TBR Challenge Read: The Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz




I was asking on Twitter a couple of weeks ago for a romance with a transgender main character, and someone from Riptide sent me The Burnt Toast B&B, which just came out last week. I realize that I’m not exactly reaching deep into my TBR, but any time I actually read an ARC is a minor miracle so I’m counting it as January’s short read for the 2015 TBR Challenge hosted by Wendy the Super Librarian.

This is the fifth book in a series set in a small town in Washington state that has become a tourist destination thanks to being the filming location for a popular TV show, Wolf’s Landing. I haven’t read any of the previous books in the Bluewater Bay series but I did not feel as if the story had any gaps.

When the book begins, Derrick Richards, an out of work logger, is in his third year of trying to keep his late parents’ B&B afloat. He’s only got one set of guests and they leave before he can serve them their titular toast. Just as Derrick decides to give it up, Ginsberg Sloan shows up. Ginsberg is a stuntman, temporarily sidelined by an arm injury. They share an instant physical attraction, but they couldn’t be more different in their personalities.

Derrick is gruff and pretty un-evolved. Having been bullied along gender lines as a child, he now asserts a defensive masculinity whenever he feels threatened, which is pretty much all the time. He’s still in many ways a wounded child, afraid of being direct and figuring out who he is and what he wants in life. Instead of just telling Ginsberg that the inn is closed and directing him to another hotel in town, for example, Derrick puts him in a musty attic room and pretends the dryer breaks. I lost patience with Derrick almost from the first scene. Three years and this guy can’t figure out how to scramble eggs and make toast?

I think some readers will just love Derrick, the wounded child that Ginsberg helps heal and whose growth is signaled by a Big Romantic Gesture to win Ginsberg back after one too many stonewalling hurtful comments. But I found Derrick pretty juvenile. To me, he didn’t have counterbalancing attractive traits that made Ginsberg’s love for him plausible.

Ginsberg (he named himself after the poet) was a great character. I understood his love for his stunt job, his embrace of a wide array of gender traits without apology or fear, his optimism, his work ethic, and his difficult past. He happens to be transgender to Derrick’s cisgender identity, but, aside from a couple of awkward comments as Derrick learns more about Ginsberg, that’s not the source of the conflict between these two men. I was of two minds about that: (1) thank God one person being transgender is not the “problem” in this relationship, but (2) wait, this guy who is totally stuck in his emotional development and has a zillion gender hangups has absolutely no issues with a trans* partner? In other words, politically, I loved that choice,but aesthetically, given what I knew of Derrick as a character, I wasn’t totally convinced.

Different from most m/m romance I have read, The Burnt Toast B&B had only two sex scenes and very little mental lusting, which I appreciated (I appreciate the same thing in het romance, too). Both scenes were very well done and important to the development of their relationship. I liked Derrick the most in those scenes, because they revealed a tender, carefree, and unguarded side of him.

There was a lot going on with the tv show, the bustling town, Derrick’s former lover and current friend, Jim, even a vicious little dog named Victoria Beckham. A bit of a Welcome to Temptation vibe, but not as funny. Definitely on the sweeter side, but deals with significant emotional issues as well. I’m glad I read it.

Between Last Night’s Pages: Tessa Dare’s Say Yes to the Marquess



In Dare’s latest historical romance, the heroine has been engaged to the hero’s absentee older brother, a marquess, for eight years, but she wants to end the engagement and found a brewery in a castle she inherited. The hero, meanwhile, has renounced polite society after being disinherited for his wild ways and is the recently dethroned heavyweight boxing champ of England. If you’re sensing that this is more of a wallpaper historical than a historically authentic novel you’d be correct. In fact, this reads so much like a contemporary, occasional patchy references to breeches, the ton, and cobblestone alleys notwithstanding, I think it should be called a wall sticker historical.

I’m really enjoying it. It’s totally ridiculous as a historical, but as a romance it’s funny, sensual, and uplifting in that way a good romance can be.

In the spirit of blogging short, I wanted to mention one interesting thing Dare does. Early on, Clio and Rafe have the following conversation:

“Why do you fight?”

His answer was matter-of-fact. “I was cut off with no funds or inheritance. I needed a career.”

“I know that. But surely there are other ways to earn a living. Less violent ways.”

“Ah.” He paused. “I see where this is going. You want to know my secret pain.”

“Secret pain?”

“Oh, yes. My inner demons. The dark current of torment washing away little grains of my soul. That’s what you’re after. You think that if you keep me here in your pretty castle and cosset me with sixteen pillows, I’ll learn to love myself and cease submitting my body to such horrific abuse.”

I found this theme to be an interesting — er — meta-trope. It’s like both of these characters know the role Rafe’s boxing is supposed to play in a typical historical romance, and it’s that role, not the boxing itself, that is the issue. To make it even more obvious, later in the book, Clio refers to it as “Secret Pain”, with capital letters.

I’m only 80% finished with the book, so I can’t say how it all resolves, and I don’t want to spoil anyone who plans to read it. I’ll just say I don’t think the book ends up playing with or subverting the trope as much as it relies on it, but that early promise was fascinating.



A New Year, a New Post

bird cage cane


2014 was a year of significant events: my oldest started high school, my husband and I both became department chairs, and we did a bunch of things to the house (new bathrooms!) that we’d been meaning to do for 14 years. Then, about two weeks ago, my father died in a car accident. So, quite a year. Still processing that last one, as you can imagine.

On the bookish front, I didn’t blog here as much as I wanted to, but I did start writing for Book Riot in May, which I’ve really enjoyed. I have said this every year for the past three, but I really want to blog more in 2015. It’s just a fun thing to do, and way more nourishing than idly scrolling through Twitter.
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Great tweets from last night

This is some inside baseball for Romanceland denizens. It’s a selfish post, because I only link to one thing, SuperWendy’s erotic romance post (see her tweet below), and I’m not offering any context (although I will answer questions). It’s a collection of some witty/inspiring/funny tweets I wanted to gather in one place, accented with some appropriate gifs.


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Books I Been Readin

The Husband's Secret

I read/listened to Moriarty’s most recent book, BIG LITTLE LIES and loved it, so I’m delving in to her back list. THE HUSBAND’S SECRET is only my second Moriarty, and I am enjoying the heck out of listening to it. but I can already tell I am going to need to space these out for saminess. I’m attracted to her incisive (sometimes scathing) writing about modern middle class mothering, but her books are also very funny at times. This is women’s fiction, with overlapping stories with multiple female protagonists, a little romance, a little mystery (usually a long ago criminal event that comes back to haunt).

Here’s an example, a passage from the point of view of Tess, whose husband has recently informed her that he and her cousin had fallen in lovve. She’s taken their young son Liam and left Melbourne for her home town of Sydney:

Will had called her mobile that morning. She should have ignored it, but when she’d seen his name she’d felt an involuntary spark of hope and snatched up the phone. He was calling to tell her that this was all a mistake. Of course he was. But as soon as he spoke in that awful new, heavy, solemn voice, without a hint of laughter, the hope vanished. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked. ‘Is Liam all right?’ He was speaking as if there had been a recent tragedy in their lives that had nothing to do with him.
She was desperate to tell the real Will what this new Will, this humourless intruder, had done; how he’d crushed her heart. The real Will would want to fix things for her. The real Will would be straight on the phone, making a complaint about the way his wife had been treated, demanding recompense. The real Will would make her a cup of tea, run her a bath and, finally, make her see the funny side of what had just happened to her.


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