A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: A Night of Living Dangerously by Jennie Lucas

The theme: A holiday romance. Or not.

What tickled my fancy: Pain, pain, gratitude and joy. (An old Star Trek joke.)

What ticked me off: Cliches come hard and fast and lie thick on the ground,

Who might like it: Fans of angsty Harlequin Presents who aren’t easily put off by asshat heroes. (Asshat in a very modern way. I didn’t think he was so bad.)

The holiday romance theme is always difficult for me, because I’m not a big fan of them and don’t tend to buy obvious holiday books. This year, it was like my TBR was mocking me: I’d dig through, magically find a book with Christmas in it, start it, and find it unreadable. After the third try, with only a few hours left, I said the hell with it and grabbed the first Harlequin Presents on the pile. It turned out to have a mention of December and decorations for the season. Thanks, TBR!

I was afraid at first this would be another for the scrap heap, because the first chapters are not auspicious. Lusting monologues plus navel gazing = zzzzzz. The plot is basically Cinderella meets unplanned pregnancy, as so many Harlequin Presents are. After the inevitable marriage, it becomes more of an attempted makeover story. I enjoyed this part more, because the timid, insecure heroine Lilley comes into her own. There’s some juicy suffering for both, and the hero does his best to make things up to her; I was quite happy with it by the end.

Allesandro seems to be universally reviled at GoodReads, but I cut him a lot of slack for putting aside his old bitterness and betrayal and being willing to trust Lilley. It all comes back to bite them on the ass, of course, but that’s what makes an HP an HP.

 

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Back to Basics part 347

I cut way, way back on ARCs, but still manage to have enough to work myself into yet another anxious panic. As I sat here, trying to prioritize all the work I feel like I need to do — made all the more fun by having a cold — a thought floated into my brain, seemingly out of nowhere:

What do you want?

It stopped me cold. What do I want, indeed? It’s so ridiculously easy to lose track of that. What do I actually care about? Which books do I think are important to share? If I don’t feel compelled to read a book or write about it, why should I bother?

Maybe I need to make a huge sign to tape over my computer, that says What do you want?

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The Turning Season by Sharon Shinn

(Some spoilers)

This is the third in a paranormal romance series, and reading it gave me the weird feeling it was written to address concerns I had with the previous two books in the series — and perhaps with some other Shinn books as well. Both of the previous books focused on obsessive love of human women for shapeshifters, and they were frankly disturbing. In this book, the female narrator Karadel is the shapeshifter herself, and she’s facing a choice between her charismatic ex-lover, a classic bad boy type who’s also a shifter, and a solid, reliable new man in her life. Astonishingly enough, she goes good — although you could say the choice is made easy for her by her ex going very bad.

I’ve often found Shinn books to be morally ambiguous, to say the least. There are two other Shinn books — Summers at Castle Auburn and The Thirteenth House — in which the main characters use mind control powers to deliberately change someone’s memory, “for his own good.” That’s not exactly what happens here, but Kara is faced with someone she cares about playing God, which creates a serious ethical dilemma for her — as if Shinn is trying to say, “see, I do think about these moral implications!”

I didn’t find it very satisfying though. For one thing, Kara is spared from having to make a real decision, and for another, so much else about the book is perturbing in an unquestioned way. Kara has been pretending her dead mentor (one of the obsessed characters from a previous book, who basically died for love) is still alive; she goes so far as to write letters to the woman’s mother to comfort both of them. And she seems to feel no particular guilt or worry over the ethics of what she’s doing.

In another part of the book, one of  Kara’s friends, a foster mother who is portrayed as deeply committed to caring for and protecting the abused teenager in her care, is described as being thrilled to let him participate in a crime. It’s a crime with the best of intentions, one that will protect many innocent people, but it’s still a crime. She should have at least had to think about it, and the possible ramifications — including losing him.

I love many of Shinn’s books; Angelica is one of my top favorite romance of all times. But I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep reading them if they continue to feel so… unthinkingly morally bankrupt.

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I know they mean well, but…

Every time an author posts a comment on something I wrote, it’s instant death for the comment thread.

 

hulksmash

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E is for Ethan in Gold and End of The Line?

We’re up to E! Miss Bates’s E is an intriguingly different old SuperRomance, Mr. Family by Margot Early

Ethan in Gold by Amy Lane

This is a very apt choice for the alphabet challenge, because the main character was named alphabetically, after his four sisters Allegra, Belladonna and so on. His birth name is actually Evan, but when he starts working for the porn site “Johnnies,” he immediately assimilates his stage name, enjoying the chance to distance himself from his parents.

Ethan is a very interesting character, and I was absorbed in the first section of the book, which is about his fucked up childhood. I don’t think he’s autistic, but Sensory Processing Disorder comes to mind: he’s clearly a sensory-seeker, desperate for touch, and he stims a lot on textures. His need for human touch was complicated by the fact that he was molested at a young age, and his mother blames everything about him — including his sexuality — on that one incident. She also cut him off from her affection, because he’d been “defiled.”

Geeky virgin Jonah — who Ethan calls kid even though he’s two years older than Ethan’s twenty– is mostly interesting for his family situation. His teenage sister Amelia is an unusually long-lived survivor of Cystic Fibrosis, and her portrayal is as far from “inspiration porn” as you can get: she’s resistant to treatment, disobeys doctor’s orders, and generally drives her family crazy. Her dad is so upset by it all that he actually moves out, though continues to be supportive. I really appreciated this sympathetic portrayal of a caregiver who loves his family but has just reached his limits, and who acknowledges this in a sane way. Amelia is also very human and sympathetic, and Jonah recognizes that her contrary behavior is partially her way of insisting that her family accept her as who she is, rather than as a poster child for disability or survival. And despite her frailty and highly unglamorous illness, she gets to have a boyfriend and have sex.

The conflict between Ethan and Jonah is firstly Ethan’s feeling not good enough for him, and secondly his attachment to his porn career. Since all his coworkers are friends, it means lots and lots of good touch for him.

I loved the first book in this series, Chase in Shadow, and in my memory it was a tight, compelling read. But the second book and this one are so… chatty and gossipy. All three are set in roughly the same time period, and so we see a lot about the events of the previous books — this can be very interesting if done well, but here it just felt flabby to me.  As did pointless paragraphs like this one:

Donnie came up on Ethan’s left, his bright-blond hair so distracting that the girl actually looked up to see him. He was drinking a coffee, and Ethan looked over to the attached Starbucks and thought that was maybe where Donnie had been hanging, waiting for them.

Why is that even there?

The constant emphasis on the other characters made me feel as if the author wants readers to be madly in love with all of her characters, all the time.

So while there was a lot I liked, I’m not sure this author’s style is really for me. Maybe I’ll read the next book from the library.

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Shocked and Surprised!

shocked

 

I had two minor epiphanies last night, neither of which is probably particularly revelatory to anyone else.

One is that Twitter just doesn’t work as my only place to play with my friends on the Internet. It’s loads of fun, full of smart, witty, kind people. But many of them are authors, and it’s their space too; I censor myself there and feel justified in doing so.

How I miss having a place to share my random observations as I read a book. I still use GoodReads a bit, but it’s so hard to get a book conversation going now. Maybe I’m being stupidly stubborn not to use it in that manner?

The other is that, after having cleared out my arcs and enjoyed a blessed few days of peace, I’ve been obsessing over not having read enough good books for my Best Of lists, and trying to cram a whole bunch more reading in, in very little time. In other words, I managed to find yet another way to turn reading into homework. Go me.

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D is for Driftwood and Disappointed

(Miss Bates’s D read: Checkmate, My Lord by Tracey Devlyn.)

Driftwood by Harper Fox

I feel like a very reactive reader lately. A couple of times recently, one aspect of a book has put me off so much that it colored my entire response to it. In this case, it was the most blatantly reckless episode of unsafe sex I’ve ever encountered. It’s supposed to be important in terms of character development, but I couldn’t get past it.

In general, this had many excellent elements which somehow did not coalesce. The main characters, both of whom are suffering psychologically from wartime experiences, are sympathetic. The Cornwall setting is beautifully depicted. The romance happens very fast, but that’s not usually something that bothers me.

I think the problem is that this is a book very much about character — who these men are, what life has done to them — and then the plot throws all kinds of external conflicts at them. The end of the book feels like I was watching… oh say, “A Room with a View,” and then suddenly the Terminator shows up. It’s not quite that out of the blue, but it feels equally misplaced.

I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by Fox, so hopefully this was just the wrong book at the wrong time and I’ll enjoy her again.

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mm, mf, and me

You know that theory about m/m romance not having gender bullshit, that always pisses everyone off? At the risk of pissing everyone off… I kinda see it. Of course, it’s not true that m/m romance doesn’t have gender bullshit… but when you read a lot of m/f romance and get so much repetition of certain scenarios, m/m can really feel like a relief.

I’m on D for the alphabet challenge, and tried to read Dangerous Lover by Lisa Marie Rice. I don’t think the book ever had a chance, to be honest — who wants to read violent romantic suspense when you have to fear sending your child to school? But I was also extremely underwhelmed by the standard Rice relationship dynamic: her the seemingly unattainable feminine ideal, who makes everything smell nice, him the rough, underclass guy who worships her.

You can have the class issues in m/m, certainly, and wealth disparity. One aspect of Strawberries for Dessert that I didn’t go into was Cole offering to support Jonathan so they could travel together — Jonathan’s outrage in turn outrages his friend, a stay-at-home mom. So the gender issues around working and not working were discussed, though a major factor — the basic insecurity of such a situation — was never mentioned. (Too unromantic?) In the end, another solution was found, letting Jonathan keep his pride. (I was kind of impressed when Ava March wrote a story in which one man did agree to be supported by his lover.)

I doubt there are many romance tropes that can’t exists in m/m as well as m/f, with the exception of the secret baby. (The m/m D book I’m currently reading appears to have an abusive lover scenario, with perhaps a rescue element.) You could certainly have an m/m story in which one partner is better at making a home nice and the other is a rough type. But it wouldn’t feel gendered — or rather, it would feel gendered in a different way.

Maybe it just comes down to the fact that I’m a woman, and so while I may care greatly about the characters in the m/m stories I read, what goes on doesn’t feel so much right in my face.

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TBR Challenge: Swept Away by Candace Camp

The theme: An historical. Nothing could be easier, I still have a massive backlog.

Why this one: I was browsing in my TBR for a new C for the alphabet challenge and this caught my eye.

 

Camp has written some lovely books, but she’s derivative at times and this was one of the times. There are many Heyer echoes here, primarily from Faro’s Daughter.

Julia wants revenge on the man who drove her brother Selby to suicide, and when her attempts to abduct him fail, she decides to impersonate a woman of the night and seduce him into confessing. This is not quite as dumb a plan as it sounds, since it turns out that Deverel, Lord Stonehaven is composed mainly of honor and libido. But Julia finds him as hard to resist as he finds her, so she changes her game back to abduction, with complicated consequences.

Julia is more likable than you’d think, mitigating the usual stubborn, impetuous redheaded heroine cliches with her intelligence and self-insight. Unfortunately, she got all the personality the book had to spare, and every other character is pretty thin, including Deverel. He’s obviously a decent chap, but virtually all we see from his point of view is his lusting after Julia; all other interesting qualities are imposed upon him, as if they automatically go with the trendy/sexy hero name. I didn’t find the attempts to insert Heyer-style farce very successful, either.

It’s not terrible though, for historical reading of the easy, comfortable sort.

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Falling for Max by Shannon Stacey

What tickled my fancy: Sweet beta hero.

What ticked me off: STAY IN YOUR OWN DAMN BOOK!

Who might like it: fans of beta heroes and/or matchmaker stories.

 

“I’m not hooking up with Max. I like him too much for that.”

“That makes no sense to me.”

“When it comes to fairy-tale romances, he’s Disney and I’m Grimm.”

This is the 267th 9th book in the Kowalski series, and there’s a heavy weight of history to it. I got a little bored five books back, to be honest, and having frequent reminiscences about every single previous character’s love life got so dull I was tempted to quit the book. I kept reading for Max.

I started out by armchair diagnosing Max with a mild case of RHA — Romance Hero’s Aspergers. (Not to be confused with Romance Hero’s Alcoholism.) It’s a spot on the autism spectrum where there are many common symptoms of Aspergers syndrome, yet oddly enough, none of the associated issues that might make a person seem less sexy.

As I read on though, I decided that Max is definitely within the realm of believable for someone on the spectrum. He’s blessed with a lot of self-awareness and has worked out many coping mechanisms, so problems like anxiety don’t get beyond his ability to deal with. It’s a thoughtful and appealing characterization. Max is generally accepting of himself, and a reasonably content guy: he’s got a job that makes use of his particular talents, and he’s found a social in by making his home the local gathering place to watch sports events. But he wants a wife and a family.

“I don’t have a preference as far as hair and eye color. Or height or weight.” He paused, and gave a little shrug. “I’m just looking for a woman who’ll love me enough to marry me and risk having little odd duck kids. That’s pretty much my list.”

I hate portrayals of unfeeling, robotic aspies with the fire of a thousand suns, so I appreciated Max’s warmth and kindness. He may not be very socially adept, but it’s not for lacking of trying, or lack of caring. And he’s got a good sense of humor!

Unlike many reviewers, I also like Tori. Her aversion to relationships because of her toxic parents is plausible to me, and I appreciated that she gets proactive about dealing with them, with a little nudging from a friend.  And it’s refreshing that some of the drawbacks of small town life are realistically depicted.

He really wished Whitford had a movie theater, though. Or a bowling alley or even a mini-golf course. Sitting across from a woman with nothing to do but hold a conversation was a lot of pressure.

A small town romance in which small town life isn’t perfect — now there’s a romance unicorn.

Final thoughts: There are way too many people in this book for someone like Max. But I fell for his romance anyway.

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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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