Book Review: Her Highness and the Highlander

Book: Her Highness and the Highlander

Author: Tracy Anne Warren

Status: Worth a Look

This book was isn’t going to knock your socks off, but it’s a nice afternoon read.

Premise: A princess (from a fictional country) and her entourage are attacked on her way from her finishing school to London. She is the only survivor, and in her bedraggled state, no one will believe she’s royalty. She’s far from friends and family, and completely out of her element. A Scotsman on his way home from the Napoleonic Wars takes pity on her, helps her out, and eventually agrees to take her to London. Along the way, they fall on in love.
Plot: It’s pretty thin. We need a reason for the hero and heroine to be together. So, despite the massive battle that killed her entourage, captain of her guard, her uncle etc. no one finds any evidence of it. I guess they must’ve really been on back roads, and the bad guys must’ve had a veritable army to clean up the mess. Oh, no wait, it was one guy that cleaned it up. *shakes head*

I didn’t find it believable. But I suspended disbelief as we couldn’t have good guys finding her if she was going to need the hero to get her to London. Alone, of course.

Romance: They fall in love along the way to London. They’re so in lust with each other, that they need to quickly marry so they can have sex. Par for the romance genre, if a bit unbelievable. The author did try to make the princess seem like she’d be okay giving up her extremely privileged life to live with a commoner.

Steamy Scenes: This is really where the author shone. The steamy scenes were steamy, the prose pretty without getting in the way of what was going on between them. She used none of my automatic close the books words, so we’re good there.

Characters: There is no character development. Not really sure how they would develop as both seem pretty perfect from the beginning. This is your typical romance fare, so neither character is going to grow or develop in the story.

 

All in, a decent read. I finished it on a blustery afternoon, and it wasn’t gripping enough I couldn’t put it aside with ease to make snacks for the kids. At the same time, it entertained and didn’t disappoint with the ending.

Elves?

As I mentioned in my post on dragons, the novels I write are in a fantasy world. While each novel is a standalone story, all of them take place in the same world.

So far, all four of my WIPs take place in the human country of Tamryn. I’ve established that magic is real. Vampires are real. Knights smite evil and liches haunt the living.

I have not yet brought it elves. But elves sorta have a but of a reputation…

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Given some of the writing I’ve seen, that reputation isn’t exactly unearned. And I’ve gotta admit, coming up with elven-sounding names is the bane of this fantasy romance writer.

I’ve mentioned them in passing in my work, but I haven’t yet written a story about them much less set one in their magical home of Tanalear.

Part of the lack of story writing is me trying to figure out how to add them to my world. Do I just jump right in and give readers a story in Tanalear? Or should I write a different story that brings an elf to the human city.

Bringing an elf into human lands creates all kinds of issues for me. See, I’m not entirely sure I buy into this half-elf business. If you aren’t the same species, you can’t procreate. There would be no half-elves.

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Nope, not buying it. Not even beer can change the fact species can’t procreate.

While I’m a romance writer, and I can imagine a scenario of an elf and human falling in love, I promise my reader a happily-ever-after (HEA) ending by virtue of writing a romance novel. So, I’m hard-pressed to view a HEA with a hero and heroine where one of them is going to die in seventy-five years, and the other is going to spend the next thousand mourning them.

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Basically, I’m considering if I need to craft some sort of adventure that features an elven protagonist before jumping into the elven world?

This is even harder than the challenges I face as a romance writer because the Tanalearian elves are isolationist and xenophobic, still turned inward even after their empire collapsed thousands of years ago in the Great Cataclysm.

The last remaining vestiges of their once-great empire are protected by ancient magics. Part of their story will be re-assimilating back into a world that now contains humans.

So, yeah, it sort of feels like the elves meeting the humans should be a big, climactic thing.

But I don’t want to confuse readers, either. Readers are smart, but if they’re expecting knights and dragons, I don’t want to disappoint with elves.

I also worry that lots has been written about elves. I sometimes wonder if your civilization collapsed, if the archaeologists piecing it back together would think elves were real.

Given that so much has already been written, I need to give it a fresh enough spin. I like to think I have this mapped out in my head. Besides, it’s not like many stories are truly unique. Amateurs borrow and professionals steal, as the saying goes.

I have given a lot of thought to their queen (Tanalearian elves have a matriarchal monarchy), her son, and some of the new mages. Even a major villain has been knocking around in there.

But none of them want to come to Tamryn. None of them see the point. They have yet to see beyond their crumbling cities.

Hmmm, perhaps we shall have to have an inciting incident…

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How about you? Do you like elves? Tolkien or otherwise? Read any stories that take place in an entirely elven world? Did you like it? What do you think of half-elves and half-orcs? Is my science brain thinking too much on this?

My Legs Are Made Out of Jelly

I started strength training approximately ten years ago. Then, we decided to have children. Between issues with pregnancy and finally having a squalling if amazing baby, I quit lifting.

Yes, I know how important it is. For general wellness and doing things like spreading mulch, and but also to prevent osteoporosis. This disease is big deal in my family, made all the worse by where I’ve lived most of my life.

Per my endocrinologist, the closer to the equator you are, the less likely you are to develop it. Having lived in the north of the US most of my life has increased my likelihood of the disease quite a bit. Things like strength training can help decrease it.

Back before children, I went straight to the gym after work. Eventually, we put a home gym in, and I went to that as soon as I got home from work.

So, I tried that again. Simply coming home, throwing on my gear, and heading to the basement. But it was almost impossible to get there. My daughters wanted, needed, my attention. They hadn’t seen me all day and missed me. How could I possibly walk past my toddler holding her arms out to me with a grin on her face as she says, “Momma, momma, momma!”

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Don’t forget to add writing!

That leaves mornings before they get up and evenings after they go to bed. I am not much of a morning person, but I learned very quickly I don’t have enough energy left to start any kind of exercise after they are in bed.

Setting aside my lack of being a morning person, morning is doubly hard for strength training as you’re supposed to be awake for an hour before you start lifting to help prevent injury. I haven’t been in my indestructible twenties for a long time. Injury is most assuredly a thing that happens to people at my age.

So, I decided to tweak my work schedule and work on strength two days a week at lunch and one day on the weekend. I reviewed my old workout plan, modified a few things to take into account my current physical state, and implemented it.

After strength training for the first time in almost seven years, I’ve discovered just how hard stairs can be to climb.

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My legs feel like jelly and my arms don’t want to lift off the keyboard. I hadn’t thought I’d overdone the workout, but apparently even body-weight push-ups on an incline are hard after seven years. Really hard.

Beyond moving with the stiff gait of the walking dead, the other thing I noticed was how hungry I was.  I mean hungry. Not just in the it’s almost time for dinner hungry. But genuinely hungry. I had an apple in the afternoon and later a Kind bar. I was still hungry when I got home. I snacked on some fruit and a bit of beef jerky and devoured dinner. I was still hungry.

At this point, I was starting to feel like the very hungry caterpillar.

We normally don’t keep snacks in the house because if you don’t have them, it doesn’t take much willpower not to eat them. I was so hungry by eight o’clock that I had a headache.

I ended up finding my stash of frozen custard and plowed through it. I’d love to justify it by saying it was chocolate custard with raspberries in it, so clearly it couldn’t be so bad. But there’s no point. I knew how bad it was while I was eating it and didn’t care. I was hungry and this was finally helping me feel full.

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So, while strength training may help build some strength and some bones, I need to figure out a way to deal with this spike in hunger. I’m hoping it’s just temporary while my body gets used to the new demands being made on this desk jockey.

On the positive side, I had no trouble falling asleep. Literally, I don’t think my head was on the pillow for thirty seconds before I was sound asleep. I also slept the whole night, and when a nightmare woke me up, as they do, I rolled over and was back asleep in less than a minute.

 

How about you? Ever started a strength training routine? How’d it go? Any tips? Or maybe you over did some gardening or other work and paid for it the next morning? Any tips on how you coped?

When the Skeptic is Right

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know I’m a skeptic. If you haven’t been reading for a while, welcome!  Hi, I’m Elizabeth Drake, romance author, Gen-Xer, and skeptic.

One thing promulgated in most women’s magazines, beauty blogs, and general female knowledge is that to have attractive skin, a woman must cleanse, tone, use a serum and moisturize every day, twice a day.

Some of you are wondering what this stuff even is.

Cleanse – wash your face, usually with something other than water. Never soap. It supposedly is too harsh and dries out the sensitive skin on your face. Though why it’s okay to dry out the rest of our skin, I have no idea.

Tone –  This is supposed to help sweep away impurities, cleaning pores, making pores less noticeable, and  protecting skin. Yeah, not sure how it’s different that cleansing above. Not sure what’s wrong with pores, either.

Serum – Face serums are lightweight moisturizers that supposedly penetrate deeper to deliver active ingredients into your skin. They’re supposed to make your skin firmer and smoother, make pores appear smaller, and increase moisture levels. Again with the pores…

Moisturize – You add moisture back into your skin to fight wrinkles. Because heaven help us if we don’t look forever twenty. Especially if you’re a woman, though companies are starting to target men, too. Why leave 49% of the population on the table when we can try to convince them they have a problem so they’ll give you money to fix it.  Sorry, that was the Gen-X gene coming through again.

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All in, I’m assuming this is all stuff to give us that awesome “glow” that you see on so many magazine covers. Except, that’s not what they really look like either, and these are professional models.   I’ll save the Photoshop rant for another time. And, if you do get this picture perfect skin, I’m not entirely sure why you’d then put make-up over it. Tons of make-up advice starts out with making sure you have a good skin care regime. Clearly, I’m too cynical to be their target demographic.

And yet, they got me on the cleanse, use a serum, and moisturize.

As I was applying my dye free, scent free moisturizer, after having had properly cleansed my skin and given my serum time to soak in, I noticed my skin was tight. Clearly, I needed to moisturize. I even had a trouble spot I had been super moisturizing for months because it was so dry. Then I thought back to before I started using moisturizer. I was younger, certainly, but my skin had never needed it. Even when I started using it, my skin hadn’t really needed it. I was doing it for wrinkle prevention.

I decided to look and see if it’s possible for skin to become dependent on moisturizers.

This is going to shock you, I know, but yes, it can become dependent on moisturizers.   Chronic use of moisturizers tells your skin to stop making the sebum that naturally protects it. Not only that, but many of the ingredients in moisturizers actually promote dry skin. You know, so you’ll keep using their products.

Because of course they do. While I love research, sometimes it really stretches my faith in humanity.

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Or at least consumer product manufacturers

Other doctors claim that oil, including the stuff our skin naturally makes, isn’t great. It’s water itself that makes our skin glow and feel moist.  Our skin stores this water in structures called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), and the water is then sealed into our skin by the top layer of skin called stratum corneum. This upper layer produces natural moisturizing factors (NMFs) — amino acids, urea and lactic acid. You’ll notice these same ingredients on skin care products, and they’re supposed to help keep skin soft, protect it from UV light, maintain the skin barrier that keeps the water in the GAGs,  and regulate the skin’s natural exfoliation.

Problem is, all these natural processes supposedly break down If you artificially saturate the barrier layer  with moisture. This tells the skin to stop producing GAGs and NMFs, which means thinning skin, less water in the skin, and the appearance of fine lines.

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In addition, some doctors believe moisturizers reduce the skin’s ability to slough off dead cells, create an oxygen-free environment that acne bacteria love, and clog pores which leads to more acne and rosacea.

Yeah, sounds exactly like what people were shelling out huge amounts of money for the skin care products to prevent.

The doctors in the article I linked to above recommended a skin care regime that eliminated moisturizers, but add a chemical exfoliator. This is supposed to get rid of dead cells and help kick-start the skin making its own NMFs and GAGs again.

I went to trusty Amazon, and the number one rated product had over 7,000 reviews and was still at an average of five stars. It was pricy for an experiment, but I decided to risk it. I figured you can’t buy 7,000 reviews and not get caught.

I got it two days later, because that’s how Prime rolls, and I tried it out that night. It was runny, and it was dye free, scent free, and clear. It had no real smell at all, and at first I thought I might have gotten suckered and bought fancy water. But, I followed the directions and got it onto my skin, let it sit for a minute, then gently rubbed it in circles for another minute before washing it off.

My skeptic wanted the British doctors to be wrong so I could gloat here. But after one use, my skeptic had to hush. The dry patches I’d been struggling with for six months are gone. My skin is softer than it’s been in a long time. I’ve been using it twice a week for a little while now, and it’s done more for me than my standard routine ever did.

I’ll stick with it for now, and I’ve learned to listen to that skeptic. She may not always be right, but she’s wrong less often than you’d think.

 

How about you? Ever find yourself following a routine even if it might not be working? Your faith in mankind ever challenged by some product or service that causes the harm it’s supposed to prevent? Any insight into moisturizers, toners, serums, or exfoliators? Maybe some research I’m missing?

Why Fantasy?

I love science. You see me quote it in my posts a lot. Part of the reason I like it is because it can actually help give us predictable outcomes, make life better for everyone, and it isn’t dependent on opinion.

Science doesn’t care that you want the Earth to be the center of the universe. It isn’t. It’s demonstrable, provable, and repeatable. Anything else is a hypothesis rather than proven science.

If it turns out to be wrong, we change. From Newton to Einstein to Hawking, our knowledge grows and changes. Then the engineers get a hold of it and make fabulous things, like the phone in my purse.

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Given this, why do I love fantasy? Why do I have a character use a teleportation spell when I could use a transporter and the theory of quantum entanglement?

Here are six reasons I write fantasy:

 

  1. Dragons. You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? No matter how hard I try to realistically wrap dragons into a science fiction world, it feels wonky at best. Even in a fantasy world, you have to be careful with how you use dragons, what limits on their power you put, and how to keep them from becoming the god-beings they already see themselves as being. Perhaps FTL dragon space travel…

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  1. The White Knight – This has always been a favorite trope of mine, so of course they feature in my work. Yet, the white knight doesn’t feel right in much of sci fi. While Star Trek, at least TNG, took the high road and showed humans in a more Utopian universe, most of my experience with science fiction doesn’t go this route. It tends to be gritty, filled with anti-heroes, and a very bleak outlook on our future.

 

  1. Aesthetics. – This is tougher to define, but there’s something more fun to me about horses, silk dresses, and castles. Yes, I know the smell was horrible, hygiene lacking, and the castles drafty. I know how women were treated since the advent of the plow. But that’s not what I’m writing about. This is a fantasy world with a different pantheon of gods and a different history. Once we add in magic, the benefit of brawn over brains diminishes. It allows me to experiment with good and evil in different ways.Which leads me to…

 

  1. Good Always Wins – I find this is easier to realistically achieve in fantasy world. Unless…

 

  1. Space Opera – Unless I am looking at writing Space Opera. Which, I have considered. I’ve had a few ideas floating around for alien words on the edge of the galaxy. I’d got he space opera route partially because a big portion of what interests me in Sci Fi is alien worlds, colonization, etc. That means FTL travel, and FTL travel doesn’t mesh with science as we know it. And yes, I do like space opera. Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly. Westerns aren’t my thing, but wow, I loved Firefly. Still mad as anything that they canceled that show.

 

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How about you? Do like sci fi or fantasy? Which do you prefer to read or write? Why?

Pleasure Reading

I read for pleasure. There, I’ve said it. I’ve admitted it.

Strange thing is, I don’t know why I need to admit it. Yet, I regularly feel like I do. For some reason, I must justify choosing books that promulgate fun over enlightenment. I’m not alone in this, either. Especially fellow romance readers. We love our books, but there’s a sort of secret shame to it.

I don’t know why.

When was the last time a group of people felt guilty going to see Transformers? Disappointed, maybe, but guilty? Seriously, two hours of explosions and special effects didn’t leave them any smarter. Yet, that’s totally okay, and no one who saw the movie feels the need to explain why. They went for fun. Some eye candy, and on to the next thing.

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So why do so many people that read feel the need to justify pleasure reading?

Perhaps this goes back to high school English class when so many of our teachers literally killed really great books. I remember reading The Scarlet Letter for enjoyment two years before we read it in English class. It wasn’t something I would’ve actively sought out again given how heart-wrenching it was, but I had enjoyed it. It made me think, and it made me cry.

Then my English teacher got a hold of it. Suddenly, the rust on the wrought iron fence was imbued with all sorts of symbolism. I went from liking the book to being ecstatic for the day we were done with it. On my second read through with my English class, I didn’t care about any of the characters or their struggles. It was read, regurgitate, repeat.

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That same class, the teacher was chastising some of the lower performers in the class and asking them what it would take to get them engaged. I remember the ring-leader of this group asked why couldn’t we read something like The Stand. My ears perked up. If ever there was a book laden with symbolism, a true epic struggle between good and evil…

But that wasn’t in the curriculum. The teacher never approved it, and we plodded on through Shakespeare and whatever else was “required” reading.

Makes me wonder if this is where so many people had their love of books squashed. While there’s a lot in Shakespeare, Golding, and Hawthorne, there’s also a lot in Tolkien, King, and maybe even Patterson. Given the current popularity of the latter authors, it truly surprises me that they don’t get more time in a classroom. These books are all written for a modern audience (okay, maybe no Tolkien, but I bet his work would still spark interest).

If something is interesting, there’s a higher probability you’ll learn something and keep that learning with you beyond the test. Interest is powerful, and for some reason, we horribly underestimate and discredit it.

Perhaps too many people had English teachers that didn’t engage them and began to associate reading with my second trip through The Scarlet Letter. Reading was a chore, a task to do so a paper could be written before we scampered off to do what we wanted to do, like watch a movie.

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If that’s how reading is perceived, I can understand why people don’t get pleasure reading. Why it seems odd that we’d open up a romance novel and snuggle onto the sofa to have a lovely afternoon read.

This comes back to a different question though: should every book we read have the same depth my English teacher assigned to The Scarlet Letter?

I’m going to say “no”. There’s no reason why everything we do must be learning endeavor. Maybe it’s just me. I strongly dislike most literary books. Give me a romance, epic fantasy, or space opera. Give me characters I can cheer for and an ending that leaves me satisfied. Basically, give me a good movie or mini-series between the pages of a book.

 

What do you think? Do you pleasure read? Why or why not? Do you hold movies and TV shows to the same standards as books? Maybe you had a really awesome English teacher that gave you a totally different experience?

 

 

Book Review: An Unexpected Wish

Book: An Unexpected Wish

Author: Eileen Richards

Recommendation: Save your time and wash the cat

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I love a good romance. Heck, I like a decent romance.

Unfortunately, this was more like watching the writer play “Barbies” than actually reading a romance.

The entire novel could’ve been condensed into a short story. There wasn’t enough plot to hold up a full length novel, so the author substituted melodrama, lots of running away, and contrived situations to get the page count.

(Spoilers Ahead)

The premise of the novel is a young woman is in dire straights as she attempts to support herself and her sisters on a paltry inheritance left by her mother. Their brother has tossed them out for reasons the author never does a good job explaining (because their father praised Anne’s accomplishments and wanted his son to live up to them? Really? So the son tosses all three of his sisters on the street, with literally just the clothes on their backs when their father dies? Really?)

In a desperate attempt to have enough food and burning fuel to get through the winter, Anne makes a wish for a handsome husband that will provide for her and her sisters.

Low and behold, shortly after making the wish, the rich hero arrives and starts paying all sorts of attention to her.

Let’s state again the heroine and her sisters are on the brink of not having enough food or fuel to get through the winter. We’re talking about starvation or a life of prostitution to survive.

But the heroine decides she can’t possible marry the hero because he loves her only because of her wish. Let me tell you, if I became a New York Times best-selling author because of a wish, I’d take it with both hands and never look back.

What makes this even more disingenuous is that the heroine had no problem marrying her younger sister off to “save the family”.

Frankly, the story should’ve ended with the handsome hero offering for her, and Anne saving the family.

If the author wanted a full length novel, she needed something more to keep the hero and heroine apart. The “oh, he couldn’t possibly love me for real because of I made a wish” held absolutely no water. Let me tell you how much I disliked the heroine after hearing this a dozen or so times, and there were several dozen more times of listening to her say it still to come.

I mean, seriously. This is what she wanted, what she needed, to keep her sisters from starving. To keep them freezing come winter. And to reject it because of superstition?

Most hungry people would marry him and thank the fairies, not throw their “wish” back in the fairies’ face.

Now, enter deadbeat brother who has lost the entire family fortune to gambling (with the hero, nonetheless) and is looking for his sister to part with her mother’s jewels to save him from some very relentless creditors. And, he’s told every hoodlum in London that his sister has these jewels. Of course, there are no jewels or Anne would’ve sold them already.

You can guess where this is going. The brother must be redeemed, but the path to his redemption is unbelievable. One minute he’s willing to sell his sister to the hero for his “get out of debt” free card, and the next minute he’s suddenly willing to go to India and work off his debt to the hero. Nothing I saw created that change. Just sorta, yep, we need a happily-ever-after ending, so he’s gotta change.

Not even the “twist” ending was believable.  Why would Cecil Worth bother with the whole use of the Fairy Steps in the first place to trick Anne into thinking she was getting a wish? Anne had no suitors. If he was suddenly interested in her because of the jewels, he had no need to go through with the ruse. Never explained, and makes no sense given his character. But, you know, the plot needed a villain and a plausible explanation for the wish.

Speaking of plot, it mostly consisted of lots of running from here to there for the heroine as she goes from dodging one suitor to another. Seriously. Let’s run away to the Lodge. oh no, hero is there. Let’s run back home. Oh no, brother is there. Let’s go for a walk in the woods. Oh no, other suitor is there. Ugh. I think fifty percent of the book was the heroine running around for “reasons”.

There’s the obligatory steamy scenes towards the end, but they’re as cardboard and unbelievable as the rest of the story.

The writing itself is okay, but the use of line break to denote a change in point-of-view or scene are non-existent. Pulled me out of what little story every time there was one. The dialogue can also get pretty awful. Here’s an actual excerpt from the end of the book, as we discuss for the 100th or is that 1,000th time that the hero might actually love her:

“You think he loves me?”

John nodded. “When you were taken, he went still. He was icy calm. But his eyes burned. It was clear that someone he cared about deeply was in danger.”

Oh yeah, then there was my least favorite romance trope. The heroine being kidnapped. And because its snowing, her captor totally doesn’t give chase when she slips into the forest after getting motion sick. But, you know, the hero is totally just going to pay a ransom when he can find her footprints in the snow. *eye roll* The author must’ve been getting to the end of word count and didn’t want to spend much time on this.

All in, I walked into this book looking for a bit of pleasure reading. Some book candy while my kids watched a movie on Friday night. I wanted a fun romance, maybe some good steamy scenes, and a happily-ever-after. I got the HEA, but that was about it.

 

Book Review: Swamp Team 3

Book: Swamp Team 3

Author: Jana Deleon

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(No Spoilers)

This is the fourth book in the series, and I’m not sure how long the series is planned to go. I’ve seen up to at least nine books.

I will give you fair warning. If you can’t overlook grammar and punctuation issues, this author is not for you. I realized after reading this book so closely to the other just how much I was over looking. Comma splices abound. Consider yourself warned.

I’m starting to think I’m not much of a series person. While the author does a great job of not rehashing the previous books, and this book can stand alone, I felt like it was missing something.

The story still revolves around Fortune Redding hiding out in in Sinful, Louisiana, because she has put a price on her head and a leak in the CIA. She’s been befriended by the Geritol Mafia, senior citizens Gertie and Ida Belle, who are former counter intelligence operatives and leaders of the Sinful Ladies Society. One of Fortune’s new Sinful friends has her home set on fire and is being stalked.

Yes, you get your usual hijinks, although those are starting to become less funny. A wet tee shirt contest? Really? I was also a little leery on the way the author treated the stalker. I’ve done zero research on stalkers, and even so, I found it hard to believe.  Still trying to figure out how Fortune survived as a CIA assassin given some of her antics and choices.

I also needed more to sell me on Fortune and the gang getting involved in solving the arson attempt. For some reason, this felt more disingenuous than in previous books. Why couldn’t Carter solve this? Why are they getting into the middle of a police investigation? In the other books this is more clear. In this one, it feels more like “my friend is involved, so hey, I can’t trust the law”. Carter even points out all the foolishness they went through and risks they took were for nothing when he already knew what a suspect was doing because, you know, that’s the first person he investigated, too. And he can do it lawfully.

The romance moved along a little, but as a reader of romance novels, this is moving so slowly that it might as well be non-existent.  Book four, and we’re still no closer to knowing any of Fortune’s backstory or what’s happening with the CIA. We are seeing some change in the heroine. Seeing her develop real friendships and have real feelings for the people in the town.

For me, I think the best thing is to take a break from the series for a while. These are not deep thought books. They will not withstand too deep of an analysis, and the more of them I read, the more my brain starts processing patterns and can’t simply relax and enjoy the book candy. It starts analyzing and dissecting, and these books can’t stand up to that. That’s okay. It’s not what they’re meant for. They are meant to be funny and an easy read on a rainy Saturday.

Rise of Consumerism

In this post,  I discussed some of the key things that Americans spend their money on. A couple of readers brought up the concept of consumerism and how it’s made some people with a good income still live on the edge.

This resonated with me as I actually know some of these people. They have solid middle class earnings, yet, they still live paycheck to paycheck. The three categories I talked about before definitely come into play here. Buying more house than you can afford. Having new cars all the time. Eating out a lot.

This was definitely true for one person I knew who’d bought a massive four bedroom home, then his wife quit working when their first child was born. Suddenly, making the mortgage was really hard.

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I decided to do some investigating. Things usually happen for a reason, and I discovered that while the the drive to overspend is huge, it wasn’t always. Consumerism came into play at the same time the cosmetics industry has. I believe for the same reasons.

The rise in consumerism, whether buying a bigger house, new car, or just having stuff is a manufactured need. And it was manufactured on purpose. Consumerism has risen along with advertising and the ability for advertisers to reach large sections of the population. Advertising makes us want things. That’s what it’s designed to do, and it’s no coincidence that consumerism has grown along with increasingly sophisticated ads that target humans’ deepest needs.

 

A little history.

After WWI, corporations were making more stuff than people needed. Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers (yes, that Lehman Brothers) wrote, “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”

Rather than rejecting this premise, the US government openly supported it.

Advertising was key, and Mazur knew this, so he recruited Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays began to figure out how to make people want things they didn’t need by linking mass-produced goods to unconscious desires.

  •  He was the first to work with car companies on selling cars as a symbol of masculine sexuality than as a means of getting from point A to point B.
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Seems to work to this day.
  • He helped break the taboo of women smoking so cigarettes companies could sell cigarettes to women. He persuaded a group of debutantes to smoke in public at a parade. He then told the media ahead of time that this was happening, and called the cigarettes “Torches Of Freedom” and linked women smoking with challenging male authority.
  • He pioneered product placement and celebrity endorsements

 

Bernays would continue his work, with future generations further refining their understanding of human desire and preying on/satisfying it. Presidents starting with Herbert Hoover embraced consumerism, and after WWII, the National Association of Manufacturers and other groups launched PR campaigns that linked consumerism with capitalism and glorified both.

Advertising got increasingly sophisticated, and with the advent of social media, people were no longer comparing themselves to the Joneses. They were now comparing themselves to the Kardashians.

It’s been a win all around for businesses, and in some ways, for the consumer as we’ve never had such choice.

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And, companies have had to cater to consumer demand and preferences, pushing froward innovation on computers, social media, and even cars. Remember when there weren’t SUVs or crossovers? Or the focus American car companies have had to put on quality or lose their consumers to Japanese companies.

 

Where Does It Leave Us

Does this mean consumerism is the new normal? That there is no escape from it?

I’m going to argue “no”.

For all the bad rap Millennials regularly get, they are driving some industries to worry. They are more focused on experiences than stuff, and this has the diamond industry very concerned. A Millennial is more likely to skimp on the ring and splash out on a huge honeymoon. They want memories, or as some cynics might say, lots of stuff to post on social media.

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Still, millennials are harder for advertisers to reach, and advertisers are fighting to find ways to get to them.

This inability to reach people is part of the reason why advertisers are terrified of “cord cutting” and consumers moving to Netflix or Amazon Prime for their viewing needs. Why? Because they can’t easily reach large numbers people. They can’t influence us to want their product by making us think it makes us sexier, more worthy of love, of whatever other needs they’re now trying to appeal to.

Advertisers are scrambling to find other ways to reach us. Many of us don’t want to be reached. Amazing how many people pay for an ad-blocking service.

In the advent of the internet, it also makes it more difficult for advertisers as there is no longer a mass market. The internet makes it much easier for niche markets to take hold, and for very personalized preferences to be met.

 

My Experience

I can say I’ve seen a significant change in my home when we “cut the cord” (got rid of all cable and even regular TV) in 2009. It was the Great Recession, and we had to trim expenses. Cable was an easy one for us. (So was our gym membership, but that’s another story!).

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We’ve never looked back. After seven years of being close to commercial free, you find yourself a little outside the “cutting edge” of pop culture, but we’ve learned to accept that, too. And if there’s a show you really want to watch, you can usually purchase the individual episodes or find them for free a few days later.

When we’ve gone to a friend’s house and they happened to have a football game on, we were astounded at how many commercials there were.

Afterward, we looked at the average kids’ show our daughters watch. They range between 20 and 22 minutes for a 30 minute time slot. That means a full 1/3 of a child’s show is advertising!

There’s a reason our kids’ Christmas lists are small (other than them being a little spoiled), and why we can walk down the cereal aisle and walk out with only Cheerios and no tears.

 

 

What do you think? Do you see the side-effects of consumerism? Maybe you’ve experienced them? Know someone who has? Do you think advertisers create desire? Do you think they’re part of consumerism?

Book Review: Swamp Sniper

Book: Swamp Sniper (Book 3 of the Miss Fortune series)

Author: Jana Deleon

Book1

(No Spoilers)

I’ve been working through this series, and I have to be careful to not devour them too quickly. Not sure how many books there are, but it’s nice that each is a contained story. At this point, you don’t need to have read the first two books to understand what’s going on or to enjoy the third installment.

The author does a nice job of writing a series. You get snippets of what happened in the past, but it’s no more than a few paragraphs sprinkled throughout the book.

This is a series, so the romance is moving at a snail’s pace. As is the back story on Fortune, the story’s protagonist.

This is a mystery novel, but with a lot of humor. Think Janet Evanovich. Starting to raise a brow, though, as this is the third murder investigation in as many weeks for the heroine. Looks like Sinful is getting to be more dangerous, per capita, than New Orleans. Unless, of course, my suspicion is correct about who the leak at the CIA is that put Fortune in sinful…

Fortune has been stashed in the backwater, rural Louisiana town of Sinful while the CIA tries to ferret out the leak that sold her out to some very bad men. While there, she’s befriended by some of the locals, including the Geritol Mafia. The premise of this book is that Fortune’s friend, Ida Belle, is accused of murdering Ted through poisoned cough syrup (moonshine).

Ted had been running against Ida Belle in the mayoral race, but that’s not a reason to kill anyone in Sinful. No motive is ever established as to why she’d want ted dead, but the real issue is the poison used to kill Ted happens to be the gopher killer that resides in Ida Bell’s shed. The story lost a little believability for me that there would be a solid case against Ida Bell as everyone knew the poison was there, and it wasn’t exactly locked up. Lots of people also had access to the cough syrup. But, I suspended disbelief as Gertie and Fortune try to prove Ida Belle’s innocence.

Carter, the deputy sheriff, doesn’t think that Ida Belle is the killer, but Sinful wants an arrest and so does the prosecutor. Of course he doesn’t want Gertie and Fortune investigating, and that adds to the hijinks.

This story is written in the same vein as the first two. It’s a fun, easy read. I appreciate that a lot. While I sometimes doubt how effective of a CIA assassin Fortune actually was, she doesn’t do anything I’d deem too stupid. I also appreciate that the author keeps the female characters strong and mostly competent. I love the cast of characters in this story, and even the secondary characters have a great deal of personality.

A good, easy read to make you smile and that you can finish in an evening.