A Willful Woman…

Thoughts and reviews from a romance addict.

The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

I loved Revealed so much, and every other Noble book I’ve tried has been a sad disappointment to me. Until now.

It’s not that I think this is a great book. I’d have to read it in print to feel like I could properly evaluate it, but it definitely had its fair share of historical cliches and commonplace writing. Still, what an interesting concept and characters!  The hero Ned is challenging in an unusual way, yet one extremely suited to a Regency-set historical: he’s privileged, and selfish, and has no idea of how much of his much vaunted “luck” is due to his circumstances. That’s the premise: his former friend, now turned highly resentful secretary, bets him that Ned won’t be able to attract a woman without his rank and wealth. To test it, they switch places on a visit to relative strangers. Ned, of course, gets a thorough comeuppance as he learns how invisible (and even offensive) he is without his trappings of wealth and rank.

The audiobook was also “challenging.” Accents are very well done, always a plus, but Ned’s voice is so high-pitched and foolish sounding that I was considerably bemused as it started to become clear he was the book’s hero! After a while though, I started to approve of it — it seemed like just the sort of voice a hearty, amiable, unenlightened lord would have, and the fact that it wasn’t  at all attractive made it kind of cooler when Phoebe (a governess who’s not supposed to be outwardly attractive herself) fell in love with him. So the audiobook narrative stopped me from finding the book sexy, but in some ways made it more interesting.

And the romance did work. In Revealed, there’s a phrase — “it’s just me” — that became integral to the blossoming relationship. Here the special phrase was “your Mr. Turner.” Phoebe is flabbergasted when the servants start referring to Ned as “your Mr. Turner” as if there’s something between them, yet it starts to seem more and more appropriate. Eventually she starts to hug the phrase to herself; “my Mr. Turner.” It’s very sweet and resonant.

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When Are They Going to Start Casting Movies With White People?!

(Sarcastic title courtesy of my husband.)

naked-gun-facepalm

I recently wrote a post about romance in Cassandra Clare’s books for “Heroes and Heartbreakers.” While double-checking on the ethnicity of the character Jem, I was disgusted to find, via this passionate post, that fans have been whitewashing the character, who is half Chinese.

While searching for that post again, I learned that the casting of an Asian actor as Magnus Bane in the movie “City of Bones” was also causing controversy amongst fans. It’s Rue of “The Hunger Games” all over again. Do people even actually read their so-called favorite books? They love these books enough to be upset by the casting, but not enough to have noticed their beloved characters aren’t white.

Here’s an especially charming quote from the comments of this post:

“I have always thought of Adam Lambert as Magnus! Adam has been doing theater since he was a kid and was in the cast of Wicked and Hair. He would make a fantastic Magnus if they could make some more of his features Asian.”

Actually, that one is really just thoughtless and naive. The reactions captured by “racebending” are far worse. (Trigger warning for racism.)

Here’s an interesting post from Clare on the casting, and on readers whitewashing her characters. And an interview at racebending.com. Read the comments for criticisms on Clare’s portrayal of race.

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B is for Maya Banks, H is for Hmmm…

Trigger warning: violence and rape mentioned

This isn’t actually my next Alphabet Challenge read; the format just fit so perfectly, I couldn’t resist it.

Out of morbid curiosity, I’ve been reading parts of Maya Banks’s Taking it All, a book which upset quite a few readers. I find Banks a somewhat fascinating writer, because she’s an almost perfect chameleon: she takes a particular formula (category romance, romantic suspense, and whimsical Highland romance are the ones I’ve mostly read) and replicates it by meshing it with her own formula (group of guys who always wind up hurting their heroines, while cherishing their friends’ poor hurt heroines. I once joked that she had found a way to make even mainstream romance feel like menage.) When the starting formula is one I like, it can work really well; my favorite is the Silhouette Desire Wanted by Her Lost Love.

disguise

I don’t particularly like Bank’s style in erotic romance, which is why I haven’t read this series or the one that proceeded it. And I should make it very clear that I didn’t read this entire book and skipped over most of the sex scenes. What I was curious about what the dark moment that upset so many people, and then I got kind of sucked into the aftermath.

Basic plot: submissive Chessy is unhappy with her marriage because her dominant husband Tate has been neglecting her for work. He tries to make it up to her by staging a favorite scene — him in charge while another man dominates her. The other man goes off the rails, beats her, and begins to anally rape her; Tate is not only not paying enough attention, but actually takes a work call during the scene. Chessy is badly hurt and traumatized, and leaves Tate.

This scene was, understandably, way too much for many readers, but I thought that it’s a damn interesting as a conflict in a D/s relationship. It’s obviously a catastrophic failure of trust, one it would be very hard to come back from.

So what made me go hmmm. After the incident, when previous hero and heroine are succoring Chessy, previous hero says this about the fact that Chessy is badly bruised:

“It’s not something that should ever happen, honey. A Dominant is charged with the absolute safety and well-being of his submissive. He’s supposed to safeguard that gift and cherish it and her.”

That is classic Banks in a nutshell, but it made me very uncomfortable in this context. It leaves out so many aspects of negotiation and desire. Some people want to be bruised and marked. It’s not being a bad dominant to give your submissives what they want.

This also contributed to a sense I had throughout the book, that the dominant men give off far more of a submissive vibe. I don’t want to tell anyone how they should feel or label themselves, and it’s not like my experience is all that extensive, but the fact that they only play with other men, and the descriptions of how Tate loves to cook for Chessy and to tuck her in, “ensuring all the pillows are in the exact position she liked them” every single time she sleeps, seem more like fantasyland than a portrayal of a genuine D/s relationship.

Another big hmmmm. During the succoring, second previous heroine says this:

“We’ll do whatever you need us to. True friendship has no boundaries. No parameters. And certainly no conditions.”

She means well, but I’d put this on the top ten list of fucked up thing you could say to someone who just left her husband because he failed her.

Finally, the story ends in the most cliched, annoying, and disappointing way possible — giving a lot of credence to the theory that “50 Shades” style romances are basically a new way for people to enjoy the trappings of category romance. The conflict isn’t really resolved, just superseded. Since D/s is supposed to be a very important part of their relationship, I would really have liked to see that area addressed in a satisfying way.

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TBR Challenge: Tiger Eye by Marjorie M. Liu

The theme: A recommended read.

Why this one: Sort of a sideways recommendation. I was intrigued by AnimeJune’s review of The Wild Road — virgin bookworm hero for the win! — and didn’t want to jump into the series with book 8. Though I’ve read a review that says if you are going to jump in, The Wild Road is the place to go. If the second book doesn’t grab me, I’ll be doing that.

So I bought this years ago, but was nervous about reading it; the Liu short stories I’d read were good, but definitely challenging. This is written at a much more basic level, and I really wish I had read it right away; I think it would have worked much better for me when I was new to paranormal romance.

Basic story: Dela Reese — should’ve googled more before going with that one! — is a psychic metalworker with ties to a supernatural band of good guys. She unwittingly releases an immortal tiger-shifter slave, Hari, and after some initial mistrust they fall in love. Lots of different people trying to kill her, need to break Hari’s curse, yadda yadda yadda.

I’d say the quality of the writing is better than Christine Feehan, but otherwise this was a very conventional, samey paranormal romance. I found our heroine, Dela, rather irritating: her life is in danger, and she has several prophetic nightmares — and each time, shortly thereafter she deliberately separates herself from her lover and protective friends. She also was very slow to catch on to what was going on when she accidentally unleashed Hari, in a sort of genie-in-the-bottle situation you’d think anyone who’d had a childhood would recognize.

The plot was kind of scattered and didn’t end in a very satisfying way, although there’s certainly lots of room for series development, what with all of Dela’s male friends with psychic powers, and the sudden possibility of many similarly powerful females knocking around in the world.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the story was that it was my first introduction to the oft complained about shifter story with bestiality — that is, sex scenes in which the shifter is in animal form. I have to agree with the general opinion that this is kinda gross.

So what did I like? Well, Hari is very sweet. His tortured past is pretty convenient (he’s been ordered to do many horrible things, but managed to fight off the most egregious orders) and he’s certainty not especially original in his passionate, protective devotion to Dela, but it’s still enjoyable to read. And the book did keep my interest, and arouse curiosity about some of the recurring characters. So I will try book 2… but hope it didn’t take until book 8 for the writer to really show her considerable chops.

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“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.

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It Sounds All Too Probable

cheeseguy

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.

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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.

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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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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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