A Willful Woman…

Thoughts and reviews from a romance addict.

Dialogue Tags, she listed

Author Ros Clarke and I are duking it out over dialogue tags: she claims Lynne Graham is the reigning champion and provides some compelling evidence. I say it’s at best a draw. From just the first chapter of Gold Ring of Betrayal by Michelle Reid, we have:

‘You know what happened, you evil monster!’ she seared at him.
‘Sara,’ he prompted quietly.
It was quietly spoken, almost conversationally so
‘Drink,’ he commanded.
Drink,’ he repeated. ‘You look like death,’ he added bluntly.
‘That’s better,’ he murmured,
‘Is this your doing?’ she demanded,
I hate you,’ she said
If anything happens to my baby then watch your back, Nicolas,’ she warned him.
‘Tell me what happened,’ he instructed quietly
‘Lia has been kidnapped!’ she had screamed
‘I did not take your child,’ he stated.
‘Yes, you did.’ She said it without a hint of uncertainty
‘Work on it,’ he suggested
‘God, you make me sick,’ she breathed
‘Putting on a show for the punters,’ she derided.
They are there to keep the media at bay,’ he then flatly explained.
Why, Nicolas?’ she cried in wretched despair
‘I won’t repeat this again,’ he clipped.
‘S-someone did,’ she choked
‘Come and sit down again before you drop,’ he suggested.
‘I don’t want to sit down!’ she angrily refused.
‘A-about an hour after they t-took her,’ she whispered,
You want to know if they were Sicilian,’ she choked.
‘Male or female?’ he persisted.
‘M-male,’ she breathed.
Exactly, Sara,’ he insisted
‘We h-have your ch-hild,” ’she quoted
‘What time is it?’ she asked jerkily.
‘Shush. Not yet six,’ he murmured calmingly.
‘Oh, God,’ she groaned
‘Afraid someone may recognise the voice?’ she seared at him
‘Leave it all to you, you mean,’ she surmised from that.
‘Concorde,’ he drawled—then added tauntingly,
‘Take care, wife,’ be gritted,
‘And you take care,’ she threw shakily back,
Or so help me, Nicolas,’ she vowed
My home,’ he listed
And for whose sake?’ she derided him scathingly
‘I know that,’ he answered stiltedly.
‘The child was taken because she bears my name,’ he stated coldly.
‘Oh, God,’ she choked

How things are “said” throughout the book:

“without a hint of uncertainty,” “quietly,” (4x) “accusingly,” “flatly,” “wearily,” “with a quiet confidence,” “jerkily,” “anxiously,” “tensely,” “cooly,” “grimly,” (7x) “shortly,” “in scathing disbelief,” “drily,” “gruffly,” (4x) “so affectionately,” “thickly,” (3x) “derisively,” “scathingly,” “curtly,” (2x) “with a small, bitter, wry smile,” “silkily,” “in flat-voiced refusal,” “tersely,” “determinedly,” “very softly,” “defensively,” (2x) “heavily,” “tightly,” “slyly,” “lightly,” “huskily,” (2x) “warily,” “a trifle curiously,” “softly,” (2x) “doubtfully,” “roughly,” “quite cooly,” “awkwardly,” “urgently,” “hoarsely,” “painfully,” “wryly,” “bitterly,” “tightly,” “in surprise,” “dully,” “gently,”

Random dialogue tags I found while looking up “saids” — I undoubtedly missed many:

“she flared,” “she challenged,” “he denied,” “he ordained,” “he snapped,” “she flashed,” “she spat at him,” “she hissed,” “Sara maintained,” “he sighed,” “he protested,” “he observed,” “she concluded,” “she challenged,” “he explained,” “Lia murmured,” “she prompted,” “he qualified,” “Sara suggested,” “she choked,” “he soothed quietly,” “he rasped,” “he added bleakly,” “he vowed,” “he told her somberly,” “he gritted,” “Sara put in soothingly,” “he rasped,” “she pleaded,” “he exploded,” “he bit the word out bitterly,” “she mocked,” and of course the classics, “he grated” and “he snarled.”

Perhaps the only conclusion to draw here is that Michelle Reid and Lynne Graham were both terribly fond of each other’s work. Or maybe twins.


Semi-Review: Special Interests by Emma Barry

Review Copy Source: submitted to Dear Author

What tickled me: A book about politics that didn’t shut me out.

What ticked me off: The characters (briefly) treat a person with Alzheimers like furniture.

Who might like it: Readers who enjoy contemporary romance. Not too fluffy, not too dark.

In a recent Twitter conversation about Julie James, someone — as usuall, probably Liz Mc2 — said something about having trouble relating to her characters and their ambitions. Despite my complete inability to remember any concrete information about the comment, this really nailed for me why James’s books don’t work well for me. The stories are always very readable, but her characters live in a world that feels completely alien to me. I don’t care about what they care about.

Special Interests is seemingly the same sort of book James writes; it’s the first authorial comparison that comes to mine. Yet despite being about the mind-boggling subject of lobbyists in Washington D.C., it worked for me. I don’t think it was even just because the main characters are both Democrats, though that undoubtedly helped. They’re overworked and troubled and leading kind of messed up lives, but they don’t feel like they’re on another place of existence.



TBR Challenge: When Bruce Met Cyn by Lori Foster

The Theme: Contemporary romance.

What tickled me: A sexy, celibate, preacher hero is hard to resist.

What ticked me off: Skanky villains. Torso-less heroine. And the heroine’s name: sub-tle.

Who might like it: Fans of gentler, protective Alpha heroes.

Foster has been on my “not my cuppa” list for awhile, but this book hung around the tbr pile because the plot intrigued me. It was a hit and miss book for me, with ultimately more misses than hits.

It’s been five years since she ran away from an abusive home, and Cyn has saved up enough money to give up prostitution and begin a new life. A recurring dream draws her to a town called Visitation; on the way she encounters Bruce, who’ll be the preacher of the town’s new church. Bruce has experience counseling prostitutes in trouble, and slowly wins Cyn’s trust and affection, while grappling with his conscience over his attraction to her. She’s much younger than him, has never had a good relationship with a man, and there’s that whole premarital sex thing. Mostly, he wants her to feel respected and cherished, rather than used. Of course this has Cyn wondering why the hell he won’t just sleep with her already, and questioning his feelings.

The sections of the book focusing on their relationship and Cyn’s new life were enjoyable. Bruce does get somewhat overbearing at times, and Cyn is hard-edged and crude, but they’re sweet together. What brought the story down was a suspense element with really unpleasant villains; perhaps some readers are all for descriptions of perverts masturbating while they contemplate raping and killing, but for some reason I’ve never been a fan. And there’s also a woo woo element which felt forced and out of place, very peculiar sequel bait.

I thought it was interesting that Cyn had tried to understand her childhood by doing serious reading about abuse, but it realistically hasn’t solved all her issues. She tells Bruce, “It’s like… like you were born in a church with a star shining down on you, and I was born…I dunno. Under a rock or something.” She also has some trouble relating to the helpful heroines from previous books of the series:

Shay was nice, nice enough that at times she seemed unreal. Nice enough that she constantly tried to give Cyn a handout. Be it work or contacts or whatever, Shay wanted to help, and it nettled Cyn that she was a person in need of assistance. She understood Shay’s motives, and appreciated them, but she would rather have just been a friend, not a person who stood out as less than equal.

Luna was lovely, too, very warm and friendly. But she went out of her way to show understanding, to include Cyn. And once again, Cyn felt the difference, how she didn’t quite measure up.

There’s some real sensitivity there, and I think this could have been quite a lovely book if it had just stayed with the characters and their developing relationships, instead of throwing in all the other stuff.  Cyn’s genuine feelings simply disappear, and the other women are suddenly her very best friends. And the gentle Bruce just becomes more and more alpha as the story goes on, forcing Cyn to fight for her independence.

I wouldn’t say I’m sorry I read it, but I don’t think Foster is moving off the list.


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semi-review: The Highest Price to Pay by Maisey Yates

I’ve been waiting quite a while to read the first Harlequin Presents with a black character. Harlequin finally published it in the U.S., though snuck it into a two-in-one so they didn’t have to depict a black man on the cover. I suppose this is marginally better than whitewashing. (Or never publishing it at all.) Interestingly, the original Mills and Boon cover is quite bold.

Race doesn’t come into the story much: it’s mentioned by Blaise as a conflict for his mother and father (apparently an interracial marriage) but he thinks of that as a problem of another time. This is otherwise a pretty standard HP with, unfortunately, one of my least favorite HP tropes — the heroine with a physical flaw that disgusts every single person in the world except the hero. You’d never guess that most people are pretty damn imperfect. And Blaise’s “must… keep… control” journey is pretty threadbare at this point. I did like Ella’s mature attitude about their relationship, and the end has a pretty sweet grovel.

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Review: Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund

What tickled me: Only thing better than a Scarlet Pimpernel hero? A Scarlet Pimpernel heroine!

What ticked me off: This future world includes mentions of some classic books — even though The Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t one of them, that just got a little too meta for me, somehow.

Who might like it: Readers who enjoy “reimaginings” of classics.

Across a Star-Swept Sea is a sequel set shortly after For Darkness Shows the Stars, yet opens in a very different post-apocalyptic world,  which was confusing at first. In this area — encompassing two kingdoms, Albion and Galatea — technology has been embraced. But flying machines have been outlawed because of the tragic past, which explains why this otherwise technologically advanced civilization believes they are the only people left on Earth.

In this version of the Scarlet Pimpernel story, Albion is essentially England, although the roots of the people appear to be Polynesian. Galatea is post-revolutionary France. Galatean Justen Helo has become disenchanted with the revolution, which is deliberately punishing “aristos” with a form of chemically-induced brain damage. He escapes to Galatea in the hopes of continuing his research on the Helo cure invented by his grandmother, which cured Earth’s survivors of the “Reduction” that left some of them genetically altered, but which had a tragic side effect for a small percentage. There he is forced to pretend to be dating the Regent’s lady-in-waiting, the brainless, fashion obsessed, society darling Persis Blake. Of course he has no idea that Persis is actually the brilliant and brave “Wild Poppy,” the Albion hero who is sneaking aristos away under the noses of the revolution.

This version sticks fairly closely to the original, though it’s more even-handed about the revolution. The setting brings a new level of chill to the already exciting story, because of the threat of Reduction. (I was initially troubled by the depiction of the “Reduced” and the attitude towards them, which I had not found offensive in For Darkness Shows the Stars – thankfully, this was actually addressed.) The weakest point is probably the romance, and admittedly, it has a huge bar set: there is just nothing to compare to Percy’s kissing the steps where Marguerite had walked, or Marguerite’s desperate journey to save him.  Although the gender-bending is very cool, in having the ultimate symbol of bold cunning be a woman, something is lost in Marguerite’s role. (For more on her character, see this interesting article in The Toast.) So I wasn’t quite as swept away as I was by the first book, though I will eagerly await the next one.


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Chatty Windshield Wipers

My husband and came home from the gym tonight and waited in the car awhile, enjoying the rain and the darkness and the peace and quiet. (Why yes, it is my son’s spring break, why do you ask?) It reminded me of Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt, which has a first kiss in a car in the rain, with the windshield wipers singing out “Julie loves Danny, Julie loves Danny…” (Not literally.)

We often discuss our first romance novel — mine was a Barbara Cartland book so obscure, I can’t even find it with Google, though I’m pretty sure it’s same as Amanda McCabe’s first, mentioned here – but I wonder if that was my first romantic moment in a book? I’m pretty sure I read it before Taran and Eilonwy.

I remembering discovering romances, but I have no memory of discovering romance. But I feel like there was immediate recognition, like the first time you take a bite of chocolate. Oh yes, this is for me.


P.S. Oh, I think I found it! I really though the title was something like “The Lord and The Gypsy, “but this description is very familiar. I remember they had a betting book.  Oh yes, and I remember this cover vividly. It was kind of an outlier for Cartland, who strongly favored blonde heroines.


Love Is Where You Find It

I have a piece about romantic elements in the works of Connie Willis at “Heroes and Heartbreakers.” I loved writing this, though my heart broke about having to exclude several of my favorite books.

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Semi-Review: The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman

The Review From Penthouse B reminded me a lot of The Family Man, and not in a good way. Lipman seems to have a formula lately of gathering a lot of lovably eccentric characters into a space and letting them fly. The results are certainly readable and often funny, but never seem to have much point to them.

I did feel a great deal of empathy with the narrator of this book, a relatively young widow being pushed to “move on” faster than she feels comfortable with. (A reviewer has suggested that she might be intended to have Aspergers and I can see that… it’s a very interestingly subtle portrait if so, and of the kind of person who would likely never get diagnosed.) When she did get a romantic interest it disappointed me because their conversations seemed based entirely on gossiping about her crazy extended family and everything that had previously happened in the book. It’s like that was all there was to her and she had nothing else to share.


Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

A review in honor of Rainbow Rowell’s face-off with herself in DABWAHA. How was I supposed to pick? Well, it wasn’t that hard, because my love for Eleanor and Park shines with the heat of a thousand suns and I’m so happy it won. But Fangirl is awfully good, too.

What I most love about Rainbow Rowell’s books (among with their wit, emotional resonance, perfect zeitgeist and so on) is that they make me feel like there’s a place for people like me, my husband, and my friends in romance. Not that any of her books are romances in the genre sense, but I certainly don’t care.

This story alternates between two narrative styles. Half is told in the form of chatty emails between two coworkers at a newspaper, Beth and Jennifer. The other is from the point of view of Lincoln, the guy in charge of reading any company emails that send red flags, and then reprimanding the senders. But Lincoln loves the funny, interesting emails so much, he can’t bear to make them stop, or to stop reading them.

Jennifer is married, Beth is… kind of wishing she was too, but her ultra-cool musician boyfriend isn’t into it. And Beth is the one who becomes increasingly important to Lincoln.

She and Jennifer were both funny, both caring, both smart as whips. But Beth’s whip always caught him by the ankle.

He loved the way she put on kid gloves when Jennifer talked about her marriage and Mitch. He loved the way she riffed on her siblings and her bosses and herself. He tried not to love that she could recite scenes from Ghostbusters and could name all of the original X-Men — because those seemed like reasons a guy would fall for a girl in a Kevin Smith movie.

It’s lovely to see geeky characters who are neither made fun or nor idealized.  Lincoln, who’s never quite recovered from being dumped by his first love,  would look like a total loser on paper — underemployed, lives with his mother, still plays Dungeons and Dragons with his college friends. But he has enduring qualities like loyalty, sincerity, intelligence, and respect for love and relationships. So do his college friends, who would be a bunch of stereotypical dweebs played for laughs elsewhere. Most of them are married, some to each other; they have homes and kids. They still play games because they still really like playing games. I was never much of a gamer, but most of my friends were/are, and I appreciate seeing that reality portrayed.

The book is mainly about Lincoln’s journey to full adulthood,  as he finally starts to let go of the past and blossom as a single guy, and it shows us why he’s an awesome person. He’s so tender and has so much to give; he cares in all the right ways.  We don’t see Beth other than in her emails until the end, but they show her humor and kindness, and the need she has for someone like Lincoln in her life.

This was my second read of Attachments — reading Rowell’s Eleanor and Park made me want to reread it — and on this reading I was struck by a minor subplot about a bar-hopping player type and a woman he picks up. Romantic Lincoln thinks it would be impossible to find true love in a bar, but in fact that presumed one-night stand turns into a genuine relationship. I really liked how Rowell included a very different type of person, pursuing companionship in a very different type of way, but gave him just as happy an ending.  Yes — I won’t say how it works out, but the book does have a happy ending.

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TBR Challenge Review: Another Chance at Heaven by Elda Minger

The Challenge: A new to you author. The names tend to blur, but I figured I’d remember this author if I’d tried her before.

Why I had this one: I bought it because it was only a quarter and it’s from the same line as one of my favorite Anne Stuart categories, Housebound. (Though as it turned out, both were reprints from other Harlequin lines.)

What tickled me: Good sister/bad sister story! And almost astonishingly open minded.

What ticked me off: Piles on the drama unnecessarily at the end.

Who might like it: Fans of quieter categories that still pack some emotional punch.

I’ve long felt that the 80′s were the Golden Age of Harlequin Presents: there’s so much variety in the types of characters and stories, but they don’t have the strong emphasis on virginity, fear of sexual feelings, and coercion of the 70′s books, and weirdly, are much less conservative in general than the later books. Since I mostly read Presents, I don’t know if the other lines are generally less conservative, but I get the feeling the 80′s were good all around. This certainly is.

Genie’s a struggling actress, and she can’t resist the money her successful writer sister Valerie offers if she’ll impersonate her for a week long television interview. Genie has no idea that Valerie’s real motive is to avoid being interviewed by Pierce Stanton, brother to a woman whose husband she once had an affair with. She also has no idea she’ll find Pierce extremely attractive.

Pierce gives a grueling interview designed to humiliate “Valerie” but Genie holds her own (giving a heartfelt defense of the romance genre in the bargain.) But it’s hard for him to keep going with his plan, because he’s also very attracted to Genie, and can’t help feeling that she’s not as black as she’s painted. One thing she definitely is though, is married.

This had a nice dollop of angst, but it’s not over the top. Pierce isn’t a jerk for very long; he’s mostly an honorable guy trying to do the right thing. (With some intimacy issues kind of thrown in.) Genie feels bad about lying to him, but she’s in a tight spot too. She can’t pay her sister back, and there’s a desperation to their relationship — they keep losing and then finding each other — that makes it hard for her to spill the beans.

I liked the recognition that there are other kinds of relationships besides strictly monogamous ones. Pierce wonders whether Valerie has an open marriage, without judgement. His thoughts on the whole issue are never that fully formed — having realized he can’t live without her, he goes for it without making plans about what will or should happen. (Only when he — he thinks — sees her with her husband does he get jealous and demanding.)

The ending goes slightly weird and gives Pierce some issues which I thought pretty much unnecessary, and there are a few plot holes. Genie’s age isn’t mentioned, but from context she must be fairly young. Valerie is 37 — surely prepared interviewer Pierce would know this. She’s also extremely pregnant, though supposedly this has been kept quiet. And Genie never seems to consider how this impersonation might affect her career, even after she gets a big part on a soap and is interviewed as herself on television.

But the emotional appeal of the romance is top notch, and I’ll definitely try this NTM author again.

P.S. Oh… my. The only Minger story my library has is this.

P.P.S. I downloaded the library book and it is so whackadoodle, stupid, narrow-minded, and offensive, I’m starting to doubt this review. :-( On the other hand, it was published in 1995…


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.


64 books. 1 Champion. Get your game on.

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