Recurring themes of the month: Witnesses in jeopardy. Tough guys dancing with babies. Revenge. Artists. Cornwall. Sassy gay friends/relatives, including in m/m. Heroines named variants of Katherine. Russian heroes who get to call such heroines Katya. Heroines who had loving but passionless marriages with much older men. Significant others with bad secrets. Adultery. Somewhat off-genre romance. Terrible books that I hated. 😦
Delusional: The Sound of Snow by Katherine Kingsley. The heroine believes her cousin is a little spoiled but basically good-hearted. Hahahahahaha. My TBR Challenge read.
Suddenly: Midnight Man by Lisa Marie Rice. Everything was sudden in this. BAM they’re hot for each other, BAM they’re having sex, BAM she’s in deep shit, BAM he makes everything okay again.
I haven’t read a lot of Rice because my reaction to her “traditionally hypermasculine meets traditionally hyperfeminine” formula ranges from “Not really my thing” to “Jeez, that’s disturbing.” (Leaning towards the disturbing: the description of the heroine’s much-softer-than-other-women’s pubic hair.) There were definitely disturbing elements here, particularly the truly superfluous, nasty treatment of a sympathetic gay character. (In a book with so little space devoted to anything other than sex scenes, you have to give time to that?) But the fantasy of the incredibly strong, competent, sexy hero who comes along and makes everything okay is a pretty powerful one, and perhaps works especially well in such a tight, concentrated book.
August: And One Last Thing by Molly Harper. The heroine married her husband on August 1st, a fact which becomes very pertinent when she receives the wrong woman’s anniversary flowers.
A July read from Valancy. Funny story about a woman going a bit ’round the bend when she discovers her husband is cheating on her. Overall, pretty positive. Very chicklit in feel, with a nice emphasis on her personal growth, but also romantic.
Kick it!: Only Beloved by Mary Balogh. I kicked it to the curb. 😦 So freaking nice and sweet, I fell asleep in my blancmange.
Glacial: The Sun at Midnight by Sandra Field.
I figured this would go to a cold character, but then a Harlequin Presents with an Arctic tundra setting fell into my lap! Oh man, do I miss the 90s.
Quite a lovely read; the heroine is a biology student doing research, and her passion for the animals and environment really shine through. The story was also pretty good if you like anger and betrayal, though the plot details felt a little off in some ways.
I’m Not Worthy: Claiming His Wife by Diana Hamilton. Insecure heroine is so afraid she’ll suck in bed for her player husband, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Shallow, dull, stupid book. I was especially pissed when it turned out the heroine’s independence after leaving her husband was entirely orchestrated by him.
Shades: Once Upon a Moonlit Night by Elizabeth Hoyt.
This square made me think of Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice: “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” She would be beyond horrified by this match. And it amused me to use a historical romance for shades. No, you’re reaching.
PRIDE: The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black.
“John, did you see those boys at the bar the other night? They weren’t just out and proud, they were out and proud in flashing neon, you know? I’ll never be that far out of the closet. I’ll never be anyone but myself. But it seem to me I’ve been missing something critical. I see that in you too. Missing the right to love.”
I decided to go with “pride” because it’s something the two main characters have never gotten to feel around their sexuality or relationship, but they’re starting to move there at the end. More thoughts at “Heroes and Heartbreakers.”
Cool Bananas: The Counterfeit Secretary by Susan Napier.
“Ria was thankful that she had never felt a spark of personal interest in the man. She knew him too well to find him as irresistible as other women did… she had been too well forewarned.”
Yes, she starts off cool. Then she goes bananas.
Evil Side Eye: The Desert Virgin by Sandra Marton.
I was side-eying this entire ridiculous and offensive book, but especially the “hero” who is EVIL. On top of more typical douchecanoe hero behavior, he tacitly approves of enslavement.
Dreaming: Even Odds by Elia Winters.
A erotic romance in which
— POC are described in ways which don’t sound like bad food porn?
— The hero has non-appropriative tattoos and a great awareness of the importance of consent?
— both heroine and hero respect each other’s boundaries?
— the characters get creative when they don’t have condoms, instead of assuring each other they’re clean?
— non-physical perfect geeks have confident social lives? (And gimme a book for Dan now, please.)
— sexual harassment is taken seriously?
— All with laughs and lots of steam and a few heart tugs?
I must be dreaming!
Bop: Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here by Anna Breslaw. The main character is dragged to a dance and even dances a bit. Sharp, funny YA story. I didn’t buy the resolution of the romance plot.
So Utterly Perfect: The Wedding Journey by Carla Kelly. I wouldn’t say this is Kelly’s best book, or my favorite, but it was exactly the palate cleanser I need after the false piety of The Sound of Snow. It’s a harrowing story, but always goodhearted and life-affirming.
This was also the story that made me realize if Lois McMaster Bujold wrote historical romance, it would read a lot like Carla Kelly.
Would you like a cuppa tea, Love!: Vows of Revenge by Dani Collins. It seems kind of wrong to give this square to an American book, but the hero going to visit a mother-figure is a turning point for him.
Loved this one. Just what a modern day Harlequin Presents should be, IMO.
Rags to Riches: With His Kiss by Laurey Bright. The heroine’s late husband was a philanthropist who helped musically talented kids from poor backgrounds; the hero is one of the success stories.
!: Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread.
I thought that The Mountains of Mourning had deepened on reread! This one I barely remembered, other than Taura, and now it hit me like a ton of bricks.
“‘What else do you wish for, Taura?’ Miles asked earnestly.
Slowly she replied. ‘I wish I were normal.’
Miles was silent too. ‘I can’t give you what I don’t possess myself,’ he said at length. The words seemed to lie in inadequate lumps between them. He roused himself to a better effort. ‘No. Don’t wish that. I have a better idea. Wish to be yourself. To the hilt….
Look at Nicol — or look at Captain Thorne, and tell me what ‘normal’ is, and why I should give a damn for it.'”
Almost Kiss: Red Moon Rising by Lori Handeland.
“His gaze drifted to my lips. I swayed, and I wasn’t even dizzy. I wanted to kiss him, right there in the middle of another burning wasteland. We should be running for cover, calling the cops; instead we were staring into each other’s eyes and puckering up.
Clay dropped my hand and stepped away. At least one of us had some wits left.”
Terrible short story. TSTL heroine and brusque sloppy writing that feels more like an outline than a narrative. There are a few laughs.
Small MAN: A Shot at Forgiveness by Cardeno C. Hero is a small man who likes big men. He scores.
Romances about former bullies and their bull-ees are my catnip — BUJEET all the way! — but this short story required a huge suspension of disbelief. If someone who had once bullied me started stalking me, I would at the very least be nervous about his possible agenda. Definitely a fantasy read, and doesn’t have much angst, which seems like a waste. I think it’s an interracial romance, although we aren’t told much beyond — you guessed it — “mocha-colored skin”
roam: Gunslinger by Lorraine Heath. Novella originally titled Long Stretch of Lonesome. The hero is always on the move, longing for a home he thinks he doesn’t deserve. An enjoyable sentimental story. (Insert obligatory “I wish Heath still wrote Westerns” comment here.)
A+ Bestie: Rightful Possession by Sally Wentworth. I won’t say what the bestie does, since it’s a spoiler, but it’s just what you’d want in a bestie.
Soft focus: Snowed by Pamela Burford. The hero is a photographer and there’s a nice soft-focus cover.
This seemed very familiar to me, and I’m guessing I started or skimmed it a few years ago, but then got put off by the reviews. Despite the faux incest, I quite liked it, as it turned out. Very sensual. The hero is a touch old skool, but not too bad as they go.
HOMEcoming: Breaking the Rules by Barbara Samuels (Ruth Wind). The heroine, a former foster child, has yearned for a home and security all her life.
I’m not sure exactly why — maybe it’s classism on my part — but the hero of this book totally put me off. Even his dancing with a baby couldn’t make up for him referring to himself in the third person as “old Zeke.” Bleh.
Petite: No Longer Forbidden? by Dani Collins. A sad square choice… the heroine was coerced into pursuing a dancing career by her mother, and has infertility caused by lack of body fat. There’s a happy ending but no magic cure. (I know petite is more height than weight in terms of fashion, but the dictionary definition allowed it. Enough, anyway.)
Gaslight: Lessons in Pleasure by Victoria Dahl. Victorian set novella. The heroine has been gaslighted by her entire society, but specifically by a very evil doctor.
I didn’t find this as touching or powerful as Dahl’s Americana historicals, but it did have some teeth to it. And it gave me some serious shivers, though thankfully the scary part is over quickly.
X: The Wicked Duke by Madeline Hunter. I’m going with X as in X-rated here… not because the book is all that graphic (though more so than she would’ve written ten years ago.) But the scenes showing how “wicked” the duke can be were more X-rated than I really wanted in a romance hero. Props for not making him another fake-rake, I guess…
A well written book, but the relationship arc reminded me a lot of The Rules of Seduction, which is one of my top ten favorites, so this inevitably suffered in comparison.
Also read (or not):
Static by L.A. Witt. Fascinating story. More here.
Fallen by Lauren Kate. YA paranormal cliches galore, particularly the undying love for a completely blah character. Meh. A better narrator might have saved it — not bad overall, but the teen voices were pretty terrible — but then again, there is the scene in which the heroine has witnessed another character cut an innocent person’s throat in cold blood, before tying the heroine up in a sacrificial cross with a knife to her throat, and then actually says in bewilderment, “you wouldn’t hurt me?” THUD.
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. Cute, romantic story with a prickly heroine. Shallower than I expect from Tyler, but considering I couldn’t finish her previous book, I’ll take it.
Indiscreet by Mary Balogh. Reread. I wouldn’t call this a favorite, and yet somehow I seem to reread it more than any of her others. Perhaps it’s because I passed on my copy when I owned it, so I keep borrowing it when the opportunity arises.
Exposure by Susan Andersen. Another one for “almost kiss” and “I’m not worthy.” I was pretty iffy about a book recommended for having an adorable little girl character, but I guess now my son is a teen, adorable little kids work for me again. She is indeed damn cute, but also believable. The big hero is very sweet too, although I felt he was sometimes hypermasculinized, as if to make up for the fact that he’s disabled. (Prosthetic hook.) He always seems to be flinging the heroine around.
Sweet Ruin by Kresley Cole. After a bumpy start, I was surprised to find myself totally into this. It goes in a different direction with fated mates than Cole’s usual, because the hero has been a whore for so long, he’s cut himself off from feeling any emotional connection to sex. He can’t understand why fidelity is important to his mate. The bad-ass but deeply lonely heroine is pretty awesome, and there’s some good banter as well as angst.
Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole. DNF. Snoozeville.
The Curse on Tenth Grave by Dyranda Jones. DNF. Shark. Jumped.
The Bedding Proposal by Tracy Anne Warren. DNF. Could not get into the writing style at all. People laughing at things that aren’t funny.
The Master by Kresley Cole. Kind of an odd mash-up of Cole’s paranormals with Harlequin Presents. The snark works, the Russian guy sounded just like one of her werewolves not so much. Don’t know if I’ll bother to read the others in the series, since they all sound exactly the same (tortured Russian mob billionaires into BDSM.)