The Cruel Prince- Book Review

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air, #1)The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t think I was going to like this book because every book I read that featured the Folk sort of rubbed me the wrong way. Let’s face it, fairies and all their kin are not very nice. But I was so wrong when it came to this book. I absolutely loved it. All the twists and turns, surprises, the very flawed characters who in spite of it all manage to be somehow likable. I don’t like bad boys but I got to say I’m in love with Carden and the love-hate relationship (mostly hate) between him and Jude. I admire Holly Black’s talent to move the characters and the reader from a totally magical, unfamiliar world to our modern, very familiar world and vice-versa. I admit, I was shocked by the bloody scene in the beginning (thinking, is this really YA?) but as you read on, you realize how necessary that brutal scene was in order to establish Madoc’s personality. Extremely well-developed characters, intricate plot, and tantalizing promises of things yet to come.
Already bought The Wicked King and I can’t wait to start reading it.

View all my reviews

Whatever It Takes-Guest Blog

Today I have the pleasure of introducing Leigh Fleming as my guest blogger. Please join me in welcoming her.

Whatever It Takes

by Leigh Fleming

January 8, 2019

Contemporary Romance

Available through Amazon 

Some secrets aren’t meant to be kept.

Whatever It Takes, the fourth book in the Whatever series, takes place in the small fictional town of Highland Springs, WV. Its heroine is Darla Heartwood, a successful realtor and Citizen of the Year in the close-knit rural town. On the surface, Darla is a spunky, go-getter, but she has a secret she’s carried for over eighteen years. A secret she’d been determined to bury forever.

The story was inspired by a show I heard on NPR in which a woman had given up her baby to adoption many years ago. One day, her biological child reached out to her, requesting they meet. She didn’t want to reunite with the child she’d given away. It was never revealed in the NPR story as to why she didn’t want to see her child. That got my wheels turning.

Darla’s story began as a secret baby book, but turned into a testimony to the #MeToo movement. Her experience is not unlike many women, and in fact, was loosely based on a work-based sexual harassment situation I endured when I was nineteen. Thankfully, my story ended better than hers.

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whatever it takes ebook cover

Short Synopsis

Secrets are best left buried in the past, something Darla Heartwood knows better than anyone. She’s hidden the truth for eighteen years until the night of her birthday when she receives a call asking if she gave birth to a baby girl. Suddenly, her perfectly ordered world, successful business, and public persona come unraveled.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it to. Jason Byrne found that out the hard way. Left to raise his baby daughter on his own, he’s made a quiet life for them, teaching at the local college and dedicating his time to being a single dad. He had hoped to avoid the promise he’d made to Meghan—to find her biological mother when she turned eighteen—but when his healthy, athletic daughter collapses and doctors aren’t able to determine why, he can’t put it off any longer.

Meeting the daughter she gave up and the handsome, distinguished man who raised her, Darla decides it’s time she faces her fears. Meghan deserves a strong, brave role model. To earn her respect, Darla must confront the powerful man who left her pregnant at fifteen. She has to do Whatever It Takes to forgive herself, stand up and be heard, and open her heart to love and family.

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Author Bio 

Leigh Fleming creates unique characters facing life’s challenges but who are always rewarded with their happy ending. Her latest release, Whatever It Takes, is the fourth book in the Whatever series. Stay Hidden, the first in her Hidden series, won the Lone Star Writing Contest for romantic suspense in 2017.

A member of Romance Writers of America and the Washington Romance Writers chapter, Leigh lives in Martinsburg, West Virginia, with her husband, Patrick, and her deaf French bulldog, Napoleon, and is mom to adult children, Tom and Liza. When she’s not writing in her windowless office, she enjoys reading, travelling, scrapbooking, and spending time with friends.

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Offended & Bewildered

It’s not the first time I write a blog about the many frustrations of being a romance writer and not be taking seriously. This is one of them.

I recently attended a writing event as a panelist where I was once again reminded of what people (including or especially other writers) think a romance is. They conveniently forget that the great ones of literature such as Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, and even–gulp–the Great Bard were all romance writers.

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Yes, the genre has gone through some significant changes throughout the years (some good, some bad) and I’ll be the first one to admit that there are a lot of really bad romance novels out there. This, however, can be said about any other genre today. There are excellent high fantasy books just as there are some absolutely awful. Same can be said of mystery, science fiction, and everything in between. Even high-brow literature has its winners and losers. I can think of at least one Pulitzer Prize prize winner who wrote a book that made zero sense whatsoever.

So to bundle up every romance book and label it “porn” is not only offensive but totally incorrect.

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Anyone who knows me well will tell you I abhor porn. To me, porn objectifies people of every gender (but especially women) and trivializes sex. Don’t get me wrong. There is sex in my romances, heat level depending on the plot and the characters. These are love stories and where there is love eventually, and in most cases, there will be a communion of bodies as much as of hearts. But a loving sex scene should not be confused with porn. If you think my love scenes are porn, then you must have led a very sheltered life.

When someone at this writing event insinuated (quite loudly in a  room full of people) that I wrote porn and therefore what I wrote would not make its way to the group online page or anthology, I was extremely offended. It’s been boiling just under the surface since then and I’ve considered posting something to the effect, because I feel that by not defending my writing is admitting that I do indeed write porn. Which I don’t.

This reminds me of when the Harry Potter books were first released. There was such a fuss made by certain religious groups about the evil nature of such stories. They called for boycotts of the books and other extreme reactions to a wonderful fictional world that depicted good against evil. I was shocked to find out that many of the people running their mouths about the books had never read as much as the first chapter. How can you judge something if you’ve never read, or at least sample parts of it?

This person who accused me of writing porn has never read any of my books, so how does she know what my writing is like? Why didn’t she refrain from making assumptions before sampling one of my books? All she did was show how ignorant she is about the genre. One silver lining though: I am now determined to show up to a book open mic event and show everybody that my books are well written and have depth. I want to prove to all who have sneered at my books that romance is not the sex fest they think it is. Not my type of romance and not a lot of romance I read and love. Let’s not judge a whole group of authors and their books by a few.

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What do you think? Are you a reader that believes romance to be a low-form of literature or are you willing to set your assumptions aside and give romance a chance? Or any other genre for that matter.

For those who still think romance is the black sheep of the literary family and a mere venue for pornographic voyeurism, here are some readings that may make you change your mind:

Inventing Human Rights: A History by Lynn Hunt

Where Are Romance Novels Headed (Chicago Tribune)

The Slandering of Fairy Tales

A few days ago I was watching a news’ report about how several female celebrities are raging a war against Disney movies, claiming they’re sexist and promote rape culture (I’m paraphrasing). I get very upset when people bad-mouth Disney movies. I’ve been a groupie my whole life and before Disney, I was a fairy tale nut (still am) and I really don’t like the insinuation that I am supporting sexism by watching those magical creations of human imagination.

Fairy tales were written a long time ago when things were very different from today, but they are also works of fiction that ooze symbolism while trying to teach important lessons. No, I don’t think the lesson is “girls can only succeed if a man comes to rescue them”. Instead I’ve always thought that the message is that nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams, and that kindness and honesty are always rewarded. The men in the stories are the mere personification of the girls’ goals and not necessarily meant to be taken literally.

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I’ve been on a solid diet of fairy tales and Disney movies since I was a little girl and never once hoped or expected a man to come and make all my dreams come true. Yes, I dreamed of being loved (who doesn’t?) but I wanted to succeed on my own, have a career I loved, achieve my dreams. Never did I make plans for a big wedding and wished to stay home and take care of babies while my husband went to work and reached out for the stars.

Fairy tales don’t teach girls that they are helpless without a man. Cinderella dreamed of “moving up” and she did. The Little Mermaid wanted adventures, to learn new things, and see a new world. And she did.  Snow White (not my favorite character) managed to control seven guys on her own (Reverse Harem anyone?) and got rescued by a kiss. She was an unloved child who, like everyone else, needed to be loved and have someone to love. Love does not equal subjugation or dependency. It’s a vital emotion that all humans need for a happy life. Does it have to be the love of a man? No, but fairy tales are simplistic stories trying to convey a message in a way that will grab the attention of readers. The man in fairy tales represent dreams to be achieved. And yes, back when these stories first were imagined, the world was a very different place and marriage was indeed a female goal because there weren’t many other options for women. But what those men symbolized then hasn’t changed: they still represent dreams come-true, wishes realized–even if those dreams have changed substantially.

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Don’t underestimate your daughters. If you teach them right, they won’t think that the message behind a fairy tale is that the only way for a woman to succeed in life is getting married. I’ve been a feminist my whole life and I love fairy tales for what they are: magical stories about finding what we always dreamed of. Nothing more, nothing less.

What do you think? Do you think fairy tales and Disney movies are sexist and they give the wrong message to little girls everywhere? Or do you think they are simply stories that entertain and feed the imagination of children around the globe?

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Books and Heartgasms

This weekend I learned a new word. One that totally describes what I feel when I read good romance: a heartgasm. It’s a perfect term for that feeling I get when reading about a loving relationship between the pages of a book. A relationship between equals, between two people who respect and love each other despite their differences.

Those of you who follow this blog or my Facebook page know that I have strong feelings about certain things that have became a part of the romance novel scene (some that have been around from the beginning, other things that came later but are just as insidious). In the heels of E L James’ success, a lot of other romance writers and readers were sold on the idea that disrespect can be sexy.  I have quit reading many a romance book because of that idea. Including romances that have been international best sellers and critically acclaimed.

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Outlander is such a book. After hearing my friends and acquaintances praising the series as the most romantic book in years, I bought and began reading it. At first I absolutely loved it. What’s there not to love? A strong woman travels back in time to Bonnie Scotland to find the love of her life in the shape of this amazing, hunky Scot. The best part about Jamie Fraser is that he is strong but sweet, respectful, willing to lay his life down for the woman he loves, and in total awe of her beauty and strength. Even though there is way too much unnecessary sex in the story (my opinion) it didn’t bother me–it was loving and mutually satisfying.

Until a scene about half way through the book when Jamie sort of forces himself on his wife to “show” her who the boss was. I couldn’t read anymore after that. Before that scene there was the whole issue of a beating to put her in “her place”. However historically correct that may have been, the Jamie that I fell in love with in the beginning of the story ceased to exist and was replaced by someone very willing to do the unthinkable to prove to himself and the other men in the clan that he was man enough. Disrespectful and power-driven. I was very disappointed because the book was well written and the premise for the story was just up my alley. After all the first full length novel I ever wrote, way back before the new millenium (yes, I’m that old) was a time-travelling romance set in beautiful Scotland. My hero was from the same era as Jamie’s but he would never, ever disrespect his girl.

Heart icon. Vector illustration.

So back to the heartgasm. Throughout the years there have been many novels in different genres who have given me one. There have been YA novels, science fiction books, fantasy, women’s fiction, classics, and of course romance. It so happens it is the feeling I want to give my readers with my heroes and heroines, with their relationships and the way they overcome difficulties and obstacles together. The way they love and support each other while tackling their day to day life with all its troubles. That kind of thing–not the tough sex, the hot billionaire or the sexy biker–never fails to give me multiple satisfying heartgasms. What about you?

The Barbie Factor

I read something online about Barbie dolls the other day, which I believe was meant as a joke but made me think, “Hey, that’s exactly how it was for me.”

The post was about how Barbie dolls had been so much more than dress-up toys for this woman writer–the dolls were a tool for her to practice how to take over the world.

In my country we didn’t have Barbie dolls, but we had something very similar. Mine was a Susi (which I still have today) and yes, I dressed her, combed her hair, and admired her perfect made-up eyes and lips. But Susi was so much more than that.

Susi Dolls

Susi dolls

She was my prop to recreate all the stories I had in my mind. I’d plan and put together elaborate stories and play them over and over again, adding details, perfecting it. I remember one particular setting I seemed to favor–not sure why: a baby bathtub which I had filled with every supply my doll and her family would need. The plot was simple; they were escaping some kind of calamity and they were stuck on that ship until they found a safe harbor somewhere.

Even though Susi had a husband, she was always the one in charge. She took care of the whole family and was the one who found solutions to every problem. She might have been tiny–hubby was a full size doll–but she was fierce.

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Because of that I always roll my eyes at the whole controversy about said doll. I never looked at Susi and thought, “I want to look just like her and be perfect, thin, and helpless.” Instead, I thought, “Girl, let’s go do something awesome and worthy of the kick-ass heroine you are.”

I projected my inner goddess into the lifeless doll and practiced my writer’s imagination and my female super-powers 🙂

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My original Susi with the medieval dress I made for her. (sorry it’s so blurry)

What did you do with your Barbie dolls?

From the Ashes of Hate

Caution: venting ahead.

I’ve been so disappointed with humanity lately. I woke up today feeling exhausted and felt even worse after listening to the news. Those of you who know me or follow me here and/or on Facebook know that I very rarely talk about politics, religion or sports (you may laugh about the last one but being married into a sports-fanatic family this is a no-no subject in our house). Being a woman of a certain age means I have been through many things the younger crowd can’t even imagine (now I really sound like my grandma).

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When I was ten my country went through a revolution. The fascist government that had been in power pretty much since royalty became a thing of the past was deposed after a military coup. For the next decade we lived and breathed politics—and what people who had been repressed for far too long thought meant freedom. The music we heard, the movies we watched, the shows on TV, the conversation at the coffee shop were all around politics.  It took a long time to go back to the regularly scheduled program of life in the global stage. I don’t want to go back to that.

I am tired of all the arguing and finger-pointing that has been going on for the past year. Worse, my heart breaks every time I watch news of violence in the name of ideologies that profess tolerance and peace. What the hell are we doing?

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I hear from friends who have “unfriended” friends and family members because they were on the “other side” (whatever the side may be), husbands and wives fighting over politics, hate spewing from people’s mouths no matter where you turn to. I’m tired. I feel cranky all the time. I go to yoga, find my peace but as soon as I leave the studio it hits me again, that anger that permeates the air of lately.

I thought we, humans, had evolved but it seems like we take one step forward only to take many more backwards. Freedom is our right, but let’s not forget what the definition of freedom is. I had to take a class on economy and politics when I was in college. I don’t remember much about it but there is one thing I will never forget; the way individual freedoms were defined. It goes like this: you’re free to do whatever up to the point when it begins infringing on somebody else’s freedom. That’s where it stops. I have lived by that tenet ever since. There’s been a lot of people stepping over that line these past few months.

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I have friends in both sides of the debate and it’s been painful to watch as one side attacks the other. And you want to know what the irony (and scariest) part of it all is? As someone who has never supported one side or the other exclusively and is an expert at observing (a major perk of being an introvert) I hear the almost exact complaints from either side. The left blames those on the right for the same things the right blames those on the left. It’s insane. It’s exhausting and serves absolutely no other purpose than creating an environment of anger and negative energy.

Yesterday, for the first time in a long while, I felt a glint of hope that we may yet be peaceful and rational people. From the ashes of what has been a troubling wave of hate and violence, something beautiful emerged. I’m so proud of what women across the country (and some males) managed to do yesterday (Jan 21). Crowds of thousands across the country marched in solidarity and peace to demand the respect we deserve as human beings. Ladies, I’m so proud of being a woman in the US today. Thanks you for protesting in peace. You give me hope.

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Note:  I didn’t make it to the March because of my fear of crowds (anxiety issues) but together with a few other women I celebrated the occasion at yoga by focusing on the fifth chakra (voice) and in solidarity with all my friends who were marching in a super crowded Washington D.C.

 

Predators Among Us

There has been a lot of talk about sexual assault; the kind that millions of women worldwide endure on a daily base and that leaves deep psychological scars. When this whole scandal with one of the presidential candidates came to surface many people (some women included) said things like, “Well, if this was true why is it just now coming up?” or “Why are all these women all of a sudden coming forward with these stories? Isn’t that suspicious?”

I am not endorsing one side or the other of the political arena, but I’m here to tell you that the reason why all these women are coming forward now is because once the first one had the courage (yes, it takes courage) to bring her story into the public eye it gave all others the motivation and the strength to do the same.

When you have been a victim of that kind of assault, no matter how minor, you go through many emotions. You’re embarrassed that this happened to you, you feel guilty sometimes because of comments you hear about similar cases, you’re afraid that no-one will believe you or even worse, that they will turn you from the victim to the one who was asking for it.

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I grew up in a very male-oriented country at a time when women had very limited opportunities. Back then only rich people drove cars to work. Driving to school was unheard of. You took the bus or the train, most of the time both. During rush hour the public transportation was standing-room only and we were crushed against each other like sardines in a can. It never failed. There was always the one guy (sometimes two) who decided this was the optimum setting to give free reign to their sexual desires. By the time I hopped out of the train or the bus, I had been groped and rubbed against just as matter-of-fact as if I was wearing a sign saying, “Please, use my body in any way you please.”

From the time I was thirteen I had to endure these not-so-subtle attacks and the odious cat-calls. They were not really cat-calls and they did not stop at “hey beautiful”, “hot mama”, or whistling. Most were very explicit in what the men who yelled them out would do to me should they ever catch me alone. Others felt compelled to comment on parts of my body that should never have been discussed by strangers, especially those who were old enough to be my grandfather in some cases.

One day as I am sitting on a bus commuting home from a long day at work, I dozed off. When I woke up I felt something warm between my legs. The young man sitting next to me had slid his hand on my crotch and even my death-gaze did not faze him. Why didn’t I tell the bus driver or the police? Because I guarantee you if I did, someone would say he was just being a young, red-blooded male and what did I expect when I was wearing such tight pants?

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I am a much older woman now and if you think these incidents are lost in memory you’d be very wrong. They live in my head as vivid and as painfully embarrassing and demeaning as the day they happened. They have left scars, some of which I may not even be aware of. It’s hard to speak about them (this post has been languishing in the draft folder for a while) without feeling shame.

Things have changed quite a bit since then, even in my country, but let’s face it, there are still many who either think this is acceptable behavior or that it’s just “play” and does not do any harm. Well, you are wrong! It’s time women stand together against this type of assault and for one, I admire and applaud those who were courageous enough to come forward. As a woman who “been there, done that”, I thank you.

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Going backwards

Funny (or tragic, depending on how you choose to look at it) how very good things often result in terrible things. A couple blogs ago I wrote about how romance literature was becoming crass and – in my opinion- disrespectful to women. I heard from much younger friends who believe that the use of vulgar language and acceptance of certain sexual acts in romance novels has more to do with women taking charge than reflecting any kind of disrespect toward them. I respectfully disagree.

When I talk to the younger American generation, I am always amazed by what they accept as “normal” or –in this case –romantic. I think the problem is that in the US women have been “liberated” a lot longer than in other parts of the world. By liberated, I mean that in spite of all the obstacles that females still today encounter these roadblocks pale by comparison with what women have to face elsewhere. I am not even talking about the countries where females are worth nothing and treated worse than cattle. I am instead focusing on my own native country and how my experiences growing up female shaped these ideas I have today.

Until I was ten years old, I lived in a country ruled by a fascist government that controlled every aspect of society. There was no freedom of speech and censorship had impeded some of the progress that was felt in the rest of Europe from reaching us. Not that I minded, being a child at the time. Women were seen the same way that they were seen in other parts of the western world. Quite a few were in the workforce but mostly as secretaries, teachers, and hairdressers. But there was, at least, a certain amount of respect for the “fair sex”. When I turned ten there was a political coup and the government was overthrown by the military in a bloodless revolution. The buzz word after that was freedom. Unfortunately, this was an occasion when something good (the turn into a more democratic society where individual liberties were respected) spawned something really bad.

The concept of freedom in the hands of a predominantly patriarch society (and after years of tight controls) quickly translated into sexual freedom- and not the good kind. Very soon, you could not walk out of your house without being exposed to pictures of naked women, legs spread out or amidst a sexual act. These pictures were literally everywhere. No parent could protect their children from them. They were in the streets, in stores, on TV, in movies… This created a culture of record-low disrespect for women. By the time I was 13, I could not walk down the street without being assailed by vulgar comments and be propositioned by males of all ages. I couldn’t take the train to go to school without being groped and rubbed against. I ceased to be a girl and became a sexual object with no free-will. At the time I didn’t realize this was wrong. I didn’t like it but it was the only way I knew. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized how I (and most of all girls back then) had been in a way abused by society at large.

Don’t get me wrong, in spite of these terrible conditions there were perfectly respectful men and most parents managed to somehow raise strong women who took charge of their lives and who still managed to love themselves. However, I cannot accept the type of disrespectful relationships that are portrayed in these so-called romances as normal or desirable and I do believe that we are doing a terrible disservice to the women of the future. By accepting- no, devouring disrespect both in literature and/or movies aren’t we giving the new generation of women the wrong message?

So yes, I find a lot of what’s going on in the romance world (either written or viewed) offensive. It makes me feel as if all the struggles of the women before me were in vain for we are now, not only going back to the world that I grew up in but a world where this lack of disrespect is being endorsed by women as much as men. I am glad I don’t have daughters because I don’t like where we are headed.