Wow. I completely filled my bingo card with no leftovers!
Recurring Themes of the month: twins, adoption, heroes who aren’t physically perfect (!), class differences, low self-esteem, adultery, fairy tale retellings/stories inspired by literature, serious ketchup, recommend reads.
“Pulp:” Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade. Librarian heroine, author hero, much book love from both. Very funny, light novella. Almost all of it takes place on one night, and I thought the intense commitment happened too quickly. Full disclosure: the author is a dear internet friend and we frequently exchange squishy virtual hugs.
“Mother Ship”: No Matter What by Janice Kay Johnson. Another complex, tangled family situation from Johnson; it’s well written and thoughtful, albeit a bit too tidy. I liked that this book not only took a fairly neutral stance towards abortion, but also considered adoption, from the standpoint of the pregnant woman, which often doesn’t even get a nod in romances featuring pregnancy — though perhaps it doesn’t count since the pregnant woman isn’t the heroine.
“April”: Duncan’s Bride by Linda Howard. The hero’s ex-wife’s name. Reread of a fun oldie.
“Bodily Fluids”: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This young adult m/m fantasy could have gone in a number of squares, but it tickles me to put it here, since it’s a vampire story that isn’t remotely sexually explicit.
I enjoyed the characters and the magic working in this so much — spells come from the power of oft-repeated phrases, like “Nothing to See Here” or “Can’t Touch This” — that I didn’t really notice until after I’d finished that the world building and character building (other than the primary characters) is pretty sparse. Its resemblance to Harry Potter was both distracting (at least initially) and really necessary in order to follow it — it felt like fanfic rather than a complete, original story. But I did love the enemies to lovers romance, and the humor.
“Emoticon”: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kay Hegelson. Epistolary novel told in blog posts, email, texts, etc. Many emoticons. My review at GoodReads.
“Non Compos Mentis”: Shadow Play by Sally Wentworth. One of those intriguing Harlequin Presents in which the hero falls in love in a straightforward manner, but the heroine is the rub. In this case, she strongly suspects that the hero’s adopted son is the child she was forced to give up, which she’s sure will come back to bite her on the ass if they stay together. I loved that this wasn’t an offensive, infuriating mess like Sandra Brown’s A Secret Splendour, which felt like a giant slap in the face to adoptive parents.
There’s also a gorgeously tragic story within a story, which I wish I could actually read. (That’s where the “Non Compos Mentis” comes in — the heroine of that story is drugged and seduced.)
“Bazaar”: Stars Above by Marissa Meyer. I was so tempted to put this in “Dirty,” because of mechanic Cinder and no sex at all, but, well, almost any book could go in “Dirty!” We get Cinder and Kai’s meeting at the Bazaar from his pov, because of course we do.
Aside from the poignant “The Little Android,” which is only loosely related to the series, this is less a collection of stories than short sketches, designed for fan-service or bum bum BUUMMMMMM effect for those who have read the entire Lunar Chronicles. (There are spoilers galore.) I did love the clever HEA epilogue for the four main couples, with a hint of one for a secondary couple.
“68 and I’ll Owe You One”: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase. As was once quite typical in mainstream romance, especially historical, the heroine gets pleasured more than the hero does.
I almost DNF’d this one; the plot seemed tiresome and the characters pale echoes of those from Mr. Impossible and The Last Hellion. My perseverance was rewarded by one of those great angry love scenes that Chase does so well and so humorously. By the end of the book, I was pretty happy with it.
“Dirty”: Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark.
“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the things you said. The one thing was so beautiful and the other so dirty.”
“Nothing wrong with wanting both.”
A mature, satisfying contemporary romance that would also work nicely in “If you can dream it you can do it.” I really liked that even though the hero has far more money and status than the heroine, it was not a Cinderella story, and they both have important arcs around their life journeys. The parts about the sonngwriter/performer’s hero creative process were especially captivating.
“Dark Lord”: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. ‘Nuff said.
“Aphrodite”: Mirrored by Alex Flinn. It’s impossible not to compare this to Fairest by Marissa Meyer, another origin story for Snow White’s evil queen. They both give the queen the same basic motivations: ugly, horribly bullied, and in love with someone she can’t have. But though Mayer’s Levana was evil on a far larger scale than Flinn’s Violet, there was a true horror and pathos to her story that’s almost missing here. It’s very hard to empathize with Violet, or to feel that she truly lost out on anything, when her “true love” was such a wretched, shallow person. Flinn’s message about beauty and inner beauty feels confused, and I felt the plot squeezed in all the original story elements in an implausible way.
On the plus side, I loved that Celine’s handsome prince is a “person of short stature,”; he’s also a wonderful character, and the best part of the story.
“Ka ching”: Beautiful Stranger by Ruth Wind. Heroine is extremely wealthy. My TBR Challenge book.
“Crush”: His One and Only by Theodora Taylor. Hero and heroine grew up together and both crushed. I liked this interracial romance, though I’m not entirely sure why. Even aside from the infamous “kit kat” issue — the heroine’s only term for her sexual organs — it’s perturbing that she falls for an extremely controlling guy after (just barely) surviving domestic violence. She is aware of the danger signs, but I think trusts him too readily. On the other hand, the treatment of the hero’s recent blindness is pretty good. And I enjoyed the overall Harlequin Present-ishness of it, but with a unique voice.
“Envy”: Light and Shadow by Lisa Gregory (aka Candace Camp.) An actress pretends to be her twin sister, causing confusion for the husband who had learned to hate her. I love this trope, and it’s well done here. There’s also a surprisingly sensitive treatment of the hero’s child, who is intellectually disabled.
“Magenta”: Violet Fire by Jo Goodman. After DNFing around four books with characters named Magenta, I went for a book cover.
This is somewhat similar in plotline to Light and Shadow, with the difference that both the husband and young child quickly realize the twin is not their missing wife/mother. Goodman hadn’t hit her writing stride yet, but she’s getting there. Unfortunately, this is a plantation romance, and a rather irritatingly coy one at that. The hero owns a tobacco plantation in Virginia, before the Civil War, staffed by “workers” and “servants.” One of the few actual mentions of slavery is a disapproving thought from one of the book’s worst villains; the others are from another villain, and it comes across as him being just too vulgar for words.
“Shot Gun!” : Faith and Fidelity by Tere Michaels. This is such a family story — one of the heroes is a widower with 4 kids — that it just seemed to fit.
“Bluffing”: The Sub’s Club by J.A. Rock. Is the hero bluffing? Half the time he doesn’t know himself. This was my choice for best read of the month.
“This Means WAR”: A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver.
“They’d made their deal and the terms were hers to set. But inside those rules? He would take ruthless advantage of every opportunity open to him. This was only the first battle in a protracted war, and he would withdraw to fight again another day.”
One of my favorite tropes: a hero forced to marry cruelly abandons the heroine, then must win her back. In this case, he chooses a delicious slow seduction, which I suppose is more fun to read about than simply telling her what his problem was and asking for forgiveness. It’s kind of an old skool plot, but with a more new skool hero. (He does cheat, but just barely!) A bit heavy on the Big Mis, and could have used more sense of place — the hero keeps travelling to and from Italy, but I never knew how — but a very enjoyable read overall.
“Dear Diary”: The Seal Wife by Eleanor Rees. Hero has diaries of his “misspent youth” which he’s turned into bestselling thrillers. I enjoyed the strong sense of place and evocative theme of this story, but it was the strong sensible heroine that really won my heart.
I have no idea what is up with this box. The WordPress Gods must be angry with me.
|“Ice Ice Baby”: Luck Be a Lady by Meredith Duran. An “ice queen” heroine, and not a very sympathetic one at that. I almost DNF’d, because I really wasn’t connecting with the characters. I seem very much against the swim in preferring the previous book.
“Dance Like No One is Watching”: Be My Girl! by Lucy Gordon. The heroine is a professional dancer, but more than that, she’s on a seemingly hopeless quest to get the attention of the man she loves. Cute, mostly lighthearted story that flips the category romance with hero-point-of-view only.
“Silverback”: Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh. Because of the unconventional alpha.
“Uxorious”: Frozen by Meljean Brook. The hero cooks for her! He’ll tear down mountains for her! Oh, and also he’ll literally encase himself in ice to keep her safe from him.
This starts off in the genre of fated mate paranormals ala Kresley Cole, those in which the hero will chew his own leg off to get to his mate. The premise actually made me pretty uncomfortable. But then I realized it was exploring consent in those stories — not only the heroine’s inability to consent, but the hero’s as well, which is pretty damn cool. Heh.
“If you can dream it you can do it”: Wish on the Moon by Sally Wentworth. I’m going for an ironic choice here, because the heroine does nothing but dream — she falls in love with her cousin’s fiance and is trying to be honorable. Really good for an only moderate angst old HP.
“House Keeper”: Leonetti’s Housekeeper Bride by Lynne Graham. Low angst, likeable HP.