A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Been cleaning out my blogroll…

… which is very depressing. Since I actually read blogs from an RSS reader, I hadn’t consciously noticed how many of them are defunct. In brighter news, quite a few I read aren’t listed, so I’ll get those added.

I deleted most blogs that haven’t been updated in years, but kept “Love in the Margins,” in memory of meoskop.

Leave a comment »

January 2020 Reading pt. 1

I’ve decided to do my reading round-ups in sections, so they don’t get too unwieldy.

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas. The primary appeal of this scholarly book is the many photographs of old, gorgeous, and sometimes hilariously inappropriate editions of Austen, but the text is interesting too, albeit weirdly repetitious. Serious romance scholars will likely find it underwhelming.

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe. Marvelous collection of letters the author wrote while working as a nanny in an notably literary London household. It’s filled with descriptions of little interactions between her and her employer and the children, which are just hilarious; all are bright and eccentric and not at all leery of cursing. Almost inadvertently, it’s also a coming of age story, as Nina discovers she can participate in academic life, despite her rather ramshackle upbringing. (There’s the barest smidge of romance, but it has a delightful punch line.)

A Delicate Deception by Cat Sebastian. My least favorite of Sebastian’s books, sadly, unless DNFing the previous one in this series counts. It suffers from what I’ve starting calling the “twitterization” of romance — in which passages seem to have been literally lifted from discussions on social media. I think it’s very valid to write historical characters who care about women’s rights and consent, and who aren’t homophobes, but it has to feel like it believably grew from something.

Other problems include a plot moppet who’s dramatically introduced and then almost immediately forgotten for several chapters — except it’s not even appropriate to call her a plot muppet, since she serves very little function in the plot. And I had a lot of trouble relating to the heroine, which is really sad since she’s an introvert with anxiety and I should totally get her. Her thoughts made sense, but her dialogue didn’t feel real. The hero with self-esteem issues is sweet and likeable, but the story is completely stolen by the hero’s brother-in-law/ex-lover, a newly blind and bereaved Duke who is sardonic as all get out but competently planning a happy life for himself.

4 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Flirting With Ruin by Marguerite Kaye

The theme: Short shorts.

Why This One: Having realized last night that I wasn’t going to get my book read in time, I searched for a short story. This is an author I’ve enjoyed before, and one of the fews shorts I have that’s not erotica. (I should just delete all my erotica ebooks at this point — except what if I go wild in my 70s?)

Flirting With Ruin is more sedate than its title suggest. It’s designed primarily to introduce the “Castonbury” series, a Downton Abbey-inspired multi author series, most notable for including an interracial romance also written by Kaye. (Unexpected from Harlequin in 2012.)

At 47 pages on my Kindle, there’s not a lot of room here to spend on the characters. Lady Rosalind has acquired a reputation as a wanton widow, a reaction to “six years married to a puritanical man, seventeen before that raised by a puritanical father” — but she hasn’t really done much to deserve the reputation, or enjoyed the little she’s done. On a slightly scandalous evening out at a harvest celebration, she’s immediately attracted to a stranger, and vice versa. They share some passionate anonymous necking but agree to stop there.

The next day the stranger, revealed as Major Fraser Lennox, appears at Castonbury to give the family a medal earned in battle by the dead heir. This reminder of mortality spurs Fraser and Rosalind to say the hell with it and have a fling. It’s a nice enough story, with a nice ending for the heroine who’s had such a repressed, depressing life. But it didn’t leave me panting to get my hands on the rest of the books.

4 Comments »

2019, My Reading Year in Extremely Poorly Remembered and Reviewed Review

Amazingly, there are still some blogs out there and still some people writing year end posts, which makes me feel like I owe it to them to write one too. But though I’m still reading a fair bit of romance, I don’t seem to have much to say about it any more, and books don’t stick with me like they used to. Of the 347 book I read this year, here are the ones that popped out at me.

In YA, Eliza and Her Monsters is memorable for its authentic portrayals of online life, creativity, and the way they can interact with mental health issues. It also has a very likeable romance, though I recall the hero doing something so terrible I almost couldn’t forgive him. (Real life terrible as opposed to old-skool terrible.) I was also captivated by Brittany Cavallaro’s Holmes and Watson series, which involves a deeply troubled teenage girl Holmes and her somewhat helplessly adoring teenage boy Watson. (In this world, Holmes and Watson were real, and they are modern day descendents.) It’s not HEA romance, but really worth reading.

Amongst romances that stand out are Briarly by Aster Glenn Gray, an offbeat m/m “beauty and the beast” story. I’m glad I remembered this because I just noticed she has two new books out since then. Two excellent historical f/f stories I  enjoyed were A Lady’s Desire by Lily Maxton and cozy mystery/romance Proper English by K.J. Charles. Similarly, the Agatha Christie-inspired Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian was very fun.

A romance that I DNF’d with extreme prejudice was Overnight Sensation by Sarina Bowen. I find a lot of her books kind of iffy around sexism and this one was unbearable.

I finally read Lois Bujold’s “Five Gods” series and loved The Hallowed Hunt  Paladin of Souls , which features a mentally exhausted middle-aged woman as an epic fantasy heroine. How Long Til Black Future Month? has some incredible stories, and I’m thrilled that N.K. Jemisin is expanding my favorite one, “The City Born Great” into a series. I still have arrogant New York pride in my bones, and this story expresses it so smashingly. And Gideon the Ninth is a complicated, deeply weird, and exceptionally diverting book. Who knew necromancy could be funny?

I dipped into some old favorite from my childhood. Apples Every Day by Grace Richardson and Anna to the Infinite Power (both available at Open Library) have dated somewhat, but were still a pleasure to read. Dear Enemy by Jean Webster, sadly, has been hit badly by the ableism fairy. It’s such a lighthearted, charming book; if only it weren’t lighthearted and charming about eugenics.

Joshilyn Jackson is a fiction writer I enjoy who often includes romantic elements in her books, and The Almost Sisters is a good one. It takes place in a small, Southern town and the main character is a white woman, unexpectedly pregnant after a one-night stand, who is dealing with her elderly relative’s mental deterioration and trying to figure out how to raise the biracial child she’s carrying. It has a lot of fun geeky elements, and a lot of sadness as well.

And speaking of racism, I read a lot of very intense, powerful, and excruciatingly informative nonfiction, including So You Want to Talk About Race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, The New Jim Crow, White Rage and Men We Reaped. If I had to assign one book as required reading for white people it would be White Rage, which spells it all out so well, but Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward was the most touching of the books, a devastating personal account of how literally black lives don’t matter in our society. Also in nonfiction, Megan Phelps-Roper’s Unfollow is an unexpected page-turner about growing up in a loving family that’s also a cult, and Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson a memoir about sexual abuse in resonant poetry.

I’m really happy about how much more varied my reading is now. But I do miss feeling the urge to review, and the sense that my opinion was worth recording. I am going to make a real effort to keep up with the TBR challenge this year, at least, since Wendy has been kind enough to continue hosting it. And perhaps I should try keeping a little record of at least some of the books I read per month, so it doesn’t all fade away.

6 Comments »

TBR Challenge: The Sugar Rose by Susan Carroll

CW: weight shaming and diet talk in book, a little repellant villain POV

The theme: Sugar or Spice (either very hot or closed door)

Why This One: Double-dipping, as usual these days of oh-so-many reading challenges, this time with the Pop Sugar Challenge.

Book Description:

“THIS IS THE OUTSIDE OF ENOUGH TO BE MAKING MISS SINCLAIR AN OFFER WITH ME SITTING HERE!”

Even Everard Ramsey’s outrage could not dampen the delight that Aurelia Sinclair felt at the prearranged proposal of her childhood sweetheart, Justin, Lord Spencer. If Justin was less than ardent, well…what could such a dowdy, plump girl as herself expect from one of the handsomest bucks in the ton?

His sympathy thoroughly engaged, the fastidious Mr. Ramsey was already forming a most famous plan. If he could but help Aurelia with her wardrobe and sweet tooth, surely his friend Justin would sit up and take notice.

But when a breathtaking Aurelia emerged from her cocoon, slender and radiant, Everard began to wish Justin far away–the better to have his creation all to himself!

I included the blurb because it’s so gaggy that it was a relief to find the book isn’t as bad as it’s painted. Admittedly, if you’re very sensitive about food and weight issues, you should stay away, but the romance is not Pygmalion-esque at all and properly satisfying.

The book does start with Justin offhandedly “proposing” to Aurelia right in front of of his friend Everard. Aurelia regards Everard as an affected dandy — he uses a quizzing glass! — but he’s disgusted by his friend’s disrespectful behavior, and more than a bit taken with Aurelia himself.  Although she has very low self-esteem, she’s witty, frank, and has more physical charms than she believes. Nor are his efforts to help her initially focused on her weight:

“I don’t mean to offer advice where it may not be wanted, but you intrigue me, Miss Sinclair. You have from the first. If you could get past the point of letting Justin treat you with less consideration than he shows his horse, I believe you are exactly the sort of woman he needs.”

“I can’t begin to tell you how much your opinion means to me, sir.” Aurelia glowered, spanning her fingers along her waistline. “Such a nice, sensible, solid sort of woman, is that your estimation?”

“No,” he retorted. “Such a lovely, intelligent woman who, for some strange reason, is at pains to hide her beauty behind a silken monstrosity that resembles a rose garden run amok.”

When Aurelia accepts Everard’s offer, of course they wind up spending a lot of time together. She discovers she’s not actually clumsy while dancing with him, and that he is a far pleasanter person than she’d thought.

When he laughed, it suddenly occurred to her how very much she liked Everard Ramsey this way, the cynical lines of his face relaxing, gentles by his smile. No bored mask of indifference, no elegant dandy hiding behind his quizzing glass. Simply a man who looked at her as if–

Aurelia’s breath caught in her throat. As if it didn’t matter whether she was beautiful. Because it was enough that he made her feel as if she were.

There’s unfortunately some terrible diet crap in this section, but there’s never a sense that Everard is unhappy with Aurelia as she is or that he only falls for her when she loses weight. And there’s psychological symmetry between them: both of them had unloving families but she eats her feelings and he gambles to ignore his.

In the manner of traditional Regencies, there’s some villainous meddling and rather ridiculous high jinks at the end, which I liked more than I expected, because they give both Aurelia and Everard a chance to symbolically move on from their coping mechanisms. It’s definitely a sweet book in more than the euphemistic way, and made me smile.

9 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Sandstorm by Anne Mather

The theme: Contemporary.

Why this one: It was available in ebook, of course! I’m too precious to read print books!

CW: Politics, racism, Islamaphobia

 

It’s to be expected that an old Harlequin Presents would be pretty iffy, especially an old Harlequin Presents (or, for that matter, a recent one) with an Arab hero. But there’s iffy and then there’s… this. I’m think this might be the one book Cheeto Mussolini ever read, because it’s practically a Birther playbook. Twice, heroine Abby insists that her estranged husband is a Muslim, specifically to demonstrate he’s beyond the pale.

“Don’t you know?” she taunted bitterly. “Muslims don’t have to do anything so boringly official. All Rachid has to do is say the words of repudiation and he’s a free man.”

“Abby!” Liz came towards her, putting a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. “Rachid’s a Christian. You told me so yourself–”

“Is he?”

Later she has the same conversation, only worse, with her father.

“I did love him, you’re right. I–I loved him very much. And I thought he loved me. But the Muslim way of loving is obviously different.”

“Abby, Rachid’s a Christian, you know that.”

Notably, neither objects to her characterizations of Muslims.

Throughout the book, Abby panics whenever she sees Rachid refuse alcohol:

“How about you, Rachid? Will you taste the vine?”

Rachid shook his head, and Abby subsided on to the low couch her father used when he wanted to relax. Has he been absorbed into the dictates of his father’s religion at last? she wondered, feeling a slight chill of apprehension along her spine. It was all very well telling Liz that Rachid was a Muslim, when she really believed he was not, and quite another to turn up against the implacable force of will that abhorred the use of alcohol and upheld the rights of man.

Whaaa? I guess she’s talking about sexism in that last line, because Abby does have some genuine complaints about her husband’s controlling nature. Though oddly enough those drift away as soon as she realizes Rachid wasn’t unfaithful to her after all, and she becomes completely fulfilled by motherhood. Rachid’s fake Arab kingdom is a dream of luxury and everything is perfect in the garden. Except for that one pesky little foreign thing…

They had called the baby Khalid Robert, in deference to both his father and hers, but the English name was much easier to use.

‘Nuff said.

 

4 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale

(I haven’t finished the book yet, but I’m going to go ahead and publish what I have and hopefully add to it later.)

The theme: historical

Why this one: I’m trying to focus on those books in my TBR I would really hate to still have there when I die!

It can be fascinating to read historical romance in which medical or psychological issues that are better understood now are shown in a completely different context. In Flowers from the Storm, it’s more than fascinating — it’s excruciating. Having your speech and movements incapacitated by a stroke must be terribly frustrating, even when people somewhat understand what’s happening and can accomodate you. But imagine it being taken as a sign that you’ve lost your mind, and need to be penned up and chained, with no privacy or dignity or any kind of help in coming to terms with what’s happened to you.

That’s what Kinsale does here, and because she’s such an excellent writer, she does it within an inch of its life.

1 Comment »

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

After what seemed like way too deliberate a rom/com movie opening (and closing) I was surprised by how much I liked this. It intriguingly plays with several romance themes that are catnip for me; I’m not sure if that’s deliberate or not, but it really worked.

The book starts with a classic opposite twins set-up. Ami is the woman so lucky, every item in her wedding was free; her sister’s ringtone for her is the sound of a jackpot. Whereas Olive is basically a Charlie Brown who always gets a rock instead of Halloween candy. With her history, it’s no wonder that Olive is something of a cynic and pessimist — or is it, as her family often contends, the other way around?

Olive’s seafood allergy turns out to be unexpectedly lucky when she’s one of only two people who doesn’t get extremely sick at her sister’s wedding. Not so luckily, the other is her new brother-in-law, because he’s much too snooty to eat from a buffet. Olive has hated Ethan since he sneered at her, a curvy woman, for eating cheese curds, but now she’s on a honeymoon to Maui with him, and thanks to some truly cosmic bad luck, they’re forced to pretend they’re married.

It’s not a surprise to discover, in an enemies-to-lovers story, that Ethan was actually attracted to Olive from the start, and his hostility and body-shaming was pretty much all in her head, at least initially. But there’s a little more to it: Ethan was discouraged from asking Olive out by his brother, who told Ethan she was always angry. And Olive’s own behavior has been justifying that comment.

Although the plot is exceptionally full of awkward coincidence, and Olive’s antagonism towards Ethan can be a bit much, the Maui section of the book is fun. Olive and Ethan have some wonderful banter, both when they’re hating each other and then when they’re really not.

His mouth makes its way down my body; hands already familiar with my legs now explore my breasts, my stomach, the delicate skin beside my hip bones and lower. I want to take a picture of him like this: his soft hair brushing against my stomach as he makes his way down, his eyes closed in pleasure.

“I think this is the longest we’ve gone without arguing,” he murmurs.

“What if all of this was just a ruse to get a great blackmail photo?” I am breathless as he kisses a string of heat across my novel.

“I’ve always wanted someone who appreciates the long con.”

But things take a turn when they return home, finding themselves in a relationship that suddenly has some very difficult family complications.

Here’s where the twins trope goes a bit sidewise. The good sister/bad sister dichotomy is one I adore, but it’s not what happens here. Olive and Ami love and rely on each other, as they do everyone in their large Latinx family, and neither “deserves” the shit that comes their way.

And then there’s my absolute favorite romance theme: one character betraying the other and breaking their heart. And it’s done here in such a… reasonable, understandable way, that is yet still truly painful and hard to forgive. Mmmm, modern angsty goodness! And it moreover leads to Olive re-evaulating her character and her life in positive ways. Although this is most definitely a romance, it has a bit of a chick-lit element, since the focus is on Olive and her growth as a person. Perhaps that’s just another way in which this is a rom-com.

 

Leave a comment »

TBR Challenge: The Trysting Place by Mary Balogh

Note: The surprises in this story are so obvious and mild, I’m not bothering with spoilers. 

 

The Theme: An author with more than one book in your TBR.

Why This One: In today’s world, might as well eat dessert first. Though all my saved Baloghs seem to be lesser ones.

I found the heroine of The Trysting Place challenging. She’s not obviously dislikeable in the antagonistic and self-sabotaging way of some Balogh heroines, but she really got up my nose somehow.

As the story opens, Felicity is just out of mourning for the elderly husband she had married out of duty, despite having been passionately in love with her childhood friend Tom. And a marriage of convenience — her family’s convenience, largely — has not taught her to value love and passion more. Rather, she’s eager to now enjoy herself as a wealthy widow in the ton, and grateful that she didn’t have those six children she and Tom had once planned together.

I really shouldn’t hate Felicity for this and yet I kinda do. Perhaps especially because she’s completely oblivious to the fact that her good friend Tom is still deeply in love with her, and she uses him for her own selfish ends. Which are to make a rakish lord so jealous he’ll give up his arranged engagement and marry her instead.

I’m making Felicity sound worse than she is, which might be because there really doesn’t seem to be that much to her. She’s beautiful, cultured but naive, loves her family, and does her best for them. But girls just wanna have (respectable, married) fun. The stakes just aren’t very high, or very interesting, at least for much of the book.

Tom’s point of view makes the story more compelling, because although he’ll do just about anything for Felicity, he recognizes some of the childish flaws in her way of thinking. And Felicity’s growing awareness of her own foolishness, largely through seeing the far more mature romantic choices of her much younger twin sisters, makes a nice enough redemption — except she then goes on to behave so much more foolishly, I didn’t know whether she needed a smack or an “oh, honey.”

I happened across a quote from Balogh that said writing this book was like wading through molasses. It shows.

Leave a comment »

Our new clubhouse: no literary snobs allowed!

I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable using Twitter, given its CEO’s tendency to pal around with white supremacists. I also dislike the whole concept of social capital, and the lengths people will go to achieve it. I recognize twitter’s value to people, especially marginalized people, but it came to point where I had to draw a line in the sand.

So with the help of my far-too-generous husband, I’ve opened up a mastadon “instance” (ie server) for Romancelandia. No ads. No profits. Racists and their ilk will be booted ASAP. It has a learning curve because it’s extremely customizable, but the basic form is similar to twitter, so it’s easy to get started “tooting.”

If you want to join and can’t find it, leave a comment or use the contact me form and I’ll hook you up.

I hope to see you soon!

2 Comments »

What We've Been Reading

Reading inspiration from the HabitRPG Legendary Book Club's URC/MRC challenges.

Lonely Cryptid Media

Have you ever thought, "I really want to date Sasquatch?" We've got you covered.

Something More

my extensive reading

Blue Castle Considerations

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

...Burns Through Her Bookshelf

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

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

Bawdy romcoms with a big ♥.

Flight into Fantasy

Reviews, book thoughts and opinions of one omnivorous reader.

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, among other things ... here's what she would've thought of them.