A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Recurring Themes in My Reading 3/21

Redheaded heroes

Intimidating eyebrows

Adoptions gone bad ūüė¶

Romeo & Juliet allusions

Historical heroines cursed by their own sexiness

Obnoxiously smartass but goodhearted young adult heroes

Gifts of granting happy dreams

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TBR Challenge: Here Comes the Bride by Pamela Morsi

The theme: A favorite author.

Why this one?: I find Americana romance a good palate cleanser.

Like many Morsi books, this one features two couples — but here she mixes things up with a quadrangle.

Businesswoman Gussie, owner of “Mudd’s Manufactured Ice,” has been keeping company with Amos Dewey for three years, but when she asks his intentions point blank, he reveals he doesn’t have any. So she enlists her employer Rome to fake court her and make Amos jealous. Meanwhile, Rome has been having a secret affair with the local scandalous widow Pansy, but she won’t marry him; no matter what the town thinks, she deeply loved her husband, and will only marry again for love. And she’s the only one who realizes that Amos Dewey is still too stricken with grief over his wife’s death to be truly interested in anyone… yet.

It’s not hard to guess what happens but of course it’s a complicated journey. Pansy and Amos were initially the more interesting couple for me, but I did start to enjoy Gussie and Rome, especially Gussie’s obliviousness to her changing feelings.

[the dress] did look very nice on her. She hoped Rome agreed. If Rome thought she looked nice, then, of course, Amos would think the same. She’d worn the dress for Amos. Because she knew Rome liked it.

She allowed her imagination to wander. In her mind’s eye she saw herself leaning over the narrow counter [of the kissing booth], her lips dangerously close to those of Rome Akers. Suddenly, Amos Dewey comes pushing through the crowd. He grabs Rome by the shoulder and jerks him away from her. Then he pulls Gussie into his arms and kisses her, he kisses her exactly the same way that Rome had kissed her.

Pansy and Amos’s romance doesn’t hold up quite as well. Pansy decides to seduce Amos as a favor to Rome, since she can tell he and Gussie are perfect for each other. The seduction scene is just gorgeous — let’s hear it for old-fashioned barber chairs! — and they share a very promising afterglow, but she feels so close to Amos she makes the mistake of blurting out her plan, and of course he goes into an Old Skool snit. Although they wind up with a HEA, I’m iffy about how they got there.

I wouldn’t recommend this as a classic of the genre, but it does have a detailed, atmospheric setting, sweet characters, and believable insights into human nature. Worth a read.

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P.S.

I just discovered that TBR Challenge: Ghost of the Past by Sally Wentworth was the second half of a two-parter! So all the whackadoodle from the past has its own book, Twin Torment, if anyone cares. (Does not raise hand.)

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TBR Challenge: Ghost of the Past by Sally Wentworth

CW: slut-shaming, violence against women

The theme: A comfort read

Why this one: What, you’re not comforted by bananapants drama about nasty men and the women who love them anyway? How about very short books?

Ghost of the Past may be the winner of the Wackiest Sentence Ever Uttered in a Romance award. We’re only a few pages in and our hero Alex has just slapped our heroine Ginny:

Then he stood back, his body shaking, his hands clenched tightly, fighting for control. ‘Dear God! The first time I’ve ever hit a woman and it has to be a little slut like you.’

All I can think is, “what nice, pure woman were you saving it for, then?”

Alex is a typical sexist, unreasonably jealous HP hero but interestingly enough, if this story was an “Am I the Asshole Post” it would probably be voted ESH — everybody sucks here. The ways in which the two primary women in his life messed with him and each other is laughably awful. Yet oddly enough, the actual story is fairly down-to-earth — the wackery is largely in the past.

Summing up, both Ginny and her identical twin sister Venetia fell in love with Alex, and literally tossed a coin to see who could have him. Ginny lost, and left to become a well known model. When the story begins, Venetia has died and left her home to Ginny, which brings her back into Alex’s sphere. She still loves him, and he has feelings for her as well… but how can you manage a relationship with someone who was in love with someone exactly like you?

This is not a good twin//bad twin story, which was a little disappointing at first. Ginny and Venetia were very close and had that mystical “twin bond” writers adore. A man came between them, but never destroyed that bond. I wound up liking that choice, despite my love of a juicy good sister/bad sister story. Ginny isn’t going to win Alex’s love just because Venetia was really a bad person.

But Wentworth set herself quite a challenge here, and I’m not sure she met it. The fact that Ginny and Venetia were constantly Patty Duke-ing Alex in the past makes his claim that he always loved Ginny too seem pretty weak. How do Alex and Ginny get past their issues? By literally duking it out. They have a drag out fight, which of course turns into sex, and… that’s it. Problems solved.

And there’s very little compensation for all Alex put Ginny through, and how much she had to be the one in pursuit, dealing with his ever-mixing emotions. Overall, a letdown in the catharsis department.

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TBR Challenge: Christmas Belles by Susan Carroll

The theme: festive!

Why this one: I confess, I just scanned my books for “Christmas” in the title. I think I’ve tried to read this one one or two times before, and since I’m enjoying quieter stories now, it seemed time. Also nothing says “festive” like a Christmas-set Traditional Regency.

The story opens with hints of Little Women and Pride and Prejudice : four sisters, an entailed estate, and a father who can’t provide for their futures. Eldest Emma is domestic, and quietly in love with the impoverished local vicar; Lucy loves society and fashion; Abigail is a bookworm. Our primary heroine is Chloe, who’s warm-hearted and imaginative. But as we will discover, she also has chin! (ping Miss Bates!)

When their father is killed trying to earn dowries for his daughters, his heir feels responsible for the girls and proposes to Emma via letter; she accepts. When he arrives, Captain Will Trent is relieved to find Emma is pretty and pleasant, but her sister Chloe is so stubborn and complicated, seeming to hate him on sight.

Will is no awful Mr. Collins — he’s closer to Mr. Darcy. Responsible, repressed, and absolutely in need of someone to show him how to enjoy himself.

This could be one of those irritating “why don’t you just SAY something!” stories, except that Will is quite believably clueless. Almost from first meeting her, his thoughts are on Chloe, but he’s completely out of touch with his own feelings. The first part of the book is charmingly silly, as they butt heads while constantly thinking about each other, and then become friends as Chloe coaxes Will into enjoying the season. Then the story falls into lot of drama all at once, but it mostly works, thematically.

I’m reading Christmas Promise by Mary Balogh for a book club this month, and it’s interesting to compare this with Balogh’s family-filled, spiritually uplifting Christmas. Carroll’s is almost pagan in contrast, with much more emphasis on legends and luck than “the meaning of Christmas.” If the usual sentimentality of Christmas stories is overdone for you, give this one a try.

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Move Along, Nothing to See Here

This post is entirely a little joke for https://habitrpgbooklists.wordpress.com/author/faranae/ as a comment on their post, https://habitrpgbooklists.wordpress.com/2020/11/02/a-book-involving-an-unpopular-profession/.

(And how delightful that with this forced block editing, I don’t know how to do a proper link anymore! But at least I somehow managed to insert the media.)

The cover of the board book Can't Sleep, showing a painting of a sleeping full moon.

A picture book I adore.

The same cover, with red sticker dots over the eyes.

Our copy of the book, with surgery by my child that she was extremely proud of.

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TBR Challenge: Sweet Treason by Patricia Gaffney

CW for book: Pretty much all of them, sans overt racism. To its credit, it calls rape rape.

The theme: Danger Will Robinson!

Why this one: Oh my goodness, what old skool danger doesn’t happen to this pair of obsessed numbskulls? There’s barely a peaceful moment.

Kate and Burke: they’re always either doing each other wrong, or just doing each other. She’s a Scottish spy for Bonnie Prince Charlie — primarily seeking revenge because of the English soldiers who assaulted her and killed her family. He’s in charge of delivering her to be tried. They spend the first part of the book at each other’s throat and the second half saving each other’s life, between bouts of sex and mutual torture.

It’s not a form of romance I’m especially fond of, though some of the wilder ones, like Gaffney’s Lily and Brenda Joyce’s The Conqueror, are so out there I can’t help but love them. But while Lily elicits cries of “Oh no he didn’t!” Sweet Treason is more like “oh, of course he did.” There’s endless drama but nothing really surprising. Kate is irritatingly stubborn and pettish and they’re both irritatingly obtuse. And it’s episodic in a way that often comes with lack of pay-off. A villain leaves with a sneer of “I’ll get you yet, my pretty!” and then is replaced with a different villain and never seen again. The ending leaves so many unanswered questions.

I enjoyed it more than it sounds. The prose and characterizations aren’t memorable in the way of later Gaffney, but she’s a good story-teller, and it’s not dull. And an old skool hero who’s also ridonkulously besotted is a fun combo. Put this one most definitely in the “to each their own, or if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you might like” pile.

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Element of Risk by Robyn Donald

When it comes to Robyn Donald, my motto is always “go old skool or go home.” She overdoes the alphole sometimes, sure, but her books with kinder, gentler heroes are so boring.¬†This one hit the sweet spot nicely, as well as being an amazing trainwreck of a story.

Perdita, a stunning model on the verge of retirement, gets a call she’s been waiting for for a very long time — the twin girls she gave up at birth eleven years ago have finally been located. But that’s not all… to her shock, Perdita discovers they were adopted by her beloved cousin Natalie and Natalie’s husband Luke… who is, in fact, their biological father.

I’m not sure I want to say much more about the plot, which only gets wilder from there. Perdita has to square off with Luke to get a chance to see the children (Natalie has conveniently died) and she’s just about perfect at it — intelligent, committed, truly wanting what’s best for them. Meanwhile, Luke is bitter and accusatory and just a step away from serious violence. He might be unbearable if she wasn’t so capable of holding her own.

(One not-so old skool element about this book I really liked, is that Natalie is treated respectfully as the girls’s mother. There’s none of the “now they have their REAL family” crap I’ve seen in other books. It might even be a little too good to be true, but I don’t care.)

The classic bleak moment, when it comes, is rather unusual — though precipitated by an event so over-the-top that I imagined Charlotte Lamb calling to tell Donald to tone it down a bit.¬† There’s a lot about the past that Perdita has to sort through and understand, before she can have a happy ending.

I don’t always enjoy Harlequin Presents like I used to, these hard days, but this was a fun trip back to when I loved them, the wackier the better.

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TBR Challenge: One to Watch

CW for book: hate speech against fat women. Note also that this isn’t a genre romance and doesn’t follow their conventions.

The theme: Dress for Success

Why this one: It’s so perfect for the theme, I’m going to ignore my usual rule and count a library book. It was on my tbr for several months!

One to Watch initially delighted me. Told partially in the form of blog posts, tweets, and online chats, it’s got a relatable feel for modern life and gives us a winning heroine in Bea, a fat woman who loves fashion. Bea has carved out a space for herself in a very sizest field as the blogger @OMBea.

When a blog post about the sizeism and lack of diversity on her favorite show “Main Squeeze” (ala “the Bachelorette”) goes viral, Bea is asked to be the first contestant on the show who isn’t model-sized. She’s very dubious about romance, but producer Lauren convinces her that she doesn’t have to take the show seriously in order to “show America that plus-size women deserve to be the leads in their own stories.” And it doesn’t hurt that Bea will have something to take her mind off her heartbreak over her old friend and crush Ray, who slept with her and then went back to his fiance and completely ghosted her.

The book started to pall a bit for me when we get to the show. (Perhaps I would’ve liked it more if I watched those kinds of shows?) It becomes clear that despite her internet honesty, Bea is actually very insecure about her size, and finds it truly difficult to believe a man would want to be with her — which impacts the men contestants who notice her lack of sincerity. And there are constant reality show “surprises” that humiliate and freak her out, not to mention several disgusting contestants who mock and belittle her.

Not all of them, though. As Bea starts to make real connections with some of her dates, Lauren tells her she can’t make her feelings about any one man too clear, otherwise the audience will lose interest. It seems the author felt the same way, because Bea is truly undecided for quite a long way into the book. There’s nothing wrong with that… except that Bea seems to make promises to at least one bachelor that she might not actually decide to keep, and she has no compunction about it. (Meeting someone’s motherless kids in this context? On television? Seriously?! ) It felt very off-putting.¬†

I also got fed to the teeth with Bea’s insecurity; any time a bachelor made a move she didn’t like, she believed it was designed to humiliate her. I expected better from a book about a woman who dares to be openly fat on the Internet.

There are some nice surprises in the plot, including some interesting queer representation, and some much deserved and funny comeuppances. (There are not so nice surprises, too.) There are cute running jokes about celebrity tweeters, and I enjoyed Bea’s parents, who are basically Britta’s adoring and adorable parents from “Community.” (Bea’s father is technically her stepfather, and the theme of choosing love is important.) And the ending comes together nicely, a happy one especially for any fat girl readers. But because of my issues with what came before, I couldn’t embrace it as much as I’d like.

Still, as I looked over my bookmarks while writing this, and was reminded of aspects of the book I’d loved — perhaps my favorite is a suitor who punctuates an apology to Bea with endless profanity, so the show won’t be able to air it — my appreciation for it increased again. I think on the whole I’d recommend it.

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The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

Gavin, a successful but somewhat insecure baseball player, is devastated when his wife asks him for a divorce. That’s when his fellow players introduce him to their book club and “the manuals” — romance novels which help them understand what women need from relationships. With the help of a Regency called Courting the Countess, Gavin sets out to woo his wife. But he forgets the most important lesson: backstory is everything. Unless Thea deals with the pain in her history, they don’t stand a chance.

I had some issues with this story and it might have been the audiobook.The second narrator, who reads the “book within a book” sections, has a die-away upper-crust English accent which is very much not to my taste. But the main narration, while in a perfectly pleasant voice, may have done more harm. All of the women characters sound very bitchy, and the way the voices emphasize the “inherent” humor of manly men athletes seriously discussing romance novel tropes really put me off.

Still, there was a lot to enjoy. Unlike most athlete heroes in romance, Gavin has tremendous sweetness and vulnerability, and Thea loves him for it. At one point she overhears a spiteful member of the “wives and girlfriends” club mock Gavin by wondering if he even stutters in bed and she retorts, “yes he does stutter in bed, and it’s beautiful!” Thea’s continual rejection and mistrust of Gavin’s efforts make her seem unpleasant for much of the story, but it all comes together by the end.

 

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