. 2011 there was the famine in East Africa so the charity I chose was Save the Children. In 2012 I chose charity:water which helps build wells so people and places that need it can have safe and accessible clean water. 2013 the focus was child human trafficking, and we went with Love 146. (And then Typhoon Haiyan happened so we split the proceeds.)

This year, along with ALS, I’d like people to donate to Doctors Without Borders because of the Ebola crisis in Africa. And you know, anywhere else – it’s just I think the USA is freaking out a bit too much. (No thank you, 24 hour news cycles.) Then also, UNICEF. (Because why wouldn’t you want to support children in need?) But this especially because … yes another humanitarian crisis. There are too many child refugees from Syria. (In fact the situation was on the front page of MSF – Doctors Without Borders – when I visited.) Did you know many of the child refugees have become field hands? They’re hired to work, as young as 8 years old, because it’s cheaper to hire children than adults. Then after a long day in the field, they’re happy to go to school. I believe I read that $15 is enough to provide for a classroom. (I’m not going to give more details at this time because the main post will be coming next week.)

Kickoff of Social Media for Social Good 2014 will start on [International] Make a Difference Day, which is October 25, 2014. Saturday.

Would you or anyone else be willing to make a pledge? I also say this is a social media fundraiser, because I know times are tough for people, and maybe monetary donations aren’t a possibility at this time. That’s why I ask people who can afford to give make a pledge based on the number of comments. Comments help because it makes the fundraiser something we all can own. You have a goal and a vested interest. I have talked about it and explained my rationale in the past.

I know many people don’t want to announce their amounts – which is cool too. I go both ways – why brag? But on the other hand – many an amount will spur others to donate as well. You know – competition. We all have a part of that in us. I use SMSG14 as my main “tithe” (let’s not even go into explanations there.) – so this year I’m pledging $1,130. I don’t know how I’ll divvy it up, but for now that’s what I’m putting up for sure. I’ll say I’m giving it if we hit 1,000 comments on the main post. [But pssst I'm good for it regardless.]

Would anyone else like to make a pledge? Someone want to take 50 comments? 100? 150, 200, 500? Whatever? 33? Pick a number?

Any moneybags want to do a per comment amount? $1 per comments? ;D Hell, 10¢ per comment?

And then … the giveaways. You might not have noticed, because it’s “just” in the sidebar, but author Michelle M. Pillow has bought ad space at ALBTALBS (yes I offer it!) for all of 2013 and 2014. So pretty much she has single-handedly kept this site afloat. (Thanks Michelle!) I asked her a question somewhat related to SHHM … and you know what? She offered up an audiobook for one of you! Yes! Someone can win a copy of Barbarian Prince! Tell me in the comments if you’d like to win this. Then also, a few weeks ago The Ohio State Buckeyes won a game with more than 60 points … so *I* am having a giveaway too! Someone will win the kindle copy of Frost Maiden, Love Potions, or Fierce Competition. (>.> I may or may not have!!! picked them based on the covers – and that they were either first in the series…)

Lastly? Another giveaway! (Sorry, this is only for friends in the US or Japan …) because it’s a free one month subscription to hulu plus!

Anyone interested in any of those things? :D Let me know! Any or all of them! (Also if you make a pledge now for SMSG14, I’ll add you and whatever link you like to the main post!)

Thanks all! Xoxo

SHHM Guest: Ana Canino-Fluit

Hi friends! I’ve fallen behind again, but today I’m here! With another guest celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with us! Whee! Everyone – I hope you chime in. I’m grateful for all of you <3 (and for copy + paste)! Please give Ana a very warm welcome!

Reading while Latina by Ana Canino-Fluit

I am Latina romance reader and reviewer. Born and raised in Puerto Rico I have now lived nearly half of my life in the US Mainland and Canada. I have inter-married like so many Hispanics do, and I am raising my daughters to appreciate their multi-cultural (Dutch-Canadian & Puerto Rican) heritage. I am school librarian and I read and review romance as hobby. I read nearly all the romance sub-genres, everything from historical to science-fiction, although I tend to steer clear of inspirational and westerns. Romance like the rest of mainstream literature can be overwhelmingly white and while I am always thrilled to discover Hispanic authors and characters when selecting books to read I don’t limit myself to reading books written from a Hispanic point of view. But I do find myself looking for certain tropes, and story elements that in some way resonate with my experience of being a Latina. The particular tropes and story elements that appeal to me won’t necessarily appeal to another Latino or Latina whose experiences and background is different from mine but these are the tropes and story elements that I find reflect a bit of my reality.

Knowing the ScoreI love stories of newcomers or new people finding a place to belong in a small town or community. I left Puerto Rico to attend college and I have lived in many places across Canada and the US for work since then, so reading stories about the importance and process of finding supportive friends, and becoming part of a new community appeals to me. Two of my favorite series that return time and time again to the challenges and rewards of finding love, making friends and building relationships with peoples and places are Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski Family and Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor books.

A distinct but related category of these types stories are romances about immigrants & ex-pats. People who not only leave their hometowns or states but are building lives in other countries. I love reading about the adjustments required to live in a different culture, the ideas and traditions we sometimes unconsciously carry from our home cultures and how they complicate our relationships. As someone who has negotiated the sometimes fraught waters of inter-cultural romance I love reading about it. Kat Latham has written a couple of stories with Ex-pats and bi-national couples which I really enjoyed (Knowing the Score & Mine Under the Mistletoe). I loved Mary Ann Rivers’ Live with its homesick Welsh hero, set on going home while slowly falling in love with a girl that has never left home. I also love Laura Florand’s novels, both the Amour et Chocolat and La Vie en Roses series, where the lovers often have to discover all that is lost in translation, the little cultural nuances, mores and cues that can lead to misunderstandings beyond simply not sharing the same first language.

LiveI love stories of misfits and outsiders, people who don’t quite fit in or and are not fully accepted by the culture at large. When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, I knew that I didn’t quite fit the idealized Puerto Rican image of beauty, and when I left home as light-skinned Latina, I got and still get lot of comments like “you don’t look Puerto Rican” and those comments are exhausting and wearying as they make you feel not quite right. Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series while first and foremost action packed stories of adventure and love that I fell in love with for their intricate world-building and steam-punky goodness, are also populated with people of color whose lives are complicated by how they look, what their heritage is or they ways their bodies have been modified. Delphine Dryden’s geeky and kinky characters in the Theory of Attraction series are misfits and outsiders of a different sort. I connect with these smart men and women whose differences from those around them might not be readily visible but still set them apart, and make them feel slightly out of sync with the rest of society.

I love strong and complicated family relationships. It is cliché to point out that Hispanics and Latin@s deeply value family, but what is less well understood is how complicated and difficult those extended family relationships can be. Divorce, substance abuse, distance, family expectations and aspirations complicate our families. In Lauren Dane’s books from her Brown Family series and its related novels to her Urban Fantasy and Science Fiction I find depictions of complicated families that are both honest and raw. Her family relationships are rarely straightforward; instead they are often sources of both strength and conflict. I love that she can acknowledge the role of our families of origin play in the families we build and their power to affect our relationships for good or ill. I recently read her novella Sway from the Delicious series, where we see both Daisy Huerta’s loving, healthy yet not idealized Mexican-American family and Levi’s complicated but close-knit WASPY family and how concern and conflict from both sides nearly derailed Daisy and Levi’s love affair.

Bitter SpiritsI love to read stories that assume and portray a multicultural world, which is rarer than you might think. I love books where the communities and groups of friends depicted are not all white and include more than a token person of color. I wish I saw more authors that realized that you can find people of color in all sorts of communities, big, small, urban and rural. I loved how vibrantly diverse Jenn Bennett’s 1920’s San Francisco is in her Bitter Spirits series, and the fact that we see people of color in all sorts roles going about their lives. In contemporary romance I really enjoy Audra North’s books for its everyday inclusion of people of color as main and supporting characters. I know when I read a person of color in her romances, their race isn’t “the issue”, but instead just a part of who they are.

When I was growing up in Puerto Rico it sometimes felt like machismo was the default male philosophy, and culturally we were raised to accept that you could tell the good ones from the bad ones because they listened to their Abuela, watched out for their nieces and sisters and that all the novias & chulitas would be set aside for the right one. Although I never let myself date a Machista or ever wanted a real live rake I still have a soft spot for stories of reformed rakes, of big strong men who know they are beat when they face a fierce grand-aunt like Lady Osbaldestone and are drawn to strong bossy women who don’t simply sit waiting to be rescued. I found my fix for this trope in the dozens of Stephanie Laurens Cynster series and Nalini Singh Psy-changeling novels which I binged on when I first found romance novels.

The Lotus PalaceOne of the most enduring telenovela tropes is that off a cross-class/Cinderella romance. In the telenovelas I watched as a child some rich guy was always falling for some girl from the wrong side of the tracks (who often conveniently was some of other rich guy’s secret baby…but that is another story). As a result of prolonged and sustained exposure to this trope, I have become very picky about the kind of cross-class romances I can enjoy. Unlike the telenovelas I watched as kid I want authors to address the real obstacles and sacrifices involved in those kinds of relationships. Two of my favorites are Jeannie Lin’s Lotus Palace, whose portrayal of deep family bonds, loyalty and sacrifice lend weight to Bai Huang and Yue-ying love and Cecilia Grant’s A Gentleman Undone, where Will and Lydia’s love is truly costly to them, costing them financially, in social esteem and even family contact.

The un-employment rate in Puerto Rico has been very high for a very long time, so my whole life my parents have the stressed the importance of education and work-ethic to the point that I didn’t realize that till I was in college that many people did not in fact go on to get a college education, but in my life it simply wasn’t optional. I was taught to value and respect those who humbly worked hard jobs to provide for their families and to provide opportunities for paid for work for others whenever possible. I look at my family, at my grandmothers who both worked and managed business. My great-grandparents who farmed and ran a bakery and as result I rarely feel a romance is complete if it doesn’t address the significance and value of work or the impact of struggling to make ends meet. I find myself deeply drawn both to stories where characters have to negotiate work-life balance because the characters love their work, are so good at it that it can easily consume them, like Julie James’ FBI series novels and Emma Barry’s Easy Part series and to novels where characters work hard in less than glamorous settings (Cara McKenna’s After Hours and Hard Time), where work is not identity but necessity.

After HoursThis is just a small part of the tropes and story elements I enjoy, as I haven’t mentioned some of my favorite writers and books, but their appeal to me is not something I can easily tie back to my Latina experience but are instead things I like simply because of all the other things that form who I am beyond my race, like my love-hate relationship with librarian romances and my aversion to billionaires. What are the tropes and story elements that connect the most deeply with you? I would love to hear your recommendations of books that fit some of these tropes and elements and I haven’t discovered yet. You can find me on twitter as @anacoqui and find my reviews on my blog.

So – what are your thoughts?! Chime in! (And have you read any of these books?)

SHHM Short: Elvira Ashton

Hello! My friends – I confess – I >.> actually didn’t get a chance to read this post until formatting it. Elvira Ashton found me on twitter when I put out a call to Hispanic Romance Authors. And … I’m bending the rules (in apparently many ways) – but I figured … hey. You know? Variety is the spice of life?

Without further ado… Ms. Ashton!

Heroes and Heroines from Spain

When I think about which one is gonna be the next hero or heroine in my story, I ́m pretty sure about what kind of man or woman I would inspire in. Here in Spain we have some of them to take as an example.

A man I always have on my mind as a possible hero is Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as “El Cid”. He was a brave man born in eleven century and, as a King ́s knight, he had a plenty life full of action, adventures, and love, of course. I like to think he was in love with his wife, Jimena, for ages, and that their love survived across the adversities of their lives, even when he was sent to “el destierro” (banishment), where he had to live far away of Jimena for too many years. At the end they finally joined and today both of them are buried in Burgos Cathedral, together.

So “El Cid” is one of my favorite Spanish heroes and Jimena is a wonderful heroine, but I invite you to learn about some others and to write about them, and also I would be very happy to know about your own heroes and heroines!

Lots of kisses from Murcia, Spain.

Elvira Ashton.

SHHM Feature: Dee Tenorio

My goodness this year has been flying by! Technically yesterday was the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, but ALBTALBS doesn’t do Monday posts. >.> To kick off this new celebration of Smithsonian Heritage Month I got the wonderful Dee Tenorio to come visit! I really loved this post and I hope you’ll chime in. :)

What Culture Means To Me

My mother and I were discussing culture the other day, as one of our local grocery stores was having a sale for “Dia De Las Patrias”. Now, I didn’t remember that being a holiday and neither did my mother and she was a bit confused. Allow me to explain. My mother is a Native American and in California, that often means she speaks Spanish, because that’s the language the Indians were allowed and it’s kind of stuck. Now, me? I mangle my father’s language horribly. I can understand it to a degree (especially Spanglish), but I read it a heck of a lot better than I verbalize it. Between the two of us…yeah, we didn’t know what that was. It translates to “Day of The Homelands”, which seems to be a very sweet reference to the Mexican Independence celebrations going on down south. To which my mother asks, “Why are we celebrating that here? It’s not OUR independence.”

Much to my surprise, I had a good answer: Because it’s their culture. Your culture is part of you no matter where you are.

I’ll be honest, being brown in Southern California has had some serious drawbacks in my time. (It was worse before my time, but that’s a different story.) So a lot of my sense of being Hispanic is wrapped up in my sense of being rejected because of it. Folks get it in their head what Hispanic means and judge accordingly, whether that’s good or bad or blasé. Being born Mexican didn’t make me automatically a “wetback”, it didn’t mean I would magically know the language. I didn’t have a mental blueprint for cutting lawns and I wasn’t inclined to clean houses or serve. That’s what it means to a lot of people here.

For me, being Hispanic—being Mexican—is a lot about food, lol. It’s about my Grandmother’s kitchen and the music she loved to listen to. It’s telenovelas starring actresses with fabulous hair sobbing streaks of make up down their cheeks while we peeled potatoes and stared in awe, demanding Grandma tell us what was going on. It’s about the sound of my grandfather speaking Spanish so fast no one could tell where any words ended. My mom teaching us Cumbias and and the utter glory that is pan dulce, fresh from the bread man’s truck. And, yes, it’s a lot about tortillas. There is a sound that not a lot of people recognize anymore—the sound of a metal rolling pin hitting the wooden cutting board with this perfect “ting” every time it comes down and rolls the masa into a perfectly circular shape. That’s the sound of being Mexican for me, a chime that encapsulates the smells and voices and memories of my childhood.

We talked then, about how culture isn’t just where you are or even where you come from. It’s about the experiences you have with your family and the traditions that you share with the ones who came before and the ones you bring up. My kids all know the sound of the tortillas being rolled out. They know the smell of the beans and deliciousness of menudo. But I think the best thing we’ve been able to share with them is the togetherness we feel when we sit at the table together and create memories they can share with their children. Hopefully memories filled with laughter, spices and commitment…and maybe a little cumbias on the side.

About the Author: Dee Tenorio has a few reality issues. After much therapy for the problem—if one can call being awakened in the night by visions of hot able-bodied men a problem—she has proved incurable. It turns out she enjoys tormenting herself by writing sizzling, steamy romances of various genres spanning paranormal mystery dramas, contemporaries and romantic comedies. Preferably starring the sexy, somewhat grumpy heroes described above and smart-mouthed heroines who have much better hair than she does.

The best part is, no more therapy bills!

Well, not for Dee, anyway. Her husband and kids, on the other hand…

If you would like to learn more about Dee and her work, please visit her website.

ConvictedThe only thing more dangerous than passion is the truth.

Retired Marine and new Sheriff’s Deputy Cade Evigan is hanging onto his damaged soul—and his personal code—by a thread. His current mission? Weed out a violent motorcycle crew from a small mountain town. The problem? Katrina Killian, a woman standing firmly on the other side of the law, smack in the middle of the gang he’s there to destroy. She may get under his skin, but the sultry biker has criminal written all over her. So why can’t he see her like any other convict?

For two years, Katrina has been a DEA agent hiding in plain sight amidst a pack of killers, working to put an end to the gang that has terrorized her hometown. The last thing she needs is to fall in love with a man who could blow her cover—and her heart—to pieces, but Cade’s become an addiction she can’t break. Unable to risk either of their lives with the truth, she plays both ends against the middle to keep him safe. But lies can only last so long, and Katrina’s time has just run out…

Sound good? You can get a copy here! :D

SHHM is Smithsonian Hispanic Heritage Month

Hello darlings! The plan this year was to celebrate all the Smithsonian Heritage Months. We’re still in the process – and who knows, there might be a repeat. But! I just wanted to let you know what “SHHM” stands for because you’ll be seeing it in front of all the posts from September 15 – October 15. Which, actually, is when Hispanic Heritage “Month” is. (I don’t get it either.) Anyway … Yay Hispanic Heritage Month!!!

I also wanted to let you know that I’m basically coming out of a 4+ month hiatus, so fingers crossed things will finally look up and stop being so crazy!

Thanks so much for sticking with me – I miss you all! <3