A Willful Woman…

Thoughts and reviews from a romance addict.

“a thousand secret symmetries”

Such a beautiful post by Alexis Hall at Wonkomance today.

Here’s my soundtrack for it.


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Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath

I’m trying desperately to get caught up with ARC Mountain, so just a few thoughts on finally reading this classic.

So I realized that my love for the cruelly misjudged heroine isn’t gendered at all… a misjudged hero is just as good. Authors just don’t write them very often. (Suggestions?)

Another reviewer criticized hero Clay for being a saint. This is definitely a valid criticism, but I appreciated that he didn’t always turn the other cheek. He said a few pretty sharp (and entirely deserved) things to the heroine. And it’s an absolutely essential part of his character that he is totally committed to his beliefs.

The prose isn’t totally solid. In particular, the action scenes are very flat. And everything comes to an abrupt, neat ending. But there’s a beautiful use of incorporation around the themes of courage and what it really means. I had to grade down a bit for flaws, but I couldn’t give such an original and powerful book less than an A-.
Tangentially, it’s interesting how often a book I’ve heard about many times over the years turns out to be truly great, while a book I’ve heard about many times over the course of a week or month… not so much.


It Sounds All Too Probable


Hub and I trade dreams sometimes. He graciously had a nightmare about my Kobo Mini for me last night:


The details are fuzzy now, but it had the World’s Worst User Interface.  There was a new software update you wanted, so you went to their website to request it, and then it would push the update to the device, but then the device needed you to enter an authorization number, and it requested this by repeatedly screaming the word “KOOOOOOHHHHHBOOOOHHHHHHH” in a hideous electronic voice.  And then the authorization number didn’t work, so it kept screaming over and over while you waited on hold with the manufacturer’s hotline number.

We couldn’t figure out how to turn it off so I ended up trying to hide it in one of our cars or something, which didn’t help enough, and probably annoyed all our neighbors.


I had actually just been wishing for some way to make an ereader make a noise on demand, so you can track it down when it’s lost… but this might be overkill.


The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #21



Trigger Warning: loss of a child

Harlequin Presents #21: The Unwilling Bride by Violet Winspearunwilling1 unwilling2

Another one of those odd, “look how happy and in love we are” covers for a forced marriage story, despite the obvious title.The original Mills and Boon cover conveys the tone much better.

Best line: “The men of Sicily slap the face of their bride on the wedding day – we of Sardinia save the slap for the occasion that merits it.”

Notes of interest: Nothing new here. Sex is happening, but so obliquely I wasn’t sure of it until the heroine got obliquely pregnant.


Mark, who is from Sardinia — a fact he mentions about every other sentence, so there’s no fear of forgetting it — lost his son in a horrible car wreck; he was also badly burned, and scarred. The wreck was caused by a hit and run driver, Rhodri, the son of Ravena’s beloved, frail guardian; to spare her guardian pain and stress, she agrees to marry Mark and have children with him. I almost DNF’d this one right there, because I was not happy about the death of a child being used as a plot point in such a way. It is treated more sensitively later.

Despite the plot and the threatening quote above, Mark isn’t half bad for an HP hero. He’s a little annoying with his insistance on believing that Ravena is in love with Rohdri, and I liked that she called him on it:

‘Each time we are alone he shares the room with us.’

‘Because you always have to mention him,’ she retaliated.

But he both catches Ravena with another man and finds her half-written letter to Rhodri without doing anything more than being all sad and bitter at her.

For her part, Ravena first believes Mark is still in love with his perfect first wife and then with a Sardinian girl. Jealousy makes her realize that he’s pretty damn hot, despite his scars. (Which are mentioned almost as often as Mark’s heritage.)

It’s a typical sort of story, but has a nice flow. The local color isn’t overdone, and the developing attraction Ravena feels for Mark is is well drawn.


The Last Goodbye by Sarah Mayberry

I was struck by how somber this title seemed for a romance novel, even one with some very serious stuff going down. However, as I read on, I realized that the title could also have a very positive meaning.

The story is about Tyler, who returns to his childhood home in a state of severe ambivalence when his father is diagnosed with terminal cancer. His father Bob was, simply put, a monster; he physically and emotionally abused both Tyler and his older brother, and both escaped as soon as they possibly could. Now he’s an old, sick man, and Tyler can’t help hoping for some sort of closure for their relationship.

Bob was found ill by his temporary neighbor Ally, who’s been looking out for him and was the one who contacted Tyler.  Advice columnist Ally is the sort of caring, generous person you’d expect to live in a cozy home with cats and babies round her feet. But she’s felt trapped every time she’s tried to settle down, and so she’s given up on both relationships and homes, not wanting to leave any more heartbroken men behind. Still, her warm heart can’t resist Tyler, who’s so emotionally wrecked by having to deal with his dad again.

This is the sort of mature romance within a realistic framework that Mayberry writes so well. The situation with Tyler’s father is deeply sad and troubling, and there’s no easy ending for it. The ending for the romance is more pat, and doesn’t hold up that well. (And the story gets into pet peeve territory when they have That Conversation — Ally tells Tyler they don’t need a condom, because she’s on the Pill and she trusts him. How I would have loved for him to retort, “well, I don’t trust you!”) Still it’s a very involving story, with a sweet, strongly felt romance.

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The Sheriff’s Surrender by Marilyn Pappano

I admit it, I wanted to read this one because reviewers talked about utterly horribly the hero behaves. And oh my, were they ever right. But it was also an unexpectedly interesting book, with a theme that’s very pertinent at the moment.

Sheriff Reece Barnett is pissed-off to discover that the witness he’d agreed to protect is his ex-lover, Neely Madison. Nine years previously, Neely had successfully defended a man who then shot and killed his wife, someone Reece had promised to protect; Neely was also wounded. Reece blamed Neely, to the point that he left her bleeding on the ground and never spoke to her again.

When I told my husband this part of this story, he found it impossible to believe it could ever have a happy ending, because he felt that Reece’s action were completely unforgivable. I think it’s a flaw in the book that Neely didn’t feel the same: although she’s very bitter in the present, she was ready and eager to be reconciled after the shooting. And she’s a little too easy on him, in my opinion.

The awful hero who finds out how painfully wrong he was is one of my favorite tropes, so I would have enjoyed this anyway. But what I really liked about it is that Neely takes no crap from Reece — every nasty thing he did or said comes back to haunt him — and she tells him straight out that his department bore some of the responsibility for the death, because it was their trampling of the shooter’s civil rights that enabled her to get him off. Their true conflict is between Reece’s belief that laws aren’t that important when you just know someone is guilty, and Neely’s belief in civil rights and equal protection. Given the generally conservative bent in romance, especially in law enforcement heroes, I was really pleased to see this. Annoyingly, the book eventually comes out more in favor of Reece’s position, but Neely’s argument has still been made, and made well.

The angst flows freely, and Reece is put through the plot wringer to prove that he really deserves to be forgiven, so it’s also a fun romance. (Hub disagrees: “Still not enough.”)

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The Greek’s Bridal Bargain by Melanie Milbourne

What tickled me: The hero swims with dolphins!

What ticked me off: The heroine is so obnoxious, I would not have been unduly distressed if she had swum with the fishes.

Who might like it: Fans of devoted heroes.

The classic mode for a Harlequin Presents is an innocent heroine being unfairly judged by the hero. This reverses that, with a heroine who is often pretty awful, and a hero who constantly forgives and excuses her. (He puts on a show of being out for revenge against her family, but is pretty much a marshmallow underneath.) It’s all kind of thin, but I liked the trope reversal.


TBR Challenge: Angel at Dawn by Emma Holly

The theme: a very sexy book

Why this one: Most of my print TBR is fairly mild, and this had been recommended to me several times.

Angel at Dawn is a sequel to Devil at Midnight, which ended on a sort of cliff-hanger. So there’ll be some spoilers here for the first book, but not much more than you’d get from the book blurb anyway.  I wound up skimming Devil at Midnight because I guessed — correctly — that it was going to make me really uncomfortable. I do strongly recommend reading it (or at least skimming) if you want to read this one, because there are a lot of important connections. Characters from previous books in the series also show up, but it’s not necessary to have read those.

So, Christian and Grace were in love when he was a young medieval mercenary and she was a… ghost. Their story ended after Christian was turned into a vampire and Grace disappeared. The time is now the 1950s, and Christian is flabbergasted to be confronted with a human who seems exactly like his lost love. She’s the assistant of the vampire queen who originally turned him, and they’re there to persuade him to star in a movie called… wait for it… I Was a Teen-Aged Vampire. To make things even weirder, the script of the movie is remarkably similar to the events of Christian’s life.

You have to admit, this is not your usual paranormal plot. The parts relating to movie-making were pretty fun; I especially liked the subtle indicators that are put into the script to imply that two characters are gay. (Shades of The Celluloid Closet.) This leads to a funny scene in which the clueless straight actors are trying to puzzle out the significance:

“It’s an Ibsen thing: there just to be absurd.”

“Maybe it’s supposed to mean we have a telepathic bond.”

“I don’t know how to play telepathic,” Matthew said worriedly.

It was also kind of fascinating to see the past and present interrelated — for example, the two characters are gay because two of Christian’s closest friends had been secretly in love — although I would have liked less vagueness about how things happened and what it all means. It’s an original plotline, I’ll give it that. But I didn’t get Christian’s anger at Grace for deserting him: it seemed obvious in Devil at Midnight that her comings and goings weren’t in her control. His anger seemed more like a useful opportunity to show how much he loved her anyway, in classic romance hero fashion.

I also wasn’t crazy about the sex scenes, which seem to be largely about how enormous Christian’s truncheon is and all the wacky things he can do with it. A typical line: “Her cry of admiration lengthened him, as if being with her made him more of a man in more ways than one.” And the description of their vampire + human sex are so ferocious, I kept worrying that he would break her.

It’s funny… I thought Angel at Dawn was better than Devil at Midnight (if I can make that judgement about a book I only skimmed,) yet what I most liked about Angel at Dawn were the parts that reflected Devil at Midnight. So if I recommended these, I would be recommending you read one book so you can then read another book which will make you enjoy the first book more.

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Moonlight Mist by Laura London

What tickled my fancy: Evocative, funny, sensual writing.

What ticked me off: Too much Heyer influence, and pain in the butt heroine.

Who might like it: Fans of young, stubborn heroines who are always getting into scrapes. Surely there must be a few.

Most early London books have a dash of Heyer in them — probably very few traditional Regencies don’t — but this was a little more obvious than I care for, with many echoes of The Convenient Marriage. (I don’t know why that particular book has inspired so many imitations; I know of at least two others.) There’s plenty of lively, original plot and characters as well — I can’t imagine Heyer ever making her hero a reknowned poet — so it’s certainly not a total rip-off.

But its flaws are also similar: the stubborn, childish heroine is even more annoying than Heyer’s Horry and the romance is similarly on the light/off-page side. Though I’d say it’s more successful, even as I wonder how anyone could have fallen in love with the obnoxious 17-year-old Lynden, because it oozes that wonderful tension you only find in really well-written traditional Regencies from the no-sex days. Not a great story, certainly not up there with The Bad Baron’s Daughter, but entertaining enough.

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Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb

What tickled my fancy: A slightly less know-it-all Eve.

What ticked me off: A Roarke gone so Irish, I expected him to tell Eve she’s magically delicious.

Who might like it: Fans of the series. Not a particularly good entry point.

Last year I wrote about my dissatisfaction with the “In Death” series.  I half wonder if someone was listening, because I’d say this book didn’t aggravate me in the same way. Or perhaps it’s just that I took my sweet time to read it? But Eve definitely didn’t get up my nose as much as usual. She seemed a little more seeking of help from others, and less perfectly right. There are a lot of grey areas in this story, which was difficult for her, and other points of view expressed. (I get the feeling she is being written more like someone with Aspergers these days, which I find kind of… pointless.  Her constantly getting idioms wrong feels forced to me.)

In any event, it’s the best of the series I’ve read in quite a while, a real page-turner. The case is interesting and sad without being torture porn like the last one. There’s some meat on its bones. And the banter is funny and charmingly risque.

I was surprised by some unexpectedly stereotypical portrayals, which is not usually how this future world comes across. And speaking of stereotypes, some of the main characters seem almost completely defined by their quirks. Peabody in particular was all about food and weight at first, though she did come across with some interesting information later. And Roarke has acquired so many Irish vocal tics, I assumed he was wearing a little green hat.

Still, it was a good read, and made me glad I didn’t just throw in the towel. (Thanks, Janet!)

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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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