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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What You Said Means A Lot To Me










I think (and wish with all my heart) that this is a one-off*. But it’s hard not to be concerned when a reviewer suffers such a violation of her privacy and her negative reviews are portrayed as trolling and bullying, as if such things justified stalking someone. Worse, no one is being held accountable, some people are praising Hale, others are saying the reviewer deserved it, the mainstream media seems to have forgotten how to research and fact-check, and the publisher remains silent. — Brie, Romance Around the Corner

Victory (to me) looks like fellow authors and publishers drowning out BBA’s in an instant chorus of disapproval. It looks like people with a financial interest in the industry protecting the people who are showing up as volunteers. Victory looks like a rejection of doxxing. It looks like creating reader spaces that young voices can use to explore their reactions to art. Victory looks like an acknowledgement that reader-reviewers are not cogs in the publishing machine but valued partners in the creation of a healthy and vibrant community of traditionally focused literacy. –Meoskop, at Love in the Margins

A review is not an invitation to an author for a discussion about the review or the reviewer’s opinion. — Sarah Wendell, Smart Bitches Trashy Books 

But for me, the lesson here is explicit: there are publishers and authors who are more than willing to exploit the value of readers to promote their books and then equally willing to participate in the ruination of that valuable resource, should it not seem valuable at the moment to them. Many of us are used to the systematic devaluation of female voices in, well, virtually every community you can name. But this feels like a sucker punch to the gut, and now that I’m getting my wind back, all I can say is congratulations to any of you who helped, supported, or cheered while Kathleen Hale — or anyone like her — lashed out at a reader-reviewer. Not only have you helped diminish the serious implications of real bullying (because wishes are not ponies and negative reviews are NOT bullying), but you are fundamentally damaging the community you simultaneously rely on for its honest, spontaneous enthusiasm about books. You are, in fact, poisoning the very well from which you’ve been drinking. — Robin, Dear Author

What have we become? And how much further will we take this? — Sparky, Fangs for the Fantasy

Miss Bates soul-searched her blogging. She takes her blog-title as a renewing point, returns to her modest roots: primarily, Miss Bates reads romance, she doesn’t review romance. She hopes to inspire fellow-readers to share in her thoughts about romance fiction, or fiction with strong romantic elements (a clunky designation, but a hybrid Miss Bates loves). She wants her blog to be an account of what she’s reading and how she responded to it and less about whether you, her reader, should, or shouldn’t read a book. She wants to, once again, engage with her reading emotionally and intellectually without worrying about spoilers and ratings and release dates. — Miss Bates, Miss Bates Reads Romance

Part of the rise in conflict is due to the way being online shapes social interactions, and part of it is because the book community is a vibrant and interesting one, which makes it profitable for a lot of people. The payoffs to getting noticed by book lovers can be very high. But that brings in the ambitious and unscrupulous (and unbalanced) participants as well. We don’t have good ways of excluding them yet. So every individual has to make her own decisions about how to manage participation. — Sunita, Vacuous Minx

Blogging has gotten me through many tough times- through long periods of unemployment, family deaths, emotional hardships, and just life in general and how it can be unfair sometimes. Blogging and reviewing helped me gain the confidence to do more than a few things I never thought I would accomplish.  –Katiebabs, Babbling About Books

I am speaking up to add my voice in saying that as a lifelong reader (and bigtime consumer of the product that we call fiction), it’s not OK with me when authors seek to control reception and interpretation of their published work. If you’re not up to the challenge of either staying away from or putting up with whatever ideas and responses your published prose generates, then you should keep your prose to yourself and not ask people to pay for it. –Pamela, Badass Romance

In the end I’m sure this blackout probably won’t make a darn bit of difference to the industry, to supporters of The Stalker etc.  But it’s a simple way for me to get right with myself again.  To realign my head space. To rediscover why I’ve been blathering on about books online for the past 15 years (other than having no life).

I like it.  It’s as simple and complex as that. — Wendy, The Misadventures of Superlibrarian

I don’t want to be an asshole by comparing this protest to something like Ferguson, where people are putting their lives on the line for justice, but I do think that, in a small way, this is an example of the less powerful asking for what they need  — which are very simple, reasonable things really, mainly assurance from publishers that they will protect our privacy and don’t support stalking or doxxing of book reviewers — and having the powers-that-be are act as if they’re the ones under attack.  — Willaful, A Willful Woman

Nobody should have to fear posting a bad review of a book. The fact that for many of us that is a daily concern is a sign that big changes need to take place. We demand the changes not just because we need them but because they’ll benefit everyone. — Ceilidh, Bibliodaze

Some of those book bloggers–and some people who don’t blog but simply leave comments on other people’s blogs–will not come back. They feel the conversation is not worth the very real risk of having an author have a fit of batshit irrationality and track them down. While it saddens me to think of those voices, silenced by fear, I understand that part of having the freedom to speak is having the freedom to choose to be silent. — Azteclady, Her Hands My Hands

My path is to sit in a room full of  women who read because they love the stories and ask them who they are and what they think. My path is to take the core message of romance, that we all deserve happy endings, and live it in my daily life. I don’t want to see your academic or social qualifications. They don’t matter to me. You do. Because you are enough, as you are, without any external validation. You spent the most precious commodity any of us have, our limited time in this life, on experiencing a piece of art. I want to know how it made you feel. The rest of it, the social structures and economic engines, none of it matters to me. — Meoskop, at Love in the Margins

We’ve met some pretty amazing people both regular readers like us and some pretty fantastic industry people as well. Book Binge has opened a lot of doors to us and we’ve met some pretty big rock stars because of this blog and those are good things. Our book blogging community is going through some rough patches right now but we’ve gotten through rough patches before. Our community is filled with some strong, intelligent and amazing women and we’re so stinkin’ proud to be apart of it too. — Rowena and Holly, Book Binge

To the people I quote here and to everyone who is speaking up for book bloggers, thank you.

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