A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair

The theme: Lovely RITA. This was a RITA finalist.

Why this one: I couldn’t seem to get through any of my historicals. To put it as politely as possible, the RITA committees and I seem to have tastes in historicals that’s about as opposite as you can get. (With some exceptions, of course.)

I was thinking that Finders Keepers was more romance than science fiction, but towards the end I realized it’s more that it’s a subgenre of science fiction I don’t read much — space opera. Not a lot of world-building or character development, but lots of scheming, shooting, and escaping. Since it’s also gorgeously romantic, I enjoyed it a lot.

Captain Trilby Elliot is flying solo (apart from a sweet, loquacious droid, Dezi.) Being dumped by her lover has left her hurting, and she’s struggling to make ends meet on a transport ship held together with duct tape and ingenuity. When she finds an abandoned, injured human from a planet her society has a hostile truce with, she takes him aboard, only to find the healed man is very sexy and very devious.

Rhis (pronounced Reece) is a pretty standard romance hero. Intimidating, somewhat emotionally scarred, and very alpha, in the sense that he’s extremely protective, possessive, and thinks he knows best. But he and Trilby work together really well, and when he gets tender with her…. oh my. Rhis teaching Trilby how to say “I want you” in his language is a running… a running swoon? There are all kinds of difficulties, from Trilby’s fear of being hurt again to aliens trying to kill her, but the combined courage and smarts of the couple make it all work.

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Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

I love reformed villain romances in theory, but in practice find that too often the villains get watered down in their own books. Duke of Sin did not disappoint. Val, Duke of Montgomery, might not be a textbook sociopath (he seems to embody aspects of both sociopathy and psychopathy) but he’s pretty damn close. He’s made more palatable with a ghastly backstory, love of his illegitimate sister, and a fastidious dislike of rape, but his lack of a moral compass is genuine.

What makes him stand out amongst historical romance’s other so-called blackhearted rogues, rakes, and scoundrels is not just how genuinely wicked he is — blackmail, abductions, premeditated murder — but his enjoyment of his own wickedness. Although he does have have some moments of tortured brooding, most of the time he’s either amused or bemused by himself, having been so thoroughly twisted that he embraces his own amorality. His gleeful self-satisfaction and mercurial temperament make him a lot of fun to read, even if you’d never want to actually meet him. (Oh good grief, is he a handsome, historical Donald Trump? Sorry! Forget I said that!)

So how does he get reformed? He’s matched with a woman with the courage and ability to tell him what’s what. A housekeeper in the old-fashioned sense — one who supervises a household — Bridget, nicknamed Seraphine by Val, is exceptionally competent and mature (although implausibly young.) She’s also self-contained and courageous, and though unable to resist Valentine’s golden charms, always sees him with a clear eye. And she’s the perfect person to provide him with moral guidance, though perhaps it might be confusing at times:

“‘But I don’t understand. You’re saying that at times it’s perfectly all right for me to kill a man.’

‘Well…’ She bit her lip and he could tell she was trying not to say it, but in the end she had to. ‘Yes.’

He smiled very slowly at her. ‘Seraphine, are you making these rules up?'”

I just had to quote that, it made me laugh so much.

There are some parts of the story I thought could have been fleshed out more, generally reactions or decisions by Val that we didn’t get to see. But overall, I’d put this in the top ten list of historical romances titled Duke of Sin.

 

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Feeling Very Happy Tonight

Also, rather prescient.

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Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn

This is one of the most fascinating romances I’ve ever been not all that into. To clarify, the romance itself didn’t do much for me, even though I’m no more immune to kilts and brogue than the next gal. But the conflict and setting kept me glued to the pages.

It’s the first in a series about a Scottish LGBT football (soccer) team and — much coolness — there are actually characters other than gay white men on the team! Even cooler, the author plans to write about some of those characters. The captain of the team is Fergus, who’s in a bad place emotionally since his former lover/former captain cruelly dumped him and the team. Then he meets John, a politics student who’s organizing a match to raise money for gay asylum seekers.

Although I really enjoyed the dialogue, liberally sprinkled with Scottish slang — “It’s you I love, ya big numpty” — Fergus and John didn’t work all that well for me. Their feelings come off as more mushy than sincere, and I felt like a voyeur during the explicit sex scenes. And Fergus is such a jerk. He not only stalks John — admittedly with some reason, since John is lying to him — but deserts him at the worst possible time. I couldn’t give him a pass just because of his previous experiences.

What drew me in was the setting, and fresh take (for an American reader) on star-crossed lovers. Apparently Protestant/Catholic conflict can be almost as fierce in Scotland as it is in Ireland. Fergus is Catholic, and John grew up as a member of the Orange Order, which he loathes but feels a complicated loyalty towards. The author draws a parallel between the anti-Catholic Orange marches and those in the American south glorifying the Confederate flag — justified by the marchers as “tradition” rather than bigotry. I don’t have the knowledge to comment on how accurate the portrayal is, but it’s certainly heartfelt and convincing. Discussions of class and immigration issues — Fergus’s housemate is from Nigeria — are also pertinent.

So although not a complete success for me, as a fictional trip to another culture it really worked. And there’s a powerful conclusion to end things on an upbeat note.

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June in Book Bingo

june bingo

This was a hard month for me, and I didn’t fill my whole card.

Recurring themes: “Angel” in the title. Horticultural interests. Rereads of favorite books. Being disappointed in books my friends loved. Heroes named variants of “Wolf.” (I should reread Scarlet.) Characters traveling someplace for no narrative reason and then going back. (My latest pet peeve.) Hero or heroine shoveling manure — no shit.

Naked: Archangel’s Enigma by Nalini Singh. Really enjoyed the hero of this one, a vampire who is also sorta kinda an animal shifter. Sweet “nature boy” type.

A Child’s Grief: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Am tempted to put this one under “White Man’s Burden,” but I’ll be nice. Much, much grief in this one.

Favorite line:

“Blue had said that an Aglionby toga party went against everything she stood for. Maura had replied, ‘Private school boys? Using random pieces of fabric as apparel? That seems like exactly what you stand for these days.'”

June: Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas. Heroine wants to wait for a June wedding when she’s out of mourning, hero wants to elope. Guess who wins?

I’m not getting all the love for this one. It was a pleasant enough read, but nothing happened until the second half. The first half was just about arranging pieces on a board to get the characters into bed in a vaguely plausible manner.

Dust: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.

“Right into Gansey’s ear, he whispered, voice tinged in disbelief, ‘I didn’t — I just asked — I just thought –‘

‘Thought what?’ Gansey asked.

Adam released him. His eyes were on the circle around him. ‘I thought that. And it happened.’

The circle was absolutely perfect: dust without, dustless within.”

I was annoyed when I saw that the Raven Boys series was going to have four books instead of three, and reading the third book did not change my mind. The prose is gorgeous, but it’s a filler book. Gansey searches for Glendower. Blue worries about her missing mom. Noah continues to fade away. Adam waits for his abusive father’s court date. Ronan is, as always, pissed off. The introduction of a supervillain (or two) is curiously mundane. A few magical new things do happen but we don’t know why and I didn’t much care.

The book can kind of be summarized by pointing out that Gansey’s old professor friend from England arrives, does literally nothing except provide some vaguely comic relief, and then leaves at the end.

It’s too well written and funny to hate, but I really got tired of so much ado about nothing.

Delusion: Dreaming by Charlotte Lamb. The hero falls in love at first sight with a woman he’s barely glimpsed, not realizing she’s the same person as the nurse he thinks of as cold.

I almost cried with disappointment over this one. It’s classically emotional; the hero is unwittingly cruel to the heroine, never knowing she loves him. It’s like a great old movie. But then the ending pisses all the good stuff away, so there’s no cathartic resolution.

Au Revoir: Never Say No to a Caffarelli by Melanie Milburne. The hero often uses French endearments, and he dumps the heroine on their romantic trip to Paris. Le porc!

This is the second time I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a Harlequin Presents recently. I think perhaps the guidelines have changed, because authors I think of as being kind of  hysterically over the top have calmed down considerably and are using standard elements in a more believable way. Not a great book, but quite a nice read.

Interrupted Intimacy: Archangel’s Shadow by Nalini Singh. Elena and Raphael are cock-blocked by a call from his mom, which didn’t bother me at all, since I get really bored by continuing couple sex.

Mini: Manties in a Twist by J.A. Rock. One hero is quite short, which the other hero adores. Loved this one even more than The Sub’s Club, if possible. So sweet and funny. I especially love that this series is not just about different kinds of kinks and kinsters, but also different kinds of feelings around kink.

Gratitude: The Spy Who Spanked Me by Doreen deSalvo

“A deep groan left his throat as gratitude and release swamped his mind…”

Short Regency (?) story in which a woman accidentally witnesses an assassination and then has to submit to a bound interrogation she finds extremely hot. Romantic erotica. Well written — except for weird mentions of the heroine’s ‘privities’ — but a little scary.

Just the Tip: Wolf’s Hope by Lora Leigh. Betrayed (he thinks) hero teases the heroine something awful.

I’m So Sorry: Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold. One of the oddest apology scenes ever.

beautiful all along: The Italian Boss’s Mistress by Lynne Graham. Some might have put this one under “hero is a mountain,” since the hero is 6’5″, but I know exactly what I mean by that phrase and this guy isn’t it.

Gold Star: False Angel by Edith Layton. A book I’ve read many times, and it never fails to satisfy.

gesticulate: The Sicilian’s Stolen Son by Lynne Graham. It’s pretty much all there in the title.

Another one I didn’t love as much as others I’ve seen. There was a great good twin/evil twin set-up but the story pulled all the emotional punches so there was no real angsty payoff, not even a dark moment.

Broken pedestal: The Plumed Bonnet by Mary Balogh. Reread.

“I tried so very hard to please you, because I thought you were like a god. I might have better spent the time pleasing myself.”

Oh, how fun it is to read something and then find an absolutely perfect square! (And no, I didn’t contribute this one… I don’t think that  far ahead.😉 ) Stephanie is totally stifling herself trying to become the Perfect Duchess, because she believes that Alistair is the Perfect Gentleman, who saved her life and her virtue. When she discovers the sordid truth, she has to figure out who she wants to be and whether to try and save their marriage. One of Balogh’s most thoughtful, insightful books.

Solstice:

Mary Sue: An Excellent Wife? by Charlotte Lamb. Cute book told entirely from the hero’s point of view. I actually didn’t mind the heroine all that much, after some annoying initial feistiness, but she is a Friend to Children, Animals, and Old People and wound up on one GoodRead friend’s “h-over-haloed-or-mary-sued” shelf.

White Man’s Burden: Regency Valentines by Jo Beverley

“Longevity was creating another problem. Many estates were carrying the burden of long-lived widows, and maybe more than one.”

A rather meh collection of two previously published short stories and some historical Valentine’s trivia; the most interesting part of of it was an article, also previously published, on “The Importance of Money in Regency Society,” with specific reference to Jane Austen.

With pleasure:

For your own good: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Woof! An intense, intense read. I loved it for the spot-on depictions of New York neighborhood kids, which read EXACTLY like I remember them, only appropriately aged 40 years, and with some added racial aspects. The way they’re still playing kid street games while simultaneously experimenting with sex and drugs… I don’t think I’ve ever seen that weird in-between time shown so well before.

And I loved that what I thought was a derivative plot turned out to be… a starting point for a metaphor is the best way I can put it.

Shipping: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread.

Although this could go in Hero is a Mountain — admittedly, quite a short one — I could not resist the pun value of “Shipping” for a romance between two starship commanders. Also, Cordelia and Aral is a ship I will go down with, to the point that I refused to read Cryoburn for years. (I caved last month.)

Pride: Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. A reread inspired by this article. This is a contemporary old skool book and I love it to pieces.

If you had to choose one word to sum up Kiss an Angel, “pride” might be it. More about it by me here.

Pretty in Pink: Angel in a Red Dress by Judith Ivory. My June TBR challenge read. I chose this square, not for the book title, but because it opens on the young heroine totally grooving on the awesome dress she’s wearing. She also much admires the dandy hero’s lace.

Hero is a Mountain: Out of Nowhere by Roan Parrish. The author must love gentle giant heroes as much as I do, because she’s two for two. A pretty good redemption for the brother-villain of In The Middle of Somewhere, though I didn’t like it as much. High angst.

100: The Italian’s Mistress by Melanie Milburne. Should have checked the publication date on this one. I’m tempted to put it in “I’m so sorry,” as in “I’m so sorry I stayed up til 3am to finish this” but I’ll go with “100” as in “The hero and heroine argue over the same damn thing at least 100 times.” SUCH an aggravating book! And it’s even more aggravating because of all the lampshades the author tries to hang, pointing out how aggravating her couple is being. The hero is a seething cauldron of ridiculous illogic — he’s supposed to be driven mad with loss and jealousy, I guess, but he just comes off as mad. And then after all that, the heroine doesn’t even let him do the absolutely necessary grovel!

Also Reads:

“Season 9” of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (graphic novel.)

A Common Scandal by Amanda Weaver – DNF.

 

 

 

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TBR Challenge: Angel in a Red Dress by Judith Ivory

CW: Mention of rape.

The theme: a favorite trope.

Why this one: It was the only TBR book I picked up that I felt like reading, though the main tropes — rake in pursuit and spying — are far from favorites of mine.

I think this book, originally titled Starlit Surrender, was Ivory’s first, and it shows. It’s occasionally far from subtle in the storytelling, as you can see in this offhand phrase:

“All three — Thomas, Sam, and Charles — were in league with Adrien to rescue French aristocrats destined for the guillotine.”

This blunt “telling” of a deep secret had already been “shown” perfectly clearly, and I can only assume Ivory had a really crap editor (who perhaps made her insert it.) The same editor obviously didn’t give a hang about historical accuracy, since the hero, Adrien, is breeding roses in the footsteps of Mendel around thirty years before Mendel was born.

The worst part of the story though, is that Adrien rapes Christina in a particularly chilling way — not violently or to punish her as is common in old skool romance, but over a long period of time, while she is essentially his prisoner. It’s too reminiscent of a realistic situation to be glossed over as “forced seduction” though Christina is depicted as ambivalent. (There’s an attempted rape later, not by the hero, which she fights off quite effectively.) The fact that this is all seen through Adrien’s entitled eyes and he barely realizes what he’s doing to her makes it particularly upsetting.

Nonetheless, this is Judith Ivory, which means much of the writing is elegant and gorgeous, especially in the sex scenes that aren’t horrible. She writes so evocatively about attraction and intimacy; early scenes which play with consent are wonderfully done, which makes it even sadder that it got so ugly later on.

There’s also what seems to be deliberate trope subversion. Adrien is highly intelligent, a brilliant strategist and playing a very dangerous game of intrigue, but he’s not the omnipotent historical hero we often see. He’s often taken by surprise, vulnerable, even prone to highly unromantic physical ailments. I adore the classic cool hero, but I enjoyed seeing a more human version. Attempts to give Christina greater depth than the usual feisty redhaired heroine aren’t completely successful, but I appreciated the effort. You can see the seeds here of the amazing writer Ivory would become.

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huh

“Since it was the beginning of October, he decided he would read Stellaluna by Janell Cannon. It was one of his favorite books about a fruit bat that was raised by birds.”

I  had no idea there were numerous books with that plotline.

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May in Book Bingo

maybingo

This was an exceptionally hard card! Nonetheless, I filled the entire thing  because a) I read a LOT and b) I am an expert rationalizer!

Recurring themes of the month: Heroes who have never known love. “Unwomanly” heroines. Heroines with odd clothing obsessions. Landscape gardeners. Plastic surgery. Trains, often crashing. Twins (again). Dead brothers. Fake engagements. Depressing pregnancies. Technical adultery. Heroine pregnant with/had hero’s brother’s child (and one carrying her sister’s child.)  Friends who couldn’t possibly be lovers. New to me series. Rereads. Single point of view.

“Ole”: The Unexpected Baby by Diana Hamilton. Heroine lives in Spain. Very typical (especially of Hamilton) Big Mis/Cruel Hero Harlequin Presents starring two idiots. I like that sort of thing so enjoyed it until it got a little too silly at the end.

“Epic Disaster Wardrobe Tragedy”: A Fashionable Indulgence by K.J. Charles. This would also have fit under “twins” but it fits so exquisitely perfectly in this square, I have to wonder if the book actually inspired it. Anyway, this is a rich, complex, gorgeously written Regency romance. The historical aspects are particularly resonant today — or perhaps they would be at any time? I did get a little tired of how many things were effed up — as Charles puts it in the third novel of the series, “Harry attracted disaster like few other men.”

“May”: Forget Me Not by Jordan Castillo Price. A hard book to place, but there is a mention of May. My TBR Challenge read for the month.

“Brunch”: Flawless by Sara Craven. Another simple mention. Wacky “dig two graves” revenge story involving plastic surgery; by no means even the wackiest HP with this theme I’ve read! I kind of love how deeply messed up the heroine is, though an actual happy ending is perhaps a little hard to picture.

“Narcissism”: This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman.

“‘Oh yes. Apollo, the Sun God.’

‘What?’

She shrugged. ‘That what I called him.’

‘To his face?’

‘Lord, no. What would be the sense of giving a man already so full of himself another reason to beat his chest?'”

This scene is really more about Calico Nash protecting herself. Quill McKenna (this series has the weirdest names… I’m looking forward to my namesake Willa Pancake) is not actually all that full of himself. I found this story a bit slow, and the mystery was super obvious as well as drawn out, but the hero/hero interactions are sweet and fun. Goodman does some of the best sexy beta heroes.

“Inchoate cohesion”: Winter Destiny by Grace Green.

Best line:

“His eyes swirled with the rich blue-green of petrol spilled on a wet road.”

Favorite part:

“‘Your perfume…’ His tone held a faint hint of surprise. ‘I’d expected you to wear something more… sultry. I don’t recognize this fragrance.’

‘It’s new,’ Courtney said tersely. ‘It’s called Get Lost.'”

I love me a cruel hero who thinks badly of the heroine yet can’t help falling for her, but this one was kind of lacking in sense. Somehow the woman who struggled to bring up a daughter on her own is a terrible person and a homewrecker? And it’s better to tell the child’s paternal grandma that the heroine wickedly seduced her child’s father than, oh let’s say, they were both drunk and made a mistake — and to blackmail the heroine into going along with that awful story? Because that will somehow help with the overall goal of getting her and the child stay with them? Some nice angsty goodness, and I liked that the heroine was no doormat, but the plotline hurt my head.

“Love triangle”: Dark Angel by Mary Balogh. Engaged heroine is attracted against her will by vengeful bad boy… or is he? Reread.

“Close but no cigar”: Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos by Bucky Sinister. A lot of good stuff in here — I enjoyed the comparison between the 12 step process and The Hero’s Journey — but I felt kind of let down by the approach for atheists.

“Lashings”: At the End of the Day by Betty Neels. Lashings of cream — twice! I’m so glad I didn’t have to go with the more obvious use of the word.😉 One of those charming Neels that feels like it was written 30 years before it was (did nurses really scold diabetic patients for not eating their bread, ever?!) Chock full of food and Jersey dresses and green berets (I used to wear one!) and pets and a hero who refuses to just plain court the heroine for some neurotic reason of his own.

“Train Travel”: Sleeping Desire by Charlotte Lamb. Not the best advertisement for train travel, as there’s a crash that leads to the heroine’s amnesia.

This is a fascinating book, because I think Lamb was writing a hero with an attachment disorder, possibly before there was a definition for it. He grew up in an orphanage, without love, and is extremely charming and manipulative, as well as secretive. It says something about me as a reader that I didn’t mind the hero’s bad behavior (lying to the heroine, trying to keep her captive, manhandling her) nearly as much as I minded her family being on his side. An intense but thoughtful read. Also, gotta love the heroine’s obsession with denim pantsuits.

“Touch vs. Sight”: 22 Nights by Linda Winstead Jones. One hero is temporarily blinded.

“a walk in the park”: Bride by Command by Linda Winstead Jones. (Coincidentally enough, the book that follows 22 Nights. A series finished, yay!) The (twin!) hero forces the heroine on a journey thinking to punish her, but it turns out to be a pleasure for both of them. The secondary couple also takes long walks in the garden.

“Abstinence”: Falling in Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath. Our heroine is a spinster firmly on the shelf because men only want her for her dowry. She is damned tired of abstinence and decides to find herself some pleasure. Decent wallpaper historical; I like that Minerva has an unexpectedly full life with her friends and family, much of it spent in her father’s former gaming hell. (Her parents and siblings are characters from previous Heath series.)

“Ooooh! That would be grand!”: Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh. (Audiobook)

“‘You can have a garden here.’

‘Yes, I can, can’t I!'”

Heroine is a prisoner for centuries, and dreams of all she’ll do when she’s free.

“Bloom”Against the Wall by Jill Sorenson.

“…my heart blossoms the same way, pumping with vibrant emotion.”

“Suck it!”: Nameless by Claire Kent. There is a blow-job scene, but mainly I chose this square because that’s what the heroine is essentially saying to the hero for at least the first half of the book.

The story: commitment-shy heroine with controlling ex + emotionally controlled hero + one-night stand = pregnancy. Heroine then spends the next 500 years 9 months pushing the hero away.

This was… long. And detailed. Very, very detailed. The author notes at the end that she hasn’t been pregnant or a mother — perhaps that prompted her to go a little overboard on “getting it right.” (Which I’d say she does.) And a good editor could really have helped with various annoyances, and paragraphs like this:

“Her storm of emotions didn’t last very long, so soon she was able to pull herself away from him. ‘That was an unexpected emotional ordeal that I wasn’t remotely prepared for, but at least it didn’t last very long.'”

(Wince.)

But don’t think that I hated this. Slow-burn romances in which the experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood are given a great deal of attention aren’t common, so the very novelty was interesting. And the emotions were well drawn and affecting. I thought Kent did a good job of taking her usual scenario — heroine pov only, but hero obviously in love — and going somewhere a little different with it.

“Little Fluffy Clouds”: The Pregnancy Plan by Grace Green. There is a reference to clouds in the book, but I mostly choose this square because I found the book pretty damn gooey. Also bothersome in a number of ways, including terrible fertility/reproduction misinformation (one of my biggest pet peeves.) No sir — I didn’t like it.

“Dead Dogs”: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rawling. Technically, hub hasn’t finished reading this one aloud, but damn it fits too perfectly — in a horrible way — to pass up. Also, if I have to suffer through listening to Harry’s obnoxious 15-year-old tantrums, I deserve some payback.

“That Dress”: In for the Kill by Shannon McKenna.

“That dress is now reserved exclusively for our fantasy sex play. The game I call ‘The Deflowering.'”

(7 mentions of “that dress.”)

I appreciated that this is light on the woo-woo of the last couple of McCloud books — not to mention, the tendency to put the kids of previous couples in danger — but that didn’t save it from being meh. Hero Sam seems like such a sad sack, even when he turns out to be — surprise! — a brilliant financial gazillionaire. (Alas, he’s no Transformer.) And Sveti is dumber than a sack of hammers, which is so disappointing. (She was introduced in my favorite McKenna book, Extreme Danger, so of course I wanted her to be awesome.) There wasn’t the intensity I associate with the best books of this series, or much in the way of humor either. I did like the little twist that Sveti stalks Sam at least as much as he stalks her. The final wrap-up for the series is sweet.

“Do the Shake”: The Greek’s Marriage Bargain by Sharon Kendrick. Shaking with rage, shaking hands, shaking voice, shaking like a leaf.

I stopped reading Kendrick some time ago, but this book got a bit of attention on Twitter for not having a miracle baby ending and I decided to give it a try. It was much more down to earth and realistic than I expect from this author — most notorious for the “Little Lizard” book — and a decently emotional story.

“Twins”: A Civil  Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. Miles and Mark — twins born 6 years apart.

This was my third or fourth time reading this and oh my, how it has grown on me. I laughed so hard. I waited with bated breath for events I, of course, knew would happen. Going to do a whole series reread now, I think.

“Silver Fox”: A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles. Two older heroes with grey in their hair.

I adore Charles’s homages to classic popular literature, but I think it’s awesome that she went completely original here, with characters and conflicts I’ve never seen in a Regency before. It suffers just a bit from overlapping with the first book but is brilliantly complex, vivid, and intense. Superb writing. An excellent choice for a romance conversion kit.

“Unicorns”Well Played by Katrina Ramos Atienza.

A contemporary Pride and Prejudice rewrite set at a University in the Philippines, which is also an NA book with absolutely NO SEX. *faints* It doesn’t really bring anything new to the story, but the fresh voice is fun.

“Elemental, My Dear Watson”: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. Miles Vorkosigan = mystery + science. And the ending that made me bawl, of course. That title is a truly tasteless joke, but apparently was not Bujold’s idea.

“15”: The Burning Lamp by Frances Murray.

“An open cancer of the neck… Phemie stared out the window but she didn’t see the sickening sore which was dressed every day, she saw 15’s patient face and remembered her five children…”

An evocative little scene. Student nurse Phemie may know her patients as numbers, but that doesn’t stop her from seeing them as people.  This would also fit very nicely under “train travel” — much description of Phemie’s journey to the wild west. There’s also a love triangle for about five seconds.

This was one of Valancy’s April Bingo books and it sounded right up my alley. It is. Phemie is what Heyer’s Grand Sophy might be like, if she weren’t born to wealth, privilege, and height. Indominatible and dryly witty, she’s an utter delight. This is an older style of historical romance — the love story is secondary to Phemie’s conquering of pretty much everything and everyone that stands in the way of her Colorado hospital, but totally winning in its understated way. (Note that this was written by an English writer in 1974 so can be a bit wincey around race at times, though always well-meaning.)

Also Reads:

A Gentleman’s Position by K.J. Charles. Although I would have to say A Seditious Affair is a more impressive book overall, this one won my heart with its romance. The prim and upright Richard of the previous books is totally melted here, and love turns him into a poet. So swoony.

Lord Carew’s Bride by Mary Balogh. Reread. Unusual romance, one of Balogh’s best. On this reading, I was really struck by the hero’s competence and creativity as a landscape designer. Wish he would come do our yard.

The Famous Heroine by Mary Balogh. Reread. Another sweet, different romance, with more of an emphasis on humor. A bit too light on the romance.

The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath. DNF. An identical twin reluctantly impersonates his dead brother to get his sister-in-law safely through her pregnancy. I was really looking forward to this one, and saving the “twins” square for it. But I found I just couldn’t hack it. For one thing, I was bugged by how everything about the hero was suddenly so much improved. I’ll give the book credit for having the heroine love her husband, but his new self is just so much better — he’s a better estate manager, he’s sexier, he even sleeps nude, unlike her old fogey first husband! But what most bugged me was the idea of all the heroine’s memories of her husband being tainted by the imposture. It’s just such an ugly thing to do, even with the best of intentions.

Lady Surrender by Carole Mortimer.

Bad Company by K.A. Mitchell. DNF.

Pain Slut by J.A. Rock. DNF. I loved The Sub’s Club, and the parts of this I read were good, but scalpels and needles and such are just too scary for me.

The Persistence of  Memory by  Jordan Castillo Price. Netgalley book. I still owe a review. Any minute now…

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TBR Challenge: Forget Me Not (Mnevermind 2) by Jordan Castillo Price

The theme: Something “different.”

Why this one: I broke my “print books only” rule this month, because my print tbr is 99% historical romance, and .99% contemporary or paranormal romance. I decided to go truly out of my comfort zone with science fiction. As it turned out, most of the science fiction in this trilogy (of the two books I’ve read) was in the first book; the second is almost all romance and character study. So not really all that different; don’t tell the Theme Police.

Forget Me Not is narrated by Elijah Crowe, the autistic man who started mysteriously appearing in Daniel’s mnems in book one. (Mnems, pronounced “neems,” are a bit like programmed dreams– a simplification, but it will do for the purposes of this review.) I was not in love with how Elijah’s autism was perceived by Daniel in The Persistence of Memory, so what a relief and joy it was to discover that he’s not only a beautifully drawn character, but his own narrative is not self-hating.

“‘I see the way you treat Big Dan,’ he said, as the elevator settled and the first floor light went off. ‘Like a regular person.’

Although his use of the word “regular” was problematically inexact, I had a sense of what he meant. Big Dan [Daniel’s father] wasn’t neurotypical, but neither was I. Being neurotypical was overrated, in my opinion — plenty of people like Tod and Ryan were about as ‘regular’ as you could get, and as far as I was concerned, it didn’t make them any more appealing.”

The story is mainly about Elijah’s navigating his newfound interest in another man, something which is difficult for him because the dating rules he’s learned so carefully may not apply. There are a lot of roadblocks in the way, including Daniel’s prejudices, a therapist who believes Elijah may be the victim of a predatory Daniel, a scarily homophobic bully at Elijah’s work, and Elijah’s sensory issues. Not all of these are fully resolved, though I suppose they may be in the third book. (From the reviews, it doesn’t look like they are. I would love to see him find a new therapist who really supports him, doesn’t infantilize him, and for God’s sake, helps him find a non obtrusive stim instead of having him fight it all the time.)

I appreciated that Elijah has neither cute quirky romance novel autism nor cliched lit fic aloof autism. He’s genuinely disabled, but not helpless, and he’s a fully realized, sympathetic, and lovable person. His anxieties strongly resonated with me, and I was saddened by how much he feels the need to change himself for others, even answering the classic “top or bottom” question by deciding,

“I would force myself to be whatever would go best with him. After all, he’d had several years in which to develop his preferences. I was new at being gay. I would adapt.”

Thankfully, Daniel is patient and not at all pushy.

As with the first book, the ending kind of fades away, so it’s really not a complete story. But it’s completely worth reading anyway.

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Apropos of Something

Years ago I was in an improv class at a community college. Two guys were doing a scene which in some way involved a vacuum cleaner. One of them opened the scene as a very stereotypical, femmy, “straight guy doing a gay guy” bit.

The teacher stopped him, and tore him a new one. I wish I could remember everything she said. Because she then had them restart, and it was the best scene ever. The guy became a real person who was passionately attached to his vacuum cleaner. It was unique, and funny in a way the first scene could never have been.

I love that that kid reached down inside himself and found an authentic way to do that scene, after being publicly told off. He listened, and he learned.

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