A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie by Jennifer Ashley

The theme: a hyped book. And how.

Why this one: I looked up the narrator of the “Psy-Changeling” books, Angela Dawe, and was happy to see she also narrated this one, another sad half-read book still lurking in my TBR. I was much less happy that she uses an upper crust British accent, my bete noir, but she gives Ian a hot Scottish burr, so I was able to stick with it. Also, Mean Fat Old Bat really liked the book, so I figured it must have hidden depths.

I’m trying to remember why I bogged down in this one before. I think my excitement over the first autistic hero in romance was dashed by him being still so romance-hero-y in so many ways. So rich, so hot, so good in bed, so immune to any sensory issues around sex. (And Ian tells Beth he can never love her — it annoys me that’s supposed to be about autism, when it’s such a romance cliche.) I also DNF’d the sequel, and concluded that Ashley is a commonplace kind of writer.

Having finished the book I can now see some of its strengths. The family bonds between Ian and his brothers are powerful but complex. The plot and backstory are interesting. Beth is intelligent, capable and witty, and I appreciated that she had previously had a loving marriage with good sexy-times. (These are particularly rare in historical romance; having now listened to several more of this series, I suspect that the vividly drawn heroines and conspicuous lack of classic wide-eyed virgins is a strong draw for many readers.)

I also feel more able to rationalize away the aspects I don’t like. If you want to write a popular romance, there are certain heroic aspects it’s hard not to include, like abs and sexual prowess. Ian is remarkably articulate about his issues, far more than I’d expect from someone who not only never received any kind of help or understanding, but was actually locked away in a madhouse and given shock treatments — but better that he talks about them himself than someone else doing it, or the author info dumping.

I still find it annoying that Ian is a mathematical savant with an eidetic memory. I remember another mom of an autistic boy telling me how stressful it was that everyone assumed her kid must be super smart, when he was average. Savants are pretty damn rare — if eidetic memory even exists — and it’s such a cliche. It makes Ian useful to his brothers… but couldn’t they just love him for himself? And speaking of that, I’m not really sure just why Beth loves him. I’m guessing it’s his protectiveness combined with his sexy air of mystery, but I’m kind of extrapolating from my own experience there.

Ultimately, I’m still disappointed that Ian feels more like a product of research than a recognizable person. I’ve read a number of romances featuring autistic characters — the lovely Water Bound by Christine Feehan, An Heir of Uncertainty by Alyssa Everett, Phoenix Inheritance by Corinna Lawson — and I could feel in those portrayals that the author really knew and loved an autistic person. I may be completely wrong, but I just didn’t feel that here. Still, the author has a way with characters and some interesting themes… and who could help but adore Ian’s eventual discussion about love with Beth?


Too Close to Home

I’ve started to really enjoy the Psy-Changelings series. Hostage to Pleasure and Branded by Fire are both really good. But it’s possible the running terrorism plot is going to kill this series for me. :-(


Not Getting Rid of Twittah

I got into a conversation about parenting newborns on twitter the other day and had two interesting realizations. One I wrote about at my other blog, but the other has to do with my use of twitter.

Today was not the first time I’ve been in a twitter conversation and realized, “huh… a lot of people in this conversation are authors.” I used to be very uncomfortable when I realized that. When I was really working consistently and seriously as a reviewer, I worried about being too chummy with authors. And I’ve wondered why I was so reluctant to give up those relationships.

And now I know why… it’s because they’re part of my tribe. The authors I follow on twitter often care about the same things I care about. And a great many of them are women, and so we share a lot of experiences, especially motherhood. I follow a number of authors whose books I haven’t read, mainly because they also have an autistic child. But our biggest shared interest — books and reading — isn’t generally a divisive one. (Unlike many aspects of motherhood, parenting an autistic child, and so on.)

I don’t have enough people in my life who care about the same things as me and enjoy the same books and the same kinds of jokes to be able to give any up when I find them.


Three Day Quote Challenge, Day Three

Thanks again to Erin Burns for my nomination.


  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog.  The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie, or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

Quote number 3

“…you fall in and out of love with the same person your whole life, and people who understand that stay married.” Kendall Hailey (quoting her father, Oliver Hailey,) The Day I Became an Autodidact

I thought of finding something more original, because I have quoted this approximately five gazillion times already, but it’s unquestionably one of the most influential pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered. It’s quite possible my husband and I wouldn’t be looking forward to the 30th anniversary of our first date without it.

I nominate:

Julia Roberts Towe, an author who writes beautifully about autism as well as romance.

Rane, one of my oldest book friends, and one who reads outside the herd.

Rameau, who always has interesting opinions.

I hope no one is feeling left out… I promise I didn’t think of you and then think, “nah, that would suck.”


Three Day Quote Challenge, Day Two

Thanks again to Erin Burns for my nomination.


  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog.  The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie, or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

Quote number 2

“What are we after when we open one of those books? What is it that makes a classic a classic? … in old-fashioned terms, the answer is that it will elevate your spirit. And that’s why I can’t take much stock in the idea of going through a list of books or ‘covering’ a fixed number of selections, or anyway striving for the blessed state of having read this, or the other. Having read a book means nothing. Reading a book may be the most tremendous experience of your life; having read it is an item in your memory, part of your receding past… Why we have that odd faith in the magic of having read a book, I don’t know. We don’t apply the same principle elsewhere: We don’t believe in having heard Mendelssohn’s violin concerto…
I say, don’t read the classics — try to discover your own classics; every life has its own.”  — How to Make Sense by Rudolf Flesch

One of the most inspiring sections of a very inspiring book from 1954. It’s had a very strong influence on both my reading and my writing. Oh — it just occurred to me to check Open Library for his other work. Sadly, this book is not available but several others are. I’m surprised to learn he wrote the famous (infamous?) Why Johnny Can’t Read.

I nominate:

Elisabeth Lane of Cooking Up Romance. She is horrendously busy right now, so I hope she can find time for a small commitment that might get the blogging juice flowing — no recipe required!

FeministAspie. She isn’t someone I’ve interacted with, but her blog is always insightful and I’d enjoy seeing what she would contribute.

Dionne Galace. One of the first bloggers I followed when I found the romance community; I was so happy to see her start reviewing again recently. If you enjoy old HPs, you have to read her loving snark.

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Three Day Quote Challenge, Day One

I’ve been (very flatteringly) nominated for this challenge by frequent commenter Erin Burns. Thank you to Erin! I hadn’t actually realized before this that she had a blog, but it looks to have the kind of heartfelt, witty, personal reviews that I enjoy.


  • Thank the blogger who nominated you.
  • Publish a quote on 3 consecutive days on your blog.  The quote can be one of your own, from a book, movie, or from anyone who inspires you.
  • Nominate 3 more bloggers each day to carry on this endeavor.

Quote number 1

“She ate toast in bed, then reread a favorite book, taking comfort from a story where she knew the outcome would be good and just and right.” — Sarah Mayberry, Within Reach

Not hard to see why I like this quote, which affirms the value of rereading, of “formulaic” fiction, and of reader satisfaction. Books are one place where we can reliably get a good, just, right ending when we need one, thank goodness.

ETA: My husband points out that this works less well with old comfort reads when you discover they’ve since been visited by the racism fairy. :-(

I nominate:

Liz of Something More, who always has something interesting to say, no matter what the topic.

Jackie of Romance Novels for Feminists, who I bet has some amazing quotes to share.

The always delightful “Miss Bates,” of Miss Bates Reads Romance, who somehow manages to write the longest reviews while still being pithy.


The Chocolate Heart by Laura Florand

(reviewed from an e-arc provided by NetGalley. A long time ago. Better late than never!)

If you’ve read other books in the “Amour et Chocolat” series, this is in some ways a familiar dance: an American heiress in Paris, and the French patissier who woos her with unbelievable desserts. But there’s a bit of a twist here: Summer Corey’s childhood love for both Paris and desserts have been twisted into hate. (Rather than Florand’s usual fairy tale source, this story draws on Greek mythology, with Paris as Summer’s Hades.)

Summer and Luc Leroi basically fall in love at first sight, each seeing warmth and comfort in the other. But their public images and private pasts work against them, and they constantly misunderstand each other. Both were deprived of love as children, but while Luc aims for constant perfection, Summer wears her spoiled bad girl rep as a shield. (Come to think of it, they are interesting representatives of two classic aspects of a dysfunctional family: “The Hero” and “The Scapegoat.”) Every time Luc unwittingly hurts her, she tries even harder to live down to his expectations.

As you might expect from the inspiration, this is dark in tone — not because anything overtly awful happens, though Summer has had more ugly experiences than the world would guess, but because both characters have so much pain in their lives. The story does a beautiful job of showing how two people who seem to have it all can still be so lost and justifiably unhappy. They’re perfect for each other because at heart they have the same need: to give love to someone who needs them and would never let them go.

There was a bit too much repetition of phrases, but the prose is gorgeous. I love the way Florand extends the metaphor beyond its original inspiration:

“That’s what makes it so incredible. What you do. You’re just a man. A human mortal man. And you do–what you do.”

There was a long silence. “Merci, soleil“, he said softly. “After all those people who call me a god, I never realized you could give me a promotion.”

I also liked the realism in the “baby epilogue.” Neither character is completely fixed by true love, and their happy ending requires commitment and care. (There’s also a sequel, Shadowed Heart: A Luc and Summer Novel, which expands on this.)

You don’t have to have read any of the previous books to enjoy this one, although several characters do recur. Just open your heart to a prickly couple who need love, and some astonishing desserts that need to be eaten.


Art Imitates Art

I’m reading Bride of Diamonds by Emma Darcy, which centers around a mysterious painting:

“It was a strange picture, savage but fascinating. The sun was setting behind a limestone range, throwing a coral-rose stain across the sky. In the foreground was a traw-pale plain, swathed with a misty blue from which struggled the gnarled limbs of giant baobab trees. In the top left-hand corner was a woman’s face, weirdly integrated with the patterned sky, part of it, yet apart, and somehow projecting a timeless ache that could never be appeased.”

This cracks me up because it sounds exactly like an old Harlequin Presents cover. Though better if you add some doves and a bullfight.

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TBR Challenge: Caressed by Ice by Nalini Singh

The theme: Paranormal or Romantic Suspense. As I inevitably seem to do with this theme, I got a two-in-one!

Why this one: I’ve been listening to the series on audiobook and the timing was perfect.

This is another book that I’d started before and not finished. Having now completed it, I can see why it’s one of the most popular of the series. All the books so far have had a basic hero type — uber alpha/possessive/protective — but Judd also has some complicated issues; he literally can’t access emotions without risking lives, including his own. And the world-building is really starting to get intense, making me interested in continuing the series now, even though it’s not entirely my thing. (An excellent audiobook narrator really helps.)

As I blogged earlier, I find the sexual politics in these books rather annoying, and this one in particular bothered me, since it was so much less justifiable than the others. Brenna is so… blushy, not at all the image of Changeling women we’ve been given previously. I’ll be interested to see what happens when/if we get another Changeling heroine later on, but so far the series is kind of conventional for my tastes. (Which was also my impression the first time I tried it.)


The Times, They Are Not a Changing

I’ve been listening to Nalini Singh’s “Psy-Changeling” series on audio; I didn’t get into them in print, but the audiobooks are entertaining and the narrator really brings out the sensuality of the stories.

But I’m noticing that the attitudes towards sexuality are kind of… confusing and dated. (The first book was published in 2006.) So far, 3 novels and a novella in, the series fits in very much with a post I wrote a while back at Karen Knows Best, about paranormal heroines and their inability to get some until they’re mated.

For those who don’t know this series, it takes place in an alternate universe in which there are three races: human, Changelings, and Psy. The Changelings are animal shifters; the Psy have psychic powers. They’re also trained from childhood to repress all emotion.

The first two books in the series have Psy heroines, and it makes sense in context for them to be sexually unawakened. But the first novella and third book have Changeling heroines, and that’s where I’m starting to find it sticky.  Changelings in general are extremely physical beings — this is part of what creates the tension when they mate with Psy — and young changeling women are described as being very sexual. But our first Changeling heroine very conveniently found her mate when she was 15 and so hasn’t had any sex at all while he’s been waiting for her to mature.

And our second… she obviously has some kind of sexual past, but she’s judgey about other Changeling women — one of whom she thinks is crossing the line from sexual to “slutty” — and her brothers are very stereotypical about trying to keep men away from her. How does this fit in with the Changeling mythology that was created? The leaking in of our own cultural double standards into a fantasy world disappoints me.


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