A Willful Woman…

Thoughts and reviews from a romance addict.

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.

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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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Hmmm…

I’ve been looking ahead at Open Library, since apparently someone else is also doing a Big Harlequin Presents read and the next one I want keeps being checked out. And I’m seeing that for quite a while, nothing is available except the Anne Mather titles. Which on the one hand, yay, because she’s probably the best writer of the first three, but on the other hand, wow that is going to get dull for all concerned. And reduces the chances of finding my mystery book by about two-thirds.

I guess I’ll just keep going til I can’t stand it anymore and then stop.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #20

2592790Harlequin Presents #20: A Distant Sound of Thunder by Anne Mather

Note: This post will be a bit spoilery, but no more so than most of the GoodReads reviews.

Best line: (I guess it wouldn’t be fair to include the “creaming lagoon” line.)

“What did she [the heroine's employer] think she had seen this morning? What imagined construction had she put upon those moments when she was in Piers’ arms? Did she believe that their lovemaking had exceeded the bounds of what was right and what was wrong?”

Notes of interest: Mather begins her notorious envelope pushing, with a heroine who first gets involved with a married man, and then with his son! (Unknowingly and fairly chastely both times, of course. But give Mather a few years…) Rebecca is also illegitimate and it’s not a plot point.

~~

I was especially eager to read this one — even going out of order — because the cover is actually familiar to me. Although it didn’t ring a bell otherwise, I do find it interesting that this is the first of the project reads that really feels like the Harlequin Presents I know and love. I think that the prose style has become more informal and immediate, the physical interaction are definitely more sensual, and though there are a greater number of secondary characters than you’d find in a more modern HP and some foreign descriptions, the focus stays on the relationship and the drama. Whatever the reason, despite a rather dull beginning in which the heroine is tediously frightened about her feelings for the hero, I actually cared about how this one would come out!

I think naming the heroine “Rebecca” must have been either deliberate or perhaps subconscious, because the opening of the book is rather iconic: heroine in service to a cantankerous, demanding older woman meets mysterious widower. (Or so she thinks.) The plot and characters depart quite sharply after that though, and it’s mostly a story about two lovers destroyed by the malicious schemings of a stereotypically bitter and twisted disabled person. (Our second villain in a wheelchair.) Here’s her after spying on them making out:

“Oh, yes, miss.” Adele’s face was contorted with triumph. “Yes, I watched you, and it’s given me a new lease on life, believe me!”

Oh, she is so deliciously awful.

Making out is as far as it goes, but Mather is moving us beyond kisses. Apparently arms were the hottest thing going in 1973: In order not to be too attractive, Rebecca wears a caftan that “hid the rounded countours of her arms.” This was a smart move, because sure enough, the first time Piers get her alone, “his fingers curved round her upper arm” and “he bent his head and put his his mouth against her arm, caressing it insistently.” This before they’ve even kissed.

The plotting is a touch confusing at times, but I enjoyed this one because Piers isn’t a total asshole and/or mystery. Even without point-of-view, we can tell that he cares, and that his assholish moments are because he cares. He’s a prince compared to pretty much ever other hero I’ve read so far, and as I said, for the first time I was really caught up in seeing this romance work out. Yay!

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These Poor Harlequin Presents Heroines

It’s not enough they get shaken and punishingly kissed, now these poor heroines are being extra-abused via scanning errors. Two recent gems:

“She felt a quickening of her puke.”

“She cast herself into the creaming waters of the lagoon.”

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #16

7790406Harlequin Presents #16: Wings of Night by Anne Hampson

One of those odd HP covers which shows the hero and heroine smiling happily together, despite the fact that they spend most of the book making each other exquisitely miserable.

Best line: This was hard to pick, with so much hyperbolic racism to choose from, but I’m going with “She turned; Lean was close behind, and as she looked up at him, noting the mingling of cruelty and triumph in his eyes, she though for a moment of his ancestors, those pagans who had lived for battle and the glorious death. And, later, the Cretans had continued their merciless slaughter — living as they did in constant revolt against the Saracens, the Venetians and the Turks. Right down in their history there had been someone to hate… but today there was no one, and so perhaps there existed a vacuum in the life of the average Cretan… perhaps he preferred to have an enemy at hand, a victim to torture and subdue.”

Notes of interest: Nothing new here. Still no nookie. Violence is fairly mild compared to the last Hampson, though that’s not saying much. No fall or other overtly physical dark moment for the heroine, though I don’t know exactly what happens because my @#$%$! Open Library ebook went to pieces right there and apparently quite a few paragraphs were lost.

Melanie was 17 where she broke off her engagement to 24-year-old Leandros. Considering that his response to this left her with bruises, I can only praise her foresight. Seven years later, Lean (a difficult nickname to get used to…) gets his revenge when Melanie’s jerk-wad of a brother rips off Lean’s sister. Melanie goes to Crete to work off the debt in Lean’s hotel, and discovers he has every intention of making her job/punishment as long and difficult and unpleasant as he can. There’s also a particularly Evil Other Woman who devotes herself to making Melanie’s life hell.

It could very easily be too much, but Hampson wisely tempered the awful with an understanding friend for Melanie at the hotel, and with signs of softening in Lean over time. The best angsty moment, alas, was not available.

Despite the old skool wtfery (Lean gets quite scary and you have to take the HEA with the usual grain of salt), vast paragraphs of travelogue interrupting the good moments, and the fact that there are about twenty different eavesdropping scenes in one short book, this was pretty fun. One of the better stops in my weird crusade.

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Ruh-Roh

I’ve been doing some reading on Bujold — first Olivia Waite’s fabulous piece contrasting Heyer’s A Civil Contract with Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, then many of the links — which reminded me that I am still being a giant baby about reading Cryoburn, even though I already know the horrible, completely unacceptable event that happens in it. It can’t happen until I read it, right?

And then I remembered I’d started an alphabet challenge and am on… B. And unless I want to retcon a new rule that only romance is allowed, I have no excuse any more.

Except my massive pile of unreviewed ARCs. That’s always a good excuse. I’ll be off to continue reading Truly now. Or I could start The Curse of Chalion! Bwahahahahah!

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #14

 

storm

Harlequin Presents #14: Storm in a Rain Barrel by Anne Mather

The heroine looks just about as pouty in that picture as she acts.

Best line: “He was probably terribly sophisticated and ‘with-it” and would use all those awful exaggerated adjectives she had heard artists use at the local coffee bar…”

Notes of interest: Heavy petting! Unmarried heavy petting! How creepy is it that the most explicit scene in my old HP reading so far is between a 17 year old girl and her 36 year old guardian? Also, there’s an actual spanking scene. No fall and unconsciousness for the heroine this time, although she does get bronchitis.

This is a slightly lugubrious coming-of-age romance. Orphaned Domine has been living in a convent school thanks to the generosity of her Great-Uncle Henry. When he dies, his illegitimate son James takes over her guardianship. (There’s a weird continuity error here — Domine early on ponders about Uncle Henry refusing to acknowledge James, then is shocked to learn James is his son.) James takes her to her uncle’s lonely old house on the moors, Misslethwaite Manor Grey Witches, where she starts to dress and act (and feel) more adult. The antagonistic interactions between her and James are pretty immature and unsatisfying though, even with the unexpected boob action.

I was amused by this scene between Domine and the inevitable Nice Boy who wants to marry her:

“Love is being with someone, sharing life with them. Sharing troubles as well as happiness!”

Domine half-smiled. So that was Vincent’s definition of love. Well, it was vastly different from her own.

“I think what you’re talking about is liking one another,” she murmured unhappily. “Loving’s altogether different. Loving is needing someone so desperately that you wonder how you can live without them. Love is like a fire in the blood that burns you up with its intensity!”

“That’s infatuation!” exclaimed Vincent chillingly.

Vincent is depicted of something of a ridiculous mama’s boy, but I’d say he’s right on the money here, and quite a lot of evidence agrees with him.

 

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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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