A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Reading, August 2017

on August 31, 2017

Recurring themes of the month: Abusive exes in jail. Refugees. Animal loving boys. Feeding motherless lambs. Twisted stepmother/stepson relationships. Characters who grew up without unconditional love. *sniff* Heroes with a strong sense of responsibility. Imaginary kingdoms. Nice guys who are the heroine’s brother’s bff. Chronic health issues. Stranded on islands. Useful bad weather. Characters who were blackmailed into giving up their lovers. Neighbors. Helpful aunts. Hotel sex. Runaway carriages. Emancipated slaves.

The Family Next Door by Janice Kay Johnson. (Contemporary. Category. SuperRomance. Suspense Element. Cop. Teacher. Single mother.)

This had a very challenging hero, and I’m not sure if I’d had found his redemption more acceptable if I’d liked the book more, or perhaps the other way around. He had to be a father to his younger siblings while their mother worked two jobs, and his resentment has made him so anti-children that he reacted very badly when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant, and has never seen his child. When a single mother with two children moves next door, he’s attracted to her and finds himself getting reluctantly involved with her kids.

She, meanwhile, has only just gotten her young daughter back after a non-custodial parent kidnapping, and she’s in constant fear that her ex will grab the children again. So she’s happy to be living next to the Chief of Police, but his mixed signals are very aggravating.

Summer Stock by Vanessa North. (Contemporary. m/m. Bisexual hero. Hero with abusive ex. Movie star. Theatre.)

A low-conflict romance with sweet, goodhearted characters, though they tend to fly off the handle rather quickly.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Children’s fiction. Reread.)

A childhood favorite that I still love, though it certainly has uncomfortable aspects. And I hate how the story discards Mary for Colin at the end. But the disagreeable Mary is one of the most memorable characters in children’s fiction. It was fun to read it now as someone who enjoys gardening; I never had any place I could garden until the 90s.

Safe Passage by Ida Cook. (Nonfiction — memoir. World War II. Opera.)

Mary Burchell’s autobiography — published, appropriately enough, by Harlequin. She doesn’t write that much about her work. Parts of the book are dull unless you’re very into old opera, but there’s a spirit of everyday goodness that shines through it which is very moving.

Mommy Said Goodbye by Janice Kay Johnson. (Contemporary. Category. SuperRomance. Police procedural. Single father. Single mother. Slow burn. Kisses only. Pilot. Teacher.)

The teacher of a trouble boy starts to fall for his father, who’s believed to have killed his wife and gotten away with it. An unusual romance, partially because almost half the narrative attention is on someone other than the couple — a police officer investigating the hero — and partially because there’s not even a kiss until almost the last page.  (The hero, very honorably, is trying not to start anything while there’s a cloud over his head and he might still have a wife.) It could have used a little more to the end — one of the cases in which an epilogue would have actually been helpful.  But the psychological aspects of the situation are well drawn.

Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim. (Nonfiction. Memoir. Journalism. North Korea.)

Super sad, scary, and sadly, scarily, relevant.

The Outsider by Penelope Williamson. (Historical romance. Americana. Montana.)

I remember loving Williamson’s epic Heart of the West; I don’t know if it’s me or the book or the zeitgeist, but this one felt like more of a chore. The central romance between a Plain woman and a gunslinger is strong, but the multiple side stories made me feel beaten down with their pain and violence. Virtually all the side characters lose something to violence — an eye, an arm, a pregnancy.

Revelations by Janice Kay Johnson. (Contemporary romance. Suspense element. Sequel. Cop. Colleagues.)

Rats, I didn’t make any notes on this one. It’s the story of the police officer from Mommy Said Goodbye (see above,) who discovered in that book that the father she tried so hard to please and emulate had feet of clay. Those revelations continue in this story. The discussion of misogyny in the police force is undercut by the “evil other women” treatment of the hero’s ex-wife.

Infamous Bargain by Daphne Clair. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Blackmailed into marriage. Heroine pov only.)

One of the earlier heroine-must-marry-hero-to-save-family story, and a particularly good one.

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. (Historical. Regency. m/m. Bisexual hero. Rake. Social climber.)

This started out seeming like an exciting match-up between two of my favorite types of historical hero: the seemingly languid, effortlessly cool kind and the starchy kind who badly needs to be unstarched. It actually went in a different direction, but I wasn’t disappointed.

Lovers’ Lies by Daphne Clair. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Reunited.)

The heroine meets up with the man she thinks drove her sister to suicide. Good angsty story.

One Night in the Ice Storm by Noelle Adams. (Contemporary. Short story. Reunited. Other side of the tracks. Beta hero. Christmas. Heroine pov only. Bickerfest.)

Ms. Marvel volumes 6 & 7

Strong story around superhero ethics in vol. 6 but vol. 7 was meh. And I was disappointed that after Bruno moved on so nicely, with the adorable and fat Mike, he then proceeded to apparently forget all about his new girlfriend and just dream about Kamala. Yeech.

Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis. (Fantasy. Contemporary.)

I’m glad I reread this before reading up on the Civil War recently,  because… well, it’s an old favorite and I’ll likely never be able to read it again. It very much buys into the heroic confederacy myth. Still, a gorgeous book.

Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang. (Contemporary. Third in series. Asian hero and heroine. Have history. Heroine is a cancer survivor. Beta hero.)

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Hard Knocks. The hero is lovely, but I felt like much of the relationship between them happened where I couldn’t see it.

Capelli’s Captive Virgin by Sarah Morgan. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Reunited.)

A two person story, with him pursuing, her resisting, and nothing much else happening. The hero gets some good lines but it’s otherwise pretty dull.

Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho. (Fantasy historical, Regency. Romantic element. Magic. No sex. Black hero. Biracial heroine.)

You could say that I enjoyed this more after I finished it than while I was reading it, because I found it a bit of a slog, but then wanted to reread it in light of all the interesting new information that comes out towards the end. It’s a very Heyer inspired fantasy — with some influence from the author’s Malaysian culture — and lightly romantic, with a particularly charming hero. Sharon Shinn’s Angelica gave me a taste for reserved, responsible heroes who put everyone else’s needs before their own, and Zacharias is another such quietly tormented man. I was less fond of the ruthlessly competent heroine Prunella, though she is certainly a character. At least she devotes some of her ruthlessness towards taking care of Zacharias.

A Taste of Honey by Rose Lerner. (Historical. Novella. Series. Historical 99%. Virgin hero.)

Review at GoodReads.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. (Young Adult. Coming of Age/Romance. Audiobook. Boy next door. Sexy beta. Heroine pov only. Politics.)

A high school student with a seemingly perfect life falls in love and is then faced with some difficult ethical decisions. An interesting story and a very sweet romance, capturing the feeling of first love and first sex. (On page, but not explicit.) The large cast of characters, including several children, is performed very well by the audiobook narrator. It was a particularly interesting book in light of recent events, because Samantha’s mother is a state senator who has gone from conservative to right wing.

Wait for It by M. O’Keefe. (Contemporary. Fourth in series. Domestic violence. Single mother. Brother’s wife.)

Best response to a shovel talk ever:

“‘I don’t intend to hurt Tiffany.’

‘That’s good. Because I’ll slice you open if you do.’

I lifted my eyebrows. ‘And yet, Phil still breathes. You’ll excuse me if I doubt your fierceness on your sister’s behalf.'”

Nice mix of old skool elements and modern style.

The Nobody by Diane Farr. (Historical. Regency. Kisses only. Suspense element.)

A young woman from the country falls in love with a lord who not only has a ghastly fiance, but is being targeted by a murderer. The star-crossed romance is quite sweet, but the echoes of Heyer in language and characters was too strong for me to enjoy most of it. I found it odd that the heroine is completely absent from the escapade-filled ending.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai. (Contemporary. Family feud. Reunited. Childhood sweethearts. Tattoo artist.)

(I received this from an RWA giveaway.)

A “Romeo and Juliet” story in which the two characters got to live, but suffer a lot from being apart. A well-written and deliciously angsty page-turner. Lots of smouldering. Can’t wait for the next one.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole. (Historical. Civil War. Interracial romance. Black heroine/white hero. Power imbalance.)

And speaking of the heroic confederacy myth… I don’t think I’ve ever read a Civil War romance before which was firmly and completely pro-Union, and how disgusting is that? Usually the main characters are on opposite sides. Or both rebels. :-\ In this book, they’re both Union spies, so the main conflict is the extreme power imbalance between them. The fact that the hero is an excellent actor and a smooth talker doesn’t help the heroine trust him, but he manages to prove his worth and love. The story is both intelligent and exciting, one of the most compelling historicals I’ve read in awhile.


Naked in His Arms by Sandra Marton. I vaguely remembered not liking a previous book in this series, but I’d forgotten how offensive I found it. Unfortunate, because this is more of the same.

Burning Down the Night by M. O’Keefe. (Romantic suspense. Third in series. Gang member. Prisoner of love.)

For some reason, I just had no interest in this couple. I made myself read it because I was really eager to get to the next book, but about a quarter through I gave up. (And the last one stands alone pretty well anyway.)


2 responses to “Reading, August 2017

  1. SuperWendy says:

    I loved Mommy Said Goodbye (but firmly acknowledge that it worked better as a suspense story than an actual romance – at least for me) and Revelations. True story about Revelations – one of the few romances I’ve ever read where I WANTED a sex scene. I wanted the reassurance, and frankly the heroine deserved epic, multiple orgasms LOL.

    I’m so behind on that O’Keefe series. Seriously.

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