A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

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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April in Book Bingo

bingo

 

Wow. I completely filled my bingo card with no leftovers!

Recurring Themes of the month: twins, adoption, heroes who aren’t physically perfect (!), class differences, low self-esteem, adultery, fairy tale retellings/stories inspired by literature, serious ketchup, recommend reads.

“Pulp:” Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade. Librarian heroine, author hero, much book love from both. Very funny, light novella. Almost all of it takes place on one night, and I thought the intense commitment happened too quickly. Full disclosure: the author is a dear internet friend and we frequently exchange squishy virtual hugs.

“Mother Ship”: No Matter What by Janice Kay Johnson. Another complex, tangled family situation from Johnson; it’s well written and thoughtful, albeit a bit too tidy. I liked that this book not only took a fairly neutral stance towards abortion, but also considered adoption, from the standpoint of the pregnant woman, which often doesn’t even get a nod in romances featuring pregnancy — though perhaps it doesn’t count since the pregnant woman isn’t the heroine.

“April”: Duncan’s Bride by Linda Howard. The hero’s ex-wife’s name. Reread of a fun oldie.

“Bodily Fluids”:  Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This young adult m/m fantasy could have gone in a number of squares, but it tickles me to put it here, since it’s a vampire story that isn’t remotely sexually explicit.

I enjoyed the characters and the magic working in this so much — spells come from the power of oft-repeated phrases, like “Nothing to See Here” or “Can’t Touch This” — that I didn’t really notice until after I’d finished that the world building and character building (other than the primary characters) is pretty sparse. Its resemblance to Harry Potter was both distracting (at least initially) and really necessary in order to follow it — it felt like fanfic rather than a complete, original story. But I did love the enemies to lovers romance, and the humor.

“Emoticon”: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kay Hegelson. Epistolary novel told in blog posts, email, texts, etc. Many emoticons. My review at GoodReads.

“Non Compos Mentis”:  Shadow Play by Sally Wentworth. One of those intriguing Harlequin Presents in which the hero falls in love in a straightforward manner, but the heroine is the rub. In this case, she strongly suspects that the hero’s adopted son is the child she was forced to give up, which she’s sure will come back to bite her on the ass if they stay together. I loved that this wasn’t an offensive, infuriating mess like Sandra Brown’s A Secret Splendour, which felt like a giant slap in the face to adoptive parents.

There’s also a gorgeously tragic story within a story, which I wish I could actually read. (That’s where the “Non Compos Mentis” comes in  — the heroine of that story is drugged and seduced.)

“Bazaar”: Stars Above by Marissa Meyer. I was so tempted to put this in “Dirty,” because of mechanic Cinder and no sex at all, but, well, almost any book could go in “Dirty!” We get Cinder and Kai’s meeting at the Bazaar from his pov, because of course we do.

Aside from the poignant “The Little Android,” which is only loosely related to the series, this is less a collection of stories than short sketches, designed for fan-service or bum bum BUUMMMMMM effect for those who have read the entire Lunar Chronicles. (There are spoilers galore.) I did love the clever HEA epilogue for the four main couples, with a hint of one for a secondary couple.

“68 and I’ll Owe You One”: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase. As was once quite typical in mainstream romance, especially historical, the heroine gets pleasured more than the hero does.

I almost DNF’d this one; the plot seemed tiresome and the characters pale echoes of those from Mr. Impossible and The Last Hellion. My perseverance was rewarded by one of those great angry love scenes that Chase does so well and so humorously. By the end of the book, I was pretty happy with it.

“Dirty”: Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark.

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the things you said. The one thing was so beautiful and the other so dirty.”

“Nothing wrong with wanting both.”

A mature, satisfying contemporary romance that would also work nicely in “If you can dream it you can do it.”  I really liked that even though the hero has far more money and status than the heroine, it was not a Cinderella story, and they both have important arcs around their life journeys. The parts about the sonngwriter/performer’s hero creative process were especially captivating.

“Dark Lord”: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. ‘Nuff said.

“Aphrodite”: Mirrored by Alex Flinn. It’s impossible not to compare this to Fairest by Marissa Meyer, another origin story for Snow White’s evil queen. They both give the queen the same basic motivations: ugly, horribly bullied, and in love with someone she can’t have. But though Mayer’s Levana was evil on a far larger scale than Flinn’s Violet, there was a true horror and pathos to her story that’s almost missing here. It’s very hard to empathize with Violet, or to feel that she truly lost out on anything, when her “true love” was such a wretched, shallow person. Flinn’s message about beauty and inner beauty feels confused, and I felt the plot squeezed in all the original story elements in an implausible way.

On the plus side, I loved that Celine’s handsome prince is a “person of short stature,”; he’s also a wonderful character, and the best part of the story.

“Ka ching”: Beautiful Stranger by Ruth Wind. Heroine is extremely wealthy. My TBR Challenge book.

“Crush”: His One and Only by Theodora Taylor. Hero and heroine grew up together and both crushed. I liked this interracial romance, though I’m not entirely sure why. Even aside from the infamous “kit kat” issue — the heroine’s only term for her sexual organs — it’s perturbing that she falls for an extremely controlling guy after (just barely) surviving domestic violence. She is aware of the danger signs, but I think trusts him too readily. On the other hand, the treatment of the hero’s recent blindness is pretty good. And I enjoyed the overall Harlequin Present-ishness of it, but with a unique voice.

“Envy”: Light and Shadow by Lisa Gregory (aka Candace Camp.) An actress pretends to be her twin sister, causing confusion for the husband who had learned to hate her. I love this trope, and it’s well done here.  There’s also a surprisingly sensitive treatment of the hero’s child, who is intellectually disabled.

“Magenta”: Violet Fire by Jo Goodman. After DNFing around four books with characters named Magenta, I went for a book cover.

This is somewhat similar in plotline to Light and Shadow, with the difference that both the husband and young child quickly realize the twin is not their missing wife/mother. Goodman hadn’t hit her writing stride yet, but she’s getting there. Unfortunately, this is a plantation romance, and a rather irritatingly coy one at that. The hero owns a tobacco plantation in Virginia, before the Civil War, staffed by “workers” and “servants.” One of the few actual mentions of slavery is a disapproving thought from one of the book’s worst villains; the others are from another villain, and it comes across as him being just too vulgar for words.

“Shot Gun!” : Faith and Fidelity by Tere Michaels. This is such a family story — one of the heroes is a widower with 4 kids — that it just seemed to fit.

“Bluffing”: The Sub’s Club by J.A. Rock. Is the hero bluffing? Half the time he doesn’t know himself. This was my choice for best read of the month.

“This Means WAR”: A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver.

“They’d made their deal and the terms were hers to set. But inside those rules? He would take ruthless advantage of every opportunity open to him. This was only the first battle in a protracted war, and he would withdraw to fight again another day.”

One of my favorite tropes: a hero forced to marry cruelly abandons the heroine, then must win her back. In this case, he chooses a delicious slow seduction, which I suppose is more fun to read about than simply telling her what his problem was and asking for forgiveness. It’s kind of an old skool plot, but with a more new skool hero. (He does cheat, but just barely!) A bit heavy on the Big Mis, and could have used more sense of place — the hero keeps travelling to and from Italy, but I never knew how — but a very enjoyable read overall.

“Dear Diary”: The Seal Wife by Eleanor Rees. Hero has diaries of his “misspent youth” which he’s turned into bestselling thrillers. I enjoyed the strong sense of place and evocative theme of this story, but it was the strong sensible heroine that really won my heart.

I have no idea what is up with this box. The WordPress Gods must be angry with me.

“Ice Ice Baby”: Luck Be a Lady by Meredith Duran. An “ice queen” heroine, and not a very sympathetic one at that. I almost DNF’d, because I really wasn’t connecting with the characters. I seem very much against the swim in preferring the previous book.

“Dance Like No One is Watching”: Be My Girl! by Lucy Gordon. The heroine is a professional dancer, but more than that, she’s on a seemingly hopeless quest to get the attention of the man she loves. Cute, mostly lighthearted story that flips the category romance with hero-point-of-view only.

“Silverback”: Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh. Because of the unconventional alpha.

“Uxorious”: Frozen by Meljean Brook. The hero cooks for her! He’ll tear down mountains for her! Oh, and also he’ll literally encase himself in ice to keep her safe from him.

This starts off in the genre of fated mate paranormals ala Kresley Cole, those in which the hero will chew his own leg off to get to his mate. The premise actually made me pretty uncomfortable. But then I realized it was explorating consent in those stories — not only the heroine’s inability to consent, but the hero’s as well, which is pretty damn cool. Heh.

“If you can dream it you can do it”: Wish on the Moon by Sally Wentworth. I’m going for an ironic choice here, because the heroine does nothing but dream — she falls in love with her cousin’s fiance and is trying to be honorable. Really good for an only moderate angst old HP.

“House Keeper”: Leonetti’s Housekeeper Bride by Lynne Graham. Low angst, likeable HP.

 

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Context Is Not Everything

There was a huge shitstorm on twitter yesterday because of egregious racism in an interracial romance. (Update: Here’s another review that goes into more detail.) I’m not going to comment on that, except to say that while the publisher acted promptly, the fact that Amy Lane has not acknowledged this in any way whatsoever means I will never again buy or review her books.

What I’m thinking about now is how often authors of interracial romances use humor around race, and how easily I’ve accepted that, as a white reader. The appeal is obvious, as a way to address race lightly, and to show your white character “gets it.” But… do they really? Do I? I’m squirming now at the realization that I might have let really offensive shit get by me without being aware of it.

 

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TBR Challenge: Beautiful Stranger by Ruth Wind

The Theme: Contemporary romance

Why This One: I’m almost out of print contemporaries!

 

There were two plot elements that made me approach this book with trepidation: the hero is Native American, and the heroine was formerly fat and has lost a lot of weight. Only one of these is in my wheelhouse, but I’d say neither fear was justified. I was a bit put off by the heroine’s thoughts about her former weight, but I can’t say they aren’t true-to-life… and her overall arc won me over.

Marissa Pierce and Robert Martinez aren’t really strangers — both are friends with the Forrest family, heroes of the three previous book in the series, which are loosely linked by a matchmaking theme. (I haven’t read any of the previous books and didn’t find that a problem.) But they only really come to know each other over concern for Robert’s niece Crystal, a pregnant teen who is Robert’s ward and Marissa’s student.

Robert doesn’t want to act on his strong attraction to the very wealthy Marissa, because he thinks she’d just be slumming. Marissa has self-esteem issues of her own, because she’s still far from where she wants to be, and she’s also freaked out by how intense things get between them. These are fairly typical romance themes; what set the book apart for me was how strong a character Marissa is. She has a very full, vibrant life, including a close relationship with her twin, whose issues expressed themselves in under- rather than over-eating. (Her book, sadly, never got written.) Marissa has some guilt around being so rich, founds charities. and doesn’t live a high profile lifestyle, but she also doesn’t hesitate to use money to enrich her life or make it easier. (As someone who grew up very poor, I envy that ease.)

I loved that Marissa is not a pathetic virgin — she had plenty of boyfriends before she lost weight. Despite the changes, she’s not thin and will never achieve a “perfect” body. (Another area I can really relate to.) Her weight loss is based on exercise and mindful eating, which makes it interesting to read about, rather than unutterably tedious and sad, and she is, very realistically, worried about gaining weight again. But it’s clear that Robert always found her attractive, admiring her style and zest for life, and so we don’t have to be concerned that he’ll only love her if she stays smaller. I also loved that she doesn’t put up with any crap about her eating choices from others; she does what she knows works for her and to hell with them.

The side story with Crystal is also very well drawn. She’s an intelligent girl from a horrific background, and she’s dealing with a lot of hidden pain. Her story reminded me a bit of the author’s wonderful The Sleeping Night, which she wrote under the name Barbara Samuel.

I’m glad I took a chance on this one.

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March in Book Bingo

Marchbingo

 

Announcing… ahem… A FULL CARD! Well, almost. I’m still reading For Your Eyes Only.

“Gasp!”: Pia Does Hollywood by Thea Harrison. I thought at first this was going to be as dull as Dragos Goes to Washington, but then — gasp! — the Fairy Zombies appeared! Still wound up without much tension, though. Since I’m bloody well sick of this couple between the sheets, I thought it was cool and funny that at one point in the book they can’t even touch each other. It was bookended by tons of sex, for those who care.

“Overdue”: Mistress for a Night by Diana Hamilton. Reunion in the shadow of a Big Misunderstanding — in other words, a Diana Hamilton story. Was pretty good til the hero decided to deliberately be stupid in order to stretch the story out.

“March”: A Matter of Disagreement by E.E. Ottoman. I started this thinking it would work nicely for the “bitter” square, but when it came up on a search of “march” on Calibre, while I was actually reading it, I couldn’t resist. (One of the heroes, a transman, is The Marquis de la Marche.) Sweet alternate world fantasy short story.

“Dramatic Ellipses”: Winterbourne by Susan Carroll. Deathbed confessions… the perfect home for dramatic ellipses! And how cool that my tbr challenge book turned out to be my winning bingo square! It would also fit nicely in “bitter” and “overdue.”

“Artificial Appendage”: The Phantom Lover by Elizabeth Mansfield.  I love how this one just fell into my lap. Started reading it on a whim, thought it likely wouldn’t fit any of the squares very well… then discovered the hero has a wooden leg! Very entertaining traditional Regency, much more lighthearted than you’d guess from the title. Seems to have brought back my historicals mojo, thank you very much!

“Super Spy”: Lady Be Good by Meredith Duran. Historical mojo continues!

“Stalker”: Pagan Encounter by Charlotte Lamb. From the good old days before restraining orders. Rather an interesting book, because it’s kind of the ur Presents of the “bring the controlling man to his knees” type.

“Sloth”: Hot Blood by Charlotte Lamb. No, seriously. It says so right here:

 

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This was unusual in featuring a heroine who’s a grandmother — and older than me! She had an interesting perspective and I liked her as a character, but the man she’s in love with is such a grumpy pain in the ass that I was rooting for the third side of the love triangle, a charming younger man. The hero does have some good reasons for his inability to commit — not slothfulness — but possessiveness was just not enough to demonstrate love here.

“Love Thy Neighbor”: Burning Bright by Megan Hart et.al. A collection of Hanukkah romances; Hart’s is about two neighbors from very different Jewish backgrounds. The last story is kind of a love letter to Israel, intriguingly different.

“The Alibi”: Cowboy Alibi by Paula Graves. I searched for “alibi” on Overdrive and this title tickled me, though it’s not up there with Pregnesia. Enjoyable romantic suspense about a cop on the run with his former lover, who has amnesia — and whom he suspects of murdering his brother.

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”: The Professor by Charlotte Stein

“The rain was particularly heavy that evening,” I put, at that tapping gets more insistent. He only looks like he’s not watching what I write, you see. Really he’s studying every word — and he proves it a second later.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

“What? What do you–?”

“That is what you have written, Miss Hayridge, and quite frankly, I am appalled.”

I love that I live in a world in which I can read both The Professor by Charlotte Bronte and The Professor by Charlotte Stein.

“Whip It”: Crash Into You by Roni Loren. I had all kinds of issues with this, but still found it pretty compulsively readable — except towards the end where I frankly was just tired of all the sex. That seems to be a theme lately.

“Infidelity”: Brotherhood in Death by J.D. Robb. This would also have fit nicely into “Overdue” since a number of men who were not only serial adulterers but far, far worse, get a long overdue comeuppance. But I wasn’t sure I’d encounter another book with infidelity in it, so stuck it here. No worries fans, none of the regular characters cheat, though we do get some juicy descriptions of what would happen if they did.

“Watt”: The Redemption of Matthew Quinn by Kathleen O’Brien.

“Even the notoriously immune older woman melted a little under the wattage of that smile.”

A former yuppie who wound up in jail becomes a handyman for an impulsive woman in a falling-down mansion. There’s also a town full of lovably eccentric millionaires. Surprisingly likeable. The heroine is a touch manic-pixie-dreamgirlish, but since we get her point of view, it works.
“Skools Out!”: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Heh, I just got the joke in that square name. Very entertaining YA novel about a group of friends who live in an area swarming with Chosen One “Indie-kids” — while a supernatural crisis happens around them, they’re just trying to get through to graduation, hopefully before the high school blows up again. A really good combination of parody and realism, that turns a lot of cliches on their head. Good treatment of disability too, with some caveats.

“Bendy”: Wallflower by Heidi Belleau. A genderqueer interracial romance and a bingo two-fer! Rob is a self-described “gender-bender” and the book opens with him doing yoga. (He’s also “a bit of a chubby chaser” — be still my heart!)  This is a story I’ve been wanting to read for ages, because of the intriguing premise and gorgeous cover, so it was nice that I really enjoyed it. It stresses coming out/coming of age over romance, but certainly ends happily.

“Bitter”: The Innocent’s Sinful Craving by Sara Craven. Oh good grief, that title! Quite an enjoyable book though, with a scheming, extremely bitter heroine who thinks she’s been done out of the house that should have been hers.

“Mad Dogs”: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. I forgot to include them previously, but my husband has been reading this entire series aloud to my son and I. He read me books 2-4 while I was pregnant (I never could get past Dobby on my own) and it apparently affected son in the womb, because this is his third read-aloud and I don’t even know how often he’s read them to himself. I never got past book 4 though, so this will be my first time of the whole series.

A conversation we have at least three times per book:

me or son: “Wait a minute, that plot point makes no sense!”

hub: “Well, in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, it’s explained that…”

So after we finish all of these, we’re going to read that.:-)

“Hot and Sweaty”: More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry. You can pretty much count on hot and sweaty with Mayberry. A low-key, slightly sad story, though all ends happily.

Unintentional pun? “She wanted to believe. She wanted to grab the fairy tale by the throat and hang on for grim life.”

One thing I found implausible: the heroine’s mother died giving birth to her, yet she doesn’t fret about this in the slightest when she becomes pregnant. I can’t believe there’s a woman anywhere who wouldn’t worry just a bit in those circumstances.
“Purple: For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli. This came up on a search of purple, and not only is it by a fellow bingo player, but the heroine’s name is Willa, so of course I had to read it. Sassy spy story with older characters.

“Old Flame”: Dishonourable Proposal by Jaqueline Baird. Pretty much every problematic element you can imagine in an Harlequin Presents, but I guess that’s what makes it fun.

“Spider”: Winter by Marissa Mayer.

“To her, the system resembled a spiderweb and the capital city of Artemisia was the spider.”

The title character also hallucinates about spiders, because she has been driven crazy through refusing to use her power of psychically manipulating people. I love that Mayer gave Snow White brown skin in this story… as well as an exceptional moral center.

“Beta”: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. This has only the tiniest sliver of romance in it, but the main character is a celebration of all that is best in a beta hero. Even though I have very little interest in court stories and couldn’t follow the names at all, I listened to all 17 hours of it, just for him.

“Broken Record”: Humbug by Joanna Chambers. The hero keeps thinking of the other hero as “stupidly handsome.” Also, it’s kind of a one-note story — which is fine, since it’s short. Nice “Scrooge” retelling; I was surprised when no actual ghosts appeared, because that’s the cliche, but it was well done without them.

“Hatchback Hero”: The Substitute Bride by Kathleen O’Brien. I’m going a little metaphorical here, but the hero not only drives a ratty old pickup, but falls in love with a pregnant heroine. He’ll be driving a hatchback soon enough.

Also reads:

The Bishop’s Daughter by Susan Carroll. Traditional Regency. Proper heroine keeps believing the worst of the hero.

In Name Only by Diana Hamilton. Meh.

Shadow’s End by Thea Harrison.

Liam Takes Manhattan by Thea Harrison. There’s more going on in the blurb than the actual book — in fact, I think there’s even more going on in the title. But it’s a sweet character sketch. And I have now finished the Elder Races series!

Your Wicked Heart by Meredith Duran. OMG, a recent historical I liked! With good sex scenes! *faints*

The Darkest Part of the Forest

by Holly Black. I chose this for my best read (listen) of the month at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Black writes the most amazing girl protagonists.

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TBR Challenge: Winterbourne by Susan Carroll

The theme: A recommended read.

Why this one: One of my oldest TBR books; it was mentioned in the paperbackswap forums as an underrated classic. I’ve been intimidated by it — longish scary Medieval! —  but I’ve felt like I have my historical mojo back, so it seemed like the time.

Favorite line: “God’s blood, if this isn’t the last thing I needed to find out today, that I am sire to some half-lunatic Sir Galahad.”

Like many good Medievals, Winterbourne is a story around power. I have a theory that Medievals fell out of favor because many readers want their romance heroes to be at the absolute top of the power chain, and that doesn’t lend itself to stories like this one. Our hero is indeed a rich and mighty warrior… but king John is royally pissed at him, and it really didn’t pay to upset the king. Although he accidentally brings Jaufre and Melyssan together at the start — she pretends to be Jaufre’s wife to escape John’s lascivious attentions — his spite and malice also frequently separates them and causes them great suffering.

There’s also internal conflict to the story, because although Jaufre can take a severe whipping without a sound, he becomes a petulant child when faced with his own emotions. After being betrayed by his first wife, he finds it hard to trust Melyssan, and fears losing his heart again; Diana Palmer-style, his guilt over treating her badly just makes him treat her worse. As old skool epic romance heroes go though, he’s practically a saint — i.e. no rapes, brutality, or infidelity.

I found this easier to read than I expected, though it definitely has some meat on its bones. Jaufre is a bit irritating, but does have a satisfying redemption arc.

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February in Book Bingo

FebBingo

I went out of my way not to win this time — being such a fast reader gives me an unfair advantage, not to mention all the short old category romances — but I discovered it’s fun to use the BINGO card to comment on my reading for the month.

“Gotcha!”: Daughter of Hassan by Penny Jordan. Hero gotchas the heroine but good. Rapey old skool sheikh story, with nothing original to make it worth reading, and several layers of ick.

“It’s All Greek to Me”: Baby of Shame by Julia James. Reader of shame. This is so wangsty, I’m seriously embarrassed by the fact that I reread it for the gut punch several times a year. Greek hero, of course.

“Or so s/he thought”: The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones.  Since the narrator has amnesia, there’s lots of mystery and secrets.

I admired how the author set this up, plotwise. Like the “In Death” series, the overall suspenseful awfulness is mitigated by the coziness of the repeated characters and jokes, and she managed to make that happen despite this situation she left Charley Davidson in in the previous book. At one point, I thought she’s overdone it (the new ghost in the new corner.) and even that turned out to work narratively in the end.

But as in the last several books, the pacing really irritated me. For example, at one point Janey (Charley) discovers a neighborhood man is probably in serious danger and she just futzes around pondering about it for days, if not weeks, while a whole bunch of other weird shit is also going on. I’m also finding Charley tiresome as a character. There is a gorgeous moment of sacrifice and and of course some huge ending tension so I’ll probably keep reading, like the sucker I am, but I may switch to print for the next one so I can skim.

“Marriage of Convenience”: Hostage by Madeleine Ker. Hero blackmails the heroine into marriage — but why? Seriously, why? I was confused all the way through.

“Dog Howling”: Midnight’s Kiss by Thea Harrison. Because it’s full of wolflike feral vampires. Good suspense, good reunion passion (even after 20 years, which isn’t as painful as usual since they’re immortal characters.) Really dumb plot point though — seemed like a weird leftover from the author’s previous category romance career — and I just never cared all that much about the characters.

“Family Disunion”: Artistic License by Elle Pierson. To give you an idea of the hero’s family, his best friend calls his parents “Darth and Cruella.” This is by the same author as Act Like It, and though it had some plotting issues and the humor isn’t as polished,  I just loved the characters. The heroine is a shy, introverted artist, possibly on the Autism spectrum (though it’s never mentioned,) definitely “highly sensitive.” The hero is physically tough but emotionally insecure. They have a lot to navigate. Very sweet, endearing relationship.

“Lust”: The Morning After by Michelle Reid. One of the more sensual Harlequin Presents, and pretty romantic, too.

“Love to Hate You”: Kinked by Thea Harrision. This is one of the squares I contributed. I usually use it to mean an epic rollercoaster sort of romance, where the hero and heroine keep going back and forth about their feelings for each other, but it fit this fierce enemies to lovers story too well not to use.  Great power dynamics in the relationship between two alphas.

“Bounty Hunter”: The Seduction of Samantha Kincaide by Maggie Osborne. Female bounty hunter, no less! This was synchronicity… I’ve waited for ages to listen to this audiobook, and just happened to finally do it in February.

“A Flower Amongst Flowers”: Night’s Honor by Thea Harrison. I wasn’t really sure what this square meant, but I used it to signify that the hero thinks of the heroine as special and wonderful while I thought she was a royal pain in the ass. Lovely, gentlemanly vampire hero though, and I wound up liking this one quite a bit anyway.

“Reading Flagellation”: A DNF — but I did struggle through half!

“Green”: Desire Never Changes by Penny Jordan. Many mentions of the hero’s green eyes. An odd title, since the heroine is engaged to, and very attracted to, another man at the book’s opening. And oh my, what a bundle of confused 18 year old hormones she is, too. The hero is one of Penny Jordan’s classics, who goes from Madonna to Whore in under 60 seconds. Twice! A lot of fun.

“Lemon and Lime: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. Yellow and green cover was the best I could do for this square.  A long, leisurely fantasy with a romance so slow-burning it’s barely a simmer. Ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

“Book Boyfriend”: Bound by Flames by Jeaniene Frost. I don’t generally use the term book boyfriend for myself, so my interpretation here is that it’s a hero who’s only allowable because he’s in a book. (Which would actually explain a lot of the otherwise inexplicable “book boyfriends” I’ve seen…) Decent paranormal adventure, on the grisly side.

“Free to Be a Family”: Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins. Another square contributed by me — it signifies family bonds other than those of blood. Some more cool history in the follow up to Through the Storm, though not as intense a read.

“Gazillionaire”: A Ruthless Proposition by Natasha Anders. Would also have fit well in “Love to hate you.” Interesting because the characters really have negative feelings towards each other, but are forced together (for the usual reason.) Has more depth than her previous Harlequin Presents-y storys and gets pretty sad.

“Letters”: Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas. It’s not episotallary, unfortunately, but there are quite a few rather charming letters. This was an okay read, but it felt a little off to me. Things that happened didn’t seem to be properly linked to other things that happened.  Like just about everyone else, I was more intrigued by the secondary romance and hope their book will be better.

“Road Trip”: I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest. Several small road trips, really. This would also have fit excellently under “Wow.” Super suspenseful and exciting, also a lovely friendship story. No romance at all and it’s not missed.

“Netflix & Chill”: Dear White People by Justin Simien. Fairly funny, but I thought the movie made the same points in a less didactic way. I placed it in this square because I’d just read an article about the origin of the term, and it was mentioned as being one of the terms first used by blacks and then taken over by whites, which is a point that comes up in the book.

“Wow!” Volume 1-3 of “Ms. Marvel.” Awesome! Where were the comics like this when I was a kid?

“Ethically Iffy”: Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh. To say the least. The hero is prepared to destroy the world for the heroine, among other things.

Squares not used: the second “ethically iffy.” (Rules.) “Wildcard.” (Rules — that was my handicap because of winning last time.) “Yeeha Cowboy.” “Verse” — The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic would have fit nicely (the main character literally recites poetry to save her life) but I chose to put it elsewhere.

Also in February:

Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan. DNF. Good depiction of disability, as with the previous books in the series, but I got bored with the constant drug use. Skipped to the end and it was so sickly sweet I couldn’t even read it.

A Queer Trade by K.J. Charles. Promising beginning to the “Rag and Bone” series. An interracial across-the-tracks gay couple practicing magic in Victorian England…. should get pretty hairy!

Is This Tomorrow? by Caroline Levitt. Lovely narration by Xe Sands kept me listening when I might not have finished print. I enjoyed the characterizations, period setting, and many evocative moments, but it reminded me of one of the reasons I read genre fiction — because I almost never finish a genre book going, “what the hell was that even about?”

Dragos Goes to Washington by Thea Harrison. Fan service up the wazoo. Lots of sex, a little banter, a pointless mystery, and a set-up for the next book. That’s pretty much it.

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Today in Scanning Errors

“Who rims Cressida?”

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TBR Challenge: Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole (DNF)

The theme: Serious ketchup Series catch up.

Why this one: It’s a hole in the series I’ve wanted to fill.

Usually I don’t write about the books I DNF’d for the TBR challenge and it is just possible I might yet finish this, if only to earn my “Reading Flagellation” square in Shallowreader Bingo. But more likely I’ll skim the print copy, since I’m only halfway through. In any event, I didn’t want to put off my challenge post.

This was my second try of this one, and really, I should just trust my Cole DNF’s. I usually enjoy this series, but the last time I read one that I’d DNF’d the first time (No Rest for the Wicked) I found it equally tedious on the second try.

The first part of the book includes a ton of discussion of events happening in A Hunger Like No Other. Since the entire series happens during the same general timeframe, this isn’t unusual, but it seems very clumsily narrated and dull here. And then the book passes over a year’s worth of dogged pursuit (heh) by the wolf shifter hero and moves to a whole bunch of new characters futzing around mysteriously on a boat in the Amazon and I just want to chew my own hands off from boredom.

The sex scenes are pretty good, if you like Cole’s obsessively crazed and possessive heroes (and really, I can’t imagine why you’d read her books if you don’t.) As often happens in the series, there’s an excellent reason Lucia and Garreth can’t have intercourse and just have to really hotly do everything else but. So that’s something.

But whatever drives the plot just isn’t working for me and there’s nothing particularly distinctive about the characters or their relationship to make me want to keep reading for them.

14 Comments »

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