A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

The Almack’s Scene in Pam Rosenthals’s Almost a Gentleman

(A reblog from Heroes and Heartbreakers)

It’s a strange alchemy that makes a trope that’s tiresome in one writer’s hands a winner in another’s. “Chicks in pants” is high on my list of instant turn-off tropes, but Almost a Gentleman has joined my (very) short list—The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer, The Lady’s Secret by Joanna Chambers—of favorites.

Widower David, Lord Linseley, is on the watch for a suitable wife at Almack’s. It’s quite a shock to him to be hit with lust—or even perhaps love—at first sight:

He roused himself from his reverie to watch a particularly graceful couple glide by. Yes, that’s how it should be done, he thought. There was a purity, a concentration to the young man’s swift steps, a perfection to the set of his hips and shoulders, joy of movement elevated to art through intense control and mastery. The lady held herself very upright, but one could feel a tiny shudder of surrender in her posture, a willingness to be led. One could see it in the arch at the small of her back, the confidence with which she entrusted her balance to her partner’s gloved hand at her waist.

Of course that’s how it’s done, Linseley thought. It was how all the important things in life were done—from the body’s center. It was how you guided a horse over a gate, heaved a forkful of hay onto a wagon, took a woman to bed. This new dance led one’s thought to lovemaking: no wonder there had been such consternation in fashionable circles when the waltz was introduced. The couple whirled back into the crowd; losing sight of them, Lord Linseley stared at the space they’d occupied, astonished and rather shaken by the feelings that had seized him.

He’s even more shaken when he meets the young man’s—really, of course, a young woman’s—eyes.

Ridiculous, Linseley thought helplessly. Impossible. He wasn’t the sort of man for an exotic passion. But there was no denying that he’d felt something—a bolt of strange cold lightning had flashed through him when he’d returned the young man’s gaze.

What’s gorgeous about this scene is the attraction isn’t based on mere physical allure. David recognizes in the stranger, Phizz Marston, a form of exquisite excellence—someone who is utterly committed and simply smashing at what they do. When that’s combined with beautiful, forceful eyes staring into yours… who could help but fall in love?

Thankfully, the masquerade is not spun out for very long: this isn’t a story about David’s fears and then his relief. Indeed, there’s a lot of other plot going on—secrets, mysteries, past anguish, hidden villains. But the heart of the story is love strengthened with admiration and respect, because David continues to appreciate Phizz—Phoebe—for her courage and competence, even after her metaphorical mask comes off. His ability to recognize her special qualities in a man, and then continue to value them in a woman, make him a hero worthy of her.

Advertisements
1 Comment »

Now That’s What I’m Talking About

I’m reading a book in a series heavy on family drama and secrets, and based on the previous history, I started to get an uncomfortable feeling it was going to turn into one of those horrible romances where it looks for a while like the couple is related. And I’d barely thought that when the author inserted a line to make it clear that no, it was not. I appreciated it so much

Leave a comment »

What Authors Owe to Their Readers


A big spoiler for the Feed series by Mira Grant. Proceed at your own risk. (But the whole point of this post is that the spoiler should have been known.)


I started Feed for an online buddy read, and I was getting into it. Good world building, interesting characters, sad backstory, fun title pun. I posted about this in the group, and mentioned that I was just a little worried about there eventually being a gross romance. I thought I was being paranoid, but nonetheless my YA-dar was tripped.

The group leader responded — apologizing for not having known this and issued warnings — that they had just learned there is an incestuous element to the series, which is not shown on page in Feed but is revealed in later books. You could argue that it is not technically incest, since the characters, though brought up from birth as twins, are not blood-related. I don’t care.

I particularly don’t care after I went looking for reviews, surprised that people weren’t bugged by this. And I found one in which a reviewer gushes about the beautiful brother-sister relationship in Feed, and how it reminds her so much of her own brother. She even posted pictures of them growing up.

At first I thought this was gruesomely funny, but the more I think about it, the more furious I get. The author of Feed, whether intentionally or not, involved her readers in a taboo sexual situation without their knowledge or consent. That is ethically and morally wrong.

4 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Thai Triangle by Jayne Bauling

 

CW: Racism, Misogyny, Sexual Assault

The theme: Contemporary

Why this one: Pretty much random, though I did think (erroneously) from the title and cover that it was a very rare Harlequin Presents interracial romance.

Thai Triangle was a flabbergasting read. I was reminded of a joke from “Community,” about how Greendale college is thought of as “weird, passionate, and gross” — what they call in marketing, “the Good Belushi.” Thai Triangle has that trifecta down pat.

Just to get this out of the way — of course there is othering and exoticizing of Asian women in the book. (One grieving Thai woman is described as having “slow tears rolling down her passive face.”) There’s also a surprising amount of kink-shaming, because apparently that’s what you do in Thailand. And slut-shaming. Massive, massive amounts of slut-shaming. I’ll get to that.

So. The weird: Nineteen-year-old Romney has sacrificed her entire life to be an unpaid, platonic caretaker for Kit, a spoiled rich boy who’s dying. She cares for him a lot, in the purplest of prose, despite the fact that he’s not only very needy but often very nasty.

Romney wants to help Kit reconcile with his older brother Justin, but Kit refuses to let her tell his secret, and deliberately goes out of his way to cause trouble for her with Justin.

The complicated dynamics between the three is actually somewhat interesting, except the plot really doesn’t do much with them except repeat the same patterns. Justin tries to seduce Romney. Romney refuses, declaring her undying love for Kit — apparently the words “as a friend” aren’t in her vocabulary — even as her will melts into a puddle from Justin’s manly manliness. She’s such a martyr, that’s probably the only thing keeping her from finding a cross and climbing up on it.

The passionate: Oh my God, there’s a whole lotta love. And hate. And burning loins.

This, this torrid, pulsing excitement, was what she had been created for, Justin the man she had been born to await unawakened and now find. He brought her to wild, wondrous life, his kisses deepening, becoming searching, in quest of her very soul it seemed. She knew she had never been truly alive until now.

The gross: The set-up in itself is on the gross side, but that’s nothing to where it goes. Justin, who must be in his 30s, is ruthless in his judgement and treatment of a 19 year old girl. And that’s even before Kit convinces him — Kit being so truthful and trustworthy — that Romney is a nymphomaniac and therefore apparently deserving the cruelest possible treatment. Kit also assaults Romney to set her up, because he’s just that wonderful.

It nonetheless all adds up to a somewhat compelling read, primarily because there’s some real drama amidst the angst. Kit’s situation is genuinely pathetic; he’s awful at least partially because he had a raw deal growing up, and he touches the heart a bit like Charlie in Alcott’s Rose in Bloom, for never getting a chance to grow up and be the person he might have been. Twelve year old me would have utterly adored this book. Now me kept on reading it, now matter how awful it got, albeit with a sort of “what in the hell…?!” thought balloon over my head.

1 Comment »

You Belong to Me: Lovers as Property in the Medieval Romance of Madeline Hunter

When authors began leaving the Medieval romance for other  genres, one of the saddest losses was Madeline Hunter. (Though that loss was certainly to the Regency/Victorian novel’s gain.) I don’t know precisely why the Medieval fell into disfavor, but I suspect it may have to do with readers becoming uncomfortable with the extreme power imbalances between class and sex that are inherent in the setting. And that’s exactly why I miss Hunter in the subgenre.

Hunter never went full-on bodice ripper as, for example, Brenda Joyce did in The Conqueror. (A very entertaining book, if you’re not sensitive to the disturbing elements.) Nor did she try to write as if power imbalances didn’t really matter. Instead she used the tension caused by those imbalances to create stories that aren’t only satisfying romance, but thematically fascinating. Two of my favorites explore the effect on love when one person is literally the property of another.

In By Possession, Moira is the illegitimate child of a lord and a serf; her father granted her freedom before his death, but she’s unable to prove it. She’s now the legal possession of Lord Addis de Valance, and to make things more complicated, she’s loved him most of her life. But Moira has no intention of following in her mother’s lonely, shameful footsteps, no matter how strong the temptation.

“Can you say that these hands misuse you, Moira, and that you are not willing?”

She sorrowfully extricated herself from his hold and stepped back. She hitched the blanket back on her shoulders and grasped it closed. “I am weak to the pleasure, but what you offer me will someday bring misery and I will not endure it. I swore when just a girl that I would not be any man’s whore, least of all one to a knight or a lord.”

Gold fires flamed. Dangerous fires, that spoke of more than thwarted desire.

“You say that often, and insult me with it. ‘Tis you who misunderstand, and think the worst of me without cause. Those garments are not meant as a bribe to buy a bedmate for a few nights. I do not seek to make a whore of you.”

She had suspected as much when she saw him at the doorway. Better if he did only want her for brief pleasure. “What you call it will not matter. All others know such women for what they are.”

The story is of two intense personal journeys, as Moira fights constantly against her own feelings in order to gain the secure, respectable life she wants, and Addis tries to convince her that she belongs to him in every way, while also trying to suppress the emotional hold she has over him. As a man born to ultimate privilege, it’s almost impossible for him to appreciate her point of view—until she is ordered to sing to entertain his betrothed, and he begins to see how much her love for him is destroying her.

Tell him that I cannot do it.

Nay, she could not, any more than he could. If someone said that he must watch her daily with another man, he could not do it. Not even if she needed him nearby. Not even in friendship and definitely not in love. Perhaps even while he demanded that she admit the love they shared, he had been counting on her never accepting it. He could ignore the hurt he planned to give her if she kept denying it.

Admitting that left him raw.

Moira fights for her freedom and wins, but Addis’s redemptive realization allows for a true happy ending between them, one based on free choices.

The class aspects are turned around in By Arrangement: Lady Christiana is of noble birth, while David de Abyndon is a wealthy merchant. Neither has any choice when the king orders them to marry,  however… and once David’s wife, Christiana is completely in his power.

David is an intriguingly problematic hero. Unlike the typical Alpha, he’s gentle and considerate, but he controls people by being extremely manipulative. The young and naive Christiana doesn’t have much chance against his ploys initially, and he not only frequently deceives her, but plays her like a violin. However, their class differences give Christiana some weapons of her own. In a powerful and disturbing scene, the usually imperturbable and subtle David gets nasty, believing his wife unfaithful with a lord:

“I feared that you might repulse me, knowing where you had been and what you had been doing the first time I left the city,” he said as his hands moved over her body. He smiled faintly, but she could tell that his anger hadn’t abated at all. “It would be ironic, wouldn’t it? To have paid all that silver for property and then found that I no longer wanted the use of it.”
Her mind clouded with horror at hearing him speak so coldly of their marriage. There had certainly been evidence that he thought of her thus and had even seduced her to lay claim to what was his, but to hear the words bluntly spoken and to have the confirmation thrown into the face of her love sickened her.

“Property…” she gasped.

“Aye. Bought and paid for.”

His blunt words repeated themselves in her head. She grabbed his wrist and stayed his hand. Love or not, she could not delude herself about what was about to happen and why he did it and what it meant to him.

“So, we are down to base reality at last,” she said narrowing her eyes. “How tedious it must have been to have to pretend otherwise with the child whom you married.”

He stared at her. His lack of response and denial turned her anguish to hateful spite. ‘The merchant has need of his property, much as he rides his horse when it suits him? Well, go ahead, husband. Reclaim your rights. Show that you are equal to any baron by using one of their daughters against her will. Will you hurt me, too? To make sure the lesson of your ownership is well learned?“

Still he did not react. Her heart broke with a suffocating pain and she threw out what she could to hurt him, in turn. ”Do not bother with seduction and pleasure, mercer. Soil feels nothing when it is tilled, nor wool when it is cut. I will think about who I am and who you are and feeling nothing, too. But be quick about it so that I can go cleanse myself.“ And then she looked at him and through him…

Both David and Christiana know how to “point the daggers expertly and draw blood from each other’s weaknesses.“ The assault doesn’t end in rape, but it’s a close call. But though the horrified and ashamed David redeems himself somewhat by giving her space and freedom in which to recover, Christiana doesn’t find it easy to forgive or forget his emotional violence against her:

”Even now, as you ask me to come back to you, I know that you just find that you have need of your property and resent being denied it. It may be the way these things always are, but I do not think many women have to hear it as frankly stated and then live with the truth in such a naked way. Perhaps that is the reason for dowries. To give women some value in marriages so that their dignity is preserved.“

This was Hunter’s debut, and it doesn’t have quite the structural perfection of By Possession. In the end, they find a balance and equality between them, helped by Christiana’s insight and her ability to see and bring out the best in David.

”I think you should choose the life that you were born to live, whichever you think it was.“

To the heart of things. Life with her would be fascinating.

”And what about you, Christiana? What about the life that you were born to live?“

She smiled and rested her face against his chest. ”I was born to marry a nobleman, David. And you have always been one of the noblest men I have ever known.”

Hunter wrote six Medievals in all, plus a novella in the anthology Tapestry.  (The novels are linked; they can certainly be read as standalones, but it makes the most sense to read them as two trilogies in this order: By PossessionBy DesignStealing Heaven and By ArrangementThe ProtectorLord of a Thousand Nights.) Although the stories are all quite different, the books share high stakes plots based on true historical events, vivid and immersive settings, wit, meaningful conflicts, and strong characters who are realistically constrained by their roles in life, yet who always find ways to fight for their independence. They give readers a chance to enjoy a rich Medieval setting, while still finding the emotional justice and requited love they want from romance. I wish we had more.

4 Comments »

More Precious Than a Crown by Carol Marinelli

 

CW: Mentions of rape, family abuse, domestic violence and miscarriage

 

I enjoyed Protecting the Desert Princess, an offbeat mix of “Roman Holiday” and “It Happened One Night” that may be the only Harlequin Presents that could be described as “rollicking.” This is is the previous book in the series, and though it also has a wild child heroine, some humor, and some very unexpected themes, it’s much darker.

I certainly never expected an HP to give us a heroine who was not only raped and impregnated by a family member (by marriage), but whose parents insist on “smoothing over” what happened and continue to invite him to family events. Unsurprisingly, she has a reputation for being uncontrolled and difficult, and she finds it very hard to open up to anyone. I thought the story handled this really well: Trinity’s behavior is all too relatable, and her hero Zahid is just about perfect. He accepts her — even before knowing why she acts out — and once he learns the truth, makes her well being and safety his top priority. In the end, she is free to choose exactly how she wants to handle it going forward, with him as back up.

I also liked the the darkness of the story is relieved by some goofiness between the two that made even a surprise old skool spanking scene, of all things, pretty funny. [Trinity is enjoying the spanking, to be clear.]

“You do not lie to me,” he said, as his hand went to come down again and then stilled. Zahid halted, barely able to breathe as he looked down at her red bottom and realised for the first time he was out of control. “Trinity…” His hand was in mid-air and he waited for her to shout, to tell him what a sick bastard he was, and then he heard her voice.

“One more, Captain.”

This could be a terrific trail-blazer — for Trinity’s story, not the spanking! — if it weren’t kind of… terrible. Marinelli’s writing often veers to the wrong side of effortlessly casual, and in this case, it went right over the cliff. I wanted to scream, “Go home commas, you’re drunk!” They’re all over the place, except where they should be.

The book shows not only lack of editing, but of the most basic proofreading. This paragraph completely baffled me:

Layla was happily late. Besotted with Trinity and when she should be meeting her father and brother, she smiled widely when Trinity knocked and Jamila, Layla’s handmaiden let Trinity into her room.

If the book was trying to imitate the error-filled style of “all the feels” self-published authors, it did a great job. It’s a shame no one seems to have been aiming to make it the best HP it could be, because it might have been fantastic.

 

Leave a comment »

Anne Stuart’s Winning Recipe in Nightfall

(My very first Heroes and Heartbreakers piece, IIRC.)

 

Choosing an Anne Stuart book is like ordering pizza at a new restaurant: you know basically what you’re going to get and that you’re probably going to like it, but will it be your everyday tasty slice or something sublimely spicy and melting? 

Originally published in 1995, and now available digitally, Nightfall is authentic New York pizza with Neapolitan crust. It’s everything you expect from Stuart, at her most compelling:

The Hero. He’ll be dark, dangerous…and deadly? Unlike some of Stuart’s outright assassins, Richard Tiernan is even more chillingly ambiguous. He was convicted of murdering his wife, his young children are missing… and all we know for sure about him is that he has a plan, one which involves Cassidy Roarke. “He was going to use her. Sacrifice her, if need be, for his own needs.”  

The Heroine. She’s relatable, dependable, and vulnerable—though she may not realize it. “Five feet nine and well-rounded [Cassidy] had never considered herself shy, nervy or little in her entire life.” Although she might be surprised to learn how Richard sees her: “Everything about Cassidy Roarke was profoundly sensual, from her blaze of flyaway hair to her ripe luscious body, to her innocent face.” The mere sight of her long, narrow, bare feet makes him crazy with lust.

The daughter of a charismatic, severely narcissistic writer, Cassidy is sick of being manipulated in the name of love; she deliberately gives herself “a life of safe routine, where no one needs her or makes impossible demands.” Until she meets the even more charismatic Richard and despite her suspicions, finds herself unable to stop thinking about his haunted eyes, and “the elegant, tortured grace of his body.” Soon, her life because one big impossible demand.

The Suspense. Did Richard kill his wife? Is he going to kill Cassidy? Will she care if he does? The plot grows ever more taut as the harrowing truth about Richard’s past and motives gradually reveals itself; meanwhile Cassidy is torn between her deepening attraction and fear, desperately trying to hold onto sane behavior while feeling as if “her brain and all her self-protective instincts short-circuited.” To make it all even more disturbing, we know that everything that happens between them is startlingly deliberate, orchestrated by Richard:

Events had turned him into a conscienceless sociopath, and he accepted that truth with a certain grim satisfaction. He could trust no one, nothing. Not noble resolve, not friendship, not justice. He could only work with what he had. And the only thing he trusted was obsession.

The Sex. It’s always the most powerful weapon in a Stuart’s hero’s arsenal, and one Richard uses ruthlessly:

Now all he had to do was bind her to him, and that was relatively simple.

He needed to get her on the bed, where she wanted to be. He needed to get between her long, wonderful legs and make her feel things she’d never felt before. He needed to make her come, again and again, until she couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything but what he wanted her to do.

‘So what’s your answer, sweet Cassidy?’ he murmured, moving closer to her. Her bra fastened in front. Thoughtful of her. He brushed his fingertips against the clasp. ‘Or if you prefer me to be more exact. Now? Or later?’

All of this inexorably leads to:

The Surrender. A Stuart hero is trouble, and a Stuart heroine is always smart enough to know it. The peak of their romance will be the heroine’s surrender to overpowering feeling despite her better judgement.  Cass’s surrender doesn’t come easily — her ability to fight is part of what Richard needs in her. But it come it does, and with it, the inevitable discovery that the surrender is mutual:

He closed his eyes, his strong teeth bared in a grimace, and she watched him. And she knew she owned him, as much as he owned her.”

It’s crazy, it’s unhealthy, and thank God it’s fiction, but that shared passion between them is thrilling.

Nightfall is a breathtaking trip into psychologically murky waters. But though much that happens is horrific, and our hero is manipulative, ruthless, and at best morally ambivalent, it’s not a nihilistic or amoral story. Just perfectly burnt around the edges.

Leave a comment »

TBR Challenge: Fortune’s Lady by Patricia Gaffney

The theme: Kicking it Old School

Why this one: Gaffney was one of the very best historical writers, but I still have a few of hers unread.

Fortune’s Lady seems likely to have been inspired by the Ingrid Bergman/Cary Grant film “Notorious,” and the first half is somewhat uncomfortable to read in the same way the movie is somewhat uncomfortable to watch. The  basic plot is very similar: a beautiful young woman with a party girl reputation, left alone in the world because of a treasonous father, is convinced to spy on her father’s former comrades by getting “close” to one of them. She and her handler fall for each other, but he’s so jealous that he constantly berates her for doing exactly what he’s telling her to do.

The she here is frivilous 19 year old Cassie Merlin, the he is Phillip Riordan, a British MP and reluctant Scarlet Pimpernel, and the time and place are London, 1792, where a revolution threatens the monarchy. (This is less inherently sympathetic for an American reader than Bergman overthrowing Nazis, but old historicals are like that.) Cassie has a bad reputation (mostly unfounded — because old historicals are like that) so seems like the perfect person to seduce her father’s probable accomplice.

The book doesn’t achieve the excellent characterizations of Gaffney’s later romances, but if it had just told this one story, it could have been a decent read. Cass, it turns out, is farsighted and needs glasses: when she’s able to read without pain, she discovers a real interest in political thought. Phillip expects to marry a cool, elegant lady who seems perfect for the life he wants, but his relationship with Cass grows from lust to genuine partnership, as she helps him keep up his drunken oaf deception and studies with him.

Unfortunately, this was the time of the doorstopper historical, and so the story has to be spun out. And it spins with ridiculous Big Mis after Big Mis. Phillip stops being a complete assclown, and Cass takes over the role for him, with extra TSTL. And then we get the …. wait for it… sadistic, kinky, gay villain!

I love Gaffney’s sprawling, OTT old skool Lily, but this just alternated sex scenes and stupidity in a way that never built up the good angst rush that makes old school so fun.

 

Leave a comment »

Still a Friend of Narnia

I recently read Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Books as an Adult by Bruce Handy, which is a book right up my alley. (Not that it mentions Magic in the Alley by Mary Calhoun, since the poor book never got the love it deserves.) Although even reading about books I don’t have strong feelings about was interesting, I particularly enjoyed the chapter entitled “God and Man in Narnia,” which is the first one that touched on books I deeply cared about, and it really struck a chord in me.

First, there was this quote in the footnotes: “The kids enjoyed the live-action Narnia films that began coming out a few years later, but though they sound like perfectly reasonable adaptation, I have strenuously avoided them, not wanting to literalize such a core part of my childhood imagination.”

Yes, yes, yes! I’ve never known how to put this: usually when I have to defend my desire not to see movies based on beloved books, I say “I already know what they look like,” but this really captures the true sentiment. They’re exactly as real in my head as they should ever be.

Hardy goes on to discuss some of the issues with the Narnia books, which is always uncomfortable reading. I’m not a Christian, which no doubt made it easier to for me to overlook spects that make others squirm. (Coincidentally, I literally only realized last night, when my husband mentioned the breaking of the tombs, that there was allegorical significance to the breaking of the stone table.) But when the book discussed the intentionality of it — Narnia as deliberate propaganda —  I started to feel like that was really the last straw and I would never be able to read them again.

And then I got to a quote from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, describing the magnificence of Aslan and the children’s instinctual, awed reaction to him. And Hardy’s commentary:

“I’m no expert [the author has previously stated he’s an atheist], but Lewis’s ostensible fantasy strikes me as an unusually sophisticated, not to mention graceful and humane, portrayal of belief, no matter the age of the intended audience. Or perhaps I should just say that the Narnia books allow me to ‘get it’ in a way that most religious expression, whether art or testament, does not.”

And again, this. I felt it. My older sister and her friends felt it. Even my mother , who raised us without any religious influences at all, felt it. (I remember discussing with her whether the poor stone picnickers would be brought back to life, and her assuring me that Aslan would find them.) Even knowing very little about Christian imagery and theology, I felt the pull of Aslan. It didn’t convert me, but it gave me something important. A sense of grace?

~~~

The book does also talk about racism and sexism in Narnia, and makes a sincere attempt to address the racism problems in much of classic children’s literature, including offering The Birchbark House  and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as counterpoints to the “Little House” books. But I felt the author didn’t give enough account to his own internal blinkers about “girl books.” He describes Dorothy, Lucy and Susan Pevensie, and Alice as “blank slates,” and thinks Anne is too soppy to even read. He skimmed Little Men, thereby missing out on some fantastic fun. I was thinking as I read, a little wistfully, that this is the book I myself once wanted to write. Maybe I still need to.

5 Comments »

Roomies by Christina Lauren

I have such mixed feelings about this, I feel like I should write a pro/con list instead of a review. Many of the aspects I disliked eventually grew into something better, and overall I read the book with interest and enjoyment — yet it’s hard to feel completely positive about a book when I spent so much of it wincing.

The book is narrated — first person present tense, sorry! It was mostly unobtrusive though — by Holland Bakker, a young woman who’s very halfheartedly trying to make in in New York. Her efforts are supported by her loving uncle Jeff and his husband Robert, who emotionally adopted her when she was born the last child in a large family. Working in a grunt job at Robert’s Broadway theater, with them paying most of her rent, Holland feels aimless and useless.

Holland was my first hurdle. She’s often such a typical contemporary romance/women’s fiction stereotype:

“While I’m not completely unfortunate-looking, I know everyone is half wondering how I ended up with someone like him. I’m that girl with the freckles, the one with snagged tights who spills her coffee awkwardly on her boobs, the one who knocks into everyone with my camera.”

I’m so not the reader for that girl’s adventures. But — first but — Holland has an interesting arc. Part of the story is about her finding herself and her passions… her passions other than Calvin. And her very stereotypical friendship with Lulu, the brash and bold girl who’s always pushing her to take risks, also goes in an unexpected, emotionally resonant direction

Calvin is an Irish musician that Holland semi-stalks when he busks in the subway. Although there is much panting by Holland over how gorgeously Irish he is, she is largely attracted by how intensely and lovingly he plays his guitar. And when an important musician storms out of her uncle Robert’s production, she has the brilliant idea of bringing Calvin into the show. There’s just one enormous problem: Calvin’s student visa expired and he’s in the country illegally. But Holland might be able to help with that too…

Okay, this was another big grimace, though perhaps an unfair one to criticize the book upon. It just made me so uncomfortable that the book focused on the needs of a white immigrant who’s in the country for music, in a time when there are so many immigrants in the US facing racism and deportation back to horrific circumstances. It felt intensely tone deaf.

That aside, Calvin is an extremely appealing hero — funny, and affectionate, and passionate about his art, always a huge draw for me. There are some niggles with him too, though I suppose they keep him from being ridiculously perfect. I did really enjoy the growth of their relationship… buuuut…. they have sex for the first time, a huge deal, when they’re too drunk to even remember it. What the what? This is not what I read romance for!

(Incidentally, in keeping with Lauren’s last several books, this one is quite steamy, but with less volume of sex scenes. I have no complaints whatsoever about this.)

The romance continues on in a very episodic way, which is really not my cuppa. Holland’s insecurity stretches out long past the point where it’s even narratively useful or sensible. A lot of the conflict felt manufactured.

Overall, I felt like the book wanted to be a rom com with both awkward hilarious moments and emotionally deep moments, and the combo didn’t perfectly gell for me. A lot of my complaints are specifically personal and might not bother any other reader at all. So I would recommend it to readers who enjoy contemporary romance; I think most everyone will adore Calvin.

2 Comments »

Something More

my extensive reading

Blue Castle Considerations

thoughtations, contemplations, fulminations & other random things from books...

...Burns Through Her Bookshelf

Voracious reader, book lover, spastic blogger, audiologist. These things are some of me, but not the sum of me.

Queer Romance Month

because love is not a subgenre

Cate Marsden.

Love and Zombies. And books. And infrequent updates.

Book Thingo

Reading (mostly) romance books down under

Shallowreader

...barely skimming the surface

Olivia Dade

Sex. Banter. Nerdery. Love.

Flight into Fantasy

Romance, speculative fiction, and YA book reviews, book chatter, and random silliness

Her Hands, My Hands

The vagaries of my mind, the products of my hands. Not always safe for work.

dabwaha

64 books. 1 Champion. Get your game on.

Stop the STGRB Bullies

Your hypocrisy is showing

Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

Miss Bates Reads Romance

Miss Bates is Austen's loquacious spinster in Emma. No doubt Miss Bates read romances ... here's what she would've thought of them.