A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Reading, May 2017

on June 8, 2017

I’ve been saving this, hoping to be able to bingo-fy it… but the further I get from actually having read the books, the less likely it seems to happen, so I’m just going to forget it for this month. Lots of author glomming, because I have a trial Kindle Unlimited subscription that runs out in June. You can tell that I was getting pretty punchy.

Recurring themes of the month: Football players who ignore dangerous concussions. Acquired disabilities. (The two themes are sometimes related.) Really crap treatment of disability. Heroines who inherit farms and marry their foremen. (Not always the hero.) Heroines on the run from abusive partners/gunshy heroines. Churchgoers. Being different is a sign of evil. Dandelions. Alternative versions of ancient Greece. Twins with issues. Overheard conversations. Massive student loans. Fighters. Vegans. Virginias.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah — putting this here because I apparently forgot to note it when I read it around the beginning of the year. Less funny than I expected, but a fascinating history. Noah’s mother is just amazing.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. (Young adult. Fantasy. Beginning of series.)

I reread all the “Queens Thief” series so I could write about it for Heroes and Heartbreakers.

The Broken Wing by Mary Burchell. (Harlequin romance. Second in series. Boss/secretary. Disabled heroine. Singer. Good sister/bad sister.)

Tessa works as a secretary for Quentin, who is organizing a music festival. When she agrees to help her more vivacious twin sister audition for a part, she’s horrified to not only be forced to hide her own superior voice, but to have to watch her sister go after the man she secretly loves.

I have mixed feelings about this, since it was an excruciating read. I love good sister/bad sister romance but when the bad sister seems to be getting everything the heroine wants, while she’s left out in the cold, it really cuts. Luckily this is Mary Burchell, so we barely have to wonder if the hero and sister even kissed.

The disability narrative is also very old-fashioned — the original title was actually “Damaged Angel,” after a broken figurine Tessa identifies with, and oh my God. But I liked where it wound up going:

“For the whole of her life her lameness had been a matter of anguish to herself and slightly irritated embarrassment to the people around her. The idea that one might, so to speak, deal with it and then ignore it was shattering in its revolutionary simplicity.”

Later in the book, Tess has internalized this new idea so much, she “could refer to her lameness without pain — purely as a matter of fact.” Not half bad for 1966.

As with A Song Begins, the focus on artistic dedication is very engrossing, and it’s fun to see Tessa stop being a doormat to her sister, and get over her lovesickness enough to start giving Quentin what for. And there’s quite a bit of delicious, understated sexual tension. Another really good Burchell.

Blackmailed into her Boss’s Bed by Sandra Marton (originally published as Consenting Adults.) (Contemporary romance. Category. Harlequin Presents.)

Woman forced to work for man who wants her. Old skool Marton — ie, needless bickering, dubious consent, and a heroine who rarely finishes a sentence. Good angst, though. I’d think the obvious irony of the original title prompted them to rename it, except HQ never seems to worry about unintentional irony.

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. (Young adult. Fantasy. Second in series.)

All Played Out by Cora Carmack. (Audiobook. New adult. Series. Texas. College students. Football player. He’s just not that into you. Shy/geeky.)

This wasn’t as enjoyable as the previous books, for several reasons.

  1. Overdose of cute couples from the previous books.
  2. Way too much set-up for the next book, which has yet to actually appear.
  3. The hero is initially into the heroine because she looks so much like his ex, he thinks she’ll be a good antidote. Yeech.
  4. I suspect the heroine is intended to have undiagnosed Aspergers Syndrome and it’s a pretty stereotypical portrayal, which I find annoying.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

When Love is Blind by Mary Burchell. (Category romance. Harlequin Romance. Third in series. Secretary/boss. Musicians. Heroines behaving badly. Deceit. Stalkeriffic heroine. Stay in your own damn book.)

As soon as I saw this title on a 1960s romance, I expected the worst, but after the relative inoffensiveness of The Broken Wing, I hoped for the best. Nope. Every single ablist cliche you’d expect to find in a book with a (temporarily, of course) blind character is here, including someone saying, “In a way it would almost have been better for him if he’d been killed.”

On top of that, the heroine is a spineless worm unworthy of the title. She inadvertently causes the hero’s blindness, refuses to take any kind of responsibility, and lies through her teeth until the very end. When faced with her lies by the Evil Other Woman, she says, “I’m sorry you had to find all this out in circumstances that put me in a very bad light.” I’m failing to think of circumstances that could show her in a good light. And though she does grow a bit as a musician — through her aching pity for the tragic blind man! — she never gets a real redemption. Almost a complete stinker.

Everything I Left Unsaid by M.O’Keefe. (Erotic romance series. No HEA. Cliffhanger. Domestic violence. Abusive husband. Adultery.)

Mostly very good, with wonderful sexual tension: the hero and heroine interact primarily by phone for most of the story. But the cliffhanger is so trite, I felt I’d have been pretty happy if the previous book had just stopped before the last chapter, even without a HEA.

The Truth About Him by M. O’Keefe. (Romance Suspense. Series. Couple HEA. Domestic violence.)

I was disappointed in the suspense direction this book went in, and that a lot of it was Annie being TSTL and Dylan being “I’m not good enough.” Again, I thought I might have been happy if the first book had just ended on a note of hope. But there were issues to wind up for Dylan, so it wound up being effective. Also had some good sequel-baiting.

The Curtain Rises by Mary Burchell. (Harlequin Romance. Series. Beta. Hero falls first.)

Similar to other Burchells — opera setting, broken hearted heroine who thinks she hates the hero — but unusual in that he’s rather sweet and sensitive, a rising star rather than an established power, and very obviously head over heels for her.

The Way Home by Keira Andrews. (Contemporary romance. End of series. m/m.)

Christening by Claire Kent. (Contemporary romance. Couple follow-up. Marriage in jeopardy. Adorable kid overload.)

Short sequel to Nameless, heavy on the parenting. Dullsville.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier. (Gothic historical fiction. Cornwall.)

One of the books discussed in How to Be a Heroine. I’m sorry I went with audiobook, because the narrator made the main characters sound so unappealing, it was hard to feel the romance. But an excellent creepy gothic. Watch out for a really offensive depiction of albinism.

A Baby for Easter by Noelle Adams.

Adams insists these books aren’t inspies, but I’d argue the point.

Incarnate by Claire Kent.

Another sequel to Nameless. I related a bit more to this one, since it’s about getting older and being parents of teens. The male-relative-getting-all aggressive-over-his-female-relative-dating trope is blech, but I liked that it touched on the problems of raising children well when you weren’t loved yourself.

A Family by Christmas by Noelle Adams. (Contemporary romance. Third in series. Convenient marriage. Hero is divorced. Child is a major character.)

This didn’t work as well for me as the previous two books. Everyday realism is Adam’s thing here, which didn’t gibe with two people having a convenient marriage and agreeing on both faithfulness and no sex, without ever thinking about what that means. Or a 27 year old woman still “saving herself” for marriage without apparently ever having had any kind of issue around it. And neither paid much attention to how this marriage might affect the hero’s daughter. (Especially given that he constantly lies to his daughter about the relationship, and that his wife is planning to leave for India soon.) I did enjoy the dark moment, but the conflict is very similar to that in the previous book and resolved in much the same way.

The Elopement by Megan Chance. (Short story. No HEA.)

I have no idea how to classify this short story. It doesn’t seem detailed enough, or to have enough sense of time or place, to count as historical fiction. Two of the main characters don’t even have names. But I feel concerned for the two people on goodreads who tagged it “romance.” It’s dark and very sad.

An interesting aspect of this story I realized after the fact: the unnamed man is basically a Victorian hipster. Nothing new under the sun…

Child of Music by Mary Burchell. (Harlequin Romance. Series. Music teacher. Evil Other woman. Child is a major character. Stay in your own damn book.)

Some nice angst, but it’s too talky and the hero is such a doof over the Evil Other woman. And then the heroine does that finger to the mouth thing when he apologises. I hate that finger to the mouth thing! I’m not usually big on kids in romance, but the matter-of-fact child prodigy Janet was the best part. I wish she’d gotten a story.

The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe.

Intriguing, but too short for its issues.

Bad Neighbor by M. O’Keefe

This had a lot in common with Everything I Left Unsaid, so I might have enjoyed it more if I’d read it later.

Reconciled by Easter by Noelle Adams. (Contemporary romance. Fourth in series. Marriage in jeopardy.)

This may be the most “inspie” of the series, since the conflict is basically handled by trust in God. It’s also one of the most interesting. Abigail, who was raised in a much stricter and unforgiving religious tradition than other characters in the series, has tried to overcome her training and became her own person. But she believes her husband only wants her as she used to be.

The Only One by Penny Jordan. (Contemporary Romance. Category. Harlequin Presents.)

Meh, with a side of rapey hero.

Home for Christmas by Noelle Adams.

Music of the Heart by Mary Burchell.

Mary Burchell was a true heroine in real life and her experiences no doubt inspired parts of this story which speak about the sorrow and strength of refugees. It’s also a return in the series to a strong emphasis on music, and the conflict has higher stakes than just love, including artistic vision, and the importance of authenticity.

Baby, Come Back by Molly O’Keefe. (Contemporary romance. Sequel. Suspense element. Heroine is the bad sister.)

Has some plotting issues, but the story really grabbed me.

Unbidden Melody by Mary Burchell. (Contemporary romance. Category. Harlequin Romance. Singer.)

(You might not want to read my thoughts if you haven’t read the book.)

I might have had a different reaction to this if I hadn’t recently read a bit of Burchell’s autobiography, which gave me a feeling that this “ordinary office girl/famous opera singer” romance might have been inspired by actual events. (Also if a tenor singer didn’t bring to mind — ugh — Dick Powell.) When I realized the heroine is named “Mary Barstow” I wondered even more. It has a touch of reality in being the first Burchell I’ve read that even approaches the concept of sex: Mary actually ponders whether, should the hero invite her for a “dirty weekend,” she should accept. And then the ending is… ambiguous. In the last line, the heroine is “nearly sure” that the hero is over the trauma of his past and things will be okay for them. Come to think of it, even the title is suggestive.

My (completely uninformed and fictional) take is that Burchell wanted to write a happy ending for a true sad story but couldn’t quite bring herself to do it completely. Or perhaps her publishers insisted on a hopeful ending, like with the end of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. In any event this is one of those sad cases where the book itself is good, but I couldn’t buy the happy ending.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. (Young Adult Fantasy.  Audiobook. Inspired by another source. Forced marriage.)

A fascinating beauty and the beast retelling (with shades of “Cupid and Psyche” and “Tam Lin”) featuring a bitter, resentful beauty and a truly beastly beast. A much more complex look at the popular “evil hero” than we usually see in either YA or romance, though you could argue that the ending undoes it.

Finished by Claire Kent. (Contemporary. Erotic romance. Polyamory.)

A polyamorous threesome implodes, for rather more complicated reasons than usual. Interesting story, though the writing is rather prosaic.  FYI, I think the author tried very hard to be respectful of polyamory but I’m not sure she always pulled it off.

His Forbidden Bride by Theodora Taylor. (Contemporary romance. Second in series. Interracial romance. Dark romance?Amnesia. Dominant hero. Doctor heroine.)

WOOF! This book was a hell of a ride. I’m not sure how much I can say about it without spoilers, and spoilers would be a terrible shame, but warnings for some violence, depictions of racism, and vast amounts of cray-cray, some of it seriously problematic as romance. Many readers will find it too upsetting, but I loved the appealing characters and the twists. (It’s a bit like the Sookie Stackhouse book in which vampire Eric gets amnesia and becomes vulnerable and lovable instead of simply deadly.) If you have any doubts, see the GoodReads reviews which are full of spoilers and disgust.

Tangentially, I thought it very cool that in her “50 Loving States series”  — Janet Daily, but with interracial romance — Taylor touches on the fact that loving in some states can be pretty difficult. It’s set in West Virginia and the black heroine says frankly, “West Virginia and me have a complicated relationship.”

ETA: I’ve started the follow-up to this, His to Own, and it’s actually making me rethink my fairly positive feelings. The overt racism is seriously disturbing. More next month.

DNFs

Living with Regret by Riann C. Miller. (Contemporary romance. Reunited. Amnesia. Slut shaming/disposable other women.)

I find the prose too OTT, but I skimmed because I’m a sucker for amnesia plots. But it set up a great conflict — dumbass hero has dumped the heroine *twice* — and then pissed it all away. If you’re going to go OTT, at least provide some payoff!

Wildfire by Anne Stuart. (Contemporary. Romance suspense. Heroine is married.)

To quote the Simpsons, “I can think of at least three things wrong with that title.” I got through more than half of this, desperately thinking, surely something will happen now? Instead the heroine plots revenge on her evil husband and thinks about how lean the hero is, the hero wonders whether he’ll kill the heroine or not, and the evil husband is skanky with some evil skanks. Forever. Not to mention, still yet more ableism out the wazoo. Too bad, because the story idea was great.

The Bride by S. Doyle. Just didn’t grab me.

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman. Might be more interesting in print; really dragged in audio.

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4 responses to “Reading, May 2017

  1. KeiraSoleore says:

    Whoa! That’s a whole lotta books!! I’m now looking forward to reading The Broken Wing by Mary Burchell.

  2. Good googly moogly that’s a hell of a month.

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