A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Recurring Themes in My Reading May 2023

Candle related extreme parsimony.

Friendships formed from extreme persistence.

Naughty book shops.

“…when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.”

Trying not to be “precious” about something.

Red hair and stereotypes relating thereto.

Outdoor productions of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.”

Deliberately ridiculous endearments.


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Recurring Themes in My Reading, April 2023

Governesses to recalcitrant children and doting mothers of recalcitrant children, frequently overlapping.

Fashionistas and influencer, frequently overlapping.

Dogs chasing rabbits and sometimes catching them. 🫣😣🤢

Toy theaters and real performances.

Relatedly, Shakespeare.

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Perfect Accompaniment to Love, Comment, Subscribe


Recurring Themes in My Reading, March 2023

Men who play multiple instruments.

The effect of World War II on women’s independence.

Torn between two lovers — both the “love them both” and “don’t really love either of them” varieties.

Trans kid athletes.

Complicated sibling rivalry.

Friends betting on whether they’d get together.

Missing kitties. (Don’t worry, the cats came back.)

Marine mammals.

An unfortunate hatred of milk.


TBR Challenge: A Damaged Trust by Amanda Carpenter

The theme: baggage

Why this one: as with Caprice, I didn’t read this with the challenge in mind, but it really fits: not only does the heroine have trust issues, obviously, but I described it as “ten pounds of plot in a five pound bag.”

CW for book: attempted sexual assault

If Caprice is all vibes, this book, published two years earlier, is almost all plot, and unfortunately done in a very episodic, unsubtle and heavy handed way. It starts out rather tamely, with a standard oldie Harlequin “this is instantly the most aggravating person I’ve ever met” encounter between Gabe and Carrie, who’s on her way to her family home in Colorado, licking her wounds from a relationship with a married cad. But they grow to like each other fairly quickly, and start to date.

Then, as if someone realized the book was on the dull side, adventures start happening thick and fast, and in an unsatisfying, unincorporated way. The pattern is: foreshadowing. Terrifying event. Resolution. Foreshadowing for next terrifying event to come. Weirdly, some indications that there might be something going on on Gabe’s side — I expected him to turn out to be separated but still married or have some other upsetting secret — came to nothing. It feels like someone yanked out the second half of the book and inserted a completely different one.

Lest I seem to have a down on Amanda Carpenter, let me mention that Raging Passion was a four star read — and of course I love many of her books written as Thea Harrison. And I hope no one ever judges me for what I did during the eighties. 😉


Progress Report: Kinda Sucky

I’m just so discombobulated. I don’t want to use Habitica anymore but I haven’t settled in with a new system. And I feel like I’m spending even more time on the computer, even though I have less to do. And I never feel like I’ve had a productive day, no matter what I’ve done.

It occurs to me that I may need to do a form of “deschooling,” which IIRC is what unschoolers call a period of time after leaving school in which the child just needs to hang out and do whatever until they’re ready to engage with learning. Today I’m in bed with the heat on, trying to work up the energy to have a shower. Maybe that’s enough.


2023 Goals

Okay, the biggest one: do not get emotionally involved in social media ever again.

(Which could seem a bit tricky, since I have my own mastodon instance — romancelandia.club, all romance fans welcome! — but actually, that is helping me grow a thicker skin and take things less personally.)

This is only partially about twitter, which I’ve been divorcing myself from since the muskrat’s offer was accepted months ago. It’s also about habitica, which has been my social media safe place for 8 years now, and can be no more.

Along with sadness though, is also some relief. I think my reading habits were being much too influenced by habitica and the challenges I loved there. And that I wasted time which could have been spent more productively. I did establish good habits but also let a lot of tasks go.

Which leads into the next goal: I want to stop playing numbers games about books. Read what I want to read and give myself time and space to read chunksters. Keep reading challenges minimal.

I’m still doing faranae’s challenges because they’re so fun and generally work with my regular reading, as well as making me stretch some in good ways. (https://harpgriffinbooks.wordpress.com/2023/01/01/happy-new-year-welcome-to-2023/). I also borrowed a habitica nonfiction reading challenge that makes me read more widely (mastodon hashtag #KIR for Keeping it Real.)

I’m on litsy now (https://www.litsy.com/web/user/willaful) and it’s so just overwhelming with challenges and games – to the point that I don’t think I’ll get too sucked in. But I love that there are readers there who enjoy the sorts of old fashioned books I do, so I’m going to allow myself some participation.

Mostly, I want to read and I also want to… get on with my life.


TBR Challenge: Hitting the Wall by Cate C. Wells

The theme: Festive

Why this one: Well, it ends with a holiday parade, which of course I knew when I started reading it!

After actually indulging in a few Christmas romances this month, and finding them unbearably samey, I’ve been in the mood for some good ole angst. This filled the bill nicely, while also being surprisingly complex and interesting.

At 17, high school student Shay Crowder found herself pregnant after a drunken night with her crush Kellum Wall… who subsequently hung up on her when she tried to tell him, and blocked her calls. When Kellum’s father and uncle, the wealthiest and most important men in town, arrive with the local sheriff to investigate a clearly, obviously untrue rumor, Shay is easily intimidated into leaving the area.

Six years later, Shay is living with a mother who “has all the advice in the world, but not an ounce of patience,” and her daughter Mira is being exposed to drunken men at home and physical abuse in a special education program at school. Shay decides she has to risk returning to Stonecut County, where she has an opportunity for cheap housing and is unlikely to run into any of the Wall family again. Except she does… and Kellum, now Deputy Sheriff, recognizes both her and Mira, who looks exactly like his sister Dina as a child.

Honestly, I didn’t know how the author could redeem Kellum, especially considering he’s also 7 years older than Shay. (!) Perhaps that’s why we first meet him in the story risking his own life to rescue an infant, to quickly establish his good guy cred. But there were also a number of extenuating circumstances, and he had no idea about Shay’s age, her pregnancy or his family’s visit, so when he immediately sets out to take responsibility for his mistakes, I was able to accept him as her hero. Shay finds it much more difficult to do so though — and she’s not exactly wrong.

A constant theme in the book is the entrenchment of power and how it protects itself. Shay is brave, fierce, and a realist; her cynicism is entirely earned. She can’t put her trust in a man who loves and admires the very people who destroyed her life. And Kellum, one of those powerful people himself, is too close to see it:

In this moment, I hate him.

He’s the most honest and upstanding man I’ve ever met, and I can’t trust him. He simply can’t fathom a world that doesn’t arrange itself for him so he’ll never understand the danger Mia and I are in.

In addition to its social commentary, Hitting the Wall won me with the depiction of Shay and Mira’s relationship. Mira doesn’t have a diagnosis, something difficult to get when you don’t have reliable medical care, but is pretty clearly on the autism spectrum. Shay loves her wholeheartedly and respects her needs, with tremendous insight into Mia’s inner world:

Mia’s not a brat. She picks up after herself. She does what she’s told. But when she gets into something that speaks to her, it’s like she rearranges the whole world. That thing–watching tadpoles or lining up critters or whatever–becomes the tent pole holding up everything in her world.

Life is fine and wonderful, and then I come in and say “In five minutes, I’m gonna yank this pole and pull everything out from under you, turn your day topsy-turvy, and most likely also loud and unpleasant and there’s not a damn thing you can do. Five minutes.”

And folks want me to whup her on top of that when she doesn’t act with perfect grace? No. I give her time to mourn the way she wants. Folks can get bent.

After all this, the ending seems almost too easy and perfect; I feel like I’d never want to live in Stonecut County again. Then again, corrupt power is everywhere and Shay is nothing if not a realist. I do believe in her HEA.


Recurring Themes in My Reading Oct/Nov 2022

Characters who didn’t know they had been adopted.

Characters trying to be different from their terrible parents and often overcorrecting.

Panty ripping. (Always in Christmas romance. An attempt to mitigate the general sap?)

Untreated generalized anxiety disorder.

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Murder While You Work by Susan Scarlett (Noel Streatfeild)

I was thrilled to hear that Furrowed Middlebrow Press was bringing back a bunch of Streatfeild adult novels, but honestly, this one could have been left to moulder in obscurity without much loss. If Streatfeild had stuck with the main characters — Judy, who’s working in a munitions factory and Nicholas, who’s doing some top secret, highly dangerous weapons work –and expanded on their relationship, it would have been a nice wartime romance with some interesting sources of tension. (I enjoyed how frank the book is for an old romance — although Nick and Judy don’t get up to anything beyond a kiss, the notion that they could and people certainly do is right out there. Very different from an old Harlequin!)

Instead, the romance struggles under the weight of a deeply depressing mystery/suspense plot, with an obvious, implausibly theatrical villain, the murder of some likable characters, and a hefty side order of ableism. (The original Furrowed Middlebrow review even mentions a use of the R word, which they have eliminated from the new addition. But there’s too much embedded into the story to be cut out.) It’s really not what I wanted to be reading right now… or probably any time, really.

It does seem from the reviews that this is atypical of the Scarlett novels, so I’ll certainly try another.

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