A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

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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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #14

 

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Harlequin Presents #14: Storm in a Rain Barrel by Anne Mather

The heroine looks just about as pouty in that picture as she acts.

Best line: “He was probably terribly sophisticated and ‘with-it” and would use all those awful exaggerated adjectives she had heard artists use at the local coffee bar…”

Notes of interest: Heavy petting! Unmarried heavy petting! How creepy is it that the most explicit scene in my old HP reading so far is between a 17 year old girl and her 36 year old guardian? Also, there’s an actual spanking scene. No fall and unconsciousness for the heroine this time, although she does get bronchitis.

This is a slightly lugubrious coming-of-age romance. Orphaned Domine has been living in a convent school thanks to the generosity of her Great-Uncle Henry. When he dies, his illegitimate son James takes over her guardianship. (There’s a weird continuity error here — Domine early on ponders about Uncle Henry refusing to acknowledge James, then is shocked to learn James is his son.) James takes her to her uncle’s lonely old house on the moors, Misslethwaite Manor Grey Witches, where she starts to dress and act (and feel) more adult. The antagonistic interactions between her and James are pretty immature and unsatisfying though, even with the unexpected boob action.

I was amused by this scene between Domine and the inevitable Nice Boy who wants to marry her:

“Love is being with someone, sharing life with them. Sharing troubles as well as happiness!”

Domine half-smiled. So that was Vincent’s definition of love. Well, it was vastly different from her own.

“I think what you’re talking about is liking one another,” she murmured unhappily. “Loving’s altogether different. Loving is needing someone so desperately that you wonder how you can live without them. Love is like a fire in the blood that burns you up with its intensity!”

“That’s infatuation!” exclaimed Vincent chillingly.

Vincent is depicted of something of a ridiculous mama’s boy, but I’d say he’s right on the money here, and quite a lot of evidence agrees with him.

 

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Apology

Five days after I wrote about how weird it was that the heroine of a book stayed in the same house as the man who tried to rape her and cooked him breakfast, this appeared. (via Love in the Margins.)

Probably a coincidence, but it made me realize that I was pretty slapdash there. I vaguely thought about the fact that reactions to rape and attempted rape can be unexpected, but didn’t think I needed to go into it. I should have.

To be clear, there’s nothing in the narrative to indicate that the heroine had any lasting emotional reaction to the attempted rape, or to the physical abuse that occurs later in the book. It’s not a coping mechanism for her — it’s just bad, thoughtless writing that doesn’t take rape or abuse seriously.

But I should not have thoughtlessly contributed to the idea that there’s only one real or appropriate way to respond to rape.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #13

Harlequin Presents #13: A Kiss from Satan

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Trigger warnings may be redundant when discussing old Harlequins, but just in case: warning for domestic violence

Best line: “‘I must admit that until a short while ago, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of marriage–‘ He broke off and for one fleeting second his lips curved in contempt. ‘A man doesn’t really need to these days – when women are so cheap.'”

Notes of interest: This may be the first Greek Tycoon. The bedroom door is so firmly shut, we miss the first month of their marriage. But we do get to witness the hero shaking the heroine until she’s almost unconscious, as punishment for ordering him around. Lucky us.

~~

As I read this, I half expected D’Hoffryn to appear to recruit our heroine Gale as a vengeance demon. After being cheated on by her fiance, Gale has deliberately become a femme fatale, trying to punish all men for being the rotten beasts they are. She’d like Greek hunk Julius to be her next victim, but unfortunately he sees through her right away.

I’m not sure which next parts of the plot I found weirder:

— that after narrowly escaping being raped by Julius, Gale not only stays in the house alone with him, but cooks them both breakfast. (Addendum 7/11/14:  some further thoughts on this.)

— that Gale agrees to marry Julius because her mother threatens to leave Gale’s philanderer father for another man if she doesn’t.

— that Gale’s mother was actually in a conspiracy with Julius.

Like Hampson’s last HP, Waves of Fire, this had a tendency towards long pauses in the action. Something dramatic happens, then the hero leaves and nothing else happens for a long time. I rather missed that when the shaking began. It had been a pretty good read until then — Gale’s interactions with her family are interesting — but that was so upsetting, I almost quit the book. There was no reason for me to be glad I continued; there aren’t even any repercussions from the shaking… in fact, she apologizes to him at the end!

I’m not sure I can face the next Anne Hampson.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #12

Harlequin Presents #12: Dragon Bay by Violet Winspear

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Best line: “‘You like a child yo’self,’ Da had muttered, and as she went out of the room the points of her Creole turban had seemed like the devil’s horns.”

Notes of interest: Marital rape. The bedroom door is ever so slowly creeping open.

Well… I couldn’t read this one; I happened to skim to that line above and it did me in. Racism and dialect are two things I really don’t need in my HPs. Add suspense for a third thing. This did have a strong resemblance to The Book in terms of plot and atmosphere, though, which makes me think the author might be Winspear. On the other hand, I’ve also read a Mather that seemed very similar. So I guess I’ll just keep plugging.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #11

Harlequin Presents #11: Who Rides the Tiger by Anne Mather

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I liked this cover until I figured out that what’s going on is she’s holding her arms above her head, while wearing a most peculiar dress.

Best line: “I’ve never danced to beat music before,” she confessed. “I’m quite a square really.”

Notes of interest: Hero is badly hurt, rather than heroine. Heroine is a smoker. Heaving breasts alert! The heroine dumps her fiance to marry someone else and plans to use the same wedding dress — were the seventies really that practical? It seem incredibly tacky. The hero gets married in silk! Almost an in-joke: “well, forced seduction is a crime, isn’t it?”

I was thinking about skipping this one, but skimming ahead saw that there might be an actual sex scene! So I had to read it after all, for, you know, historical interest. And would you believe it, the scan messes up right there! I think we’re still at closed bedroom door, though.

Dominique travels to Brazil to marry her fiance, and discovers that he’s turned into a giant hippie.

Then she recognized John, but he had changed enormously. He now sported a thick beard and moustache [watch out, Dominique!] and his hair had grown rather long since his arrival. Big and broad, dressed in demin slacks and a brilliant orange shirt, he looked almost a stranger.

His boss, on the other hand, is a 1970’s dreamboat.

Dressed in close-fitting cream pants and a cream silk sweater which was unbuttoned almost to his waist revealing the dark mass of hairs on his broad chest he looked lithe and masculine.

Wait, where’s the gold medallion? Anyway, Vincente is so awesome, he has to refer to himself in the third person.

“See–” he muttered fiercely, “I’m trembling too. This is not Santos’s way, believe me! I have wanted many women — and I have taken them. You — I respect. You — I am prepared to give my name!”

Vincente convinces Dominique to marry him — at this point, they’ve met about three times — and that’s when the fun really begins.

This was the first of the oldie reads that really felt like a proper Harlequin Presents to me. It wasn’t that different from the previous Mather books, but the pieces fit together better, somehow. Angst was achieved, so I’m happy.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #10

#10 Waves of Fire by Anne Hampson

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I will likely enjoy this project a lot more when it stops being the same three authors over and over again…

Best line: “What sort of man was this whom she had married? Dark and sinister, a foreigner in whose blood ran the pagan traits of his idol-worshipping forbears, he would crush and subjugate her until she had no will of her own, no personality, no life other than that of a slave, a possession to be used, indifferently laid aside, and used again as this man’s passions and desires dictated.”

Notes of interest: And…. we has sex! Bedroom door painted shut, blink and you’ll miss it, forced seduction aka “tender lovemaking.” Guess which one of these fashions went out of date first. And I think we’ve had the heroine have some kind of accident that renders her unconscious in every book so far.

As you can see from the quote above, this was an uncomfortable read. Shani is thinking stuff like that all the time. Her husband is actually a decent guy by HP standards — we can overlook a little blackmail and forced consummation, right? Because he loves her! — but that doesn’t make the book feel any less racist. I skim-finished, so I suppose it’s possible that Shani wakes up and thinks, holy shit, I can’t believe all those stereotypes I was thinking about Greeks…. but I’m skeptical.

There’s a lot of travelogue, which is a little more narratively interesting than usual because it’s about Cos and the characters are into it because they’re both in the medical field. Then it veers into the adventures of the locals, while Shani and Andreas do pretty much nothing. There’s quite a lot of doing nothing in the book overall, and I’d had enough.

 

 

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #9

Harlequin Present #9 – Wife Without Kisses by Violet Winspear

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Best line: “I could forgive you anything–everything,” she said simply. “If you killed me in anger it wouldn’t matter, if you did it.”

Notes of interest: The first of my rereads with a hero who isn’t from a romantic clime. I hadn’t realized that trend started at the very beginning.

It’s funny that this one has such a direct title, compared to the more subtle and evocative titles of the other early Harlequins, because in tone it’s far less like a category romance and more like a novel. We get numerous points of view, including that of the hero, and more time is spent on other relationships than on the romance.

I had some issues with the book. One is that the story, scenes, and characters are clearly heavily inspired by Rebecca. (Curiously, this is the second time I’ve encountered such a book this week.) Another is that the infantilization of the heroine is taken to absurd extremes; virtually every time she is mentioned or spoken to, a word such a “young” or “child” or “little” is used to describe her. Her husband actually compares her to their adopted baby several times. And she’s just dreadfully wet — the characterization of a very shy, insecure young woman is not a patch on Du Maurier’s. (Weirdly, Winspear apparently used exactly the same plot of this book again two years later.)

Even so, it was kind of a compelling story , and though it feels far more dated than the other books, I enjoyed it more than anything else I’ve tried so far. I think it actually helps that so little time was spent on the primary relationship, and that very little happens physically between them. Mainly I think it was interesting because it actually aimed to be about complicated people, rather than all plot. It wasn’t especially deep or subtle, but it was something.

I’m quite sure I read this one in the past; the cover is familiar, and several scenes rang bells in my mind.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #7

Dear Stranger by Anne Hampson

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Well, it has to be said. That is one butt-ugly cover.

Best line: “Before her dreamy gaze rose the vision of a slim young giant, sinewed and dark, with classical Greek features etched in stone, with remarkable dull-green eys and a widow’s peak cutting a wedge into his low and noble brow.”

Notes of interest: Three out of three books so far in which the hero is a widowed father and the heroine fixes everything wrong in the lonely child’s life. I think we’re still sex free.

I DNF’d this one. The situation was exceptionally icky — the heroine was the hero’s adoptive sister and grew up with him — and it was dull as ditchwater on top of it. If you’re going to be gross, at least be interesting.

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