A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie by Jennifer Ashley

The theme: a hyped book. And how.

Why this one: I looked up the narrator of the “Psy-Changeling” books, Angela Dawe, and was happy to see she also narrated this one, another sad half-read book still lurking in my TBR. I was much less happy that she uses an upper crust British accent, my bete noir, but she gives Ian a hot Scottish burr, so I was able to stick with it. Also, Mean Fat Old Bat really liked the book, so I figured it must have hidden depths.

I’m trying to remember why I bogged down in this one before. I think my excitement over the first autistic hero in romance was dashed by him being still so romance-hero-y in so many ways. So rich, so hot, so good in bed, so immune to any sensory issues around sex. (And Ian tells Beth he can never love her — it annoys me that’s supposed to be about autism, when it’s such a romance cliche.) I also DNF’d the sequel, and concluded that Ashley is a commonplace kind of writer.

Having finished the book I can now see some of its strengths. The family bonds between Ian and his brothers are powerful but complex. The plot and backstory are interesting. Beth is intelligent, capable and witty, and I appreciated that she had previously had a loving marriage with good sexy-times. (These are particularly rare in historical romance; having now listened to several more of this series, I suspect that the vividly drawn heroines and conspicuous lack of classic wide-eyed virgins is a strong draw for many readers.)

I also feel more able to rationalize away the aspects I don’t like. If you want to write a popular romance, there are certain heroic aspects it’s hard not to include, like abs and sexual prowess. Ian is remarkably articulate about his issues, far more than I’d expect from someone who not only never received any kind of help or understanding, but was actually locked away in a madhouse and given shock treatments — but better that he talks about them himself than someone else doing it, or the author info dumping.

I still find it annoying that Ian is a mathematical savant with an eidetic memory. I remember another mom of an autistic boy telling me how stressful it was that everyone assumed her kid must be super smart, when he was average. Savants are pretty damn rare — if eidetic memory even exists — and it’s such a cliche. It makes Ian useful to his brothers… but couldn’t they just love him for himself? And speaking of that, I’m not really sure just why Beth loves him. I’m guessing it’s his protectiveness combined with his sexy air of mystery, but I’m kind of extrapolating from my own experience there.

Ultimately, I’m still disappointed that Ian feels more like a product of research than a recognizable person. I’ve read a number of romances featuring autistic characters — the lovely Water Bound by Christine Feehan, An Heir of Uncertainty by Alyssa Everett, Phoenix Inheritance by Corinna Lawson — and I could feel in those portrayals that the author really knew and loved an autistic person. I may be completely wrong, but I just didn’t feel that here. Still, the author has a way with characters and some interesting themes… and who could help but adore Ian’s eventual discussion about love with Beth?

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Recent Listening: Marie Lu

I’m currently listening to Prodigy, the sequel to Legend. Not liking it as much as the first book — I hate the fact that the ubiquitous love triangle in YA has made me react negatively to teen characters having perfectly normal and developmentally appropriate physical feelings towards more than one person!

But anyway, in the first book I most loved the fact that the heroine, June, is supposed to be brilliant and really is brilliant. In the second book, I’m noticing that this dystopian future — brought about by a natural disaster — seems to have largely discarded sexism and homophobia. I say largely because I wasn’t really looking out for it in the first book and I may have missed stuff, but women are in positions of power in the military and government (which are pretty much the same thing, here.) And June becomes aware that her beloved brother was in love with his male best friend and only thinks about it as problematic because they were both in the same unit.

Races seem largely mixed in this future. (The fact that the hero’s ethnicity is primarily Mongolian is noted as unusual.) Poverty and classism, alas, are alive and well, but that’s a big part of what makes it a dystopia.

I think it’s very cool that someone is writing a dystopia without automatically undoing all social progress that’s been made, and even showing that more may be made in the future.

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Semi-Review: The Ugly Duchess

The Ugly Duchess by Eloisa James. Audiobook.

Too-bored-to-write-a synopsis: Newlywed earl behaves badly, is thrown out by his wife, becomes a freaking pirate.

I might have thought more highly of this if I’d read it instead of listening to it, because it was simply an excruciating audio. Not that the narration was bad — though  Duerden seems to recycle voices a lot — but there was a long period of major suspense interspersed with descriptions of nothing actually happening that made me want to claw my face off. (Since I mostly switched to ebooks, I’d forgotten how much of a read-aheader I used to be.) However, I suspect that even if I’d read this, it would have seemed like a hot mess.

I did think there was a lot of genuine feeling to it — listening might have intensified that aspect — but after so much torment, I demand considerably more resolution and satisfaction. The hero was selfish and unthinkingly cruel; some could be excused on the basis of his youth and bereavement, but when he returned supposedly mature and continued being an utter asshole, I was not a happy reader.  The story became about how rigid and stuffy his wife had become in his absence, which could have been an interesting side issue but as the primary conflict was just offensive.

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Review: Through the Ever Night (audiobook)

What tickled my fancy: Second book in a trilogy, but stuff actually happens.

What ticked me off: Why did they switch narrators? This production sucked.

Who might like it: Readers who enjoyed the first book — but choose the print version.

Review copy from the public library

Note: Spoilers for Under the Never Sky

I’m surprised to see from my records that I gave Under the Never Sky 3 1/2 stars, because in my memory I enjoyed it very much; I was certainly very eager for the sequel. I don’t remember my thoughts, but I’m fairly sure the audiobook narration was considerably better than this one — which wasn’t bad enough to make me stop listening, but bad enough to be distracting and make it difficult to evaluate the book on its own terms.  It’s partially the production, which is full of awkward long pauses, and partially the narrator’s sometimes odd emphases and inadequate female voices.

Other than that, this seemed better than the standard second book in a YA trilogy. I  kept fearing the dreaded love triangle, but it never actually materialized. (And surely it’ll be too late by the third book? Please please please?) It’s a very tense story, as the main characters are all dealing with difficult things: Perry is discovering how hard it is to live up to the expectations of the people he now leads, while Aria — half outsider and half dweller — doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. These would be standard angsty YA theme, but in the context of a dangerous future world, they’re extremely serious, even life-threatening issues.

And then there’s Roar and his search for his missing love, Liv… I won’t spoil this, but… sniff.

I was interested to see definite clues this time that this world is our world, after an environmental calamity. Possibly the clues were also there in the first book and I missed them on the audio. I find it hard to get a strong sense of the world building in this format, but it seems quite plausible as a potential dystopia, despite the woo woo aspects of enhanced senses.

I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one, but if you enjoyed the first book, I think you can safely read on.

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Semi-Review: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crawley

 Genres: Young Adult; Romance

What tickled my fancy: It’s “The Shop Around the Corner” with Australian teens!

What ticked me off: Nothing, really. The end is a little convenient, but strong in other ways.

Who might like this: Fans of Eleanor and Park, who hoped for a different ending.

Graffiti Moon was recommended by Liz at Something More, and I am beyond grateful. You might never guess this from how much time I spend online, but my life is not that exciting! Cooking, cleaning, washing, watering — generally much taking care of various things, very little of which is actually appreciated by the things.  Having a really captivating audiobook to listen to while I do all this keeps me that much further away from saying fuck it and hopping a plane to London.

Graffiti Moon has three narrators, all with working class Australian accents. I’m fussy about narrator accents in an odd way: I can’t stand posh, clipped or plummy upper-crust English accents, which means most historical romance is a total bust on audio unless it has Highlanders in it, and those are usually a bust for different reasons. (No offense to any readers with posh accents, I still love you and am positive I will absolutely love your accents when I finally hop that plane.) Any other kind of accent is generally a plus. So anyway, although some people might not find these the most attractive accents ever, they really worked for me.

And even better — despite being a young adult book with two male narrators and one female, this is not a love triangle.

Okay, so I’m really starting to see the downside of this whole blogging thing. If I were on a social media site, I’d just jot down a few random thoughts and call it done, but since this is an Official Blog Post, I feel like I have to analyze the whole damn book and I just don’t want to

So screw it. It’s about teens who are artists and poets, and searching for people they can relate to intellectually and romantically. One of them, Ed, has some kind of learning disability that he’s too embarrassed to acknowledge or talk about, and is worried that he has no real future. They reminded me so much of myself as a teenager, occasional pretentiousness and all.  The entire book happens as the kids hang out together all night, which also brings back memories (even though they don’t go to see “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”)

One of the most interesting things about the book is that, although it all takes place in one night, the stakes are extremely high.  Both Ed and his friend Leo are on a scary path, and some bad shit goes down. If you care about the characters — and I don’t know how you couldn’t — it’s very tense in parts. But there’s also a lot of humor, and the romance is… very believably teenager, and very sweet.  I think the extravagant writing might have felt too over the top to me in print, so I’m especially glad I went the audiobook route. Also, the dishes got done.

It’s hard to separate the reading from the book, but I’d guess this a B, B+ for the book itself, and definitely an A for the audiobook.

(Audiobook came from the public library, bless them forever.)

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