TW: Mention of rape under the “Queen” square. And a Charlotte Lamb book under “Awakened.”
Recurring themes of the month: Dull mysteries. Scandal in the title. Anger because of fathers whose businesses were ruined. (Or were they?) Characters who have sex with two members of the same family. (Or did they?) Futuristic cell phone technology. Greeks. Convenient marriages. Older, mainstream historical romances that acknowledge black people weren’t recently invented. Heroines with mercurial tempers. Not-too-creepy stepsibs. Confused heroines. Heroines I wanted to kick in the pants. Heroes with dormant libidoes. Heroes who were once child prostitutes. (There may be a link.) Heroines with scars. Lovers offended because they think they were given money for their “services.” Heroes seeking divorce from their heroines. Heroes named Leo. Characters with leg injuries — a subset of whom had ruined dance careers. Mud. Tangerine outfits. (Yes, I notice and remember the weirdest things.)
Smoke Screen: The Yuletide Seduction by Carole Mortimer. The heroine has changed her name, lifestyle, and hair color to escape the hero — but did it work? That should be “did it work?!” Because! So! Many! Exclamations points!
Proposals: Sweet, Filthy Boy by Christina Lauren.
Long tangent: The other day I was watching the director commentary for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (short tangent: it’s adorable! He loves the movie so much! He sings along with the songs!) and it reminded me of a scene from the original “Odd Couple” show. The plot is, Felix objects at the wedding of Oscar’s ex-wife, and Oscar is pretty steamed about it, because it means he’ll have to keep paying her alimony. The scene goes something like this:
Felix: “What are you watching?”
Oscar: “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”
Felix: “How is it?”
Oscar: “Great. Seven weddings and no one’s objected.”
The comic timing is wonderful, as I remember it from about 40 years ago, but possibly the main reason this stuck in my head is… well, it’s wrong. There are only two weddings in the movie.
Anyway, this square choice is a little like that. There are three Las Vegas weddings, so presumably three proposals. So I’m using it for this square, even though we don’t actually see any of them. And you can’t stop me.
Oh, the book? I enjoyed it very much, though it was heavy on the sex scenes for my taste. Likable, relatable characters, which is not something I can say about most New Adult romance. There are strong, believable issues without a lot of overdone angst.
November: Her Enemy at the Altar by Virginia Heath
“Only when he threw them open, and felt the biting November air rush into the room, did he feel that he could breath.”
This had terrific potential. Connie and Aaron are forced to marry after being caught in a compromising position, even though not only are their families feuding, but he won her personal enmity by giving her a nasty nickname several years previously. Both characters hide behind masks — his charm, hers indifference — and both suffer from feelings of inadequacy. (Aaron also has PTSD from the war.) The strong elements never quite coalesced into a really good story, though. Connie is very irritatingly self-righteous — though she does improve and get a sweet redemption by the end — and their incessant internal loathing monologues got tiresome.
I was also frequently thrown out of the story by modern sounding phrases. Sadly, my library no longer subscribes to the OED, so I couldn’t check on their accuracy but as a general rule, I think it’s better not to have your historical romance heroine think in phrases that belong on a t-shirt (“Now that he had been there and done that…”)
My Hands Are Tied: The Sanchez Tradition by Anne Mather. The hero feels he has to deal with other responsibilities before speaking to the heroine about their relationship, creating the perfect opportunity for an evil relative to create a Big Misunderstanding. Part of my Harlequin Read.
Hahaha: The Return of the Di Sione Wife by Caitlin Crews. There were a few witty remarks amidst the angst of this story, but what really made me laugh snarkily was the heroine’s remarkably smart, cutting, and HP-atypical reaction to the hero’s dreadful behavior. Excellent betrayal story.
Undone: The Greek’s Nine-Month Redemption by Maisy Yates. The hero and heroine have completely undone each other since they became step-sibs as teens.
A good effort to flesh out a tired plot, but the old-skool/new skool balance felt off in this one. Lots of pain and roaring revenge that kind of got pissed away. And I hate stories in which a good conflict is derailed by pregnancy — though that’s entirely my own fault, since they made it extremely clear it was going to be that kind of story! (Not only the title, but I read it as part of a collection called “One Night With Consequences,” for goodness sake! But it’s easy to forget stuff like that on an ereader.) I did like the tough but insecure heroine.
Dare: Dark, Wild Night by Christina Lauren. Two best friends are madly in love with each other. But will they DARE?
I remember DNFing this in print — probably because the above scenario tends to irritate me — but the audiobook was recommended to me by a rare person who shares my narrator tastes. And the narrators were indeed very good, especially the man voicing Oliver’s sexy Australian accent.
But I don’t think the narrators made the book — I think the characters did. Lola is a rare heroine, an introverted, creative artist. Geeky Oliver is a more typical Beta hero, but with the difference that he’s a bit dom-mish, and I enjoyed that unusual combo.
Cords: For the Love of Sara by Anne Mather. My goodness, did Mather love her some corduroy. The hero is mentioned several times as wearing corded pants and the heroine also has “a pair of close-fitting corded velvet jeans in an unusual shade of green.” Purty!
A Tempting Stranger: A Dangerous Man by Candace Camp. My TBR challenge read.
Captive: Comfort and Joy by Joanna Chambers, Harper Fox, L.B. Gregg, and Josh Lanyon.
There’s both a literal and a figurative captive in “Out” by Harper Fox, which features an agoraphobic hotel worker who never leaves the premises, and is consequently being exploited by his boss. Great idea for a story, but it felt too rushed.
Good Greek Girl: The Heiress Bride by Lynne Graham.
I went looking for a good Greek girl and found a rather interesting one. I’m not sure what you’d call Ione, technically, since she was adopted from England, but she was “raised to be a dutiful Greek daughter” and realizes in the end that she “could not think of herself as anything other than Greek or a Gakis” — despite the fact that her father was horribly abusive and only adopted her in a ghastly and misguided attempt to improve her adoptive mother’s fertility. It’s a hell of a backstory; unfortunately the rest of the book is same old/same old Harlequin Presents and doesn’t live up to it.
Suit Up: Scandal’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing. (Julia Ross)
“‘Must we always meet when our clothes are so bedraggled?'”
Going for the ironic choice here, since the hero and heroine keep encountering each other while covered in mud. There’s also a fair bit of dressing down to mingle with the common folk while trying to solve a tiresome mystery. I’m glad this series is now in ebook, since I’d only read one before, but this is not her best.
Entangled: A Right Honorable Gentleman by Courtney Milan. The hero knows he can’t ethically seduce his governess… but he can’t let her go, either. This is so short I barely feel like I read it. Love the older woman who’s very sure of her own worth and gives her boss what for, but they needed and deserved more page time.
Queen: Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen.
“Leo had treated Georgia like a queen until the day she’s broken his heart.” (No, this doesn’t mean he starts treating her like shit after!) Also, they were homecoming king and queen. And she is now the queen of PR. And they take the subway to Queens. There were literally four pages of queen references in this book!
There was some very effective sequel baiting for this story in The Fifteenth Minute. (See the “Scandalous” square.) Basically, Leo and Georgia were madly in love as teens. Then Georgia was raped. Leo took the utmost care of her until she broke up with him when they started college, saying she wanted a clean start. Here we get more of the story, which is that Georgia felt Leo’s love had dissolved into pity and misery. When they’re reunited she… painfully slowly… discovers how wrong she was.
I started out loving the fact that this was a book featuring a rape survivor which is not primarily about that. Georgia has gotten help and moved on; she is cautious, but no longer traumatized. So I was kind of bummed when it turned out she hadn’t had sex with anyone since the rape. It’s written as a classic romance heroine “I just didn’t want anyone but you” scenario, but I call bullshit.
Overall, the story was nice enough but not as strong as the build-up to it. Leo is typical uxorious-type hero, Georgia is typical career-focused-type heroine; I never found either of them that interesting. The ending is quite good though, focusing on the unexpressed trauma that Leo and Georgia’s father had each felt over the rape; both of them had helped her without ever realizing they needed some help themselves. I wouldn’t want to read an entire book about that situation, for obvious reasons, but it worked here.
Moving toward the light: Shadows at Sunset by Anne Stuart. Reread. I was going to put this in “suit up,” for the reference to the hero’s “California Armani,” but there is literal moving towards the light. An intense contemporary gothic, with very sweet secondary romances.
1996: The One and Only by Carole Mortimer. Yay for the internet… it took only a few minutes to find a Harlequin Presents published in 1996. I should perhaps have spent a little more time trying to find a good one. Lots of dumb misunderstandings and bickering. And the title rubs me the wrong way, because the hero was a widower who’d been happily married. Which is fine — I’m not a romance reader who insists a character have never loved before — but titling the book that really puts a laser focus on the heroine’s virginity.
Soulless: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. In which we discover Voldemort’s huge secret. No, this is not a spoiler.
Scandalous: The Fifteenth Minute by Sarina Bowen.
“I’m a guy with nothing to offer her except scandal.”
I’m honestly grateful I’d forgotten this book is problematic — and I agree with all of Kaetrin’s points — because I’ve been having such a hard time reading lately and I was up all night finishing it on November 7th. I have to give huge props for how engaging it is (though I think it lost steam at the end… or maybe that was me.) Very endearing characters, sweetly falling in love, and I liked how genuinely young they seemed. One minor annoyance: both hero and heroine are short (short hero for the win!) and his nickname for her is “smalls.” Which to a historical romance reader such as myself sounds like he’s calling her underwear.
Flirt: The Flaw in Raffaele’s Revenge by Annie West.
Don’t flirt. She didn’t know how. Had no experience of it. Which made this game he played even more cruel.”
This has a theme I’ve always found very tiresome — the character who has a physical flaw she’s extremely self-conscious about, and the hero who’s the only one who can see behind this ghastly imperfection and make her feel beautiful. In this case, it’s somewhat redeemed by the hero asserting it’s the heroine’s defensiveness that have kept men away, not her scarred face — but this is still not a great disability narrative. A decent read, aside from that. I appreciated that the hero brought himself out of poverty initially through modeling and then investing the money he earned, rather than the magic rags-to-tycoon in an improbably short time that we so often see in Harlequin Presents heroes.
Marsh mallow: The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian. Cynical underworld Robin Hood Jack Turner turns into a total marshmallow when faced with the sweet charm of gentleman Oliver Rivington. Some strong characterizations and a swoony romance, though I thought the plotting lacked focus and oomph. I didn’t get invested in the mystery plot, which felt like a McGuffin, and that helped dissipate the impact of the ending.
Bosoms: Virtue’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing. Reread. I had hoped to go with f/f for this square but I don’t usually read it and I’m too stressed to seek out anything new right now. This book earned the square for going beyond the usual traditional Regency closed door and actually getting in some boob action — which is nice, because writing gorgeous sensual love scenes was really Ewing/Ross’s strength. Virtue’s reward indeed!
Navy: A Lost Love by Carole Mortimer. This is another that would work especially nicely in “Suit Up” (hero: “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have to be impeccably dressed all the time?”) but there are several mentions of of navy colored clothes. Huzzah for the ereader search function.
A highly implausible plot leads to a rather thoughtful and highly emotional reunion story.
Flower Boy: Pansies by Alexis Hall.
“‘Hey,’ he whispered, breaking the kiss. ‘Hey, you smell of flowers.'”
(Usual disclaimer: the author is an online friend.)
There was a lot going on in this story, perhaps too much, including an unusually serious look at one of my favorite romance tropes: former bully and bull-ee. But what tickled me the most is that it’s a “character returns from big city to small town” story but with an English town. An ugly, provincial place full of bigots, that’s like “being stuck in the seventies.” That also happens to be home.
BTW, I literally had this internal conversation:
“I feel like reading Pansies. But I really should start In the Midnight Rain, because I need it for the “Flower Boy” square… wow, am I an idiot.”
Awakened: Twist of Fate by Charlotte Lamb. Reread. The heroine’s mother is extremely narcissistic, and has tried to keep her a child. Interesting story that explores some unusual themes.
vintage: The Hollow by Agatha Christie. Oldie and goodie, one of her best.
Also read (or not):
Crosstalk by Connie Willis. DNF’d at 19%. A romantic comedy that isn’t the slightest bit romantic or funny. There are about 500 characters and I hated every one.
School Ties by Tamsen Parker. DNF. I hardly gave this a fair shot, but it struck me as simultaneously creepy and dull.