A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

F is for Finishing Up or F is for F*ck It

I recently realized that my ereaders are overflowing with partially finished books; they’ve become the place that dreams go to die. There are a few on my bookshelves, too. Since I’m kind of at a loose end with my reading right now, I decided to tidy up. Let’s see how many books I can pare down.

(It is perhaps not coincidence that many of these books are by authors I sometimes engage with on twitter. You kind of hate to start a book by someone you sorta know a little, and find you’re not all that into it.)

The Dones

Doubled by Charlotte Stein.

Short menage story about an insecure college student seduced by her twin best friends. It’s pretty hot, though not Stein’s best writing; the narration is a little self-conscious. I’m not really into menage stories involving twins (or any relatives, for that matter) so I’m not really the right audience.

Hell and Hellion by Olivia Waite.

Novella with a really interesting premise and backstory. Virginia traveled to hell to rescue the man she loved in a previous book (which I haven’t read) only to find he’d fallen in love with a demon. Now she can see demons everywhere, which makes her life in Regency England really uncomfortable. The hero is an incubus, who discovers himself changing through his relationship with Virginia. This could have been great, but I found several sections really abrupt and jarring. Everything happens very fast.

Hero of My Heart by Teresa Hill.

Trigger warning: mentions of rape and violence

Navy SEAL rescues a much younger schoolteacher who was held hostage by terrorists, raped and beaten. I’ve reviewed all the previous books in this series on the blog. It’s a family series about an infertile couple who adopt three abused children, and part of their story is that they had previously tried to adopt a foster child, but he was returned to his drug-addicted mother, making them scared to try again. I was thrilled to see that Hill had written a story for the grown-up boy, but less thrilled that it’s a trope I’m not that fond of: adoring protective hero/fragile, traumatized heroine. So I got bogged down.

When I picked up the book again, there was some shift of focus to Will and how emotionally unavailable he is because of his past, and that made the book more interesting to me. Will doesn’t realize that people can really care about him; he’s uncomfortable that his former foster parents try to make him part of the family, thinking they’re only doing it because they’re such good people, trying to “make things up” to him. I also thought the parts with Will helping Amanda get over her sexual trauma are very well done. It’s not quick and it’s not easy and it’s not all about him. So I wound up liking this quite a lot, after all.

Be warned that it’s a rough read: Amanda has a severe PTSD attack, set off by media coverage of Sandy Hook, which has some similarities to what happened to her. It really captures the stress and horror of the event in general, as well.

Tousle Me by Lucy V. Morgan.

I’ve been reading this New Adult parody forever, and finally forced myself to finish, with a fair bit of skimming. It was certainly funny, albeit often gross, but I find it really hard to sustain interest in a novel length parody; I have to actually have some investment in the characters. (Much as my favorite MST3K shows are always the one in which I can actually have some interest in the movie.) I’m not really surprised that the sequel to this, which was supposed to appear last Spring, shows no sign of ever being published.

Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry.

This is another one where I was put off by the premise/trope and then found that the author did surprisingly well by it. Not my favorite by her, but I’m glad I finished it after all.

Traitor in the Sheikh’s Bed by Ros Clarke. (Review copy from the author.)

I read most of this short novella quite a while ago, so I’m not longer sure what I think about it. It’s sort of a kindler, gentler Harlequin Present sheikh story and I’m not sure the combo really gels. It’s another one with a heroine who was raped and has difficulty being sexual; the treatment is honest, but it’s a lot to stick into a short book that also has a lot of other stuff going on. The heroine is very brave and there’s a nice dramatic ending.

The DNFs

Private Politics by Emma Barry.

Read almost half. So disappointing that I didn’t like this. Shlubby hero! How often do I get a shlubby hero? But I found the intrigue plot really tiresome and felt exasperated with the characters — nerds adoring princesses is so not my thing. I wasn’t enjoying it any more when I restarted, so I’m calling it a day.

The Complete Ivory by Doris Egan.

Got not quite halfway through the first book. Again, I’m really disappointed not to like this one. Though I guess not liking a book is always disappointing? But so many of my reading friends loved it and it sounded right up my alley. I would’ve loved it as a teen, I bet, but now it seems like an episodic, pointless slog.

Stuff by Josephine Myles.

Interesting characters, interesting setting… totally meh conflict.

Sadly, this is not even everything! But most of the remaining unfinished books are ARCs that I still have hopes of finishing and reviewing, so I’ll leave them for now.

 

 

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More Fun With Scanning Errors

Reading an Open Library book can be unexpectedly entertaining. Not only is FU substituted for I’ll twice, but the hero turns the heroine to fece him and surveys her fece. There’s a new kink in Harlequin Presents!

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TBR Challenge: Beloved Stranger by Joan Wolf

The theme: A recommended read. I believe it was my friend Janet’s GoodReads review that made me request this from paperbackswap.

Why this one: Not sure, really. I found it in my historicals, realized it was actually contemporary, and decided to go for it.

I originally DNF’d this. The description of the Colombian hero felt othering — “in this enchanted moment he seemed to her almost a god, a strange and mythical being, enormous and overwhelming…” — and the initial sex scene, in which he somehow gives her an orgasm immediately after the obligatory hymen tear, was weird. I moved on to Summer Storm (I have the 2-in-1 edition), but that turned out to be so interesting, I decided to review it for Dear Author, and so I gave Beloved Stranger another try.

Beloved Stranger almost crosses the line into “women’s fiction.” Although the basic plot is certainly a romance staple — unexpected blizzard –> sex with a handsome stranger –> pregnancy –> marriage –> love — the story is very strongly focused on the heroine’s personal journey, and how her feelings about her husband and her marriage complicate it. Ricardo is not only from a wealthy background, and a famous member of the New York Yankees, but he’s used to being the spoiled center of feminine attention at home. He expects Susan to be happy with a traditional society wife role, as his mother and sisters are. But Susan is a quiet, somewhat introverted person with aspirations to write. When she realizes that she loves Ricardo, she feels intensely vulnerable, because she doesn’t feel that she knows him at all, and because she fears she can’t be what he wants.

He was pleased with her; she knew that. Why shouldn’t he be? In all their relationship so far she had conformed to what his idea of a wife ought to be. She had been as docile and tractable as her mother thought her. She had bent before the overpowering force of Ricardo’s personality, given in to all his wishes. But if the day came when she had to stand up for herself? If she stopped being what he thought a wife should be?

She shivered a little, suddenly cold in the pleasant heat of the ballroom.

For Susan, writing is “the door into her deepest self,” but she faces the classic challenges for creative women: lack of time, of space, and of support from people who take her needs seriously. Still, she perseveres, and finds that that she can be her own person and happily married.

Nothing really dramatic happens in this story; there are no big upheavals or misunderstandings. It’s just about two intensely private people learning to know and care for each other. If you like gentle marriage of convenience stories, check it out.

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I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

This young adult novel has one of the most fascinating and downright devilish structures I’ve encountered in fiction. It’s told in alternating points of view, first by Noah and then by his twin sister Jude; what makes it so excruciating is that Noah’s story is told from his 13-14 year old vantage point, while Jude’s is told when they’re 16. And in the intervening years, everything has gone horribly, horribly wrong and we don’t yet know why.

In Jude’s narrative, she and Noah have basically switched personalities. The once fearless, popular surfer girl who scared her mother with her lipstick and short skirts has become a superstitious germaphobe who makes herself look as ugly as possible. Noah, who in his story was impassioned artist, a bullied outsider, and secretly gay, has given up his art and is now in the popular clique with a girlfriend. Finding out what happened made this a compulsive read. (Interestingly, as you read on it also turns out that things haven’t always gone quite as wrong as they appeared, because neither Jude nor Noah is aware of the whole truth and so neither is a reliable narrator.)

I had a little trouble with this at first, because I sympathized so strongly with Noah, that when Jude’s story came along, I kind of hated her. It’s unfair: both of them made huge mistakes, both betrayed each other, both have suffered greatly. Yet I found it much harder to care about what Jude was going through, and I found her romance sappy and unconvincing; Noah’s more plausible story seems to get comparitively short shrift. This feeling on my part is ironic, since the whole story is about how destructive their jealousy is to their love for each other.

Despite not liking some aspects, I found it an amazing, shattering story to read and highly recommend it. The language is just gorgeous (though each narrator has something of a verbal tic/schtick) and the story is unforgettable.

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A Past Revenge by Carole Mortimer

Yesterday I DNF’d one of the creepiest books I’ve ever encountered: Wanting by Penny Jordan. The “hero” is a model of the entitled rapey guy who thinks that his attraction to a woman means she belongs to him, and any rejection on her part is “teasing.” (Which, of course, makes him even MORE entitled to her.) And the heroine’s best friend aides and abets him in stalking and trapping her! Seriously ugh!

This book was similar in some ways, yet also an excellent antidote. The hero is the same kind of instantly possessive guy, aggressive enough to make advances to the heroine right in front of his current lover. But Danielle has been rather handily inoculated — they have past history, although he doesn’t recognize her — and she utterly loathes him, with good reason. When Nick forces a savage kiss on her, she’s had it and decides it’s time for revenge:

She has tried to treat him like any other client, had intended being polite to him if nothing else, but he had made that impossible from the first, was intent now on punishing her for the fact that she didn’t want him as he wanted her. But she had been punished enough in the past by this man, wasn’t prepare to accept his cold-blooded arrogance for a second time.

As you can see from the excerpt, the prose gets pretty sloppy with the comma splices; these aren’t even the worst examples. But it’s a hell of a story. I love the way Danielle continually challenges Nick’s offensive behavior, even getting pissed enough at him not to melt in his arms, as all good Harlequin heroines are required to do. She genuinely has the power in the relationship, which is pretty rare, and she knows it and uses it. I think she’s a little too forgiving in the end — Nick isn’t quite as bad as she thought, but was still very cruel to her — but I’d say he suffers enough for satisfation. Great read.

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TBR Challenge: Connal by Diana Palmer

Another year, another tbr challenge. I don’t think I’ve missed a month for the last two years! And my print TBR has definitely shrunk to what I find a manageable size, though it would probably still make the average person run screaming into the night. I really should figure out what would be a good tipping point at which I could give up my “print books only” rule.

The challenge: A short book.

Why this one: Since I’m going with print, I naturally veered toward category romance. I haven’t read Palmer in a while and her siren call of “older alpha male who treats the innocent heroine badly” was calling to me.

I have what I’ve described as a hate-hate relationship with Diana Palmer’s books. I generally think they’re dreadful; it’s quite a shock if I give one a rating higher than 2 stars. But they hit some very weird spot, and I have a few on my keeper shelf.

Connal is her usual formula: Innocent but feisty heroine who adores the much older, tall dark and hairy hero. (In this case, I think he’s only 8 years older — practically younger than her by Palmer standards.) Meanwhile he gaslights her in the traditional way of “c’mere c’mere c’mere, get away get away get away.” It’s less cringe-worthy than many later books in the mold because the heroine hasn’t been made completely downtrodden; she has a loving father, a nice home, and a sweet boyfriend. (Who will never get his own book, or if he does, will have been transmogrified into a complete Alphole.)

The conflict is that Connal goes on a bender every year because his insanely jealous wife — a pot/kettle situation if ever there was one — died while being insanely jealous, and also while pregnant. And if you know Palmer at all, you won’t be surprised to learn that that’s what really upsets him. Penelope — Pepi — is the one to succor Connal during these yearly lapses, but she gets more than she bargained for when a soused Connal insists she marry him or he’ll shoot up the joint. They’re in Mexico at the time and Pepi assumes the marriage won’t be legal. Wrong-o.

Pepi decides it would be better to deny the whole thing and convince Connal that he was dreaming — which gives Connal the perfect excuse to be cruel to her when the truth inevitably comes out. Of course, in Palmer land, any excuse will justify a hero being cruel.

As you know, Bob, I kind of like these stories. Much in the way I kind of like 5 gallon vats of ice cream. But this one was somehow a little too squirmy… I felt like the book was gaslighting me. When Connal assures Pepi that she can do anything in bed and he’ll never use it against her, all I could think about was how he used her most sensitive points against her before (she think’s she’s fat, for one) and then had no compunction about doing it the next time he got pissed off. Pepi very sensibly worries about this issue herself, but then it’s all blown away in the joy of requited love. Unfortunately, in my experience, requited love doesn’t stop the occasional fight, and a lover who immediately goes for your jugular when he’s in a bad mood is a poor marriage risk. Add in the way he constantly talks about how possessive his late wife was, while demonstrating ridiculous levels of possessiveness and jealousy himself, and I’m pretty sure Pepi is eventually going to find herself all alone on a ranch with no car or phone service.

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The State of the Grading

I reviewed Trade Me by Courtney Milan at Dear Author today and gave it a B-. I’m feeling pretty happy about the comment thread, which is mostly people enthused about trying the book. It makes me feel that people are really reading the review rather than just going by a grade, and that they get that not every book I like will be an A for me.

I often go around in circles over a book like this, wondering if I should grade higher because it has some special points like a non-white heroine. But I always come back to the same thought — that when I review, I’m really giving people a little piece of myself, and whether they share my tastes or not, they can only benefit from my opinion if I give the honest me.

Not at all sorry I gave up grading here, though. :-)

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The State of the Reading

It’s early days yet, but so far I’m having a pretty good reading year! I haven’t made any official resolutions, but have been trying to keep self-care and enjoyment in mind. I think if I put it into words, my resolution is, I’m giving up self-imposed responsibilities. Not all responsibilities — I still have deadlines to meet. But any responsibilities towards goals or… fairness… or stretching or broader coverage.  I can’t fix the romance genre, and I certainly can’t help it by burning out.

One thing I’ve noticed is that it does me a tremendous amount of good to read books I specifically wanted to read. The TBR may only shrink by one book, but the effects are exponential. I guess it gives me a sense that I’m spending my life the way I want to be spending it?

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Flowers Under Ice by Jean Ross Ewing

Well, this sequel to Illusion was really disappointing, especially given that I think it was my very last Julia Ross book other than her traditional Regencies. One of the things that bugged me is that the hero is almost exactly like the one in Illusion — prone to literary quotes, and always with method to his madness. But the big issue was that I found the plot utterly ridiculous.

I read My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas the other day  (often lovely, though not her best, and I think I actually enjoyed The Hidden Blade more) and it made me think about the nature of coincidence in romance novels. There are some major coincidences happening in MBE, but it’s integrated into the story as the hand of fate, so it works pretty well.  There are huge coincidences  in Flowers Under Glass and we’re just supposed to accept them; even the characters aren’t surprised by them.  I think this is pretty common for Ross’s work, where there are always plots within plots. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much here if the motivations for people’s actions weren’t so ludicrous.

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The 12 Stress Free Days of Christmas? Day 12

Securing the Greek’s  Legacy by Julia James.

This had the three elements I most dislike in James’s work: 1) an overwrought, obsessively maternal heroine, who makes constant speeches littered with exclamations points, 2) a hero who only gets interested in the heroine after she has a makeover, and 3) a secret that is no secret. It was also dull to the point that I almost gave it up, though did pick up towards the end.

~~

Kind of a downer end to the fun, but the knowledge that I have reviewing commitments to meet means an inevitable end to my stress free days. Sigh.

Stats, because that’s just who I am:

I read 15 books and started maybe 5 more. I officially DNF’d 2, but am still in the middle of several and some aren’t going to make it any further.

Two books were in print, the rest ebooks.

Star ratings ranged from 1 to 4 1/2. I read one book, The Understatement of the Year, that likely would’ve gone on my best of last year if I’d read it in time.

I made strides in 5 series and probably gave up on 1 (“Lords of Deliverance.”). Harlequin was the most represented publisher (quelle surprise!) with 5 books. Authors were largely personal favorites, with two New To Me (Susanna Carr and Gregory Sherl) and one Never Again (Yvonne Whittal.)

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dabwaha

64 books. 1 Champion. Get your game on.

Stop the STGRB Bullies

Your hypocrisy is showing

Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

Miss Bates Reads Romance

Miss Bates is the loquacious spinster from Austen's Emma. No doubt she read romances ... here's what she would have thought of them.

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