A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Recurring Themes in My Reading May 2023

Candle related extreme parsimony.

Friendships formed from extreme persistence.

Naughty book shops.

“…when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Trying not to be “precious” about something.

Red hair and stereotypes relating thereto.

Outdoor productions of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.”

Deliberately ridiculous endearments.


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TBR Challenge: To Cage a Whirlwind by Jane Donnelly

The theme: freebie

Why this one: I must have tried 6 or 7 books! At least my print pile is shrinking.

My second disappointing Donnelly in a row, though this one is still considerably better than Ring of Crystal.

The first half is good. Morag Macdonald runs off to visit her brother Alistair, her only remaining family, after catching her boyfriend in flagrante delicto. Unfortunately, her brother is also just about to be caught, for embezzling from his employer, Callum Mcconnell. Morag agrees to go to the Scottish island where she grew up, where Callum is the laird, to be a companion for Callum’s elderly relatives and ensure’s Alistair’s good behavior.

Morag is a bit of a conundrum in the castle; as the daughter of a fisherman and a woman who used to sew for the Mcconnell’s, no one quite knows what to make of her position as companion, and it’s generally assumed she’s really Callum’s mistress. Donnelly always writes vividly about Scotland, and though there isn’t a whole lot of plot going on, all the background detail about Morag rediscovering the island she loves and settling into the castle makes for entertaining reading. And when Callum visits, the initial antagonism between them begins to morph into a playful friendship and strong attraction. It’s much better reading than old categories in which the main characters just bicker endlessly forever.

And then, of course, it all goes to hell — both the relationship and the book.

The second half is one long — overly long — bout of suffering for Morag, forced by circumstances to witness Callum’s courtship of Rosalie, the beautiful and imminently suitable girl his relatives want him to marry. I do enjoy a good suffer, and Morag is a likable, fairly emotionally mature character, so I don’t really mind being in her point-of-view for the entire book. But there’s an art to limited third person and in both Ring of Crystal and this, Donnelly doesn’t pull it off. There have to be some clues for the reader and there just aren’t any; Callum seems completely indifferent to Morag. There’s a sudden, ludicrous misunderstanding and then poof, everything’s fine again.

I really like the freshness of Donnelly’s writing, so I’ll keep reading her, but I do hope I hit the bottom of the barrel with these last two.


Recurring Themes in My Reading, April 2023

Governesses to recalcitrant children and doting mothers of recalcitrant children, frequently overlapping.

Fashionistas and influencer, frequently overlapping.

Dogs chasing rabbits and sometimes catching them. 🫣😣🤢

Toy theaters and real performances.

Relatedly, Shakespeare.

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Perfect Accompaniment to Love, Comment, Subscribe


Love, Comment, Subscribe by Cathy Yardley

The theme: Unusual historical. Ooops.

(I did actually try two historicals. Angels Wings by Anne Stuart, genuinely unusual, had both characters and plot I disliked. One Bride Too Many by Connie Brockway… let me just quote verbatim this one star review from GoodReads: ‘The plot is “man wears dress”.’

Why this one: I dunno, it was just calling to me. Of course it’s not a historical, but it did turn out to be unusual.

This opposites-attract romance started out with a huge strike against it, because I’m so turned off by characters who desperately want to be in with the “popular crowd.” (My teen review of the show “Square Pegs”: “they have each other and nice boys who like them, what the hell else do they need?”) So I had little sympathy for teen Lily’s efforts to leave her nerdy friends behind — they call themselves the Nerd Herd, I would be friends with them in a hot second — and think she was damn lucky they didn’t hold a grudge. And then she grows up to be an ambitious beauty YouTuber… that’s a meh from me.

Buuuut, the MMC Tobin Bui is a total goofball who likes silly but harmless pranks and is straight out of All Dogs Have ADHD. (He does in fact have ADHD which he controls largely with exercise, so geeky but ripped.) In other words, basically my husband, sans the ripped part. How could I not keep reading?

Tobin has also grown up to be a professional YouTuber, Goofybui, who does sketches and game playthroughs. But though Lily and Tobin have been frenemies pretty much forever, ten years after high school they aren’t really in touch. Then one of Tobin’s videos goes viral at a time both are feeling stuck in their careers, and they decide to give collaboration a try. And though they’re coming from very different niches, the cute way they play off each other makes their numbers explode. (I found this somewhat implausible, but then I don’t really get why people watch any of this stuff to begin with, so *shrug*.) Of course people start to ship them, and as they each start to appreciate the other’s very different style, it begins to seem less impossible.

Both characters are also on personal journeys. Tobin is being pushed by his agent to take on more work commitments, but the pressure is burning out his creativity. And Lily, as you might expect, has a lot of growing to do around her high school popularity issues, including understanding how it seemed to her friends.

“I was an outcast. We were all outcasts!”

He looked at her and it wasn’t pity. It was… disappointment.

“We had each other,” he said, almost under his breath. “That was what I never understood. Why did you give a shit what they thought, when you had us?”

(I swear to God, I wrote about “Square Pegs” above before I read this scene!)

I appreciate Yardley’s efforts to make this story inclusive and as non-toxic as possible, given the milieu. Both their professional colleagues and friend group are a diverse bunch. Tobin, whose parents are from England and Vietnam, realistically encounters some microagressions, and of course there are some unpleasant dudebro comments about Lily on Tobin’s feed, but he immediately deletes them; he’s not just a goofy bui but a very good bui. Not even a beta hero, as my husband would say, but “a episilon.” Here’s an unusually sweet “forced to share a bed” scene:

“I never got why guys wouldn’t be into snuggling,” he admitted. “It’s been a minute since I’ve had a girlfriend, but when I do, it like it when they spend the night. They’re all soft and warm and feel great and smell better.”

“You’re a hair sniffer, aren’t you?” He could hear the smirk in her voice and burst out laughing.

“Yup, that’s me,” he teased back. “Just sucking in that air like a pervy Roomba. Now get some sleep, or I’ll snuggle you.”

“Heh.” Then, to his shock, she wriggled until she was flush against him, then dragged his arm over her like a blanket. “Don’t threaten me with a good time.”

So yeah, I continued to love Tobin, and Lily thankfully grew on me, as she grew personally. She might even be good enough for him by the end. 😉 The prose could’ve used a bit more editing, mainly for repetitions, but overall I definitely click the “heart” button on this.


Recurring Themes in My Reading, March 2023

Men who play multiple instruments.

The effect of World War II on women’s independence.

Torn between two lovers — both the “love them both” and “don’t really love either of them” varieties.

Trans kid athletes.

Complicated sibling rivalry.

Friends betting on whether they’d get together.

Missing kitties. (Don’t worry, the cats came back.)

Marine mammals.

An unfortunate hatred of milk.


TBR Challenge: A Damaged Trust by Amanda Carpenter

The theme: baggage

Why this one: as with Caprice, I didn’t read this with the challenge in mind, but it really fits: not only does the heroine have trust issues, obviously, but I described it as “ten pounds of plot in a five pound bag.”

CW for book: attempted sexual assault

If Caprice is all vibes, this book, published two years earlier, is almost all plot, and unfortunately done in a very episodic, unsubtle and heavy handed way. It starts out rather tamely, with a standard oldie Harlequin “this is instantly the most aggravating person I’ve ever met” encounter between Gabe and Carrie, who’s on her way to her family home in Colorado, licking her wounds from a relationship with a married cad. But they grow to like each other fairly quickly, and start to date.

Then, as if someone realized the book was on the dull side, adventures start happening thick and fast, and in an unsatisfying, unincorporated way. The pattern is: foreshadowing. Terrifying event. Resolution. Foreshadowing for next terrifying event to come. Weirdly, some indications that there might be something going on on Gabe’s side — I expected him to turn out to be separated but still married or have some other upsetting secret — came to nothing. It feels like someone yanked out the second half of the book and inserted a completely different one.

Lest I seem to have a down on Amanda Carpenter, let me mention that Raging Passion was a four star read — and of course I love many of her books written as Thea Harrison. And I hope no one ever judges me for what I did during the eighties. 😉


TBR Challenge: Caprice by Amanda Carpenter (aka Thea Harrison)

The theme: Starting Over

Why This One: I didn’t have the theme in mind when I started, but it kind of fits. As a romance reader, I hope it fits.

From the Goodreads reviews this isn’t a fan favorite, and it’s not hard to see why. There’s almost no plot — all vibes, as the kids say. And the vibes aren’t all that good.

Caprice is the name of our heroine and she doesn’t know herself whether it’s “a case of the name predicting the personality, or the personality fitting itself to the name.” She’s whimsical, capricious, manipulative and an inveterate flirt, and she’s starting to realize that she’s in perhaps in a trap of her own making. She’s not a terrible person by any means, and many of her ploys throughout the book are for the benefit of her friends, though she’s never truly let those friends in. But her socialite lifestyle is shallow and she has no desire to change it, even while realizing something is missing.

In typical Harlequin fashion, Caprice’s feelings are upended by an attractive man named Pierce — another descriptive name, I just realized — and it scares the hell out of her.

She felt an inner lurch, and then was frightened. Foolish, foolish, for this man was a stranger and he didn’t matter any more than the others mattered. She shouldn’t fear him. He didn’t know her, couldn’t know her. She was glittering brightness, she was cool fire, she was laughter and gaiety, and malicious gentleness, she was Caprice. Underneath that, she was untouchable.

These thoughts happens right after Pierce tells her “everyone has a basic reason for doing something. Sometimes, with the more twisted or fanatic mind, you need to search deeper for the reason, but it’s always there, deep, underlying actions and thought like the still waters under the surface of this lake.” Which makes a lot of sense in terms of her character, but sets the reader up for disappointment, because we expect some powerful reason for Caprice’s behavior, some trauma, and we don’t really get one. (Though on the other hand, yay for avoiding that particular romance cliche?)

Pierce finds Caprice about as frustrating as you’d expect, but nonetheless courts her in spite of her hot and cold reactions, and in the end manages to make a pretty good argument for how their opposite attracts relationship could work. I still have my doubts about their ultimate happiness, and I wish there could have been more progress in Caprice’s understanding herself better and moving closer to other people in her life, to help create a happy ending. Instead it comes out more as “she just needed a good shagging” quite literally ala “Gone with the Wind.” The second half of the book is less interesting than the first.

It’s hard to believe this was published in 1986, because it feels like a time capsule — those who enjoy loving descriptions of clothes will be happy — but more like 1960 than the 1986 I knew. (Though coincidentally enough, I was just about Caprice’s age then, and it’s the year I met my husband.) The feel is so old-fashioned, I kept being surprised when Caprice could go off with a young man without a chaperone or be caught kissing him without a scandal. Were rich people really having innocent house parties in 1986?


Progress Report: Kinda Sucky

I’m just so discombobulated. I don’t want to use Habitica anymore but I haven’t settled in with a new system. And I feel like I’m spending even more time on the computer, even though I have less to do. And I never feel like I’ve had a productive day, no matter what I’ve done.

It occurs to me that I may need to do a form of “deschooling,” which IIRC is what unschoolers call a period of time after leaving school in which the child just needs to hang out and do whatever until they’re ready to engage with learning. Today I’m in bed with the heat on, trying to work up the energy to have a shower. Maybe that’s enough.


2023 Goals

Okay, the biggest one: do not get emotionally involved in social media ever again.

(Which could seem a bit tricky, since I have my own mastodon instance — romancelandia.club, all romance fans welcome! — but actually, that is helping me grow a thicker skin and take things less personally.)

This is only partially about twitter, which I’ve been divorcing myself from since the muskrat’s offer was accepted months ago. It’s also about habitica, which has been my social media safe place for 8 years now, and can be no more.

Along with sadness though, is also some relief. I think my reading habits were being much too influenced by habitica and the challenges I loved there. And that I wasted time which could have been spent more productively. I did establish good habits but also let a lot of tasks go.

Which leads into the next goal: I want to stop playing numbers games about books. Read what I want to read and give myself time and space to read chunksters. Keep reading challenges minimal.

I’m still doing faranae’s challenges because they’re so fun and generally work with my regular reading, as well as making me stretch some in good ways. (https://harpgriffinbooks.wordpress.com/2023/01/01/happy-new-year-welcome-to-2023/). I also borrowed a habitica nonfiction reading challenge that makes me read more widely (mastodon hashtag #KIR for Keeping it Real.)

I’m on litsy now (https://www.litsy.com/web/user/willaful) and it’s so just overwhelming with challenges and games – to the point that I don’t think I’ll get too sucked in. But I love that there are readers there who enjoy the sorts of old fashioned books I do, so I’m going to allow myself some participation.

Mostly, I want to read and I also want to… get on with my life.


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