A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.





me: “Madeline Hunter tweeted that she almost cried when she read my post!”

hub: “I hope it was the good kind of crying.    ‘How could you get me so wrong?! I happen to have Marshall McLuhan right here…'”


(P.S. It was the good kind of crying. :-) )

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Possibly the Best Scanning Error Ever

“Is that why you leaked the story? Because you felt you were a woman scorned? You did it out of piquet.”


TBR Challenge: More Than You Dreamed by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

The theme: a book you bought on impulse, or that you forgot why you bought. I picked this up just because it was a romance, never having heard of the author at that point.

Why this one: I used to be a huge old movie buff, so I was intrigued by the setting.


A bit before I started reading this, someone tweeted about how “show don’t tell” was overdone advice, which was ruining the omniscient narrator. I was very ticked off when someone downgraded The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Bates on that basis, so I certainly agreed; although the immediacy of deep POV can be a very effective technique, a good omniscient narrator has a real charm. This is a thick, “women’s fiction”-y sort of book more than a romance, which was a little hard for me to get into, but Seidel’s nonchalant voice really grew on me.

The main characters are Jill Casler, the extremely wealthy daughter of a Hollywood director, and Doug Ringling, the nephew (and spitting image) of the actor who played Jill’s first major crush. Doug also lives and works with one of Jill’s little known relatives from her father’s first marriage, in Virginia. When he approaches Jill about a mystery involving his uncle’s film, “Weary Hearts,” she finds herself being drawn into family life and questioning her adored father’s integrity.

This was a very leisurely read, especially by current standards. It just barely qualifies as a romance, and if you require lots of passionate words and sex scenes, don’t even bother. But it has a wonderful sense of time and place, vivid characters and a lot of humor. Some of the mystery is quite guessable and some is a real surprise — though the main point of it is to give a direction that makes both Jill and Doug realize how much they’ve been drifting.

I was a little concerned when I started the book that the Southern setting and Confederate soldier aspects of “Weary Hearts” might be uncomfortable. They were actually mostly okay: Doug even invites Jill to a Civil War reenactment by asking her, “Do you want to accompany us warriors as we march off to celebrate our Glorious, Noble, Sexist and Racist Past?” But ironically enough, there’s some no doubt well-intentioned interactions with Doug’s black college roommate that really made me squirm.

That was really the only part of the book that didn’t age well, for me. I enjoyed the glimpse into filmmaking, and the bits of movie trivia, and the imaginative power that brought a totally fictional movie to life.


Everything New is Old Again

So I’m reading Aflame by Penelope Douglas (don’t judge me, I got it from the library, okay?!) and am amused at the new version of the Gently Used Heroine. I’ve seen it a few times before in Harlequin Presents, which tend to be the most conservative of all non-Christian romances in terms of the heroine’s sexual experience: in the last several years, they’re just barely starting to include heroines who have sex with another man after a break up with the hero… as long as it’s no more than one, doesn’t last long, and they don’t really enjoy it.

This version isn’t quite that bad and I’ll give the author some small props for including it at all, in a series focusing entirely on insanely possessive man-whore heroes. (Though of course, she’s the one who created those characters and scenarios to begin with. Following my Linda Howard/Diana Palmer Law that even the most sensitive, caring male character must be a total and complete asshole when he gets his own book.) But it fits so neatly into the new and improved Gently Used Heroine category, I just had to laugh.

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Facts, Truth, and Interpretation – Where My Head is At Today

There’s a huge controversy going on in Romancelandia right now, about a RITA-nominated book featuring a romance between a Jewish woman and a concentration camp commandant. I’m not writing here about the book, which I haven’t read, but about my personal reaction to the controversy itself, which is bringing up some things for me.

One is that I have a huge regard for truth, i.e. facts. This is likely my less than neurotypical side revealing itself: I get extremely perturbed by people getting facts wrong. It bothers me a lot that false assumptions about the book have solidified into fact; it bothers me a lot that I’m the only person who seemed to be bothered by that. (Though you’d think I’d be used to it by now.)

No, I’m not saying that everyone needs to read the book to have an opinion about it. There are quite obviously major concerns with it on a very basic plot level, particularly in the appropriation of Jewish faith/history for Christian purposes. But I do think critiques need to get their basic facts right, if only to have credibility.

And the other is that I have a huge regard for truth, i.e. personal truth. Take The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers, which I named one of my best books of the year. It’s a book that many people with disabilities found very offensive, and with more knowledge and experience, I can see why they did. It’s deeply wrong that people with disabilities are so often used as props for the stories of the abled. But the thing is… that story told my truth. I didn’t see the disabled person in it as a prop because I wouldn’t see my own child as a prop. I felt heard and validated by it and that meant a lot to me.

And I think we have to be very careful to leave room for interpretation. There’s a young adult book — I forget the title — which many readers strongly critiqued as sexist and misogynistic. Then a well regarded critic (one of The Book Smugglers, I think) wrote very convincingly about it as an indictment of sexism and misogyny. Which is right? I don’t know! Even if I read the book or spoke to the author, I might not know! I would have my own interpretation and opinion based on what I had read or learned. But in a way it’s Shroedinger’s book. One person’s attempt at social satire can often be another person’s huge offense.

A while back I wrote about book reviewing as a form of journalism, requiring honesty. Today I’m reminded how much I value truth, both in regard to actual facts and in regard to personal meaning.



TBR Challenge: Mind Games by Carolyn Crane

The theme: a RITA nominee or winner. I’m fudging here, because I’m just too damn busy to start another book. This wasn’t a nominee, but the author did win a RITA recently, and the first for a self-published book! So we’ll just say this is in honor of that.

Why this one: I was sick of historicals and contemporaries, and this was one of my TBR books I really did want to read.

I can see why this received so much good buzz, because the premise is not only unusual and intriguingly full of moral ambiguity, but will leave many readers green with envy. A way to relieve yourself of your most debilitating neuroses while also fighting crime? Oh my God, who cares about moral ambiguity — sign me up!

The story has an amusing comic book vibe, with its “Midcity” setting, weirdly named villains, and dark heroes. And it is definitely refreshing to read about an urban fantasy heroine who suffers from major hypochondria, and whose superpower derives from that. Unfortunately, I didn’t find Justine enjoyable in many other ways. She thinks of herself as only moderately attractive, but her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. She’s also obnoxiously stubborn, and ridiculously clueless; if this were a movie, everyone would be shouting at her not to go into the damn basement. She’s clearly intended to be flawed, but it’s overkill.

On the bright side, Justine grows as a character throughout the series — though I’m not sure she ever gets all that bright — and the storyline becomes increasingly exciting and intense, as well as thoughtful. (The books are also a touch grisly, which makes me a little worried about following Crane into the romantic suspense genre.) I was impressed with how cleverly Justine’s romantic interests are depicted, since she’s so dense she’s essentially an unreliable narrator.

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Gentle on My Mind by Susan Fox

After I wrote about The Heart of Christmas, SuperWendy recommended this as a story in which pregnancy options are given serious consideration. And curse you, Wendy, for turning me on to a new author! Like I needed that!

There will be some spoilers here, but nothing that’s not pretty guessable.

For a mainstream romance, this takes a few risks. The heroine Brooke is a recovering alcoholic, has bipolar disorder, is quite a bit older than the hero, was a terrible mom(!), and — rarest of all — is a grandmother! Although she got pregnant when she was 14, so she’s only a 43 year old grandmother. And did I get tired of hearing her talk about being a grandmother as if that meant she was never allowed to have sex again.

We meet her after she’s turned her life around and reestablished a relationship with her son. (The hero of Home on the Range.) Maintaining her sobriety, her mental health, and her respectability — in a town that expects her to fall off the wagon at any moment — is all important to her. And then a guy with a bullet in him crashes his motorcycle into her fence.

I’m not going to go much into the plot, which has a suspense element but isn’t really romantic suspense. The interesting part for me was, as Wendy mentioned, the fact that Brooke accidentally gets pregnant and actually spends some time pondering her options, especially in light of her need for medication. That’s very, very rare in romance — perhaps even more than a grandmother heroine — and I appreciated seeing it.

The story did get into some personal pet peeve territory. Despite all the risks that she’s well aware of — her age, her mental illness, having to go off her medication  — Brooke never really considers how she’ll cope with being a single mother except in the most general and rosy terms. For example, her plan is to take the baby to work with her. Leaving aside the fact that she works in a beauty salon, that is something that is just not going to work with every baby, especially if that baby turns out to have special needs.

I also laughed out loud when Brooke worries that Jake will be bored with her quiet life and he replies, “I bet it’s hard to be bored when there’s a kid around.” Oh sweet naivete…

But it’s quite an enjoyable story, and definitely not cookie cutter.


TBR Challenge: Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale

The theme: an author with multiple books in the TBR.

Why this one: Kinsale is one of the great authors I would most regret leaving behind in the TBR when I die. I awaited this one so eagerly, and bought it as soon as it came out. FIVE AND A HALF YEARS AGO. WTF is wrong with me?

As it happens, though, I might have been happier choosing one of the other multiple books. It’s not that this was bad. It’s meant to be a fairly lighthearted story, and it certain succeeds with some witty banter between the leads, who grew up together and fall easily back into teasing each other when they’re reunited. But I’m guessing it’s meant to be filed under “romp” and for me it wound up under “tiresome.” I skimmed the most plot-heavy points and seriously considered DNFing. The emotion between Callie and Trev kept me reading, but I fear this is one Kinsale that isn’t winding up on my keeper shelf.


Luckily, I Did Not Have to Invent a Recipe



Elisabeth Lane of the review/recipe blog “Cooking Up Romance” is doing a series on sex in older category romances, so of course I had to put in my two cents. My thought on the intriguing (albeit problematic) Sirocco by Anne Mather.  Elisabeth is also doing a survey on category romance sex and your input is requested.

I also joined Elisabeth and author Alexis Hall at “All About Romance,” as we relived our adolescent love for boarding school fantasies while reading and discussing Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #17

Harlequin Presents #17: Living with Adam by Anne Mather



I’m backtracking a bit to get back into numerical order.

Best line: “I hope you’re not one of the ghastly females who support Women’s Liberation and that sort of thing!” he exclaimed. Typical HP comment, but this may be most notable because it’s spoken by someone who turns out to be a real cad.

Notes of interest: I may faint… he kisses her breast! Only after they’re married, of course. In an actual bedroom scene! I think that’s the most explicit the HPs have gotten so far.

There’s also some hero point of view — including the whole first chapter — though not in the alternating style common now. It begins with the hero in a serious relationship with another woman. There’s a non-specific mention of abortion (one the doctor hero was far too righteous to perform.) And the heroine is his stepsister. Mather is beginning her envelope pushing.


This is somewhat more down-to-earth than previous HPs, and a pretty  successful story. Adam and Maria barely know each other, so the step relationship didn’t set off my ick meter. Adam’s quite an angry boner man, but that certainly makes sense in this context. Although they fight a lot as they suppress their attraction, it never crossed the line to bickerfest, somehow.

The weirdest part of the story is Adam’s continued attempt to convince Maria that his relationship with the woman he initially called his mistress is “respectable.” I frankly couldn’t follow these parts at all; perhaps you have to have grown up in the right time period to get what all the fuss is.

The story also takes an odd turn when Adam’s mother appears. Maria’s thoughts about her stepmother are quite positive, but she turns out to be possessive and weirdly class conscious about Maria, which considering that she’s married to Maria’s father makes not one lick of sense.  Unless Adam has significantly raised the class standing of the family by becoming a doctor and she wants him to marry up?

I think there could’ve been more focus on why they fall in love, but this holds up better than many an old HP.


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