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Linda Hilton

Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic


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Currently reading

The Summer Tree
Guy Gavriel Kay
Progress: 10/383 pages
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America
Nancy MacLean
Progress: 134/574 pages
The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance
Northrop Frye
Progress: 43/200 pages
All the President's Men
Carl Bernstein, Bob Woodward
Progress: 73/383 pages
Women's Gothic and Romantic Fiction: A Reference Guide (American Popular Culture)
Kay Mussell
Progress: 17/157 pages
The Looking-Glass Portrait
Linda Hilton
Really Neat Rocks: A casual introduction to the rocks & gems of Arizona and the lapidary arts
Linda Hilton
Progress: 61/61 pages
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith
Jon Krakauer
The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende

5000 Times a Dolly -- RIP Carol Channing



Link is to a terrific montage of clips and stills.



Kind of surprised this hasn't been posted

Regarding author Sherrilyn Kenyon, posted link to her newsletter without further comment.



Unpublished, so why bother? DNF

A Lady in Need - Emily J. Holt

I picked this one out of the Kindle inventory -- now just over 5800 titles -- and started it Sunday afternoon when the gloom and grey and cold and rain made me a lady in need of entertainment.


Oh, ugh, the first couple of pages were terrible, dull, unfocused, telling-not-showing.


I blamed my disappointment on other factors -- I no longer trust my own opinion -- and decided I'd better check out other reviews to see what everyone else was saying.


That's how I found out this book no longer exists.  It's been pulled from Amazon.


It has a few reviews on Goodreads, and although some are the usual glowing, gushing raves, some of the others point to the same issues I saw within just a few pages.


There's no reason for me to continue with a book I'm not enjoying.  Maybe the author is rethinking the quality of her book, but at this point I don't care.

Unpublished -- Fuck you, Jimmy Thomas

— feeling cry
Legacy of Honor - Linda Hilton

When I sold my first historical romance in 1984, I had no input on the cover art.  What I got wasn't terrible -- I had seen worse -- but it wasn't great.  The people weren't right, Alexandra never wore either an orange or a purple dress, and there was an embarrassing typo in the back blurb.  But the illustration of the Kremlin interior was right, and the title was in big gold letters on a bright, eye-catching background, so I couldn't complain.


Complaining wouldn't have done any good anyway.


In 2013 when I was all excited about republishing Legacy of Honor as a digital edition, I was delighted to be able to select the cover art myself.  I spent a lot of time on it, since I didn't have a lot of money to spend.  Other covers had cost me more, and there wasn't always a decent return on that investment.  So when I found there were affordable pre-made covers on Jimmy Thomas's cover art site -- no, I won't provide a link -- I dared to hope I could find something I liked.


Thomas had never been one of my favorite cover models, but I'd been stuck with Fabio once, so again, I wasn't going to be too picky.  Anyway, I couldn't afford to be picky.  I found one of the stock photos I liked, but it wasn't available as a pre-made.  Then I found a pre-made that was close.


I think these covers cost around $50, maybe a little more, maybe a little less.  All you got to do was sort of fill in the blank with your name and the book's title, but the end product was reasonably professional looking.


And I happened to like it.  Oh, I would probably have preferred different lettering, and maybe to have my name more prominent, but I didn't have a fat budget for this one.


I was content.


Not that the book sold very well.  It was one of those big, fat, "bodice-ripper" type historicals, classic 1980s fare.  And it was set partly in Russia, with a Russian (or at least half-Russian) hero.  Okay, fine, it didn't sell.  But it was still there and I was happy.


Well, now it's come out that Jimmy Thomas is a fat-shaming asshole.  He put something to that effect on Facebook -- I can't link because I don't have any idea where it is anyway -- and now all of Romancelandia is up in arms.


They want everyone to ditch their Jimmy Thomas covers and get new ones.


For me, to quote the 1963 Essex, that's easier said than done.


I don't have the funds for new cover art.  I'm not sure my 2013 files on another computer are exactly compatible to effect a change in cover and re-upload to Kindle. 


But when I put up a brief little tweet to the effect that hey, I happen to like this cover and no one buys the book anyway, I got replies from total strangers that hey, there are people offering to do free covers to replace Thomas.  "Just do a search."


Oh, really?  How nice!  But I like my cover.  I didn't pick Jimmy Thomas because he was a jerk.  And I don't know any of these freebie artists.  (I know I don't because I don't know ANY artists.)


I don't want to feel pressured to take art I don't like.  I want a cover I like.  And I like the cover I have.


But I felt pressured, and unsupported, and so I just unpublished the book.  I took it down completely. 


Because I was art-shamed into it.


I don't share certain things online.  I tend not to share grief online.  I had a couple of family losses just before the holidays, and it was rough.  So when this came up today, I didn't really want to share it.


And it really wouldn't be that big a deal, because I mean it's not like I was selling any real copies of this book or even getting page reads on Kindle Unlimited.


But I was thinking about putting the old historicals -- Legacy of Honor, Firefly, Secrets to Surrender, and Shadows by Starlight -- on a special sale price for Valentine's Day.  Maybe it would bring in a few bucks, and maybe share some fun. 


Now that's out of the question.  The joy is gone.


I had seven crappy covers for my seven traditionally published books.  Now, when I had one I liked, I had to take it down.  This isn't like a bad review of my writing, which I would never see anyway because I don't read my reviews.  This was a shaming of something I had no control over.


For U.S. Expats




As far as I know, Meredith and I are not related.  She is married to original Poldark star Robin Ellis.

I don't review genres I know nothing about.

I don't read genre horror.  I kinda don't like it.  Blood and gore and that stuff is just icky to me.  Disney's Snow White scared the crap out of me when I was about four years old and I've never stopped being creeped out by horror movies and books.


When Halloween Bingo rolls around, I try to read a little bit of sort-of horror, but I don't enjoy it.


I have never read any of Stephen King's fiction.  None.  I tried The Stand, but I didn't get it and quit after about 10 pages.  I tried one other book, title forgotten, but it creeped me out within four or five pages, so that was the end of that.


I don't review horror fiction.  I don't read it, I don't have any idea what's good horror and what's bad horror, and I have no standards against which to measure anything I'd read.


Hard science fiction isn't my thing either.  It doesn't scare me or give me negative feelings; it just doesn't interest me.  So I read almost no hard science fiction and therefore I don't review it.


My go-to genres are historical romance, gothic romance, and romantic suspense; epic fantasy; and mystery.  Once in a while I'll pick up a thriller or a straight historical novel, so I have a little bit of background there.  These therefore are the genres I'll rate and review and pick apart microscopically.  They're the only ones I feel confident I can determine good writing from bad writing, thus good books from bad books.


I don't and won't negatively review books just because they're in genres I don't enjoy reading.


Rules for Reviewing: #1 - There are no rules

:::::huge sigh of frustration:::::


Some of us have been around this circus long enough to remember when there was an entire website devoted to telling reviewers that they were wrong for writing negative reviews, that reviewers were supposed to support authors, that reviewers who were also authors were obligated to support and help other authors, that reviewers who were also indie/self-publishing authors were evil bastards if they didn't automatically promote other indie/self-publishing authors AND offer them free editing services.


Apparently Amazon made the decision sometime in 2018 or maybe even before that, that in order to leave a product review (including book reviews), a customer must have purchased $50 worth of goods from Amazon in the calendar year and continue to buy at least $50 worth of goods in each subsequent year.  One presumes that this is an effort to curb the ongoing tsunami of fake reviews from fiverr accounts and other sources. 


Some reviewers and/or authors are upset about this.  One presumes that most of those upset are either authors (or other vendors) who were using fake reviews to boost their sales, or they were providers of fake reviews who were getting paid for them.


Please remember that the onslaught of fake reviews from fiverr and independent reviewers had been going on at least since 2013 and it had been brought to the attention of Amazon and its co-conspirator Goodreads with mountains of documentary evidence.


Please also remember that yours truly was responsible for the removal of over 6,000 fake reviews from Goodreads and it was only a drop in the bucket.  Almost all of those reviews were five-star recommendations.  A healthy portion of them had been purchased from fiverr.  Some of the fiverr shills returned again and again and again under different Amazon and Goodreads accounts, leaving fake five-star reviews to boost the sales of otherwise underperforming, shall we say, books and their authors.


These are fake reviews because they are not based on an honest, unbiased reading of the book.  They are purchased commercials, minus the disclaimer that the reviewer has been paid to deliver a glowing recommendation whether or not he/she has read a single word of the text. 


Setting aside all of the fake, purchased, commercial postings that masquerade as reviews, what constitutes a real review?


Because Amazon is a commercial site -- they're directly selling products -- they are bound by certain regulations of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. So . . .


1.  You can't review your own product, not even under another name/account.

2.  You can't have a friend or family member review your product.

3.  You can't negatively review a product with which your own product is in direct competition.

4.  You can't take any compensation for a review.


Amazon makes all of this very clear in their guidelines.  If they think you might have violated those guidelines, they can remove your reviews and even remove your account.  It is their site; removing your reviews is not government censorship.


So let's suppose that you are an average consumer who has met Amazon's requirement to have spent $50 on the site.  You've read a book and now want to review it.  What are the rules and regulations for doing that?


There are none.


You don't have to read the whole book.  If you loved or hated the first two pages, you can write and post a review based on that.  You can even write a review based on your anticipation of reading -- or not reading -- the book.


You don't have to be helpful, to either the author or to other readers.  You don't have to analyze why you liked or didn't like the book.  You can say it was filled with errors and not list any of them. You can say it had the most sound scientific foundation of any book ever published even though you know nothing about science.  You can claim it is historically inaccurate even if you know nothing about history. 


Now, if you want to establish a reputation as a trusted reviewer, one who has a large following of dedicated readers who can't wait for your next recommendation, one who receives hundreds or even thousands of free books each year because authors and publishers value your opinion, then you probably want to learn about the science behind science fiction or the history behind historical fiction.  You might want to refresh your knowledge of grammar and usage and punctuation.  You don't have to know everything there is to know or read everything there is to read, but getting a solid background in the literary genre of your choice is still a good idea.


Back in the day when I was reviewing for Rave Reviews magazine, I got stuck with a lot of horror and hard science fiction novels.  This was manifestly unfair to the authors and the readers, because I knew almost nothing about either genre.  I couldn't tell if a book was a good example of its type or not.  (I didn't get to review romance because that entire genre was handled by the parent magazine, Romantic Times, and they had their stable of professional reviewers.)  But I could at least describe the plot and express an opinion on whether I liked the characters or the writing.


When an Amazon or Goodreads or BookLikes or blog-based reviewer takes on the task of reviewing any given book, the only rule is honesty -- and it's one many reviewers break without consequences.  I understand this, and I've said so often enough before.  If the reviewer decides she wants to maintain the flow of free books by giving everything a four- or five-star review, that's her choice.  Is it honest?  Probably not, but she'll never admit it.  She'll say she just doesn't review books she doesn't like, or she only reviews books she finishes and she doesn't waste time on books she doesn't like.  Or she may simply state that she's never read a really bad book.


Readers who trust these rave reviewers are free to do so.  Maybe they don't care what the reviewer's real standards are.  Maybe they don't want to risk going beyond the reviewer's recommendations.  They're free to do so.


There's no rule that they have to post negative reviews.


But there's also no rule that a reviewer can't or shouldn't post a negative review.  Nor are there rules governing how a reviewer writes a negative review.


A reviewer doesn't have to justify her dislike of a given book.  She can if she wants to, but she doesn't have any obligation to.  Again, if she wants to establish a large and dedicated following, the better her reviews help her readers make up their own minds about a book, the more likely she is to gain followers. 


I'm a notoriously unlikable reviewer.  I incurred the wrath of That Website because I didn't let up on authors who published what I thought were poorly written books.  My reviews were often very detailed analyses of bad writing, bad research, lack of originality, poor formatting, and so on.  Some readers criticized me for spending so much time on a negative review.  Why go to all that trouble for a book I didn't like?  Because I wanted to.


Because most of the books I reviewed like that were free on Amazon, and I felt free or not, they should have been better written.  Even poor people like me deserve well-written books. 


But I also know -- and I've said this before, too -- that there are too many writers out there who never get critical feedback on their work.  Everyone tells them how great their book is, but "everyone" consists of Aunt Jane and Neighbor Brenda, and the writer never hears from someone who knows how stories are supposed to be constructed and how punctuation works. 


Sadly, there are people out there who call this "gatekeeping," as if there should be no standards.  They become angry and defensive, and yes, they have the right to do so.  There are no rules against it.  Neither are there rules against gatekeeping.


As a reviewer, I'm not going to like every sexually promiscuous heroine.  I'm not going to like every medieval setting.  I'm not going to like every beta hero.  I reserve the right to judge each book on its own merits.


I also reserve the right to challenge people who try to tell me how reviewers should review.  If you want to review that way, then go right ahead.  But please, don't tell me I can't review my own way, too.



The hating on reviewers starts out 2019 right where 2018 left off



I am trying to contain myself and be nice, but it's getting more and more difficult.

The Summer Tree - Reading progress update: I've read 10 out of 383 pages. And about the ten million . . . .

The Summer Tree - Guy Gavriel Kay

Disclaimer:  I'm not sure I ever posted a disclaimer about this, so here goes.  I bought the Kindle edition of this book in October 2018. I do not know the author personally, but I follow him on Twitter and we have had some brief exchanges there.  I also purchased the second volume of The Fionavar Tapestry, The Wandering Fire.  I obtained the third volume, The Darkest Road, in the late 1980s as a review copy when I was reviewing for Rave Reviews magazine.  I refused to write a review, or even read the book, because I felt it unfair to review the last volume of a trilogy when I hadn't read and couldn't even acquire the first two books.  I am an author of contemporary and historical romance and various non-fiction.


So far, I've read the first 10 pages of this book about fourteen times since purchasing it in late October; it's now late December.  I keep getting interrupted, then have to go back and reread to remember what's going on.  This is not therefore a real status report.


It's a new year's resolution, of sorts.


My resolution, initially arrived at without a whole lot of thought, is to read 10,000,000 words of fiction in 2019.  I'm qualifying that here because I'm quite sure I read far more than ten million words of news and non-fiction and internet chatter every year.  And while I may include some non-fiction full-length works in this accounting, the real purpose of it is to boost my reading of book-length fiction.


I used to read almost nothing but novels.  My non-fiction reading was mostly research material for my writing.  When my writing career crashed and burned in 1996, I lost all interest in fiction.  In 1998, when I went back to college, almost all my reading was academic stuff.  Since then, I've sometimes had some difficulty getting back into fiction.  That's one of the reasons I've enjoyed the Halloween Bingo game so much -- it has forced me to focus my reading at least partly on fiction, especially genre fiction.


So for 2019, it's going to be fiction, fiction, and more fiction.  Mostly romance and epic fantasy -- like The Fionavar Tapestry -- but who knows what else might get thrown in!  I have a system in place for estimating the number of words per book, and I'm going to set up a spreadsheet to keep track of them.  Only completed books count.


I started with Phyllis A. Whitney's Window on the Square, and now I'm going to curl up in bed with the Kindle and The Summer Tree.  It's cold here in central Arizona tonight, so this sounds like a good plan.





Window on the Square -- Don't look too closely. There are too many holes

Window on the Square - Phyllis A. Whitney

I started out rating this 2.5 stars, then dropped it back to 2.0.  As a book to while away a few hours, it's fine.  It's a good page-turner, with multiple entwined mysteries, and I didn't see any obvious give-aways in terms of the ultimate revelation.


The ultimate revelation itself, however, is a bit of a let-down.  While not unexpected, it doesn't really mesh with the characters as they're presented.  So the following is going to be filled with spoilers.  If you want to pick this up, the Open Road Media edition for Kindle is currently $2.99, and there's a 3-book set with Thunder Heights and The Golden Unicorn for $3.99.


The rest of this very long review is pretty much spoilers, so consider yourself warned!


It's important to have a detailed summary of the action in order to see how all the tropes work as well as how the ending is set up.


Setting is 1870s New York City, Washington Square to be precise.  There's a bit of local description and a few bits and pieces of contemporary history, but not much.  Certainly not enough to make anyone running to Google to check out the accuracy.


Young Megan Kincaid has recently lost her mother and younger brother in an accident.  Her father, a professor at Princeton in New Jersey, was killed in the Civil War,  Her brother Richard was apparently developmentally disabled.  The book was published in 1962, so there isn't a whole lot of emphasis placed on Richard's condition.


Megan is the classic impoverished, innocent, idealistic young woman, the archetypal gothic heroine.


Megan's mother was a successful seamstress, and now Megan proposes to make her own living the same way, though she's not nearly as skilled.  She receives a summons to the home of Brandon and Leslie Reid, ostensibly to sew a frock for Leslie's daughter Selina.  But her other job, and the real reason she was hired, is to care for Selina's brother, Jeremy.  They are respectively eight and nine -- or seven and eight -- years of age.  I forget precisely how old they are.


Jeremy is withdrawn and moody, the result of having accidentally killed his father, Daniel Reid, two years before.  Selina is boisterous and spoiled.  Jeremy is blamed for everything; Selina gets away with everything.


Jeremy and Selina are the classic vulnerable orphans, for whom the heroine will sacrifice anything and everything, including her reputation and her life, if necessary.


Leslie Reid is the gorgeous widow who married her late husband's older brother within a year of Daniel's death.  She is fragile, often in poor health, but always beautiful.  She dotes on Selina, but seems to have no feeling for Jeremy at all.  She appears, however, to be devoted to the memory of her late husband.  Daniel was some kind of crusader in the days of political corruption.


Leslie is the archetype of the beautiful "other woman" who stands between the innocent heroine and at least one of the men put forward as her Happy Ever After.


Brandon Reid is Leslie's second husband, older brother of her first.  He is dark, handsome, worldly, powerful.  He explains to Megan that she is not just a seamstress; she is a kind of supra-governess, who will be living in the Reid home to try to bring Jeremy out of his emotional lockdown.


Brandon Reid is the classic gothic "hero."


Thora Garth was Leslie's childhood nurse, and is now governess to Selina and Jeremy.  She is devoted to Leslie and, by extension to Selina, but she hates Jeremy, considers him evil and wicked.  She makes no attempt to hide her hatred and calls him out frequently.


But Thora has another side.  Fairly early on, Megan discovers that Garth (as she is most often called) has a habit of sneaking into Leslie's room when the mistress of the house is out.  Garth dons Leslie's gowns, bathes herself in Leslie's perfumes, and gazes with deep longing at the miniature portraits of both Daniel and Brandon Reid.  Garth quickly develops an open animosity toward Megan.


Thora Garth is the classic nurse/governess protector of the delicate "other woman," who manifests symptoms of irrationality and/or insanity as a threat to the innocent heroine.


Andrew Beach is the children's tutor.  He comes to the house in the mornings to teach Selina and Jeremy.  He is also something of an artist, who sketches portraits of important people,which are then published in the newspapers.  Leslie Reid has noticed his talent and has asked him to paint a portrait of her with Selina. 


As a relatively well-educated, working-class man, Andrew is the classic counter to the wealthy Brandon Reid and a challenger for Megan's affections.


Kate, Henry, and Fuller are three of the Reid family servants, respectively the maid, butler, and coachman.  Kate quickly befriends Megan, though Henry remains aloof.


More important than the servants, however, are a couple of inanimate objects that are introduced early in the book with that kind of ominous foreshadowing of dark events to come.


One is a music box carrousel -- Whitney's misspelling drove me nuts through the whole book -- that Megan had given to her brother Richard as a gift.  This is her Most Precious Possession, given much more emotional value even than the few pieces of nice jewelry she has inherited from her mother.


The second is a carved head of the Egyptian god Osiris which occupies a place of some honor in Brandon Reid's library.  Prior to his brother Daniel's death Brandon was an (amateur?) archaeologist in Egypt.


Slowly, Megan works her way into Jeremy's affections and begins to break through his shell.  At first she is told he accidentally shot his father, but then she's told he did it deliberately.  But Jeremy doesn't completely remember what happened.  He insists there was another gun involved, that he did indeed have a gun, but it was unloaded and it disappeared after the shooting, to be replaced by the one that actually killed his father.


She also becomes more and more friendly with Andrew Beach, who warns her to get away from the Reid family.  This is the classic gothic romance trope of the kind, attractive, but slightly less desirable potential love interest.  Megan even goes on a "date" with him, to a cute little Italian restaurant.


She also goes on a "date" with Brandon Reid, taking the children to a theatre matinee.  It ends badly, because Brandon is moody and can't seem to control his emotions.


Later, they have another "date," of sorts, taking the children skating.  Now the relationship between Megan and Brandon is becoming more romantic, more threatening.


A series of events around the Christmas holidays starts to bring issues to a head.  Jeremy begins to make an elaborate gift for his uncle/stepfather, a beaded collar in an Egyptian style to decorate the Osiris head in Brandon's library.  Megan provides the beads; Andrew Beach obtains some fine wire for stringing the beads.


This co-operative effort strengthens the connection between Megan and Andrew over the issue of Jeremy, and reinforces the rivalry between Brandon Reid and Andrew for Megan's affections.


Leslie, Selina, and Garth takea trip up the Hudson River to visit Leslie's parents for several days.  While they are gone, Megan and Jeremy have a "date" of their own, a dinner party at the Reid house jsut for the two of them.  They dress up, have all the servants participate in preparing the dinner, and it's all going to be fun.  Then Brandon comes home, and things get messy.  There's now a sort of declaration of love, and then threats are made.


Megan must leave.  Leslie fires her, Garth threatens her, but Brandon insists she stay.  Her affection for Jeremy, and her sense of responsibility toward him, now override her better judgment.  She agrees to stay.


Christmas arrives, and Brandon gives Megan an Egyptian scarab brooch as a token of his affection.  Their romance is doomed, of course.  Megan gives Jeremy the precious carrousel music box, which is also doomed, of course.  Jeremy gives Brandon the beaded collar for the Osiris statue, and Brandon is delighted with it.  This means the Osiris is also doomed.


While all this is going on, Selina keeps chirping up with declarations of having a secret that she's not going to share with anyone.


But then there's a confrontation between Jeremy and Brandon over the music box, and Brandon in a fit of temper sweeps the toy aside and breaks it.  Jeremy is heartbroken, but also blames himself.  Surprisingly, though, Megan doesn't seem to be terribly affected by the damage.  And that's where things really began to fall apart for me.


A few days later, a gunshot in the house sort of wakens everyone.  But no one is hurt; the victim is the Osiris statue.  So another Precious Possession is destroyed.


Someone is out to get Brandon and Megan, and possibly Jeremy, too.  Garth insists the boy be put away, blaming him for shooting the statue, even though he remembers nothing of it.  Brandon believes, too, that Jeremy can no longer be allowed in the house, and though he intends to find a better place for the boy, he agrees that makinghim an inmate of some asylum is the only option.


Megan, with no evidence to the contrary, believes something else is going on.  She alone has faith in Jeremy.


The exact order of events leading up to the conclusion isn't entirely important, but it reveals the weakness in how Whitney resolves all the little mysteries.


Selina reveals her secret: She knows where the other gun from her father's killing is, the gun her brother insisted he had checked to make sure it wasn't loaded and therefore he couldn't have killed his father.  I just didn't buy that Selina, at age seven or eight, would think this was a fun secret to tease everyone with.  Though very different in temperament, she and Jeremy did have a close relationship.  And the fact that this gun was hidden meant something nefarious was going on.


The gun is hidden in a heavy candlestick belonging to Leslie,  That Selina, who was very close to her mother, would have bragged about knowing this also didn't seem to make sense.


And then Leslie is murdered, beaten to death with the aforementioned candlestick.  Evidence emerges implicating Brandon, even though he is out of the house at the time of the murder.




Well, of course, Brandon didn't kill her.  Neither did the children.  Neither did Thora Garth.  Neither did the servants.  Neither did Megan.  Neither did Andrew Beach.


As Andrew reveals to the police, Leslie killed herself.




Not only did I not buy Leslie's suicide-by-overdose-of-laudanum, but I didn't buy the rest of her scenario.  Yes, it's somewhat similar to the conclusion of DuMaurier's Rebecca, but the character of Rebecca de Winter was entirely different.


According to Andrew Beach's version, Leslie took the overdose and then told him what to do so her death would be blamed on Brandon.  After she died, Andrew proceeded to bludgeon her corpse with the candlestick, while wearing one of Brandon's shirts so there would be blood on it.  Then he was to wash in Brandon's basin, to make sure there were traces of blood there, too.


Andrew did all this because he was in love with Leslie.  Somehow or other I just couldn't see him bludgeoning the dead body of the woman he loved in order to frame someone else.  Andrew didn't come across as that kind of person.  He may have been jealous of Brandon for having been Lesllie's husband, and for having won Megan's heart as well, but Andrew was never portrayed as being a bad person.


But why would Leslie kill herself anyway?  Well, apparently it was because she was going to be found out to be her first husband's real killer.  Jeremy hadn't been believed at the time of the killing that there was another weapon, bu now Selina had found it and Jeremy's version would be believed.


At which point in the telling, Jeremy remembers -- I think he remembers -- that the person who fired the gun that killed Daniel Reid was in fact Jeremy's mother.  I'm not sure why Jeremy didn't remember this at the time, or why no one believed him, or how the other gun got removed from the scene.


Why did all this go down?  Oh, because Lesllie's parents were in financial trouble so she married wealthy Daniel even though she was already really in love with Brandon.  But then Daniel got mixed up in dirty politics and she didn't want to see her posh future destroyed, so she killed him. 


And Brandon married her to keep her quiet about the political scandal to save his family's reputation.  I didn't buy that, either.  He was an archaeologist, for crying out loud.  He would have been obsessed with the truth.  He would have wanted to know, at all costs, not just hush it up and forget about it.


Plus, he was willing to let Jeremy take the blame.


At the beginning of the book, I had some sympathy for Brandon, but it didn't last long.  He gave in to his lust for Megan even though he had married Leslie to save the family reputation.  That kind of man wouldn't easily set aside his scruples.  Nor would he, as the book went on, contemplate ending the marriage dishonorably.  His mood swings weren't suitable for heroism either.


At the end, when it's all been sorted out, Megan and Brandon are going to go to Egypt, and leave the children with their maternal grandparents. No.  No way.  After all the children have been through after all that Megan has been through fighting for Jeremy, there is no way I can accept Megan and Brandon abandoning them to the parents of the woman who killed their father and his brother.


Besides, how did Leslie's parents recoup their supposed financial losses?  How are they going to be able to take care of two small children?  Selina liked her grandparents, but I'm not sure about Jeremy. 


Overall, I thought it was a really crappy ending, partly for just being crappy but also for not being particularly believable.  Andrew Beach wouldn't have done that to Leslie and to Brandon, and by extension to Megan.  Andrew wasn't a bad guy.  But I also didn't see Leslie as the kind to take the suicide route and beg to be mutilated after death.  Just didn't make sense.


The worst, though, was Megan walking off to Egypt and abandoning the boy she had worked so hard to save.  That alone made Window on the Square just a tiny bit shy of wallbanger status.


The writing was fine, and most of what led up to the ending was fine but that ending pretty much ruined it all.  Not as bad as The Thorn Birds, but bad.  Down to 1.5 stars.

Window on the Square - Reading progress update: I've read 77%.

Window on the Square - Phyllis A. Whitney

Yes, the Precious Possession has been Violently Damaged, causing Emotional Trauma.



Window on the Square - Reading progress update: I've read 55%.

Window on the Square - Phyllis A. Whitney

Ah, yes, all the classic archetypes.


Vulnerable child with secrets.

Obnoxious, spoiled child.

Innocent, impoverished, idealistic young woman.

Handsome, brooding (and married) master of the house.

Fragile, beautiful mistress of the house.

Menacing, jealous housekeeper.

Cheerful servant.

Helpful, encouraging, working-class other man.

The Great Big Huge Mystery of Someone's Death


There are even some Precious Possessions that will probably be needlessly destroyed to cause Untold Heartbreak.


The 1870s New York City setting is a change from the usual remote mansion, and so far there are no otherworldly aspects, but the rest is so far classic gothic/suspense.


I'm reading this in the atmosphere of ongoing Twitter discussions about the importance of accuracy in historical romances.  The current brouhaha is over whether or not sex workers in historical settings are allowed (!) to have Happy Ever After endings with marriage to dukes.  Yes, that's a bit simplified, and of course many of those who are advocating for the rights of courtesans to their HEAs and elevation to the nobility are quite vocal.


Was it historically accurate for any sex workers to attain such lofty positions?  Well, if we go back to the Emperor Justinian and his Empress Theodora, there's certainly evidence to support the notion.  So let's look past that particular issue and examine another.


Is it necessary, in the framework of Romance with a Capital R, that the female main character find her HEA with a more powerful, more wealthy, more patriarchally normative male rather than a middle- or working-class spouse?


If the defense of sex workers as entitled (sic) to HEAs is put forth as challenging the patriarchal norms, how is that challenge sustained if the sex worker can only be liberated by stepping into the patriarchy?


This is, of course, illustrated clearly in so many gothic romances, where the heroine is forced into selling her labor -- if not her sexuality -- due to poverty.  She is at the mercy of her almost always older, more powerful, and definitely more wealthy employer.  Jane Eyre is perhaps the prototype or even the archetype, but there are so many, many more just like her, some who emerge as victors in their struggle and some who fail.  From Victor Hugo's Fantine to Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, women must obey certain rules that don't apply to men, even though it is only through men that women can achieve happiness of any kind.


In 1984, when I attended my first RWA national conference, two of the historical romances that were finalists for what was then the Golden Heart award were books I had read, LaVyrle Spencer's Hummingbird and Carole Nelson Douglas's Lady Rogue.  Spencer's book, which I had completely and totally enjoyed except for one issue, won.


Douglas, who also writes fantasy and mystery, had created characters who didn't end up with quite the traditional HEA, at least for 1984: They didn't marry, and the woman maintained her separate identity and "career."  Looking back, I'm surprised that the book was nominated, let alone a finalist, because it didn't follow precisely the Romance Novel formula.


But even Hummingbird bothered me because of that one detail, and Spencer would go on to use that device in at least one other book: There's another man involved, who falls in love with the heroine but she treats him like shit.  In Hummingbird, that man is lowly shoe salesman David (whose last name I can't remember). Abby is in love with the dashing, handsome, wealthy Jesse, but she reluctantly consents to marry David.  When Jesse confronts her with her lack of passion for David and her true passion for him, Abby succumbs.  David is devastated, and Spencer spares no other thought for him.  She did the same thing for the other man in Twice Loved, and that was the point where I gave up on Spencer.


In Window on the Square, I can see the same scenario unfolding.  Andrew Beach, the artist-and-tutor, is going to come to a bad end one way or another; Megan Kincaid will no doubt end up with the moody, mysterious Brandon Reid.  What will happen to Brandon's wife Leslie and her over-protective childhood nurse Mrs. Garth is anyone's guess at this point.

Window on the Square - Reading progress update: I've read 15%.

Window on the Square - Phyllis A. Whitney

Disclosure:  I purchased the Kindle edition of this book in December 2018.  I do not know the author, nor have I have had any communication with her about this book or any other matter.  I am an author of contemporary and historical romances and miscellaneous non-fiction.


I read three or four chapters of this book last night and could easily have read more if it weren't getting so late.  The story is semi-gothicky -- more romantic suspense than supernatural -- but I'm okay with that.


As always, Whitney's writing is clean and smooth, drawing the reader along without bumps, except that the extra "R" she puts in carrousel is bothering me.  The only thing that slows it down is that she tends to stop the action for extensive descriptions of people, clothing, and rooms.  Originally published in 1962, this wasn't one of her earliest works, so I was a bit surprised how noticeable the static description was.


But the story is moving along, with young Megan Kincaid moving into the home of handsome but slightly menacing Brandon Reid and his beautiful but fragile wife Leslie, ostensibly as seamstress for Leslie's obstreperous daughter Selina but really to serve as some kind of mentor to Selina's older brother Jeremy, who allegedly killed his father -- who was Brandon Reid's younger brother -- two years earlier.


So far, I don't much like any of the characters, which is probably intentional on Whitney's part.  Even Megan comes across as not quite appropriate (I guess that's the word I want) for the story.  She's a bit too pushy, but at the same time doesn't really seem as strong as I'd expect her to be.


But there's a long way to go, and it's working as a story, so we'll see how the rest of it goes.

Looking for Recommendations

I discovered a small bit of bonus Amazon money yesterday and decided to spend it on MYSELF.  I know I have gift money coming, too, but this $30 and change is a bit special.


I decided to spend it on Kindle books that I might not otherwise have bought, so I'm looking for recommendations in the following categories:


1.  Historical romance, any setting except genre Regency unless it's really special.


2.  Classic-style Gothic romance, contemporary or historical, but not paranormal romance (see #3)


3.  Epic fantasy, including multi-volume series. Doesn't have to be romance-y, but okay if it is, and bonus points for strong female characters. (I know there's likely some overlap between PNR and EF, so hit me with your recs!)


Even though I've read extensively in historical romance, I haven't read everything, and especially not in the past 20 years.  So any and all recommendations, regardless whether you think I MIGHT have read it or not, are welcome and encouraged.  New books, old books, public domain freebies, it doesn't matter.  Your favorites, your comfort reads, let me know.


I'm setting myself a personal goal of 10,000,000 words for 2019.  Based on an average of 70K words, that's roughly 140-150 books, fewer of course for longer works.  My personal collection would suit this just fine, but this thirty bucks is burning a hole in my cyber pocket and I want to buy some books with it!



Borrower of the Night -- a disappointment

Borrower of the Night - Elizabeth Peters

Disclaimer:  I purchased the Kindle edition of this book in December 2018.  I do not know the author nor have I ever communicated with her regarding this book or any other matter.  I am an author of contemporary and historical romance.



This was a re-read, after many, many years.  I'm guessing I first read Borrower of the Night in the late 1980s, though it was apparently first published in 1973.  This is the first book in Peters's Vicky Bliss series.  I already own books 3, 4, and 5, but I'm not sure I want to pay for book 2.


For some reason or other, I remembered Borrower of the Night as being more mysterious and less slapstick. Frankly, I don't enjoy slapstick comedy at all, and I really don't enjoy it when mixed with mystery and romance.  So the silly humor in this book rubbed me the wrong way every time it occurred.


Vicky's romance with Tony also rubbed me the wrong way, and that may have been because I knew that in subsequent books, her affections got directed elsewhere.  I knew, therefore, that Tony was not going to be a lasting romantic partner.


The plot is fairly straightforward: Vicky and Tony discover clues to a missing 16th century German art treasure and they set off to find it.  They are joined/pursued by George Nolan, a famous art collector.  The three end up in an ancient German Schloss that has been converted to a hotel.  The other main members of the cast are a German physician, a German historian, the Countess who runs the hotel, her English companion, and the

countess's niece Irma who is the actual heir to the title and the castle and the treasure, if it can be found.  There are various adventures and threats and accidents and injuries.


What there wasn't was atmosphere and intrigue of anything resembling a serious nature.  The characters were all cardboard -- intrepid Vicky, macho Tony, presumed-evil-villain George, menacing Countess, beautiful victim Irma.  I couldn't make a mental connection to any of them, and that's the main thing I read fiction for -- the characters.




R.I.P. Penny Marshall