A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Caught in the Act

Hub and I were having lunch today and I noticed four college-aged kids nearby, an Asian guy sitting with a white girl and white guy sitting with an Asian girl. And I immediately started wondering about why they were all together. Were the two Asian people siblings? They didn’t look ethnically similar…

And then I realized I’d caught myself being totally racist. And in a way that’s particularly egregious, because there’s so much of that kind of racism/heterocentrism/ableism etc. in the book world. “Why are there black people in this historical?” “Why is this couple lesbians when it’s not important to the story?” “Why does there need to be someone in a wheelchair — it’s just pandering.”

Why does there need to be any kind of story about four friends or coworkers or whatever eating in a restaurant, just because two of them aren’t white? Because I’m a white person and  I’ve absorbed a lot of shit and I may never get rid of it all. :-(

Leave a comment »

TBR Challenge: Stealing Heaven by Madeline Hunter

The theme: a historical romance. Ha! 90% of my print tbr is historical.

Why this one: Writing about Hunter’s Medieval romances reminded me that this is the only one of her books I’ve never read. Or at least, finished; I’ve started and skimmed it so often, I almost felt like I had read it before. Although I still felt some resistance, it did finally take this time.

Hunter’s Medieval couples are often involved in power struggles, and this may be the longest, toughest battle of them all. Marcus and Nesta are both very intelligent schemers fighting for very high stakes — patriotism/their people — and they spend most of the book at odds, even as they fall in love. Nesta tries hard not to have a physical relationship with him, telling him: “our lack of choices makes this embrace a mockery. A prelude to each of us betraying the other.” But though they do indeed betray each other constantly, they can’t betray their true feelings.

I think as an early romance reader, I found it hard to accept Nesta, who is something of a femme fatale. And truthfully, it’s still not a type I’m all that fond of in romance. But I did grow to appreciate her cleverness, and feel sympathy for the torn loyalties that drive her. Marcus is also not my favorite hero, though it’s harder to put my finger on why. I think perhaps both are written at a bit of a remove… even while in their thoughts, we don’t know everything they’re planning, so we don’t see their best facets until the book is almost over. The focus is largely on their physical attraction for a long time, and I think that’s the heart of my issue: the story goes to a sexy place very early on. Although Hunter is an excellent writer of what AAR calls “luscious” love stories, I tend to enjoy them less when they focus very quickly, very strongly on sex.

But Hunter’s writing is always elegant and if you enjoy this sort of forbidden love — Joanna Bourne’s The Black Hawk is a good comparison — it’s certainly worth a read. One of the more interesting aspects of it for me was as an example of  “reader consent.” In the course of the book, Marcus does something quite shocking to Nesta: it’s not rape or any form of overt violence, but it is a pretty sick-making form of coercion. But I went from being completely disgusted to reluctantly convinced to accept, if not approve of, his action. Pretty impressive, considering I wasn’t totally attached to the characters to begin with.



I’m kinda/sorta reading Asking for It by Lilah Pace — which is to say, I started it, skimmed, read the end, and found that interesting enough that I want to go back and read the parts I skipped, in my copious spare time. This is just a random thought about the hero’s name: Jonah. It’s not at all the name you’d associate with a dark hero, is it, even one whose darkness is always fully consensual? Sounds like a sweet kind of guy, doesn’t it?

It may just be the author likes the name, but I wonder if it was actually a very clever bit of naming. Because the sweet guy is who Jonah should have grown up to be, if life hadn’t fucked with him.






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. :-) )

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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.

1 Comment »

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.


Queer Romance Month

because love is not a subgenre

Cate Marsden.

Love and Zombies. And infrequent updates.

Book Thingo

Reading (mostly) romance books down under

Shallowreader's Blog

...barely scratching the surface of romance literature, reading and libraries

Olivia Dade

Writer. Reader. Hussy.

Flight into Fantasy

Romance, speculative fiction, and YA book reviews, book chatter, and random silliness

Her Hands, My Hands

The vagaries of my mind, the products of my hands.


64 books. 1 Champion. Get your game on.

Stop the STGRB Bullies

Your hypocrisy is showing

Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

Miss Bates Reads Romance

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 69 other followers