A Willful Woman…

Thoughts and reviews from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: the Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly

The theme: A RITA nominee or winner. This won for Best Regency in 1997.

Why this one: It was between this and Stealing Heaven by Madeline Hunter, and I’d used a Hunter book for May. I managed to completely forget that I’d used a Kelly book for June. Oops.

The first chapters of this had tears pricking constantly in my eyes (though nothing compared to how much I’d be crying by the end.) It’s Susan’s 25th birthday, and her birthday wish is for “someone, anyone, to rely on.” Her father’s gambling has taken away everything Susan cares about, most especially her dream for a husband and children — she’s beautiful and bright, but what respectable gentleman would take on a penniless woman with her family baggage?

When things have hit almost rock bottom and Susan faces a life of unpaid drudgery, she decides to boldly seek a life of paid drudgery instead. This takes her to the employment office of Joel Steinman, and I can’t tell you how long it took me to get over the fact that this sweet, one-armed, Jewish tradesman was not going to be her hero. Damn, I love him. (As of a year ago, Kelly was speculating about writing a story for him… I’ll be first in line to buy it.)

Our actual hero is almost as appalling a Prince Charming for our Cinderella — an illegitimate Welsh bailiff, badly scarred from having been whipped for stealing in the army. (Even his last name, Wiggin, was stolen.) He is also steadfast, brave, and caring… a perfect match for our steadfast, brave, and caring heroine, if she can look past their class differences. As they join together in their attempts to help their elderly employer keep her independence, those differences begin to seem less and less important.

This is a more sensual story than any of the older Kellys I’ve read. Susan’s physical attraction to David Wiggin is extremely strong, and often keeps her up nights, pondering the mysteries of sex. There’s some pretty earthy humor, too. But love and devotion of all kinds are the heart of the book — it celebrates the bonds of a chosen family, which can be more meaningful than those of birth.

 

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Apology

Five days after I wrote about how weird it was that the heroine of a book stayed in the same house as the man who tried to rape her and cooked him breakfast, this appeared. (via Love in the Margins.)

Probably a coincidence, but it made me realize that I was pretty slapdash there. I vaguely thought about the fact that reactions to rape and attempted rape can be unexpected, but didn’t think I needed to go into it. I should have.

To be clear, there’s nothing in the narrative to indicate that the heroine had any lasting emotional reaction to the attempted rape, or to the physical abuse that occurs later in the book. It’s not a coping mechanism for her — it’s just bad, thoughtless writing that doesn’t take rape or abuse seriously.

But I should not have thoughtlessly contributed to the idea that there’s only one real or appropriate way to respond to rape.

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Broadening my Harlequin Horizons

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I’ve been glomming Carol Marinelli’s Kolovsky series — it’s pretty strongly linked, unlike most Harlequin series. Interestingly, it was published in the U.K. in more than one line: the second and third books are in the “Harlequin Medical” line, the rest are “Modern.” They all wound up as Harlequin Presents in the U.S. — I don’t think we have any other place to put Medical romances, even though they don’t fit.

I was intrigued by how the author changed styles for the different lines, yet also managed to not make the contrasts too sharp. The Moderns I’ve read (I’m about the start the last one) have the usual HP elements — playboys, obscene wealth — yet also have some grounding elements. (In The Last Kolovsky Playboy, the heroine is a single mother, and the impact her fake relationship with her boss would have on her young daughter is giving far more attention than it usually would. She’s also apparently genuinely fat, not just “curvy.”) The Medicals are much more real world, and Knight on the Children’s Ward gives a significant character arc to the heroine, which I liked a lot.

A running theme in all the books is the lingering effects of being part of the very messed-up Kolovsky family, and this is more powerfully drawn than usual in HPs. It’s especially strong in Knight, where it narratively fits with the medical environment: the pediatrician hero is giving a talk on spotting small signs of emotional abuse in children, and comes to realize why the woman he loves is so withdrawn and passive.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Medical romances, because I usually don’t get into the more realistic Harlequin lines . (Excepting Sarah Mayberry, who almost always manages to keep it interesting.) I’m not sure if that’s because of the connection to the series or if I’d enjoy the line in general.

Anyway, the series has its share of problems¬† — Knight, especially, has some othering of the part Romany hero, and also some weird editing issues.¬† This paragraph…

“I’ll come with you.” Ross went with her.

But the author has some flair to her writing that made me more forgiving of times when it was hard to parse what was going on. (I was also stuck for a minute on “They ate cold roast beef and hot mustard sandwiches…”) It was also interesting that her style seemed to come out more and more as the series went along, as if it became less necessary for her to try to sound like every other HP writer. The third and fourth books impressed me much more than the first and second. On to book five, and may the trend continue!

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #13

Harlequin Presents #13: A Kiss from Satan

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Trigger warnings may be redundant when discussing old Harlequins, but just in case: warning for domestic violence

Best line: “‘I must admit that until a short while ago, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of marriage–’ He broke off and for one fleeting second his lips curved in contempt. ‘A man doesn’t really need to these days – when women are so cheap.’”

Notes of interest: This may be the first Greek Tycoon. The bedroom door is so firmly shut, we miss the first month of their marriage. But we do get to witness the hero shaking the heroine until she’s almost unconscious, as punishment for ordering him around. Lucky us.

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As I read this, I half expected D’Hoffryn to appear to recruit our heroine Gale as a vengeance demon. After being cheated on by her fiance, Gale has deliberately become a femme fatale, trying to punish all men for being the rotten beasts they are. She’d like Greek hunk Julius to be her next victim, but unfortunately he sees through her right away.

I’m not sure which next parts of the plot I found weirder:

Рthat after narrowly escaping being raped by Julius, Gale not only stays in the house alone with him, but cooks them both breakfast. (Addendum 7/11/14:  some further thoughts on this.)

– that Gale agrees to marry Julius because her mother threatens to leave Gale’s philanderer father for another man if she doesn’t.

– that Gale’s mother was actually in a conspiracy with Julius.

Like Hampson’s last HP, Waves of Fire, this had a tendency towards long pauses in the action. Something dramatic happens, then the hero leaves and nothing else happens for a long time. I rather missed that when the shaking began. It had been a pretty good read until then — Gale’s interactions with her family are interesting — but that was so upsetting, I almost quit the book. There was no reason for me to be glad I continued; there aren’t even any repercussions from the shaking… in fact, she apologizes to him at the end!

I’m not sure I can face the next Anne Hampson.

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We Interrupt This Mockery for Some Important Links

 

nope-nope-nope-cat

If you’re a real life friend of mine, you’ve likely noticed that I’ve deleted my Facebook account. These links explain why.

My colleague Sunita, who is an academic, on Facebook’s Indefensible, Unscholarly Research

Author Ros Clarke on Facebook and Mental Health

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #12

Harlequin Presents #12: Dragon Bay by Violet Winspear

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Best line: “‘You like a child yo’self,’ Da had muttered, and as she went out of the room the points of her Creole turban had seemed like the devil’s horns.”

Notes of interest: Marital rape. The bedroom door is ever so slowly creeping open.

Well… I couldn’t read this one; I happened to skim to that line above and it did me in. Racism and dialect are two things I really don’t need in my HPs. Add suspense for a third thing. This did have a strong resemblance to The Book in terms of plot and atmosphere, though, which makes me think the author might be Winspear. On the other hand, I’ve also read a Mather that seemed very similar. So I guess I’ll just keep plugging.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #11

Harlequin Presents #11: Who Rides the Tiger by Anne Mather

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I liked this cover until I figured out that what’s going on is she’s holding her arms above her head, while wearing a most peculiar dress.

Best line: “I’ve never danced to beat music before,” she confessed. “I’m quite a square really.”

Notes of interest: Hero is badly hurt, rather than heroine. Heroine is a smoker. Heaving breasts alert! The heroine dumps her fiance to marry someone else and plans to use the same wedding dress — were the seventies really that practical? It seem incredibly tacky. The hero gets married in silk! Almost an in-joke: “well, forced seduction is a crime, isn’t it?”

I was thinking about skipping this one, but skimming ahead saw that there might be an actual sex scene! So I had to read it after all, for, you know, historical interest. And would you believe it, the scan messes up right there! I think we’re still at closed bedroom door, though.

Dominique travels to Brazil to marry her fiance, and discovers that he’s turned into a giant hippie.

Then she recognized John, but he had changed enormously. He now sported a thick beard and moustache [watch out, Dominique!] and his hair had grown rather long since his arrival. Big and broad, dressed in demin slacks and a brilliant orange shirt, he looked almost a stranger.

His boss, on the other hand, is a 1970′s dreamboat.

Dressed in close-fitting cream pants and a cream silk sweater which was unbuttoned almost to his waist revealing the dark mass of hairs on his broad chest he looked lithe and masculine.

Wait, where’s the gold medallion? Anyway, Vincente is so awesome, he has to refer to himself in the third person.

“See–” he muttered fiercely, “I’m trembling too. This is not Santos’s way, believe me! I have wanted many women — and I have taken them. You — I respect. You — I am prepared to give my name!”

Vincente convinces Dominique to marry him — at this point, they’ve met about three times — and that’s when the fun really begins.

This was the first of the oldie reads that really felt like a proper Harlequin Presents to me. It wasn’t that different from the previous Mather books, but the pieces fit together better, somehow. Angst was achieved, so I’m happy.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #10

#10 Waves of Fire by Anne Hampson

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I will likely enjoy this project a lot more when it stops being the same three authors over and over again…

Best line: “What sort of man was this whom she had married? Dark and sinister, a foreigner in whose blood ran the pagan traits of his idol-worshipping forbears, he would crush and subjugate her until she had no will of her own, no personality, no life other than that of a slave, a possession to be used, indifferently laid aside, and used again as this man’s passions and desires dictated.”

Notes of interest: And…. we has sex! Bedroom door painted shut, blink and you’ll miss it, forced seduction aka “tender lovemaking.” Guess which one of these fashions went out of date first. And I think we’ve had the heroine have some kind of accident that renders her unconscious in every book so far.

As you can see from the quote above, this was an uncomfortable read. Shani is thinking stuff like that all the time. Her husband is actually a decent guy by HP standards — we can overlook a little blackmail and forced consummation, right? Because he loves her! — but that doesn’t make the book feel any less racist. I skim-finished, so I suppose it’s possible that Shani wakes up and thinks, holy shit, I can’t believe all those stereotypes I was thinking about Greeks…. but I’m skeptical.

There’s a lot of travelogue, which is a little more narratively interesting than usual because it’s about Cos and the characters are into it because they’re both in the medical field. Then it veers into the adventures of the locals, while Shani and Andreas do pretty much nothing. There’s quite a lot of doing nothing in the book overall, and I’d had enough.

 

 

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #9

Harlequin Present #9 – Wife Without Kisses by Violet Winspear

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Best line: “I could forgive you anything–everything,” she said simply. “If you killed me in anger it wouldn’t matter, if you did it.”

Notes of interest: The first of my rereads with a hero who isn’t from a romantic clime. I hadn’t realized that trend started at the very beginning.

It’s funny that this one has such a direct title, compared to the more subtle and evocative titles of the other early Harlequins, because in tone it’s far less like a category romance and more like a novel. We get numerous points of view, including that of the hero, and more time is spent on other relationships than on the romance.

I had some issues with the book. One is that the story, scenes, and characters are clearly heavily inspired by Rebecca. (Curiously, this is the second time I’ve encountered such a book this week.) Another is that the infantilization of the heroine is taken to absurd extremes; virtually every time she is mentioned or spoken to, a word such a “young” or “child” or “little” is used to describe her. Her husband actually compares her to their adopted baby several times. And she’s just dreadfully wet — the characterization of a very shy, insecure young woman is not a patch on Du Maurier’s. (Weirdly, Winspear apparently used exactly the same plot of this book again two years later.)

Even so, it was kind of a compelling story , and though it feels far more dated than the other books, I enjoyed it more than anything else I’ve tried so far. I think it actually helps that so little time was spent on the primary relationship, and that very little happens physically between them. Mainly I think it was interesting because it actually aimed to be about complicated people, rather than all plot. It wasn’t especially deep or subtle, but it was something.

I’m quite sure I read this one in the past; the cover is familiar, and several scenes rang bells in my mind.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #7

Dear Stranger by Anne Hampson

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Well, it has to be said. That is one butt-ugly cover.

Best line: “Before her dreamy gaze rose the vision of a slim young giant, sinewed and dark, with classical Greek features etched in stone, with remarkable dull-green eys and a widow’s peak cutting a wedge into his low and noble brow.”

Notes of interest: Three out of three books so far in which the hero is a widowed father and the heroine fixes everything wrong in the lonely child’s life. I think we’re still sex free.

I DNF’d this one. The situation was exceptionally icky — the heroine was the hero’s adoptive sister and grew up with him — and it was dull as ditchwater on top of it. If you’re going to be gross, at least be interesting.

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Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

Miss Bates Reads Romance

Miss Bates is the loquacious spinster from Austen's Emma. No doubt she read romances ... here's what she would have thought of them.

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