This was an exceptionally hard card! Nonetheless, I filled the entire thing because a) I read a LOT and b) I am an expert rationalizer!
Recurring themes of the month: Heroes who have never known love. “Unwomanly” heroines. Heroines with odd clothing obsessions. Landscape gardeners. Plastic surgery. Trains, often crashing. Twins (again). Dead brothers. Fake engagements. Depressing pregnancies. Technical adultery. Heroine pregnant with/had hero’s brother’s child (and one carrying her sister’s child.) Friends who couldn’t possibly be lovers. New to me series. Rereads. Single point of view.
“Ole”: The Unexpected Baby by Diana Hamilton. Heroine lives in Spain. Very typical (especially of Hamilton) Big Mis/Cruel Hero Harlequin Presents starring two idiots. I like that sort of thing so enjoyed it until it got a little too silly at the end.
“Epic Disaster Wardrobe Tragedy”: A Fashionable Indulgence by K.J. Charles. This would also have fit under “twins” but it fits so exquisitely perfectly in this square, I have to wonder if the book actually inspired it. Anyway, this is a rich, complex, gorgeously written Regency romance. The historical aspects are particularly resonant today — or perhaps they would be at any time? I did get a little tired of how many things were effed up — as Charles puts it in the third novel of the series, “Harry attracted disaster like few other men.”
“May”: Forget Me Not by Jordan Castillo Price. A hard book to place, but there is a mention of May. My TBR Challenge read for the month.
“Brunch”: Flawless by Sara Craven. Another simple mention. Wacky “dig two graves” revenge story involving plastic surgery; by no means even the wackiest HP with this theme I’ve read! I kind of love how deeply messed up the heroine is, though an actual happy ending is perhaps a little hard to picture.
“Narcissism”: This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman.
“‘Oh yes. Apollo, the Sun God.’
She shrugged. ‘That what I called him.’
‘To his face?’
‘Lord, no. What would be the sense of giving a man already so full of himself another reason to beat his chest?'”
This scene is really more about Calico Nash protecting herself. Quill McKenna (this series has the weirdest names… I’m looking forward to my namesake Willa Pancake) is not actually all that full of himself. I found this story a bit slow, and the mystery was super obvious as well as drawn out, but the hero/hero interactions are sweet and fun. Goodman does some of the best sexy beta heroes.
“Inchoate cohesion”: Winter Destiny by Grace Green.
“His eyes swirled with the rich blue-green of petrol spilled on a wet road.”
“‘Your perfume…’ His tone held a faint hint of surprise. ‘I’d expected you to wear something more… sultry. I don’t recognize this fragrance.’
‘It’s new,’ Courtney said tersely. ‘It’s called Get Lost.'”
I love me a cruel hero who thinks badly of the heroine yet can’t help falling for her, but this one was kind of lacking in sense. Somehow the woman who struggled to bring up a daughter on her own is a terrible person and a homewrecker? And it’s better to tell the child’s paternal grandma that the heroine wickedly seduced her child’s father than, oh let’s say, they were both drunk and made a mistake — and to blackmail the heroine into going along with that awful story? Because that will somehow help with the overall goal of getting her and the child stay with them? Some nice angsty goodness, and I liked that the heroine was no doormat, but the plotline hurt my head.
“Love triangle”: Dark Angel by Mary Balogh. Engaged heroine is attracted against her will by vengeful bad boy… or is he? Reread.
“Close but no cigar”: Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos by Bucky Sinister. A lot of good stuff in here — I enjoyed the comparison between the 12 step process and The Hero’s Journey — but I felt kind of let down by the approach for atheists.
“Lashings”: At the End of the Day by Betty Neels. Lashings of cream — twice! I’m so glad I didn’t have to go with the more obvious use of the word. 😉 One of those charming Neels that feels like it was written 30 years before it was (did nurses really scold diabetic patients for not eating their bread, ever?!) Chock full of food and Jersey dresses and green berets (I used to wear one!) and pets and a hero who refuses to just plain court the heroine for some neurotic reason of his own.
“Train Travel”: Sleeping Desire by Charlotte Lamb. Not the best advertisement for train travel, as there’s a crash that leads to the heroine’s amnesia.
This is a fascinating book, because I think Lamb was writing a hero with an attachment disorder, possibly before there was a definition for it. He grew up in an orphanage, without love, and is extremely charming and manipulative, as well as secretive. It says something about me as a reader that I didn’t mind the hero’s bad behavior (lying to the heroine, trying to keep her captive, manhandling her) nearly as much as I minded her family being on his side. An intense but thoughtful read. Also, gotta love the heroine’s obsession with denim pantsuits.
“Touch vs. Sight”: 22 Nights by Linda Winstead Jones. One hero is temporarily blinded.
“a walk in the park”: Bride by Command by Linda Winstead Jones. (Coincidentally enough, the book that follows 22 Nights. A series finished, yay!) The (twin!) hero forces the heroine on a journey thinking to punish her, but it turns out to be a pleasure for both of them. The secondary couple also takes long walks in the garden.
“Abstinence”: Falling in Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath. Our heroine is a spinster firmly on the shelf because men only want her for her dowry. She is damned tired of abstinence and decides to find herself some pleasure. Decent wallpaper historical; I like that Minerva has an unexpectedly full life with her friends and family, much of it spent in her father’s former gaming hell. (Her parents and siblings are characters from previous Heath series.)
“Ooooh! That would be grand!”: Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh. (Audiobook)
“‘You can have a garden here.’
‘Yes, I can, can’t I!'”
Heroine is a prisoner for centuries, and dreams of all she’ll do when she’s free.
“Bloom”: Against the Wall by Jill Sorenson.
“…my heart blossoms the same way, pumping with vibrant emotion.”
“Suck it!”: Nameless by Claire Kent. There is a blow-job scene, but mainly I chose this square because that’s what the heroine is essentially saying to the hero for at least the first half of the book.
The story: commitment-shy heroine with controlling ex + emotionally controlled hero + one-night stand = pregnancy. Heroine then spends the next
500 years 9 months pushing the hero away.
This was… long. And detailed. Very, very detailed. The author notes at the end that she hasn’t been pregnant or a mother — perhaps that prompted her to go a little overboard on “getting it right.” (Which I’d say she does.) And a good editor could really have helped with various annoyances, and paragraphs like this:
“Her storm of emotions didn’t last very long, so soon she was able to pull herself away from him. ‘That was an unexpected emotional ordeal that I wasn’t remotely prepared for, but at least it didn’t last very long.'”
But don’t think that I hated this. Slow-burn romances in which the experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood are given a great deal of attention aren’t common, so the very novelty was interesting. And the emotions were well drawn and affecting. I thought Kent did a good job of taking her usual scenario — heroine pov only, but hero obviously in love — and going somewhere a little different with it.
“Little Fluffy Clouds”: The Pregnancy Plan by Grace Green. There is a reference to clouds in the book, but I mostly choose this square because I found the book pretty damn gooey. Also bothersome in a number of ways, including terrible fertility/reproduction misinformation (one of my biggest pet peeves.) No sir — I didn’t like it.
“Dead Dogs”: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rawling. Technically, hub hasn’t finished reading this one aloud, but damn it fits too perfectly — in a horrible way — to pass up. Also, if I have to suffer through listening to Harry’s obnoxious 15-year-old tantrums, I deserve some payback.
“That Dress”: In for the Kill by Shannon McKenna.
“That dress is now reserved exclusively for our fantasy sex play. The game I call ‘The Deflowering.'”
(7 mentions of “that dress.”)
I appreciated that this is light on the woo-woo of the last couple of McCloud books — not to mention, the tendency to put the kids of previous couples in danger — but that didn’t save it from being meh. Hero Sam seems like such a sad sack, even when he turns out to be — surprise! — a brilliant financial gazillionaire. (Alas, he’s no Transformer.) And Sveti is dumber than a sack of hammers, which is so disappointing. (She was introduced in my favorite McKenna book, Extreme Danger, so of course I wanted her to be awesome.) There wasn’t the intensity I associate with the best books of this series, or much in the way of humor either. I did like the little twist that Sveti stalks Sam at least as much as he stalks her. The final wrap-up for the series is sweet.
“Do the Shake”: The Greek’s Marriage Bargain by Sharon Kendrick. Shaking with rage, shaking hands, shaking voice, shaking like a leaf.
I stopped reading Kendrick some time ago, but this book got a bit of attention on Twitter for not having a miracle baby ending and I decided to give it a try. It was much more down to earth and realistic than I expect from this author — most notorious for the “Little Lizard” book — and a decently emotional story.
“Twins”: A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. Miles and Mark — twins born 6 years apart.
This was my third or fourth time reading this and oh my, how it has grown on me. I laughed so hard. I waited with bated breath for events I, of course, knew would happen. Going to do a whole series reread now, I think.
“Silver Fox”: A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles. Two older heroes with grey in their hair.
I adore Charles’s homages to classic popular literature, but I think it’s awesome that she went completely original here, with characters and conflicts I’ve never seen in a Regency before. It suffers just a bit from overlapping with the first book but is brilliantly complex, vivid, and intense. Superb writing. An excellent choice for a romance conversion kit.
“Unicorns”: Well Played by Katrina Ramos Atienza.
A contemporary Pride and Prejudice rewrite set at a University in the Philippines, which is also an NA book with absolutely NO SEX. *faints* It doesn’t really bring anything new to the story, but the fresh voice is fun.
“Elemental, My Dear Watson”: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. Miles Vorkosigan = mystery + science. And the ending that made me bawl, of course. That title is a truly tasteless joke, but apparently was not Bujold’s idea.
“15”: The Burning Lamp by Frances Murray.
“An open cancer of the neck… Phemie stared out the window but she didn’t see the sickening sore which was dressed every day, she saw 15’s patient face and remembered her five children…”
An evocative little scene. Student nurse Phemie may know her patients as numbers, but that doesn’t stop her from seeing them as people. This would also fit very nicely under “train travel” — much description of Phemie’s journey to the wild west. There’s also a love triangle for about five seconds.
This was one of Valancy’s April Bingo books and it sounded right up my alley. It is. Phemie is what Heyer’s Grand Sophy might be like, if she weren’t born to wealth, privilege, and height. Indominatible and dryly witty, she’s an utter delight. This is an older style of historical romance — the love story is secondary to Phemie’s conquering of pretty much everything and everyone that stands in the way of her Colorado hospital, but totally winning in its understated way. (Note that this was written by an English writer in 1974 so can be a bit wincey around race at times, though always well-meaning.)
A Gentleman’s Position by K.J. Charles. Although I would have to say A Seditious Affair is a more impressive book overall, this one won my heart with its romance. The prim and upright Richard of the previous books is totally melted here, and love turns him into a poet. So swoony.
Lord Carew’s Bride by Mary Balogh. Reread. Unusual romance, one of Balogh’s best. On this reading, I was really struck by the hero’s competence and creativity as a landscape designer. Wish he would come do our yard.
The Famous Heroine by Mary Balogh. Reread. Another sweet, different romance, with more of an emphasis on humor. A bit too light on the romance.
The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath. DNF. An identical twin reluctantly impersonates his dead brother to get his sister-in-law safely through her pregnancy. I was really looking forward to this one, and saving the “twins” square for it. But I found I just couldn’t hack it. For one thing, I was bugged by how everything about the hero was suddenly so much improved. I’ll give the book credit for having the heroine love her husband, but his new self is just so much better — he’s a better estate manager, he’s sexier, he even sleeps nude, unlike her old fogey first husband! But what most bugged me was the idea of all the heroine’s memories of her husband being tainted by the imposture. It’s just such an ugly thing to do, even with the best of intentions.
Lady Surrender by Carole Mortimer.
Bad Company by K.A. Mitchell. DNF.
Pain Slut by J.A. Rock. DNF. I loved The Sub’s Club, and the parts of this I read were good, but scalpels and needles and such are just too scary for me.
The Persistence of Memory by Jordan Castillo Price. Netgalley book. I still owe a review. Any minute now…