There’s supposed to be some new game this year, but it hasn’t as yet materialized, so just a few comments. I read a lot more than this, but haven’t felt up to writing. Surprise.
CW: Mentions of rape, abuse, torture and death.
Recurring themes of the month: Couple follow-ups. (Good ones! Blow me down!) First person narration from multiple points of view. Heroine who were raped. Fathers who know or learn they aren’t biological fathers. Heroine watching their heroes being sweet with babies. (Awww.) Cinderellas and balls, including in contemporaries. Dead siblings. Bad first marriages but not totally Evil first wives. Christmas. English historical heroes who learned martial arts. English contemporary heroes prone to bestowing nicknames. Heroes who need Fight Clubs. Heroes with monstrous fathers who fear they’re also monsters. Remorse scholarships.
A Reluctant Betrothal by Amanda Weaver. Historical romance, series.
I wrote about A Duchess in Name that it had kind of an old skool plot, but with a more new skool hero. That seems to be Weaver’s forte and she does a lovely job with it here, providing emotional satisfaction for readers with both the hero’s role and the heroine’s.
The Year of the Crocodile by Courtney Milan. Contemporary romance, series. Short story. Tropes: Couple follow-up. Family feud.
This short follow-up to the novel Trade Me was such a nice surprise. Rather than simply a frothy check-in with the couple, or some manufactured conflict, it had some real meat on its bones… because Tina’s Chinese parents have a legitimate grievance with Blake’s dad’s business practices. It’s maybe tied up a little too neatly to play well in the current world situation, but I appreciate the effort.
Someone to Love by Mary Balogh. Family series, first book. Tropes: Strongminded heroine. Secret ninja hero.
After the snoozefest that was Only Beloved, I was glad to find this had a little snap to it. It doesn’t hurt that the hero is that most irresistible type, the bored, resplendent, and secretly vastly competent dandy. (He’s also refreshingly small and slight.) As is typical of recent Balogh, it gets prosy at times, and as others have pointed out, the hero’s background of having learned martial arts from an unnamed Asian man with no history whatsoever is problematic and weird.
Christmas on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morgan. Contemporary romance, best friend series. Tropes: Opposites attract. Afraid to love again. Friends are family.
Both characters are grieving, and Lucas helps Eva see that she doesn’t have to try and be sunny all the time. Some nice angst. In some ways I liked this more than the others in the series, because it had more emotional oomph. But Eva really got up my nose. Her blather isn’t as charming as it wants to be, and I find it hard to believe that she’s an incredible romantic when she has a list for what she wants in a man that begins with broad shoulders and abs. I know romance. Romance is a friend of mine. You, ma’am, are no romantic.
The kicker was Eva’s insistence on interfering with Lucas’s life, to the point of actually changing his manuscript. I guess this could have been written as a harmless prank, but it didn’t come off that way. I would have kicked her to the curb immediately.
Tiger Eyes by Robyn Donald. Category romance. Tropes: Rich boy, poor girl. Prisoner of Love. Creative passion.
An unusually interesting heroine for an old HP: Tansy is deeply committed to music and ran away from home to put herself through music school by busking. The hero, not so interesting. My tolerance for old skool alphas is fairly high, but Leo is entitled, condescending, and stomach-turningly controlling. This is in character, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant to read. I’d have liked to see more reform and apologies from him. If you have a strong stomach, it’s still worth a read.
The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne. Historical romance, Victorian era. Second in a series. Tropes: Tortured hero. A Big Secret.
This almost feels like a paranormal in (well researched) historical garb. Ruthless assassin Christopher is close to superhuman in his fearlessness, ability to withstand pain, and ability to inflict it. And like many a paranormal hero, when he falls he falls with every fibre of his being. Actress Millie is our ordinary human, but fierce as anything when her son is threatened. And like many a paranormal heroine, falling in love means she has to learn to live with moral ambiguity.
This was definitely compelling and I appreciated the author’s attempts to write original, evocative prose. There are some weird bobbles and clunky moments. It’s also squicky at times, though I was more bothered by the aspects of Christopher that are similar to stereotypes about autism: he doesn’t make eye contact, speaks in a monotone, has no sense of empathy, etc. Presumably this is from his tortured life, but it perturbs me that he could be read as autistic.
Note for sensitive readers: there are depictions of rape and torture, and mentions of necrophilia.
Steadfast by Sarina Bowen.
TIt was hard for me to really appreciate this, because I listened to it and the male narrator sounded like one of these guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0wYchCT_1U Didn’t love the female narrator’s tendency towards a petulent tone either. (Ironically, her hero voice was quite good. A shame they didn’t switch.) So that really colored my feelings about the book. I also didn’t enjoy the unexpected suspense element. There was plenty of story potential without it, and it felt over the top. But I listened to the whole thing, so obviously there was an interesting story, and I do love reunited lovers who are still passionate about each other.