Recurring themes of the month: An unusual amount of science fiction/fantasy, all with characters of Slavic origins. Rereads. Books with the same titles as other books I’ve read.
XXL: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread, science fiction novella. I chose this square because Miles believes he has to be twice as good as everyone else — larger than life — to compensate for his short stature/physical disabilities.
I love this story, and have remembered its last paragraph for years, but I’m not sure I got the full meaning on previous reads. In my memory, it was a story about Miles fully accepting his responsibility towards the seriously impoverished people of his father’s district. But it’s actually much more than that; it’s Miles realizing that he has to be a voice for the people who are like him — different, disabled, considered useless by society — but without the privilege of wealth, education, and status he has. I expected to cry, but realizing that just killed me.
It’s Complicated: Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10: Relationship Status: Complicated. But filling this square could not be easier. As long as my colon key works.
July: Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn.
“‘What’s the date of this music festival?’
‘First Saturday of July. I think it’s the fifth.’
John’s hand spasmed, making his player kick the ball far over the net into the stands.”
July 5th is a day of dread for John, because he’s promised his father to march with the Orange Order. And if his Catholic lover Fergus finds out, their relationship will go straight to hell. Reviewed here.
Insta-WHAT!: Macrieve by Kresley Cole. The hero is sickeningly manipulated to believe he’s found his fated mate.
Mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the hero betrays the heroine and treats her horribly, so I ate it with a spoon. And it doesn’t hurt at all that she stands up for herself and continually calls him on his crap. (The best part of New Old Skool.)
But — the hero’s backstory of being horrifically sexually abused as a child gave me certain expectations for the story around his healing, and those weren’t met. I was also disappointed that he could never really see the parallels between what happened to him and what he was doing to her, no matter how strongly she pointed them out. So I found it very enjoyable but it also left me yearning for the story that didn’t happen.
Quaint: The Bride Fonseca Needs by Abby Green. Boss/personal assistant marriage of convenience because the hero needs to look stable and secure for a business deal. It’s adorable!
Joking aside, props to the author for modernizing the plot in other ways. I appreciated that the hero is grateful to the heroine for her help, rather than despising her for asking for payment in that annoying way of romance billionaires. And she’s no pushover. Also, I can’t resist a hero who falls against his will. On the other hand, boos for the heroine who feels dumpy and then turns out to have a tiny waist. Boo I say!
Tyranny of Distance: Bring Him Home by Karina Bliss. The heroine is a soldier’s widow, whose grief is complicated by anger at her husband for constantly leaving her and their son for another tour of duty.
A very slow burn romance, which is appropriate given that both characters are grieving and the hero is also suffering from survivor’s guilt. It almost went into “he’s just not that into you” territory, but the ending pulled it together beautifully.
Ghost Town: One Frosty Night by Janice Kay Johnson. The death of an anonymous girl metaphorically haunts many residents of a small town. Booya!
I read this because of Lynn’s TBR challenge review; Miss Bates also reviewed it. My reaction is pretty close to theirs. The characters and the depiction of the small town are believable and very well done, and the emotions were strong. I didn’t care as much for the mystery aspect, especially its resolution (or lack thereof.) And the big gesture that reminded me a touch of “Harper Valley PTA.” But I was attracted by the trope of lovers-reunited-after-betrayal and really enjoyed that aspect.
LICK: The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman. This couple has a jar of honey and they’re not afraid to use it!
I continue to struggle with former fav Goodman. This felt so overwritten to me it took me weeks to get through the first half — I actually had to put my Kindle in airplane mode so the library book wouldn’t disappear. Once they get in the sack, the gorgeous sex scenes made it more fun to read, but the ending was somewhat anticlimactic.
Pyrrhic Victory: Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed by Michelle Smart. The hero gets everything he ever wanted… but it means he’ll lose what he now wants most of all. Fun, angsty read. I wrote more about this book and the author at Heroes and Heartbreakers.
Fifty-Fifty: Angel by Victoria Dahl. Short story. I’m going with this square because the story reaches an unexpected equality in the happy ending. The heroine is a biracial prostitute in 1800’s New Orleans and the hero is one of her white clients. It’s a very sweet, tender story, but both realistic and with a strong feminist underpinning that saves it, in my opinion, from being a white savior narrative.
Crushed it!: The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold. The book starts with Miles literally crushing both his legs and thus figuratively crushing his dreams, but that crushing failure leads to a totally crushed-it triumph!
They: Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread
“‘It’s the one thing that convinces me that the Cetagandan haut-lords are still human, after all that genetic tinkering.’
Ivan grimaced. ‘Mutants on purpose are mutants still.'”
“‘Emperors are only human.’ Well, Emperor Gregor was. The Cetagandan emperor was haut-human. Miled hoped that still counted.”
“You can’t get anywhere with these people, or whatever they are.”
I was dreading this part of my reread, my least favorite Vorkosigan book. (Thankfully, it’s clear sailing after here for many books.) It wasn’t so bad. I still dislike the space mystery — a genre I can never follow — and Mile’s instant and completely unwarranted crush on an obnoxious haut Lady — a genre that always pisses me off. But there’s some humor, and his interactions with his cousin Ivan are entertaining.
True Love’s Kiss: Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt. Reviewed here. I expected to go with a fairy tale or something very innocent for this square, but it does end with a kiss and the words “She was with her true love.” Also, I kind of like going in exactly the opposite obvious direction, if you hadn’t noticed.
And the fandom rejoiced!: Waiting for Clark by Annabeth Albert. Cute, geeky former-friends-to-lovers stories. I was going to put this in “Pi” because one hero is a mathematician, but when you have a story that ends with Superman kissing Batman, even in cosplay, well….!
Ice Castles: Can’t Stand the Heat by Shelly Ellis. The Gibbons girls are a entire family of Gigis, literally trained from childhood to take men for as much money as they can without ever feeling emotions towards them. Castles of ice is a good metaphor.
(Content warning: domestic violence. The book is a little scary in parts, though not explicit.)
Lauren breaks away from the family goals after being brutally beaten by her “sugar daddy,” and resolves to change her life. But navigating a healthy relationship with retired football star Cris is complicated, especially with her ex constantly trying to ruin her life.
This African-American romance was really fun in a soap opera sort of way, though I kept wondering how the family kept finding new rich men to fleece in what’s supposed to be a small town. Despite the drama, the main characters are pretty straightforward and likeable; Lauren’s struggles for independence despite all her baggage are touching.
Some parts of the book made me squirm though, including short bits of: transphobia, iffy BDSM portrayals, and objectification of the half black/half Filipino hero. I was also bugged that Cris basically lies about his involvement with another woman while he and Lauren are apart, so if you’re sensitive about even minor cheating, avoid this one.
Pulling Out: Harlot by Victoria Dahl. Novella.
“Try to get him to finish on your stomach instead. It helps if it’s not all inside you. They like to show off that way, anyhow.”
Although I adored the angst and hate sex, I initially thought this was a bit disappointing after reading its prequel, Angel. It’s a more conventional romance, with a gently-used heroine who hates herself for selling her body even more than her childhood sweetheart hates her for it. But Dahl did not let me down.
Wicked: Try to Remember by Vanessa James. Oh, so much wickedness it’s ridiculous. But I love this one.
Summer Lovin’: The Cozakis Bride by Lynne Graham. The heroine frequently flashes back to her early romance with the hero, just like in the song. Okay, so it’s a bit strained, so sue me. The book is a bit strained too.
Pi: Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
“But I was no prize pupil: when I didn’t just forget the spell-words he taught me, they went wrong in my mouth. I slurred and mumbled and muddled them together, so a spell that ought to have set a dozen ingredients neatly out for a pie — ‘I am certainly not trying to train you on potions,’ he had said, caustically — instead mixed them into a solid mess that couldn’t even be saved for my supper.”
Magic + pie. That’s all I got.
Happy Dance: Marriage Under Fire by Daphne Clair.
“She loved to marriage under fire dance, and he took her dancing…”
Because funny formatting errors make me happy.
Betty: The Rawhide Man by Diana Palmer.
I think a “Betty” is what you kids today — or rather, what you kids today 20 years ago — call an attractive woman. Presumably Wilma is the ugly one? Anyway, the heroine of this story definitely thinks she’s the Wilma, and her stepsister is the Betty who steals all her guys. (Since I’m older, I think that should be the Veronica, but this is just getting way too complicated.) Her convenient marriage is a mess and she’s terribly afraid her sister is out to steal her guy again. The fact that her spoiled, selfish stepsister actually just wants to spend some time with her is one of the things I liked about this book. Very typical Palmer formula — if you want to know why on earth I read Palmer, this is one to try.
Going Solo: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread. A very protected character breaks free and runs away.
I’ve liked every Bujold book more on rereads except this one. It’s so dolorous and gloomy, like something Eeyore might write.
Delicate: Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair. Hero calls the tough heroine an “air sprite.” My tbr challenge read for July.
Sausage SIZZLE: The Banker’s Convenient Wife by Lynne Graham. She is helpless to resist the sizzle of his sausage.
18: Rage of Passion by Diana Palmer
“‘I was eighteen,’ she said. ‘Green as grass and infatuated, and every time he kissed me, I was on fire. And then we got married.'”
Also reads (or not):
Ms Marvel: Super Famous. Well bless my Torrid jeans, Ms. Marvel’s best friend has moved on and his new girlfriend is sweet, smart, and chubby-to-fat (depending on who’s drawing her, I guess.) AND when Kamala says something snarky about her size, he gives her what for! I love how this series draws on relevant concerns for its incredible adventures: this time it’s gentrification, and the stress of trying to live a normal teenage life and a superhero life.
Troublemaker by Linda Howard. DNF. If I wanted to read a book about the world’s most spoiled dog and constant definitions of Man-Food, I would… well, I don’t, so never mind.
Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta Chase. DNF. I completely loathe Olivia and am giving this up before it ruins Lord Perfect for me.
Mr. Loverman by Mary Lyons. DNF. I was utterly baffled as to why I even own this — the merest glance at the reviews shows it’s not going to be my cuppa — and then remembered it was a Kobo error.