A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: When the Laird Returns by Karen Ranney

CN for book: Domestic violence.

The theme: a favorite trope. (Forced marriage.)

Why this one: I’m double-dipping with the Buzzwords Readathon.

(It’s perturbing, by the way, how many books are in my TBR that don’t have favorite tropes. Time for another sorting.)

I just spent a baffled couple of minutes trying to find my TBR Challenge review for One Man’s Love, finally remembering that I had been too rushed (and honestly, not interested enough) to actually review it. That, the first in the “Highland Lords” series, had a most favorite troupe, the lover in disguise, but it was just an average read. This one had its flaws, but interest in the characters keep me reading.

Ship designer and captain Alisdair MacRae is on his way to England to reject a title. (Hmm.) He stops in Scotland to visit the ruins of his family’s keep, only to discover that the McRae’s former enemy, Magnus Drummond, is ruining his land with sheep. Intent on regaining it, Alisdair finds himself forced to marry to Drummond’s daughter Iseabal. Since it’s not a marriage in English law, however, he expect it will be easy enough to annul it once they get to England.

Having grown up with a tyrannical and abusive father, Iseabal prays for the strength to endure marriage. But her new husband is so kind and considerate with her, she starts to think marriage is to her taste after all. And then she learns Alisdair’s plan

The plot hops around hither and yon after this, almost stopping dead at one point for multiple sex scenes. (They are tender and engaging, but space them out a bit!) It was all too episodic for my taste, and I think parts of the plot are over simplified, to say the least. (See this post on inheritance law by K.J. Charles.) But Iseabal’s arc remained intriguing. Her personality has been so stifled from living in constant fear and stoic endurance, she retreats to silent passivity whenever she feels threatened. Alisdair doesn’t have much of an journey, but is a generally charming and likeable hero who does his honorable best, and gives Iseabal a reason to find her inner bravery.

 

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TBR Challenge: Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

(Content note for book: Depictions of anti-semitism, rape and murder. Not very graphic, but extremely disturbing.)

 

The theme: Book in a series, but I’m going off-theme because I really need to double-dip for the #RippedBodiceBingo.

Why This One: All the other Medieval books in my TBR seem to be exactly the same tired “cruel lord/feisty lady” story. This is Romeo and Juliet — with much of the bleakness of the original.

Rica and Solomon could hardly be in a worse time or place to fall in love than Strassburg in 1348. Rica is the daughter of a lord, Catholic, and (unbeknownst to her) already betrothed. Solomon is Jewish. Love between them is a sin that could mean death for both. But the attraction between them is only strengthened by their similarity — the adventurous spirits and intellectual curiosity that causes them both to seek out Helga, the local midwife, for instruction in medicine.

Like many forbidden lovers, Rica and Solomon grapple with the disconnect between what they’ve always believed and what they feel:

Encircled by the mist, in the holy silence of the day, Rica did not care so much now for kissing him and feeling his naked flesh against her own. All those sensual vision paled in comparison to the solidity of his arms wrapped around her, to the simple glory of being next to him. She felt dizzy, as if she were standing in the center of the world and all else would slip into harmony as long as Solomon held her.

He rocked her silently, holding her almost painfully close. “It does not seem an evil thing,” he said with quiet wonder. “It seems as if I have held you this for all of time, that I should go on doing so forever.”

But too many outside forces batter their still center. Rica’s betrothed, a repressed religious fanatic who’s also the beloved of her severely traumatized twin sister. The threat of plague. And the growing likelihood of mob violence against the Jewish people of Strassburg, the convenient scapegoat.

There’s no way all of this could end well, and it mostly doesn’t. But Solomon and Rica, supported by their own love and the love of their parents, manage to find what they need.

This is a wonderfully immersive book, a look at the past that manages to feel both believably alien and completely relevant. (There are some echoes of The Sleeping Night, a later Samuel book about forbidden love much closer to our time.) The treatment of religion is one of the most interesting parts of the book: it’s respectful, but doesn’t shy away from the uglier aspects people can find. I don’t think the overtones in the above quote… holy, glory, wonder… are accidental. Rica and Solomon don’t reject God; they simply embrace the sacredness of love.

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So, This Happened

https://wendythesuperlibrarian.blogspot.com/2017/11/decktheharlequin-all-december-long.html

Excited-Baby-Opening-Present

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TBR Challenge: Married to the Viscount by Sabrina Jeffries

The theme: Series catch-up.

Why this one: I’ve owned it forever and got tired of looking at it. And it’s the last of the series, so it feels more like accomplishing something.

(Edited to add: I’ve discovered that I actually still have the previous book of the series in the TBR. How annoying is that!)

If I had to choose one phrase to sum up this book, I’d be torn between “kind of a downer” and “five pounds of plot in a ten pound sack.” The basic premise is that Abby, an American whose father recently died, arrives in London to join the charming Englishman she married by proxy. She’s horrified to realize that not only is he a pompous, controlling jerk at home, but he didn’t agree to their marriage and doesn’t want her at all. (Except for how much he wants her, of course.) But even though he’s obnoxious, he’s got that hot broody thing going on, so Abby sets out to make Spencer realize she should be his wife in truth.

There’s actually a fair bit going on in the book — de rigeur dumb mystery, Abby’s plans for her father’s medicinal business, Spencer’s tragic backstory — and yet it finds time to be dully repetitious. The interactions between Abby and Spencer never seem to get anywhere, except occasionally to making out. Which is fun to read — until Spencer uses it as a weapon. (Admittedly, Abby behaves badly too, in trying to manipulate him.) And the rest of the book is Abby being comforted and advised about Spencer by her women friends. No Bechdel test passing here.

It’s probably not as bad as I’m making it sound, for readers who enjoy wallpaper historicals. (I guess this is Georgian, but only because King George makes an appearance.) But… kind of a downer. Abby tries so hard, and continually feels so bad about herself, because Spencer refuses to tell her the real reason he won’t keep her as his wife. (He thinks he can’t have children, and his father’s refusal to have more drove his stepmother away.) The conflict is resolved rather sweetly, and though of course there’s a baby epilogue, it’s a reasonable one.

I should probably mention that Abby is half Native American. The story doesn’t do much with this, but I don’t think it’s overtly offensive either, except when Spencer makes a comment about the supposed extra sensuality of dark-skinned women.

 

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