A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

The Probably-No-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #38

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Harlequin Presents #38: Moon Witch by Anne Mather

Best line:

“‘What’s wrong? This is your birthday,  isn’t it? I just thought I’d make it a memorable one.’

Sara frowned in amazement. ‘How? By kissing me? You’ve got some conceit!’

‘Oh, Sara, stop getting so uppity!'”

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. That’s not the hero talking, btw, just some random jerk.

There isn’t much to say about this; it’s a pretty standard guardian/ward story. Jarrod is accidentally made orphaned Sara’s guardian and immediately gets defensive because she’s so youngly hot/hotly young and he’s twice her age. So he pushes her away with comments about what a gold digger she is. He’s not a great hero — quite controlling, and there’s some wrist twisting — but not that terrible by HP standards, either, especially when he tries to convince her she really should be out living a life instead of marrying him. Alas, poor Sara is not having it.

Part of the story is set in Jamaica, which apparently is peopled entirely by smiling black people who love nothing more than waiting on rich white people, but it’s not excruciatingly racist either. I didn’t hate it but didn’t get very excited about it, either.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #8

Harlequin Presents  #8:  The Sanchez Tradition by Anne Mather

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I’m having trouble making this cover illustration out — are those scenes of local color in the heroine’s hair? Quite beautiful otherwise, though. I don’t know if it always looked so delicate and romantically faded, but like the book itself, it’s worn pretty well.

Most Memorable Line:

“There was a refrigerated cabinet for drinks, hi-fi equipment, and a portable Japanese television set.”

The world depicted in Harlequin Presents usually bears no resemblance to any I ever knew, but this actually brought up a sense of zeitgeist. 🙂

I was a little surprised that the recent digitizing of Anne Mather’s backlist went this far back… but aside from a touch of casual racism, and Andre yanking Rachel by her hair, (!) this hasn’t aged badly at all. Its primary difference from more recent HPs is the closed bedroom door, the large cast of characters, and the heroine’s constanting smoking. (Don’t worry, she cuts back when pregnant!)

The romance is one of those tumultuous relationships in which the hero is controlling and the heroine is childish, and they never really work out their problems, but there’s a sense of underlying passion that keeps it interesting.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #148

I’m hopelessly out of order at this point, but oh well. I keep getting stuck on The Hawk and the Dove, which will never download from Open Library for me. (I’ve checked it out at least 3 times.) But a lot of ancient Anne Mather books have now been digitized, so I may backtrack.

Harlequin Presents #148 – For the Love of Sara by Anne Mather

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I kind of love this cover. The heroine looks like she has a terrible headache, and by God, she deserves one.

Best Line:

“Where’s Greece?”

“Sara, I told you. It’s a long, long way away, where the sun shines all the time.”

“I don’t want the sun to shine all the time.”

For the Love of Sara was published about 3 years after the first Harlequin Presents but it’s like another world. Virginity is still a hot button — heh — and sex is only in the past, but the whole tone of the story is different. It actually starts off with the hero’s point of view, though it does drop it later to keep things suspenseful (a trick that still happens in some HPs.)

Mather tended to be an envelope pusher, which is great in theory but in practice often ends up being fairly icky. This definitely scores high on the ick scale, with the heroine engaged to the father of her former lover and the grandfather of her child. Talk about bad parents — apparently that’s how much dear old dad wanted to score off his son. Another way in which this book is different is that the hero’s father is considerably worse than the Evil Other Woman, who actually isn’t all that bad. And there’s a well drawn, far from angelic child character.

The book on the whole is thoughtful and intriguing, which perhaps makes it worse that the heroine stunk up the whole thing.  I was seriously tempted to change my “heroine needs a kick in the pants” tag to “heroine needs to be thrown through a plate-glass window.” However, this is a very tense time in our lives, so I’ll try to keep it sane.

But seriously, what an awful, dislikable person Rachel is. I’m not generally upset by secret baby stories, but Rachel is so obviously at fault here, and so damn stubborn for so long.

*Spoilers*

— She kept her pregnancy secret from Joel, and continues to distrust him and try to push him away, despite his interest in getting to know his child.

— Rachel is marrying James because he’s promised to donate a kidney to Sara. She assumes that if the operation is not successful, she won’t have to go through with the marriage. (Hey, dude still gave up his kidney!) Later when he asks if she was thinking about changing her mind about marriage after the operation, she’s indignant to be asked.

— After Rachel has an old skool fall — from running away from Joel while refusing to listen to what he’s actually saying — and requires surgery, her main freak out is about her head being shaved.

Joel is no saint, mind you, especially when he mocks Rachel for insisting that just because she was a virgin when they had sex, he should marry her. Though it is fairly mockworthy, for 1975. But he takes responsibility for his behavior, which is more than Rachel ever does.

So — not a bad book, but I kind of wish Joel had just sued for custody and never had to deal with Rachel again.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #17

Harlequin Presents #17: Living with Adam by Anne Mather

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I’m backtracking a bit to get back into numerical order.

Best line: “I hope you’re not one of the ghastly females who support Women’s Liberation and that sort of thing!” he exclaimed. Typical HP comment, but this may be most notable because it’s spoken by someone who turns out to be a real cad.

Notes of interest: I may faint… he kisses her breast! Only after they’re married, of course. In an actual bedroom scene! I think that’s the most explicit the HPs have gotten so far.

There’s also some hero point of view — including the whole first chapter — though not in the alternating style common now. It begins with the hero in a serious relationship with another woman. There’s a non-specific mention of abortion (one the doctor hero was far too righteous to perform.) And the heroine is his stepsister. Mather is beginning her envelope pushing.

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This is somewhat more down-to-earth than previous HPs, and a pretty  successful story. Adam and Maria barely know each other, so the step relationship didn’t set off my ick meter. Adam’s quite an angry boner man, but that certainly makes sense in this context. Although they fight a lot as they suppress their attraction, it never crossed the line to bickerfest, somehow.

The weirdest part of the story is Adam’s continued attempt to convince Maria that his relationship with the woman he initially called his mistress is “respectable.” I frankly couldn’t follow these parts at all; perhaps you have to have grown up in the right time period to get what all the fuss is.

The story also takes an odd turn when Adam’s mother appears. Maria’s thoughts about her stepmother are quite positive, but she turns out to be possessive and weirdly class conscious about Maria, which considering that she’s married to Maria’s father makes not one lick of sense.  Unless Adam has significantly raised the class standing of the family by becoming a doctor and she wants him to marry up?

I think there could’ve been more focus on why they fall in love, but this holds up better than many an old HP.

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The Probably Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #186

 

 

 

 

Trigger warning: Extreme fat shaming.

 

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Harlequin Presents #186: A Bitter Loving by Lilian Peake

Best line: “Karen looked at Charles, who, at that moment, was contemplating the rising mound of his stomach as if it were a tumulus of great archaeological importance.”

Notes of interest: Implied unmarried sex.

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I’m going completely out of reading order here, but I just had to reread this one when I found it. It’s one of the three HPs that I remember vividly from my adolescence — even the blurb was instantly familiar to me when I saw it. The book probably stuck with me because I was intrigued by a heroine who was fat as a child. On the other hand, it’s also a hell of a blurb:

 

Karen went toward the painting of Glenn like someone sleepwalking. Then, in a spasm of violent, uncontrollable anger, she plunged the points of the scissors into the canvas and ripped it open.

When she saw the results of her action and her brain started to spell out just what she’d done, she was appalled.

“Well,” Glenn asked, “have you got me out of your system?”

Out of her system? “Dear heaven,” Karen thought, “I’ve got you so much into my system that you’re part of the very blood running through my veins.”

 

Since I started reading Harlequin Presents again and keeping records, I’ve tried 4 Lilian Peake books. One I rated one star, two were DNFs, and one I hated so much I gave it one star even though it was also a DNF. But even without the nostalgia factor, I might have continued this one. It’s very odd, and oddly compelling.

Although the term isn’t used, Karen was — or is — clearly anorexic. She’s undergone treatment but I don’t think she could be considered cured, because her relationship with food and weight is still very fucked up. The book is filled with ugly fat shaming, and yet in a way it almost didn’t bother me, because much of it is clearly part of the heroine’s messed up psyche, and she’s aware of that herself. She also points out Glenn’s weight prejudice to him:

“I suppose,” she persisted, “you think that because Jerome’s fat, his mind is therefore stodgy and dull, which is how you described mine. But,” she pressed on in spite of the sharp gesture of annoyance which Glenn made, “he’s passionately fond of music, which means that deep down he’s sensitive and maybe even artistic.” Glenn Earl was silent, so she went on, consciously inciting him. “Which you, as his art teacher, should have discovered. And encouraged.”

It’s miles far from an enlightened book as far as body acceptance goes, so be wary, but there is a little nuance.

Glenn was Karen’s high school art teacher. (And how weird is that for a Harlequin Presents hero profession? But he’s also a very successful artist, so it’s okay.) Karen’s memories of being a fat child in high school are unsurprisingly dismal, and many of them center around Glenn, who mocked her when she was his student.

That was hard for me to get past. Blackmailing rapist heroes sure… or at least maybe. A hero who is cruel to a 13 year old child? Especially a poor child who is already the subject of persecution? Especially when the basis is his own prejudice? Yeech.

I’ve had cruel teachers and 30 years later, would still happily kick them in the giblets. Karen loves and hates Glenn, and she focuses most of her remembered misery on him. It’s not exactly clear why she’s come back to live in her old home and work at her old school — she seems to think she’s seeking revenge, but all she wants is to avoid him. She’s definitely far too depressed and aimless to have a plan.

I had trouble with numerous aspects of this story. The portrayal of the Evil Other Woman is particularly virulent, and Karen’s so-called friends laughingly betray her at every turn. Karen makes herself into a doormat for someone, threatening her health and well being. (She could be the subject of an interesting fictional “why she stayed” discussion.) The approach to an attempted rape is simply infuriating. Glenn comes off as something of an idiot as well as an unreformed asshole — his ex-wife threatens to destroy all his work if he visits Karen, and he still continues to share studio space with her?  And this is where he draws his ethical line:

“By God,” he muttered, “I can’t do it. I have some standards after all. I can’t take another man’s woman…”

Finally, after all that, the resolution is abrupt and unsatisfying. But it’s an interesting book, if you can read it with some detachment.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #21

 

 

Trigger Warning: loss of a child

Harlequin Presents #21: The Unwilling Bride by Violet Winspearunwilling1 unwilling2

Another one of those odd, “look how happy and in love we are” covers for a forced marriage story, despite the obvious title.The original Mills and Boon cover conveys the tone much better.

Best line: “The men of Sicily slap the face of their bride on the wedding day – we of Sardinia save the slap for the occasion that merits it.”

Notes of interest: Nothing new here. Sex is happening, but so obliquely I wasn’t sure of it until the heroine got obliquely pregnant.

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Mark, who is from Sardinia — a fact he mentions about every other sentence, so there’s no fear of forgetting it — lost his son in a horrible car wreck; he was also badly burned, and scarred. The wreck was caused by a hit and run driver, Rhodri, the son of Ravena’s beloved, frail guardian; to spare her guardian pain and stress, she agrees to marry Mark and have children with him. I almost DNF’d this one right there, because I was not happy about the death of a child being used as a plot point in such a way. It is treated more sensitively later.

Despite the plot and the threatening quote above, Mark isn’t half bad for an HP hero. He’s a little annoying with his insistance on believing that Ravena is in love with Rohdri, and I liked that she called him on it:

‘Each time we are alone he shares the room with us.’

‘Because you always have to mention him,’ she retaliated.

But he both catches Ravena with another man and finds her half-written letter to Rhodri without doing anything more than being all sad and bitter at her.

For her part, Ravena first believes Mark is still in love with his perfect first wife and then with a Sardinian girl. Jealousy makes her realize that he’s pretty damn hot, despite his scars. (Which are mentioned almost as often as Mark’s heritage.)

It’s a typical sort of story, but has a nice flow. The local color isn’t overdone, and the developing attraction Ravena feels for Mark is is well drawn.

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Hmmm…

I’ve been looking ahead at Open Library, since apparently someone else is also doing a Big Harlequin Presents read and the next one I want keeps being checked out. And I’m seeing that for quite a while, nothing is available except the Anne Mather titles. Which on the one hand, yay, because she’s probably the best writer of the first three, but on the other hand, wow that is going to get dull for all concerned. And reduces the chances of finding my mystery book by about two-thirds.

I guess I’ll just keep going til I can’t stand it anymore and then stop.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #20

2592790Harlequin Presents #20: A Distant Sound of Thunder by Anne Mather

Note: This post will be a bit spoilery, but no more so than most of the GoodReads reviews.

Best line: (I guess it wouldn’t be fair to include the “creaming lagoon” line.)

“What did she [the heroine’s employer] think she had seen this morning? What imagined construction had she put upon those moments when she was in Piers’ arms? Did she believe that their lovemaking had exceeded the bounds of what was right and what was wrong?”

Notes of interest: Mather begins her notorious envelope pushing, with a heroine who first gets involved with a married man, and then with his son! (Unknowingly and fairly chastely both times, of course. But give Mather a few years…) Rebecca is also illegitimate and it’s not a plot point.

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I was especially eager to read this one — even going out of order — because the cover is actually familiar to me. Although it didn’t ring a bell otherwise, I do find it interesting that this is the first of the project reads that really feels like the Harlequin Presents I know and love. I think that the prose style has become more informal and immediate, the physical interaction are definitely more sensual, and though there are a greater number of secondary characters than you’d find in a more modern HP and some foreign descriptions, the focus stays on the relationship and the drama. Whatever the reason, despite a rather dull beginning in which the heroine is tediously frightened about her feelings for the hero, I actually cared about how this one would come out!

I think naming the heroine “Rebecca” must have been either deliberate or perhaps subconscious, because the opening of the book is rather iconic: heroine in service to a cantankerous, demanding older woman meets mysterious widower. (Or so she thinks.) The plot and characters depart quite sharply after that though, and it’s mostly a story about two lovers destroyed by the malicious schemings of a stereotypically bitter and twisted disabled person. (Our second villain in a wheelchair.) Here’s her after spying on them making out:

“Oh, yes, miss.” Adele’s face was contorted with triumph. “Yes, I watched you, and it’s given me a new lease on life, believe me!”

Oh, she is so deliciously awful.

Making out is as far as it goes, but Mather is moving us beyond kisses. Apparently arms were the hottest thing going in 1973: In order not to be too attractive, Rebecca wears a caftan that “hid the rounded countours of her arms.” This was a smart move, because sure enough, the first time Piers get her alone, “his fingers curved round her upper arm” and “he bent his head and put his his mouth against her arm, caressing it insistently.” This before they’ve even kissed.

The plotting is a touch confusing at times, but I enjoyed this one because Piers isn’t a total asshole and/or mystery. Even without point-of-view, we can tell that he cares, and that his assholish moments are because he cares. He’s a prince compared to pretty much ever other hero I’ve read so far, and as I said, for the first time I was really caught up in seeing this romance work out. Yay!

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These Poor Harlequin Presents Heroines

It’s not enough they get shaken and punishingly kissed, now these poor heroines are being extra-abused via scanning errors. Two recent gems:

“She felt a quickening of her puke.”

“She cast herself into the creaming waters of the lagoon.”

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #16

7790406Harlequin Presents #16: Wings of Night by Anne Hampson

One of those odd HP covers which shows the hero and heroine smiling happily together, despite the fact that they spend most of the book making each other exquisitely miserable.

Best line: This was hard to pick, with so much hyperbolic racism to choose from, but I’m going with “She turned; Lean was close behind, and as she looked up at him, noting the mingling of cruelty and triumph in his eyes, she though for a moment of his ancestors, those pagans who had lived for battle and the glorious death. And, later, the Cretans had continued their merciless slaughter — living as they did in constant revolt against the Saracens, the Venetians and the Turks. Right down in their history there had been someone to hate… but today there was no one, and so perhaps there existed a vacuum in the life of the average Cretan… perhaps he preferred to have an enemy at hand, a victim to torture and subdue.”

Notes of interest: Nothing new here. Still no nookie. Violence is fairly mild compared to the last Hampson, though that’s not saying much. No fall or other overtly physical dark moment for the heroine, though I don’t know exactly what happens because my @#$%$! Open Library ebook went to pieces right there and apparently quite a few paragraphs were lost.

Melanie was 17 where she broke off her engagement to 24-year-old Leandros. Considering that his response to this left her with bruises, I can only praise her foresight. Seven years later, Lean (a difficult nickname to get used to…) gets his revenge when Melanie’s jerk-wad of a brother rips off Lean’s sister. Melanie goes to Crete to work off the debt in Lean’s hotel, and discovers he has every intention of making her job/punishment as long and difficult and unpleasant as he can. There’s also a particularly Evil Other Woman who devotes herself to making Melanie’s life hell.

It could very easily be too much, but Hampson wisely tempered the awful with an understanding friend for Melanie at the hotel, and with signs of softening in Lean over time. The best angsty moment, alas, was not available.

Despite the old skool wtfery (Lean gets quite scary and you have to take the HEA with the usual grain of salt), vast paragraphs of travelogue interrupting the good moments, and the fact that there are about twenty different eavesdropping scenes in one short book, this was pretty fun. One of the better stops in my weird crusade.

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