A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Return to Me by Shannon McKenna

The theme: Paranormal or Romantic Suspense

Why this one: continuing my October tradition of using a McKenna book to kill two themes with one stone , though the paranormal aspect here is very minor. Believe me, I’m not complaining. (It’s a nice Halloweeny sort of title and cover, too. I’m going to use it for my “from beyond the grave” Shallowreader Bingo square.)


A sweet, domestic, “classy” heroine and a bad boy who knows he’s not good enough for her… pretty typical McKenna fare. This was a little different in that Simon and Ellen were childhood friends and had lost their virginities to each other — right before he ran away. Now he’s back in town, still hated by everyone, and afraid that he is much too cursed to be part of Ellen’s life. (The mild paranormal element is Simon’s clairvoyant feelings of dread and occasional ghostly visitations.)

Also typical for McKenna, Simon is somewhat physically controlling, pushy, and untrustworthy. He would have “danger: potential abuser” signs written all over him in real life. In a book, Ellen stands up to him pretty well and frequently calls on him on his bullshit; I wound up liking her character more than his. The darkness is lightened somewhat by cute, down-to-earth moments between them:

“He leaned forward, kissing the tops of her thighs, and ellen pulled out the elastic tie that held his hair. She spread it over his muscular back and stroked it.

He peered up impatiently through the tangled dark veil and shoved it behind his ears. “El, give me my hair thing back,” he complained. Oral sex is tough to do with your hair all over the place.

She threw the hair tie across the room. ‘Cope,’ she said.”

We always know who the bad guy is, which I found a little disappointing; there doesn’t wind up being a whole lot of suspense, just a few awful scenes. There’s also a refreshing secondary romance between the town “bad girl” and the rich boy who threw her over — she really makes him work for it — and of course, lots of juicy sex.


September in Book Bingo part 2

Recurring themes of the month: Heroes who get shot protecting their heroines. Voluptuous Latina heroines. (Could we please have a flat-chested Latina heroine sometime? Or literally any other body type?) Romance between colleagues. Villains with narcissistic personality disorder. Really good cooks. (Useful for this month!) Heroines with “masculine” nicknames. Heroines who think they’re plain. Southern accents. Abusive/downright evil parents. “Other side of the tracks” romance. Interfering fathers. Secret couples caught at high school dances. Theater. “Awakenings.” Pittsburgh. Chubby Jewish teenage boys. (Aww.) References to Pride and Prejudice. Unions (pro and anti.) Video games (pro and anti.) Fighting against isolationism. Manhoods, presumably throbbing. Recommendations from #ownvoices chat on Twitter. Recommendations from friends, with mixed results.


Christmas Gifts *wink wink nudge nudge: Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran.

“Lucas. Two years, I’ve waited. Will you keep me waiting longer? Or will you give me my gift?”

Reunion novella set during a Christmas houseparty. It was a very nice gift indeed.

This is a pretty good story, especially if you like a serious bluestocking heroine, but more conventional/samey than I expect from Duran.

Do You Remember: Inherited by Ferranti by Kate Hewitt.

“You undid me, with your loveliness. I was caught from the moment I saw you, at your father’s palazzo. Do you remember? You were standing in the drawing room, wearing a pink dress. You looked like a rose.”

There wasn’t a lot going on in this story, but I liked the strong emotions. Pining hero for the win.

September: Craving Jamie by Emma Darcy.

“His skin was warm, despite the coolness of the September evening. How did he transmit the electric vibrancy that was racing through her?”

A Harlequin Present version of the classic “childhood sweethearts” tearjerker romance.

A Woman in Her Prime: Mayday by Oliva Dade. (Usual disclaimer: author is a friend.) 35 year old virgin finally gets her long-time crush into bed… and it’s TERRIBLE. (Let’s hear it for her getting it on with another guy to try to wipe the memory out of her mind.) Then he has to win her back and make up for it. This hit my sweet spot, because it had pain as well as laughter.

Balance: On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis.

I decided fairly early on that this book would get the “balance” square, because I thought there was excellent balance in the portrayal of an autistic person in an emergency situation. She’s freaked out and having a really hard time but she’s also contributing. By the end of the book though, I realized that the whole point is it shouldn’t matter–that people don’t need to be useful to be valuable. I’ll still leave it in this square, in appreciation of a depiction of autism that isn’t either super powers or tragedy. This is why we need #ownvoices. More random thoughts.

Where There’s a Will: Carides Forgotten Bride by Maisy Yates. Romance manipulated from beyond the grave, mwah ha ha ha ha!

This seemed like a fairly standard amnesia story, with way too much naval gazing… and then it got interesting. I actually reviewed it at GoodReads (something I almost never do any more unless it’s for an ARC) because I was so irked at reviewers who will happily read heroes who’ve had more lovers than hot dinners, as long as there are no unpleasant consequences for their actions. If you like old skool HP intensity but aren’t fond of old skool rapey-ness or brutality, give this one a try.

Taming of the Shrew: The Awakening by Jude Deveraux. A REVERSE-SHREW! My tbr challenge book.

BIRTH DAY: Downtown Devil by Cara McKenna.

“If you’re there, God, hear my birthday wish: Give me just three hours alone with that man and I’ll die a grateful woman.”

I didn’t read this straight through, so I’m not sure how much is fair to say about it. Also, it’s hard to articulate my complaints without spoilers. Basically, I was not buying the story’s premise, and then I read a spoiler which made me feel that the writing was very manipulative. However, since I didn’t read the entire thing, I may not have gotten nuances that would have changed my opinion.

You Complete Me: The Way Home by Linda Howard. Not exactly the most psychologically healthy relationship.

Twenty Fifth: Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas. I got a yen to reread this old fav (the only contemporary Kleypas I really love) just as my husband and I were leaving on a trip, so it turned out to be the book I read on our 25th anniversary.🙂 To make it even more appropriate, Hardy calls Haven “brown-eyed girl”; one of my husband’s favorite memories from our wedding is dancing to that.

Coupling: The Object of the Game by Vanessa James.

“…she leapt into the bath, leaned back luxuriantly, propped her copy of Couplings on the soap tray and prepared to read. She stayed there quite a long time, her eyes growing rounder and wider as she read on…”

Almost any book I read could fit this square, but how perfect is that?

Gush: The Italian Millionaire’s Virgin Wife by Diana Hamilton. Much gush about the hero’s hotness.

Swooning: Merry Christmas by Emma Darcy.

Well, I haz a sad. I wanted this square for a book that made me swoon, even if just metaphorically. Instead I had to go for a swooning woman in a book I DNF’d with extreme prejudice. If there’s one thing I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate, it’s the trope of “selfish or otherwise terrible adoptive parents conveniently die so the adopted child’s REAL parents can get the child.” Not even amnesia could make me finish this. (The hero’s amnesia, that is.)

Naked Truth: Shrill by Lindy West. Audiobook.

This was the perfect square for this book, because it’s true and it’s raw. I really admire how West writes about the importance of body positivity and fat acceptance while not being afraid to show the many ways in which being fat in a fat-hating world has affected her emotionally and psychologically.

You’re History: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs. “You’re history” is a message that Adam’s ex-wife has not quite gotten.

I was putting off reading this one because it sounded uncomfortable — and it was. The dynamic with the ex-wife taking over and Mercy being all put upon… she came across as a real Mercy-Sue.

69: Never Let Go by Deborah Smith.

Why is this older Loveswept reissue in the “69” square? I have no idea! I went to Overdrive, searched on “69” and almost 10,000 romances came up. I went with this one because it looked chock full of betrayal.

It was a fairly fun read, but hasn’t aged all that well. Lots of mockery of country stereotypes… perhaps meant to be fond, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I enjoyed the angst — though the heroine’s actual innocence made very little sense — and there was some cute banter. This turned out to be a sequel to another book featuring the same couple, but I didn’t feel lost.

Somewhere Around the Corner: This Side of Home by Renee Watson.

This square seemed appropriate for a story about a neighborhood, and also about people who spend a lot of time thinking about their futures. Set in a traditionally black Portland neighborhood that’s becoming gentrified, it’s a poignant YA coming-of-age story narrated by Maya, who coping with a lot of change in her life: her identical twin sister Nikki has developed different interests, their best friend was forced to move, their new high school principal is pandering to white parents… and she’s falling for a white boy. There’s sadness and painful themes, but also hope for Maya’s community, depicted in prose that’s beautiful and accessible. (Romance fans, take note: though there’s a romantic element, it’s not a genre romance.)

Ravish: Awakened By Her Desert Captor by Abby Green. Kidnapped by a Sheikh, dude!

HATE: Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs. There’s much hatred in this collection of stories, usually because someone was turned into a paranormal being against their will.

These are good stories — including the wonderful “Alpha and Omega” and a very poignant vampire/ghost story — but the grouping makes the similarities of themes very obvious. I’d recommended reading in small bites.

Cool Dude: Looking for Group by Alexis Hall. Self-aware and self-accepting 19 year old Kit is who I want to be when I grow up.

This was a NetGalley arc, so I reviewed it for GoodReads.

Flip Back: All I Am by Nicole Helm. Lots of flipping back and forth in this relationship.

Mixed feelings about this one. Both characters are very emo. But there were some fresh touches I liked, including a more realistic than usual initiation for a virgin hero.

HOME cooking: The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux. Heroine is a chef who “can make dirt and rocks taste good.”

This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice was a recommendation from the awesome Janet W, so I’m sad that I really, really didn’t like it.😦 It got up my nose so much, I’m not sure there’s even any point in detailing the things I didn’t like, though I will anyway:

— So, so many characters, with complicated relationships. And many are related to Deveraux’s other long-running families,  because of course they are.

— Nobody notices any resemblance between Pride and Prejudice and the events actually happening in the story until near the end.  Even though each character is playing the role in a play version of P&P that they play in the retelling, including sometimes using similar dialogue.

— Tate, the Darcy, is basically perfect. He does absolutely nothing wrong. How can this be a Pride and Prejudice story if it ignores one of the most basic themes?

— There were many scenes of described action, which seemed intended to seen in a visual medium rather than read, and they were extremely dull. It didn’t help that Deveraux’s prose style is not well suited to audio; it has a very bland rhythm. Towards the end, I actually got so bored I switch to print. At least it went faster.

One positive point: I did like the modern interpretation of Lydia, which really brought out the awfulness of what happened to her in the original story. “Lizzie Bennet’s Diary” did it better, though.

Pillow Talk: September Morning by Diana Palmer. Meh. Very irritating hero constantly blows hot and cold. But Palmer does write a nice sex scene, even when there’s no sex.

Subtle: Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. 13 year old musicals geek Nate doesn’t feel remotely ready to have a sexual orientation yet — “I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major” — yet somehow this sort of thing keeps happening to him:

“out he comes from the bedroom, wearing pajama bottoms and — oh how funny — no shirt.”

It’s like Nate is living this scene from “Community.”


Jokes aside, I loved this book. Nate’s search for freedom to be himself, and his appreciation of the wonders of New York — “Everything is so flipping jubilant here” — made me laugh and cry and wish I had found a way to let my musicals geek shine when I was young.

Gamma: Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner

me: Can I justify “gamma” as the bingo square for a book about space flight?

hub: bit of a stretch, but there was a gamma rocket engine back in the early days of rocketry

me: good enough!

I would have enjoyed putting this one in “You’re history,” but this way I don’t have to worry all month about what definition of Gamma to use.

Terrific book! There’s nothing like a grumpy irascible hero who is totally ground to dust by a strong heroine.🙂 The tension is excellent, and though the historical setting is important, it doesn’t overpower the romance.

Also read (or not):

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed. DNF. It’s not you, book, it’s me…  It’s a very important real life topic — forced marriage, and not the fun fantasy romance kind — but I read spoilers and just couldn’t face how the story was going to go.

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. DNF It’s not me, book, it’s you. Super cringey attempt at including diverse characters which includes white savior storyline.

The Cosy Teashop in the Castle by Caroline Roberts. DNF. Not my cuppa.

Carrying the King’s Pride by Jennifer Hayward. Another friend favorite that didn’t work for me.  The prose was awkward and I didn’t feel much connection between the characters.

The Unromantic Lady by Lucy Gordon. How many of my favorite category writers will turn out to have written Regencies under different names? This was originally written as Penelope Stratton.

Smoke and Secrets by Suleikha Snyder. Reunited lovers with secret babies — it’s like Harlequin Presents in Bollywood!

Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs.

Self-Reg by Stuart Shanker. Very interesting book about the factors affecting self-regulation. I wish it had more concrete ideas, however; just when I thought it was about to put forward a specific plan, it ended! Still, I picked up a lot of helpful information.



I’m rethinking doing the diverse romance challenge. No one has said anything negative to me, but I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with the bingo square format in this context. Am I overthinking?


TBR Challenge: The Awakening by Jude Deveraux

The theme: A random book.

Why this one: I was cleaning out my unread Deverauxs, feeling like the right time in my life to read them was past, but I could not resist the description of “a hot-blooded union organizer” hero. My grandpa would have been proud.

(Damn, I suppose I should’ve reached in the cabinet and pulled a book out at random? Too late now.)

The Awakening reminded me that the Deveraux books I’ve enjoyed the most have all been North American-set historicals… and that she thinks up some great stories. The setting of 1913 California is unusual enough, but when you add in the plight of migrant workers, it puts in some compelling history.

The romance plotline is compelling too, at least for much of the book. Hank Montgomery, an economics professor who works with unions, is invited to the Caulden family ranch in hopes he will soften towards their side in a brewing union battle. There he finds a truly weird set-up: Caulden’s wife is hidden away, and his daughter Amanda is subject to the strict rules and schedules of her tutor/fiance, who controls every aspect of her life, down to when and for how long she uses the bathroom. Obedient and adoring Amanda is instructed to entertain Hank and keep him on schedule, too.

It’s love at first sight for Hank — or maybe it would be, if Amanda wasn’t such a know-it-all prissy bore. For her part, Amanda is frustrated and upset with this man who uses the bathroom whenever he wants, insists on huge delicious meals, and makes her feel things that upset the way everything should be. Their interactions are romantically offbeat because a lot of the time they genuinely don’t like each other, yet they’re continually forced into intriguing intimacy. (Such as Hank having to brush Amada’s hair.)

Hank isn’t always a great guy here (though he usually recognizes when he’s messed up.) To be honest, none of the main characters behaves truly honorably — everybody cheats on everybody else — which I guess makes it sort of even out in the end.  Also, though basically a beta hero, Hank lives up to Willa’s law — so if you’re very sensitive about dubious consent and sexual coercion, avoid this one. Hank’s carefree bachelor sexual history is kind of irksome too; he seems to belong to the “nobody gets pregnant unless they have sex 24/7” school of thought. No wonder there were so many Montgomerys.

Even so, about two-thirds of the book felt fresh and captivating — but then the last third pissed away a lot of the tension. The plot meanders to keep things going, and the most action-filled moments in the book are written at a remove. Perhaps this is because, as the author’s note explains, Hank and his union organizing were based on a real person and actual events. The descriptions of the workers’ living conditions are vivid and sickening; it’s a shame the union plot aspects aren’t better integrated into the story.

Still, just having an older historical romance touch on how badly migrant workers were treated feels important to me. The genre has so many romantic Southern plantations and wealthy ranches — I just finished a Diana Palmer book in which the union organizers were the baddies —  that it’s good to see acknowledgement of the exploitation that often accompanies wealth. (Racism isn’t addressed, btw.) If you want a historical read that really isn’t the same old thing, this fits the bill in a number of ways.



Diverse Romance Challenge


(No one seems to have a problem with this, so I’m going to proceed as planned.)

This new challenge just started and will run til the end of the year. Since it’ll take awhile, I’m going to post now and update as I fill it in. I think I will also attempt to find “own voices” stories for as many of the squares as possible. Suggestions very welcome!



Latinx MC

Muslim MC

MC w/mental illness:

Desi MCSmoke and Secrets by Suleikha Snyder.

The second book in the “Bollywood Confidential” is set in the same world as Spice and Smoke, with some recurring characters, but it’s a far more conventional genre romance. The two storylines could have come straight out a Harlequin Presents: one is about a betrayed ex-wife who fears to love again, the other is reunited lovers with a secret baby! And an Evil Other Woman tries to destroy both.The frequent references to Bollywood movies make this all kind of meta, but not in an annoying way. The main characters — Priya, “item girl,” and her former love, producer and actor Rahul, and Sunny, talk show hostess loved by Davey, her producer — are all awash in the Bollywood milieu and living a life right out of a romantic movie seems only natural.

Jewish MC: Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker. I don’t know if this is own voices, but it seems to be really well done. Clever, insightful juxtaposition of religious orthodoxy and kink.

Trans MC:

Physically disabled MC:


Diverse Historical:


Ownvoices: The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev. I’m hoping to get own voices books for as many squares as possible; since I already filled the “Desi MC” square, I’m putting this story here. Intense, angsty romance. It’s actually less about Bollywood than about first and second generation Indians living in America, and the immersive supporting detail is lovely.

Black MC:

East Asian MC:

WOC in Romance:

Set outside US/UK

Full figured MC: Mayday by Olivia Dade.


Asexual MC:

Middle Eastern MC:

Poc on Cover:





On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

I’m having so many thoughts and feelings while reading this that I decided to write a reaction post as I read, rather than try to do a traditional review.

The story is narrated by Denise, a biracial autistic teen living in Amsterdam. It opens as the earth is just about to be hit by a comet. Denise and her mother are late leaving for their assigned shelter, because they’re waiting for Denise’s missing sister, Iris.

— I wonder if the author wrote this partially to address her own fears about how she might survive as an autistic person in a cataclysmic disaster? I know it’s something I’ve thought about a lot myself — one of the reasons I’m really not attracted to dystopian fiction — and especially now that I have an autistic son.  When I told my husband the premise, that’s immediately where his mind went and he thought the book would be too scary to read.

(One of my favorite stories is John Varley’s The Manhattan Phone Book (Abridged). You can read it online. In it he writes,

“We all love after-the-bomb stories. If we didn’t, why would there be so many of them? There’s something attractive about all those people being gone, about wandering in a depopulated world, scrounging cans of Campbell’s pork and beans, defending one’s family from marauders. Sure, it’s horrible, sure we weep for all those dead people. But some secret part of us thinks it would be good to survive, to start all over.

Secretly, we know we’ll survive. All those other folks will die. That’s what after-the-bomb stories are all about.”

Not me. I have never believed that. In my scenario, if I survive, I will undoubtedly die shortly thereafter.)

— Denise’s beloved missing sister is a trans woman. This worries me in a post-apocalyptic story. (It turns out not to be an issue at all.)

— (32%) I appreciate the nuance of this portrait and it feels really well balanced. Denise is realistically having trouble dealing with stress and melting down, but she’s also contributing. She’s neither SuperAutistic Girl or Autistic Robot Girl.

—  (37%) “It’s the end of the world; I knew I would have to change. ”

I pondered this sentence for awhile. It seems an ableist point of view. I guess Denise means she will have to be really brave? To do things that are very hard for her? Does she really think she can just decide to change?

— (60-something%) This plan is so messed up. Does no one think about what it will be like to spend the rest of your life stuck with people who will utterly hate you?

— The moral ambiguity in this scenario is excruciating. I hope the story will find some good way to resolve it, but I can’t imagine what.

Oh. Now I understand what the earlier thought about needing to change was about. It is an ableist point of view, because it’s internalized ableism. Denise thinks she has to be more “normal” and useful in order to justify her existence in the post-apocalyptic world.

Ending — Wow. Just wow. I’m so impressed with how this played out. It’s an amazing book. I wish I could read it to my son without scaring him to death. This is why #ownvoices matter.

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Awakened By Her Desert Captor by Abby Green

I’m often aghast when reading reviews of modern Harlequin Presents that dare to break out of rigid formulas. (I wrote about one example, also, as it happens, by Abby Green.) The hate a book garners when the heroine dares to have sex with someone other than the hero is sickening. So it was embarrassing, reading the reviews of this and having to go… “Yes. True. You’re absolutely spot on.” Liking a book despite the fact that it’s really sexist isn’t as bad as hating it because it isn’t, right?

The plot is a bit of a mix of The Sheikh (sans physical force or brutality), Susan Napier’s Mistress of the Groom, and Green’s own The Brazilian’s Blackmail Bargain — two of which I really like. (No prize for guessing which two.)  Arkim is planning to marry a sweet young girl, as part of a business deal and also to establish his respectability because his dad was — gasp! — a porn mogul. Unfortunately, the sweet young girl has an older, hotter sister who works in a – gasp! – naughty Paris revue. When Sylvie destroys the wedding by proclaiming that she and Arkim had had sex the night before, he decides to take his revenge by stealing her away to his Sheikhy desert hideaway and making her lie true.

Revenge! Misunderstood innocent! Whore goggles! I totally love this shit! But it’s hard to deny that it’s extremely implausible here. The contortions the story goes through to make 28 year old Sylvie a total innocent who barely shows a thing when she dances would fit handily in her revue:

“‘I couldn’t care less if you stripped naked and hung upside down on a trapeze in your show. This conversation is over.’

Sylvie refrained from pointing out that that was actually Giselle’s act…”

Sylvie is the fakest of fake rakes and Arkim is pretty much a fake Sheikh, which is offensive in other ways. Credit to the author for trying to strike a positive note against slut-shaming at the end, by having Arkim accept Sylvie’s job… but it’s gloss. It can’t mitigate the sexism at the heart of the story.

I feel like I should write more about why I enjoyed the book anyway, but there isn’t much to say past, “I like this kind of thing.” The prose is smooth and effective. It’s intense, it’s angsty, it’s cathartic in some way. It hits the sweet spot; I’ve learned to be okay with this.




September in Book Bingo part 1

I decided to do something a little different this month. I was reading A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy, and was pleased to see there was a story title perfect for “Taming of the Shrew,” a square name I had picked based on my reading last month. I then thought it would be fun — and would make the bland collection more interesting — to see if I could fit a story from the book into every square! (Definitely a little challenging, since Binchy sex is always off-page.😉 ) I’ll also do a regular reading round-up at the end of the month and see if I can fill my card the usual way.

There are more than 25 stories in the book, so a few aren’t mentioned here.

Christmas Gifts *wink wink nudge nudge: “Forgiving.” A woman estranged from her family decides to forgive them and visit for Christmas

Do You Remember: “The Sensible Celebration” A woman recalls the repercussions of the very foolish parties her friends have thrown.

September: “Be Prepared.” To truly prepare for Christmas, you have to buy your cooking foil in September.

A Woman in Her Prime: “A Few of the Girls.” This was a hard story to place because I don’t think I really got it, but the character of Nicola seems to really have her shit together.

Balance: “The Mirror.” A disastrous evening is balanced out by a happy realization.

Where There’s a Will: “Audrey.” For fans of sentient cat stories.

Taming of the Shrew: “Kiss Me Kate.” Just the title really, but it’s enough!

BIRTH DAY: “The Custardy Case.” Bernard thinks all the drama in the house is a surprise for his seventh birthday.😦

You Complete Me: “Chalk and Cheese.” Linda doesn’t appreciate how much her perfect life runs smoothly because of her friend Chalkie.

Twenty Fifth: “The Consultant Aunt.” 17 year old Sara gets romantic advice from her 25 year old aunt.

Coupling: “The Bargain.” A meh little romance.

Gush: “The Afternoon Phone-In”. Rory thinks that radio host Fiona is amazing, far too special for an ordinary bloke like himself.

Swooning: “New Year’s Eve and the Garden”. Instead of her traditional New Year’s Eve party, a newly widowed woman reads her late husband’s journal and gains a sweet legacy from him.

Naked Truth: “Falling Apart.” A woman realizes that her chance at happiness depends on being very firm and honest with her alcoholic mother.

You’re History: “The Foul-Weather Friend.” A friendship that will only last as long as you’re miserable.

69: “Picnic at St. Pauls.” Catherine is very disappointed when the attractive stranger in town who phones her turns out to be “in his late sixties, at least.” (This is Binchy, that’s the closest I’m gonna get!)

Somewhere Around the Corner: “The Afterthought”. A man having an affair dreams about how it could all be perfectly resolved someday.

Ravish: “No Tears in the Tivoli.” The main character is a trophy wife, so presumably pretty ravishing. Sorry, that’s all I got.

HATE: “Giving Up Men.” Ironic Binchy at her most aggravating.

Cool Dude: “Sandra’s Suitcase. A friendly tour guide helps out when a tourist loses her suitcase and changes her forever.

Flip Back: “Living Well.” No, THIS is ironic Binchy at her most aggravating.

HOME cooking: “Catering for Love.” Ronnie is a caterer, hired to pass off food as home-cooked, with unfortunate results.

Pillow Talk: “A Tactful Conversation.” A tough square, because sex is only alluded to in Binchy. But the couple has conversations and they could certainly be having them in bed!

Subtle: “Someone’s Got to Tell Her.” A one-sided conversation in which the narrator gradually becomes aware that not all is as she thought.

Gamma: “Mr. Mangan.” The definition of gamma is somewhat confused, even in romance terms, but one generally accepted definition is a sort of Alpha/Beta combo — a hero who is confident and top dog, but also sensitive and not arrogant. Mr. Mangan is quite the guy.



August in Book Bingo

Recurring themes of the month: Witnesses in jeopardy. Tough guys dancing with babies. Revenge. Artists. Cornwall. Sassy gay friends/relatives, including in m/m. Heroines named variants of Katherine. Russian heroes who get to call such heroines Katya. Heroines who had loving but passionless marriages with much older men. Significant others with bad secrets. Adultery. Somewhat off-genre romance. Terrible books that I hated.😦

August Bingo


Delusional: The Sound of Snow by Katherine Kingsley. The heroine believes her cousin is a little spoiled but basically good-hearted. Hahahahahaha. My TBR Challenge read.

Suddenly: Midnight Man by Lisa Marie Rice. Everything was sudden in this. BAM they’re hot for each other, BAM they’re having sex, BAM she’s in deep shit, BAM he makes everything okay again.

I haven’t read a lot of Rice because my reaction to her “traditionally hypermasculine meets traditionally hyperfeminine” formula ranges from “Not really my thing” to “Jeez, that’s disturbing.” (Leaning towards the disturbing: the description of the heroine’s much-softer-than-other-women’s pubic hair.) There were definitely disturbing elements here, particularly the truly superfluous, nasty treatment of a sympathetic gay character. (In a book with so little space devoted to anything other than sex scenes, you have to give time to that?) But the fantasy of the incredibly strong, competent, sexy hero who comes along and makes everything okay is a pretty powerful one, and perhaps works especially well in such a tight, concentrated book.

AugustAnd One Last Thing by Molly Harper. The heroine married her husband on August 1st, a fact which becomes very pertinent when she receives the wrong woman’s anniversary flowers.

A July read from Valancy. Funny story about a woman going a bit ’round the bend when she discovers her husband is cheating on her. Overall, pretty positive. Very chicklit in feel, with a nice emphasis on her personal growth, but also romantic.

Kick it!: Only Beloved by Mary Balogh. I kicked it to the curb. :-( So freaking nice and sweet, I fell asleep in my blancmange.

Glacial: The Sun at Midnight by Sandra Field.

I figured this would go to a cold character, but then a Harlequin Presents with an Arctic tundra setting fell into my lap! Oh man, do I miss the 90s.

Quite a lovely read; the heroine is a biology student doing research, and her passion for the animals and environment really shine through. The story was also pretty good if you like anger and betrayal, though the plot details felt a little off in some ways.

I’m Not Worthy: Claiming His Wife by Diana Hamilton. Insecure heroine is so afraid she’ll suck in bed for her player husband,  it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Shallow, dull, stupid book. I was especially pissed when it turned out the heroine’s independence after leaving her husband was entirely orchestrated by him.

Shades: Once Upon a Moonlit Night by Elizabeth Hoyt.

This square made me think of Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice: “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” She would be beyond horrified by this match. And it amused me to use a historical romance for shades. No, you’re reaching.

PRIDE: The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black.

“John, did you see those boys at the bar the other night? They weren’t just out and proud, they were out and proud in flashing neon, you know? I’ll never be that far out of the closet. I’ll never be anyone but myself. But it seem to me I’ve been missing something critical. I see that in you too. Missing the right to love.”

I decided to go with “pride” because it’s something the two main characters have never gotten to feel around their sexuality or relationship, but they’re starting to move there at the end. More thoughts at “Heroes and Heartbreakers.”

Cool Bananas: The Counterfeit Secretary by Susan Napier.

“Ria was thankful that she had never felt a spark of personal interest in the man. She knew him too well to find him as irresistible as other women did… she had been too well forewarned.”

Yes, she starts off cool. Then she goes bananas.

Evil Side Eye: The Desert Virgin by Sandra Marton.

I was side-eying this entire ridiculous and offensive book, but especially the “hero” who is EVIL. On top of more typical douchecanoe hero behavior, he tacitly approves of enslavement.

Dreaming: Even Odds by Elia Winters.

A erotic romance in which

— POC are described in ways which don’t sound like bad food porn?

— The hero has non-appropriative tattoos and a great awareness of the importance of consent?

— both heroine and hero respect each other’s boundaries?

— the characters get creative when they don’t have condoms, instead of assuring each other they’re clean?

—  non-physical perfect geeks have confident social lives? (And gimme a book for Dan now, please.)

— sexual harassment is taken seriously?

— All with laughs and lots of steam and a few heart tugs?

I must be dreaming!

Bop: Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here by Anna Breslaw. The main character is dragged to a dance and even dances a bit. Sharp, funny YA story. I didn’t buy the resolution of the romance plot.

So Utterly Perfect: The Wedding Journey by Carla Kelly. I wouldn’t say this is Kelly’s best book, or my favorite, but it was exactly the palate cleanser I need after the false piety of The Sound of Snow.   It’s a harrowing story, but always goodhearted and life-affirming.

This was also the story that made me realize if Lois McMaster Bujold wrote historical romance, it would read a lot like Carla Kelly.

Would you like a cuppa tea, Love!: Vows of Revenge by Dani Collins. It seems kind of wrong to give this square to an American book, but the hero going to visit a mother-figure is a turning point for him.

Loved this one. Just what a modern day Harlequin Presents should be, IMO.

Rags to Riches: With His Kiss by Laurey Bright. The heroine’s late husband was a philanthropist who helped musically talented kids from poor backgrounds; the hero is one of the success stories.

!: Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread.

I thought that The Mountains of Mourning had deepened on reread! This one I barely remembered, other than Taura, and now it hit me like a ton of bricks.

“‘What else do you wish for, Taura?’ Miles asked earnestly.

Slowly she replied. ‘I wish I were normal.’

Miles was silent too. ‘I can’t give you what I don’t possess myself,’ he said at length. The words seemed to lie in inadequate lumps between them. He roused himself to a better effort. ‘No. Don’t wish that. I have a better idea. Wish to be yourself. To the hilt….

Look at Nicol — or look at Captain Thorne, and tell me what ‘normal’ is, and why I should give a damn for it.'”

Almost Kiss: Red Moon Rising by Lori Handeland.

“His gaze drifted to my lips. I swayed, and I wasn’t even dizzy. I wanted to kiss him, right there in the middle of another burning wasteland. We should be running for cover, calling the cops; instead we were staring into each other’s eyes and puckering up.

Clay dropped my hand and stepped away. At least one of us had some wits left.”

Terrible short story. TSTL heroine and brusque sloppy writing that feels more like an outline than a narrative. There are a few laughs.

Small MAN: A Shot at Forgiveness by Cardeno C.  Hero is a small man who likes big men. He scores.

Romances about former bullies and their bull-ees are my catnip — BUJEET all the way! — but this short story required a huge suspension of disbelief. If someone who had once bullied me started stalking me, I would at the very least be nervous about his possible agenda. Definitely a fantasy read, and doesn’t have much angst, which seems like a waste. I think it’s an interracial romance, although we aren’t told much beyond — you guessed it — “mocha-colored skin”

roam: Gunslinger by Lorraine Heath. Novella originally titled Long Stretch of Lonesome. The hero is always on the move, longing for a home he thinks he doesn’t deserve. An enjoyable sentimental story. (Insert obligatory “I wish Heath still wrote Westerns” comment here.)

A+ Bestie: Rightful Possession by Sally Wentworth. I won’t say what the bestie does, since it’s a spoiler, but it’s just what you’d want in a bestie.

Soft focus: Snowed by Pamela Burford. The hero is a photographer and there’s a nice soft-focus cover.

This seemed very familiar to me, and I’m guessing I started or skimmed it a few years ago, but then got put off by the reviews. Despite the faux incest, I quite liked it, as it turned out. Very sensual. The hero is a touch old skool, but not too bad as they go.

HOMEcoming: Breaking the Rules by Barbara Samuels (Ruth Wind). The heroine, a former foster child, has yearned for a home and security all her life.

I’m not sure exactly why — maybe it’s classism on my part — but the hero of this book totally put me off. Even his dancing with a baby couldn’t make up for him referring to himself in the third person as “old Zeke.”  Bleh.

Petite: No Longer Forbidden? by Dani Collins. A sad square choice… the heroine was coerced into pursuing a dancing career by her mother, and has infertility caused by lack of body fat. There’s a happy ending but no magic cure. (I know petite is more height than weight in terms of fashion, but the dictionary definition allowed it. Enough, anyway.)

Gaslight: Lessons in Pleasure by Victoria Dahl. Victorian set novella. The heroine has been gaslighted by her entire society, but specifically by a very evil doctor.

I didn’t find this as touching or powerful as Dahl’s Americana historicals, but it did have some teeth to it. And it gave me some serious shivers, though thankfully the scary part is over quickly.

X: The Wicked Duke by Madeline Hunter. I’m going with X as in X-rated here… not because the book is all that graphic (though more so than she would’ve written ten years ago.) But the scenes showing how “wicked” the duke can be were more X-rated than I really wanted in a romance hero. Props for not making him another fake-rake, I guess…

A well written book, but the relationship arc reminded me a lot of The Rules of Seduction, which is one of my top ten favorites, so this inevitably suffered in comparison.

Also read (or not):

Static by L.A. Witt. Fascinating story. More here.

Fallen by Lauren Kate. YA paranormal cliches galore, particularly the undying love for a completely blah character. Meh. A better narrator might have saved it — not bad overall, but the teen voices were pretty terrible — but then again, there is the scene in which the heroine has witnessed another character cut an innocent person’s throat in cold blood, before tying the heroine up  in a sacrificial cross with a knife to her throat, and then actually says in bewilderment, “you wouldn’t hurt me?” THUD.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. Cute, romantic story with a prickly heroine. Shallower than I expect from Tyler, but considering I couldn’t finish her previous book, I’ll take it.

Indiscreet by Mary Balogh. Reread. I wouldn’t call this a favorite, and yet somehow I seem to reread it more than any of her others. Perhaps it’s because I passed on my copy when I owned it, so I keep borrowing it when the opportunity arises.

Exposure by Susan Andersen. Another one for “almost kiss” and “I’m not worthy.” I was pretty iffy about a book recommended for having an adorable little girl character, but I guess now my son is a teen, adorable little kids work for me again. She is indeed damn cute, but also believable. The big hero is very sweet too, although I felt he was sometimes hypermasculinized, as if to make up for the fact that he’s disabled. (Prosthetic hook.) He always seems to be flinging the heroine around.

Sweet Ruin by Kresley Cole. After a bumpy start, I was surprised to find myself totally into this.  It goes in a different direction with fated mates than Cole’s usual, because the hero has been a whore for so long, he’s cut himself off from feeling any emotional connection to sex. He can’t understand why fidelity is important to his mate. The bad-ass but deeply lonely heroine is pretty awesome, and there’s some good banter as well as angst.

Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole. DNF. Snoozeville.

The Curse on Tenth Grave by Dyranda Jones. DNF. Shark. Jumped.

The Bedding Proposal by Tracy Anne Warren. DNF. Could not get into the writing style at all. People laughing at things that aren’t funny.

The Master by Kresley Cole. Kind of an odd mash-up of Cole’s paranormals with Harlequin Presents. The snark works, the Russian guy sounded just like one of her werewolves not so much. Don’t know if I’ll bother to read the others in the series, since they all sound exactly the same (tortured Russian mob billionaires into BDSM.)


In Which Things Do Not Improve

Kind of a follow-up to this post.

I’ve started Sweet Ruin by Kresley Cole, and it’s even odds whether I’ll DNF. It opens with the paranormal version of an old romance classic: the heroine watching the hero having sex with someone else. Except in this case, it’s 6 or 7 someone elses, I forget exactly how many. He’s basically a spy, cold-bloodedly seducing women for information and to get them to do what he wants.

This line really struck me: “After just one bedding, non-nymph females uniformly grew attached to him, becoming jealous and possessive.”

I realized that the entire race of nymphs basically only exist in these books to be unproblematic receptacles for the heroes’ lusts. They’re used in the same way in Macrieve, Shadow’s Claim, and probably any number of other books in the series. I’m pretty sure there are no nymph heroines. The one succubus heroine is a freakin’ virgin.

I’m very cranky about books this month, but damn, I think I have a right to be.


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