I’ve really enjoyed doing Shallowread Bingo. Part of it was it got me to make note of my reading, even if only very briefly. Part of it was the joy of synchronicity — and I learned an interesting lesson, which is that if I searched for a specific theme, I usually wound up with a book I didn’t particularly like, but if I just read what I wanted, usually the themes would come to me.
But mostly I liked it because something about the structure really slowed time down for me. I know 2016 has been a terrible year and people want it to be over (I can’t say I do, because it’s probably the closest to safety we’ll be for some time) but I hate how life has speeded up for me over the last ten years or so. It got to the point that if I had a wall calendar I didn’t like, I wouldn’t bother to change it because it would be gone soon enough. Even before the horror started, this year felt like a year.
TW: Mention of rape and abuse.
Recurring themes of the month: Unusual locations. Tidy heroes. (Talk about writing your own fantasies!) Characters who are Trouble. (Like in 85% of the books!) Jewish characters. Students. Teachers. (But no teacher-student ickiness.) Step relationships. (Quite a bit of ickiness.) Tattooed heroes. (Yeah, that’s new.) Male characters who were raped. Characters who keep thinking they see a lost love. Horticulturist heroines. Non-compos-mentis nookie — or was it? — resulting in pregnancy. Heroines with fear of heights or claustrophobia. References to romantic comedy movies. Whirlwind romances. Romance with a best friend’s sibling. Blue collar heroes who think their heroines are spoiled, useless rich girls. Women driven to nervous breakdowns by their awful husbands. Widows. Non exclusive relationships, but somehow it’s only the guys who avail themselves. Childhood sweethearts/first loves. This proverb.
Light One Candle: The Forgotten Man by Ryan Loveless.
“Taking Joshua’s hand, he led Joshua to the window where a half-burned candle stood. ‘Light it with me.’ He picked up a box of matches from the sideboard and held them out.
‘It’s not the same as during Chanukah, you know,’ Joshua said. ‘I mean, if you’re expecting a miracle…’
‘You said it was a reminder of a miracle. You’re here.'”
I didn’t love the prose of this novella, which felt unsubtle and had a lot of “telling,” but the premise of a gay, Jewish man finding love during the Great Depression kept my interest. There’s a good sense of time and place, and the author obviously did her research. (One piquant detail: the gay men holding a “Pansy Ball” get away with it — sometimes — by hiring the police as security. Actually, I guess that would be more piquant in a less currently corrupt world.)
Morpheus: The Last Chance Christmas Ball by various authors.
“Deciding that a book might help quiet her mind and allow her to drift into the land of Morpheus, she tugged on her wrapper…”
It’s always a bit risky to go looking for a book in the middle of the night in a Regency romance. Didn’t anyone bring books with them? I never go anywhere without one. On the other hand. I never have midnight sex in the library, so what do I know.
This harkens back to the good old days of traditional Regency Christmas anthologies, with Christmas cheer, Christmas miracles, and very little steam. (Though somewhat less chastity.) A very pleasant, familiar, cozy read, though only Joanna Bourne’s story had much interesting tension.
December: Hold Me by Courtney Milan.
“It’s early December, and I don’t walk away from people who are upset.”
This quote is cryptic even in context; we don’t understand it until later, and I won’t spoil it.
I love me a good “Shop Around the Corner” type story and I was especially tickled because this is kind of a… deconstruction of them. Everything you might hate about that kind of story — the deceit, the easy resolution — is exploded. It’s also a great driving plotline to give so that this story about a trans heroine is not about her being trans, except inasmuch as she has a lot of emotional baggage. The hero has some intense emotional baggage too, and they’re a compelling couple.
I did feel things were perhaps too idealized, especially around sex. It’s great that Jay isn’t put off by learning Maria is trans, but his complete lack of any kind of processing around it didn’t seem plausible. And the lack of any discussion between them about her situation and needs before having perfect het sex did not seem either plausible or careful. Still, a very good story.
And Then Came the Rain: Sleepless in Manhattan by Sarah Morgan. My initial take on this square was, “and then something bad happens,” but then I remembered, I love rain. Luckily, this story applies either way. The heroine expects something good, which turns out to be something bad… which turns into something good.
HOHOHO: The Master Fiddler by Janet Dailey
Funny story: I started this because it was a freebie, and didn’t have much expectation that it would fit a bingo square. But it turns out that in 2011, this fools-gold-en oldie was revamped to cash in a slight resemblance to “Sleepless in Seattle” and retitled “To Santa With Love.” Even though it was originally set during September and has not the slightest mention of holidays. Ho. Ho. Ho!
Tycoon: Midnight at Tiffany’s by Sarah Morgan. Hero is a tycoon who of course just wants to be loved for himself. Short, super whirlwind romance.
Irony: Wicked Sexy Liar by Christina Lauren.
“‘I worry she’s not taking this as seriously as I am.’
My sister looks towards the heavens. ‘Let me enjoy the irony of this for a second.’
Luke and London were side characters of this series, so it’s nice that their romance didn’t feel like a forced afterthought but one of the best of the bunch. I’m kind of fussy about rakes reforming, and I love when it’s done right. Luke isn’t really a liar, by the way, but he is most definitely a player. (He does have sex with another woman during the story, if that bugs you. It’s pretty sad sex, though.) We see the process of change for him, and it’s not just from meeting “the one.” I even liked the sex scenes! Also, it’s cool that the characters in the series all stay friends without everyone ending up living next door to each other, covered in babies.
Pet: Moon Witch by Anne Mather. The heroine becomes the pampered pet of her guardian’s father, despite the guardian’s angry boner man disapproval. More here, though not a whole lot more.
Just the One You Want: Satan’s Master by Carole Mortimer. You know those annoying HPs from the 80s with titles like “Savage Surrender,” and the hero always turned out to be named Jack Savage? This is one of those sorts of titles. Satan is the hero’s cat.
I enjoyed the old skool Penny Jordan-ish cruel hero beginning, but the tension dissipated into a bickerfest in the second half, where it seemed to be trying to be a classic romantic comedy in which everyone is paired up with the wrong person. It’s also very uncomfortably dated re women’s rights and domestic violence.
Luxurious: Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan. Romances are filled with the trapping of luxury — private jets, expensive jewelry, limo rides. In this one the hero owns an apartment building in Brooklyn with a roof garden. That is pretty much the height of luxury, from my point of view.
I’m not that fond of the tender hero helps scared-of-love and/or sex heroine dynamic, and I also found Frankie’s fear of relationships a bit over the top. Also, her introversion seems to be “cured” by true love. Nice enough read otherwise. Hell, I finished it. That’s saying a lot right now.
Hot Summer Nights: Dirty, Rowdy Thing by Christina Lauren
“October on Vancouver Island is chilly. In San Diego, it’s as if the summer is only getting started. Perpetual summer. No wonder everyone here is so laid back.”
I didn’t expect to like this one as much as book 1 and 3 (I listened out of order) and I didn’t, but not for the reasons I expected. Harlow came off as rather obnoxious in the other books; here in her own, her strong points are given a chance to shine. But I was annoyed that 1) sexually assertive Harlow has actually not been around that much and of course has never really enjoyed herself with anyone but Finn, 2) Finn is another damned Dom, and 3) Finn landed on the dreaded “he’s just not that into you” shelf. He treats her really badly and I never felt like his regret afterwards was sufficient. All the effort comes from her side.
Seeking Refuge: Wish Come True by various authors. An anthology of mostly New Adult m/m stories, lightly Christmas/New Years themed. A number of the characters have sought refuge from difficult home situations.
My Love: Anniversary by Mary Balogh. A Valentine’s Day story seemed perfect for this square.
A forced marriage, love turned to hate, and a holiday in which to somehow turn it all around… Mary Balogh just the way I like her. This is a short story, but it’s got some heft to it.
Moist: Rogue’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing
First of all, ew.
So there is an actual moist sighting in this book — which is luckily a traditional Regency, so it relates to “moist” dirt rather than sex. But I prefer to use this square in honor of the hero taking a Regency cold shower.
The story is very similar to Scandal’s Reward: Suspicious heroine thinks badly of roguish hero/heroic rogue. In this case, both the suspicions and the heroism border on ridiculous, and they both cried out for a good spanking.
He sees you when you’re sleeping: Once a Cowboy by Linda Warren. Hero ponders the heroine’s impact while she sleeps in his arms.
A pretty good story, but the melodramatic ending was just ridiculous. As was the stereotypically macho cowboy hero gossiping about his friend’s romances (from the previous books.)
12: Unwrapping the Castelli Secret by Caitlin Crews. There are twelve chapter. Coincidentally, it also takes place at Christmas.
I found this rather a slog. There were a lot of irritants: the deliberate playing up of the stepsibs taboo, the heroine , of course, having been with no one else while the hero deliberately sleeps with other women, the particularly icky memory she has of seeing him with someone else. There wasn’t really a good catharsis after all the awfulness, either.
Dreidel: “The Eight Days of Hanukkah” by Laurie Graff. (From Scenes from a Holiday.)
“…Nicki was out of the Matzo Ball and onto the street before you could spin the dreidel.”
Weird chicklit novella/unsubtle social commentary about a commitment-phobic Jewish woman who gets a bonk on the noggin and finds herself in “Menorahland,” which is populated entirely by singles who can only get out if they find someone to marry. Basically a fictional version of Marry Him. Not really my thing, but so silly it’s sometimes funny. Note: there’s a subtle touch of anti-Arab bigotry.
Christmas Joy to All: Blame it On Chocolate by Jennifer Greene. Not actually a holiday story, but it’s about a company that makes high quality Chocolate, and I can’t think of anything more likely to bring Christmas Joy to most, if not all.
This was pretty frothy, and a lot of it wasn’t my cup of cocoa, but it had some sweet parts too.
Virgin Birth: Claiming His Christmas Consequences by Michelle Smart.
“‘Who’s the father?’
She pressed her lips together.
‘A virgin conception? How fitting.”
(No, not really. I could have chosen from amongst several romances with actual virgin births, but why would I want to?)
A dutiful virgin princess headed for a political marriage goes off the rails for one night, and whoops! The plot is full of holes — the princess has no privacy at all but managed to steal a whole night with the hero? And they couldn’t find someone else that they didn’t loathe to force her to marry? Even worse, I wasn’t feeling the love from the hero until the end. It was a good end though.
Self Care: A Guilty Passion by Laurey Bright. The heroine is severely depressed, less from the unexpected death of her husband than from the years of psychological abuse he inflicted on her. She begins to find herself again through peaceful living on an island — sometimes interrupted by the hero being a dick to her — and doing art. If you enjoy cynical heroes who care in spite of themselves and maligned heroines, this is pretty good. The constant descriptions of the heroine’s fragile, depressed state is a bit much, though.
Comes but once a year: 24/7 by J.A. Rock. Sorry for this terrible joke. Gould’s submission includes orgasm denial.
There have been serious themes in all of the “Subs Club” series, but this one is downright dark, though still with some humor. I continue to admire Rock’s clever writing and complex themes around kink and grief. Also, the bravery of putting an m/f/m couple in a m/m series. Unlike the previous books, it’s more erotica than romance, but offers its own form of happy ending.
Emotional Rescue: The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jaziri by Sarah Black. Retired General John Mitchel is recruited to rescue two Americans falsely imprisoned in Tunisia, but discovers that one of them has been so badly abused, he requires more psychologically than simply getting away.
The sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord is hard to classify; romantic suspense in its most literal sense probably comes closest. John and Gabriel are still in love and still happy, but don’t spend that much time together here; much of the story, other than the rescue, is about interactions between John and the many young people, gay and straight, that he becomes “Uncle John” to. It’s a very warm-hearted story, and more interesting for being set in a real place rather than some made up Fauxistan. I found the portrayals of people of color tended towards exoticizing — John fondly remembers being “half in love with Omar back then, as much for his subtle, quiet mind as for his desert hawk beauty” — but John’s Korean-American nephew Kim continues to be a sweet, thoughtful delight.
thank you for playing: Captured for the Captain’s Pleasure by Ann Lethbridge. A risky wager on a chess match ends with everyone getting what they want. Fun revenge on the high seas story.
At the end of the rainbow: Whisper of Heaven by Candice Proctor. An even worse joke: the hero is Irish and tends to exaggerate his accent for effect. It’s magically delicious. My TBR challenge read.
Adieu: Sweet Filthy, Morning After by Christina Lauren. A bit from Ansel’s point of view, as he wakes up in bed with a beautiful sleeping woman… whom he is now married to. Very short, which was a mercy, since Ansel’s French accent sounded a lot like Michel from “Gilmore Girls” — NOT sexy. (Everyone on GoodReads disagrees with me… lucky them. I much preferred the Ansel performed by the female narrator of Sweet, Filthy Boy.)
Also read (or not):
No Mistress of Mine by Laura Lee Gurhke. Reunion between a lord and the lover who white-fanged him 6 years before. Has a nice maturity to it, and some good emotion. The ending’s a bit over-the-top fairytale.
Counterfeit Lady by Jude Deveraux. DNF’d with extreme prejudice. I’m aghast that someone thought this was worth digitizing; it should have been left decently interred. Or better yet, buried at a crossroads with a stake in its heart.
I decided not to finish the book around page 50, when it’s revealed that the “hero” is a slave owner in Virginia, but since I’d invested time in the characters, did some skimming. The rest of the story is one of the most gloatingly thorough, revolting dissections of someone’s weight/character (they’re obviously the same thing here) I’ve ever read. Endless descriptions of her eating and her monstrously disgusting size. It’s weird because Deveraux has done some decent books with large heroines… maybe protests over this raised her consciousness? I’m not even donating my copy; it’s going straight in the trash.
Legend of Lexandros by Anne Mather. DNF. Wow, Mather loved to be icky. I’ll put up with it in an interesting book, but this one was snoozesville.
Take What You Want by Anne Mather. Another icky one — probably one of the first stepsib romances. Unfortunately, also one of the dullest.
The Millionaire’s Pregnant Mistress by Michelle Celmer. DNF. The hero is extremely controlling, in this adorably boyish way that made my stomach turn. And he thinks the heroine being pissed at him for destroying all her clothes is just too cute for words. Yeech.
Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts. DNF. I did read a fair bit of it, but I never should have started this type of book at this time. Bring on the puppies and rainbows, please.
The Lily Brand by Sandra Schwab. Okay, this was undeniably a very strange choice of book after I had just rejected Sweet Revenge. But though the entire book is dark and intense, the worst is over pretty quickly. (I’ve seen a reviewer that felt we didn’t see enough horrors to justify how messed up the hero and heroine are… I don’t know what else she’d been reading, but spare me from it!) Wonderfully old school, and kept me riveted.