A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Reading, September 2017

Recurring themes of the month: Girls who like to go barefoot. Strawberry jam. Characters who think becoming disabled or visibly injured means no one could love them. (Sigh.) Castles. Pots and kettles. Complicated birth parent relationships. Snake phobias. Hitting lovers below the belt. (Metaphorically.) Best friends who are angry that their best friends waited to tell them huge secrets. (This one was particularly funny, because my husband found the first one so implausible — and then I ran into a second one right after.) Teens in love with their best friend from childhood. Living in warehouses. Animals named after personal idols. Ginormous heroes. (Happy sigh.) Characters who must find important items without knowing what they are. The egg scene from “Cool Hand Luke.” Eating geese. Mothers who died from breast cancer. The smell of ozone. Heroines with fathers in professional sports. Trying to fulfill the wishes of a dying mother. Characters with slavic origins. Heroines forced to shoot people.

Sweet Spot by Amy Ettinger.

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Castle of the Wolf by Sandra Schwab.

Blind Obsession by Lee Wilkinson.

So old skool, I was shocked when someone used a microwave. ALL the problematic elements y ou’d expect, especially with that title. A GoodReads friend of mine tagged this “why-do-I-like-this” and I’m right there with her.

Wake Up Call by J.L. Merrow

Engaging characters and setting kept me reading this, but by the end I was fed up with how much it meanders. I had a few issues with the disability rep too, though it’s probably spot on in many ways for a newly diagnosed person. (Narcolepsy/Cataplexy.) Dev’s acceptance of Kyle’s needs is nicely done: he doesn’t feel either saintly or bothered about it, it’s just part of being with Kyle. Which perhaps made it sting more when he hurls “go take a nap” at him in anger.

Set the Stars on Fire by Sally Wentworth.

Okay, I was wrong about Blind Obsession having all the problematic elements, because this one added some I hadn’t thought of. ¬†Astonishingly douchy hero. Compelling, but the ending is a classic letdown.

Dawn of a New Day by Claudia Jameson.

A Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman.

Lovely intimate scenes between the main characters. Otherwise a lot of ado about nothing.

A Gentleman’s Guide To Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee.

Super fun young adult Regency romance/adventure, with a touch of steampunk. Wonderful voice.

Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers.

The everyday notes between a busy doctor and her teenage daughter take on new meaning when the mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. This is a short, easy to read novella, but has some meat on its bones; through the largely prosaic notes, we see the mother’s increasing despair about survival and her daughter’s growing maturity as she discovers that “broccoli and exercise” don’t cure everything.

Ryan’s Revenge by Lee Wilkinson.

Similar to Blind Obsession but not as well written or nearly as exciting. The hero is considerably less douchy though, for those who need that. ūüėČ

I Could Pee on This and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano.

Pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the title.

A Chance Encounter by Mary Balogh.

Although this is a touch implausible and derivative, I can never resist the prideful bitterness of Balogh’s lovers turned enemies.

Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews.
A private investigator on the trail of a magic-using psychopath starts to fall for another magic-using psychopath. I really enjoyed this smart, courageous narrator who loves her family, takes no shit, knows that a being with a magic-using psychopath is a seriously bad idea, and takes steps to protect herself. Although the basic situation of a caring heroine being a hero’s path to humanity is a familiar one, it’s not same old, same old; if you’re bothered by the power imbalance and amorality of many¬†paranormal romance tropes, this might be for you. My only complaint is it’s a bit heavy on the mental lusting — though not at all on actual sex. No happy ending, but there are two more books.
Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley.
Gorgeous young adult story about grief and books, with bonus romance. Includes the most wonderful bookstore in the world: you will want to to leap right into the pages. Crowley’s prose is full of wonderful imagery, but also very immediate and real, and I love that her book loving teens are as fond of John Green as they are of Pablo Neruda.
Friday Night Mistress by Jan Colley.
Adult kids from feuding rich families are getting it on in secret and the hero decides quite cold-bloodedly to make it more to suit his own purposes. He was OTT jealous too, and not in a fun way.
Non-Stop Till Tokyo by KJ Charles.
Here we have it folks… the romance that actually made me wish for MOAR SEX. The hero is a 300+ Samoan-American former Sumo wrestler, and we get closed door? That’s just cold.
Good characters and a fantastic sense of place. (Content warnings for tons of violence, racial slurs, and body-shaming.)
White Hot by Ilona Andrews.
In the second book of the series, Nevada discovers that Rogan isn’t as unprincipled as she thought… and that her own principles are stretched by the powerful and dangerous she’s now up against. Another excellent read, though I thought Rogan was retconned a touch.
My Cousin Rachel by Dapne DuMaurier.
*semi spoilers ahead*
For my third or fourth reread, I listened to the excellent audiobook. It made the tenseness of the story, even knowing what was coming, almost unbearable.
This stands out for me as the best example of what a reader brings to a book at different times. When I first read it when I was young, I accepted Phillip’s narrative at face value, and saw Rachel as an enigma, just as he did. Rereading it some years later, I realized that despite how utterly honest he is about his thoughts, feelings and experiences, his point of view is so narrow that he’s essentially an unreliable narrator. And Rachel had become completely explicable to me.
On this reading, I was struck by how much this story, published in 1951, describes the classic “nice guy,” who’s utterly adoring — until he doesn’t get what he wants and turns violent. And then can’t remotely understand how his violence has frightened and alienated the object of his obsession. Du Maurier was brilliant at charecterizations, as well as suspense.
Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber.
A Private Miscellany by KJ Charles
Wildfire by Ilona Andrews.
Great wrap-up to a great trilogy — though there are are a few loose ends, so there might be more books coming. Fast-paced and exciting, but also funny and grounded in humanity.
The Friend Zone by Kirsten Callihan.
I simultaneously thought this had a lot of issues and really enjoyed it. It felt… unformed to me. The focus on the friendship/romance is all encompassing, which means that by the end, when other elements of the characters’ lives come into play, they almost came out of nowhere. And there wasn’t enough grounding of the characters in any particular time or place. For example, we learn at the beginning that Gray is a double major in some heavy duty subjects, as well as a football player, but he never seems to lack time, or need to study. (Or worry about traumatic brain injury.)
I would love to see this book gone over by a really great editor — not for grammatical/typographical mistakes, although there are some, but for plotting and continuity. Because the emotional core is really strong. Gray is one of the best ass-over-teakettle-in-love heroes I’ve ever read.
An Heir to Make a Marriage by Abby Green.
Green’s usual formula of angry tycoon and misunderstood innocent isn’t helped by continuity errors and a lot of plot twisting to make the heroine innocent enough. (Perhaps the reason for the continuity errors?)
A Gathering Storm by Joanna Chambers.
I almost DNF’d this because the plot of a man trying trying to scientifically prove you can reach the spirit world through hypnosis and electricity turned me completely off. I’m glad I didn’t because it went in a very interesting direction. Ward is kind of an A. Conan Doyle type — highly intelligent, but made gullible to fakery because of his grief over losing his twin. There are also serious class issues between him and his lover Nicholas. The setting and emotional aspects of the story are very well drawn.
Pipe Dreams by Sarina Bowen.
I tried this on audio a few months back, and really didn’t enjoy the narration. I also got an “he’s just not that into you” vibe, which is pretty much the kiss of death for me in romance.
This time I read it in print and sadly, that vibe was still there. I generally appreciate some realism in romance, and it’s realistic that a man dealing with his wife’s fatal illness and his grieving child would be too preoccupied to think about his ex… but dammit, this is romance, and he should think about her anyway! His turnaround, from hoping she’d moved on to instant recommittal, just didn’t work for me. The story is also low on conflict. It was still well told and kept my interest, but not a fav.
Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale.
Woof. I will hopefully finish my write-up for this as my extremely late September TBR read.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
Woof again, for some of the same reasons even.
In the Dark by Pamela Burford.
If you enjoy reformed rake stories and heroes who get excessively solicitious when the heroine is pregnant, this is decently written and has funny moments. It seems far more dated than its 18 years, however.
Tanner by Sarah Mayberry.
Likeable, fast-paced romance featuring a veterinary student from Australia and an American bull rider.
Cold Fusion by Harper Fox
The autism rep in this book is simply ghastly. Vivian, the autistic character, gets no point of view, always seen through the eyes of the narrator who thinks he’s abnormal — but hot! — and treats him like a child. I didn’t want to get to sex scenes between these two, it would just be gross.
The Boy Most Likely To by Huntley Fitzpatrick.
I was afraid the plot was going in a certain offensive direction and when I found out I was right, I DNFd.

Reading, August 2017

Recurring themes of the month: Abusive exes in jail. Refugees. Animal loving boys. Feeding motherless lambs. Twisted stepmother/stepson relationships. Characters who grew up without unconditional love. *sniff* Heroes with a strong sense of responsibility. Imaginary kingdoms. Nice guys who are the heroine’s brother’s bff. Chronic health issues. Stranded on islands. Useful bad weather. Characters who were blackmailed into giving up their lovers. Neighbors. Helpful aunts. Hotel sex. Runaway carriages. Emancipated slaves.

The Family Next Door by Janice Kay Johnson. (Contemporary. Category. SuperRomance. Suspense Element. Cop. Teacher. Single mother.)

This had a very challenging hero, and I’m not sure if I’d had¬†found his redemption more acceptable if I’d liked the book more, or perhaps the other way around. He had to be a father to his younger siblings while their mother worked two jobs, and his resentment has made him so anti-children that he reacted very badly when his girlfriend told him she was pregnant, and has never seen his child. When a single mother with two children moves next door, he’s attracted to her and finds himself getting reluctantly involved with her kids.

She, meanwhile, has only just gotten her young daughter back after a non-custodial parent kidnapping, and she’s in constant fear that her ex will grab the children again. So she’s happy to be living next to the Chief of Police, but his mixed signals are very aggravating.

Summer Stock by Vanessa North. (Contemporary. m/m. Bisexual hero. Hero with abusive ex. Movie star. Theatre.)

A low-conflict romance with sweet, goodhearted characters, though they tend to fly off the handle rather quickly.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (Children’s fiction. Reread.)

A childhood favorite that I still love, though it certainly has uncomfortable aspects. And I hate how the story discards Mary for Colin at the end. But the disagreeable Mary is one of the most memorable characters in children’s fiction. It was fun to read it now as someone who enjoys gardening; I never had any place I could garden until the 90s.

Safe Passage by Ida Cook. (Nonfiction — memoir. World War II. Opera.)

Mary Burchell’s autobiography — published, appropriately enough, by Harlequin. She doesn’t write that much about her work. Parts of the book are dull unless you’re very into old opera, but there’s a spirit of everyday goodness that shines through it which is very moving.

Mommy Said Goodbye by Janice Kay Johnson. (Contemporary. Category. SuperRomance. Police procedural. Single father. Single mother. Slow burn. Kisses only. Pilot. Teacher.)

The teacher of a trouble boy starts to fall for his father, who’s believed to have killed his wife and gotten away with it.¬†An unusual romance, partially because almost half the narrative attention is on someone other than the couple — a police officer investigating the hero — and partially because there’s not even a kiss until almost the last page. ¬†(The hero, very honorably, is trying not to start anything while there’s a cloud over his head and he might still have a wife.) It could have used a little more to the end — one of the cases in which an epilogue would have actually been helpful. ¬†But the psychological aspects of the situation are well drawn.

Without You There is No Us by Suki Kim. (Nonfiction. Memoir. Journalism. North Korea.)

Super sad, scary, and sadly, scarily, relevant.

The Outsider by Penelope Williamson. (Historical romance. Americana. Montana.)

I remember loving Williamson’s epic Heart of the West; I don’t know if it’s me or the book or the zeitgeist, but this one felt like more of a chore. The central romance between a Plain woman and a gunslinger is strong, but the multiple side stories made me feel beaten down with their pain and violence. Virtually all the side characters lose something to violence — an eye, an arm, a pregnancy.

Revelations by Janice Kay Johnson. (Contemporary romance. Suspense element. Sequel. Cop. Colleagues.)

Rats, I didn’t make any notes on this one. It’s the story of the police officer from Mommy Said Goodbye (see above,) who discovered in that book that the father she tried so hard to please and emulate had feet of clay. Those revelations continue in this story. The discussion of misogyny in the police force is undercut by the “evil other women” treatment of the hero’s ex-wife.

Infamous Bargain by Daphne Clair. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Blackmailed into marriage. Heroine pov only.)

One of the earlier heroine-must-marry-hero-to-save-family story, and a particularly good one.

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. (Historical. Regency. m/m. Bisexual hero. Rake. Social climber.)

This started out seeming like an exciting match-up between two of my favorite types of historical hero: the seemingly languid, effortlessly cool kind and the starchy kind who badly needs to be unstarched. It actually went in a different direction, but I wasn’t disappointed.

Lovers’ Lies by Daphne Clair.¬†(Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Reunited.)

The heroine meets up with the man she thinks drove her sister to suicide. Good angsty story.

One Night in the Ice Storm by Noelle Adams. (Contemporary. Short story. Reunited. Other side of the tracks. Beta hero. Christmas. Heroine pov only. Bickerfest.)

Ms. Marvel volumes 6 & 7

Strong story around superhero ethics in vol. 6 but vol. 7 was meh. And I was disappointed that after Bruno moved on so nicely, with the adorable and fat Mike, he then proceeded to apparently forget all about his new girlfriend and just dream about Kamala. Yeech.

Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis. (Fantasy. Contemporary.)

I’m glad I reread this before reading up on the Civil War recently, ¬†because… well, it’s an old favorite and I’ll likely never be able to read it again. It very much buys into the heroic confederacy myth. Still, a gorgeous book.

Clean Breaks by Ruby Lang. (Contemporary. Third in series. Asian hero and heroine. Have history. Heroine is a cancer survivor. Beta hero.)

I didn’t enjoy this one as much as Hard Knocks. The hero is lovely, but I felt like much of the relationship between them happened where I couldn’t see it.

Capelli’s Captive Virgin by Sarah Morgan. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Reunited.)

A two person story, with him pursuing, her resisting, and nothing much else happening. The hero gets some good lines but it’s otherwise pretty dull.

Sorceror to the Crown by Zen Cho. (Fantasy historical, Regency. Romantic element. Magic. No sex. Black hero. Biracial heroine.)

You could say that I enjoyed this more after I finished it than while I was reading it, because I found it a bit of a slog, but then wanted to reread it in light of all the interesting new information that comes out towards the end. It’s a very Heyer inspired fantasy — with some influence from the author’s Malaysian culture — and lightly romantic, with a particularly charming hero. Sharon Shinn’s Angelica gave me a taste for reserved, responsible heroes who put everyone else’s needs before their own, and Zacharias is another such quietly tormented man. I was less fond of the ruthlessly competent heroine Prunella, though she is certainly a character. At least she devotes some of her ruthlessness towards taking care of Zacharias.

A Taste of Honey by Rose Lerner. (Historical. Novella. Series. Historical 99%. Virgin hero.)

Review at GoodReads.

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick. (Young Adult. Coming of Age/Romance. Audiobook. Boy next door. Sexy beta. Heroine pov only. Politics.)

A high school student with a seemingly perfect life falls in love and is then faced with some difficult ethical decisions. An interesting story and a very sweet romance, capturing the feeling of first love and first sex. (On page, but not explicit.) The large cast of characters, including several children, is performed very well by the audiobook narrator. It was a particularly interesting book in light of recent events, because Samantha’s mother is a state senator who has gone from conservative to right wing.

Wait for It by M. O’Keefe. (Contemporary. Fourth in series. Domestic violence. Single mother. Brother’s wife.)

Best response to a shovel talk ever:

“‘I don’t intend to hurt Tiffany.’

‘That’s good. Because I’ll slice you open if you do.’

I lifted my eyebrows. ‘And yet, Phil still breathes. You’ll excuse me if I doubt your fierceness on your sister’s behalf.'”

Nice mix of old skool elements and modern style.

The Nobody by Diane Farr. (Historical. Regency. Kisses only. Suspense element.)

A young woman from the country falls in love with a lord who not only has a ghastly fiance, but is being targeted by a murderer. The star-crossed romance is quite sweet, but the echoes of Heyer in language and characters was too strong for me to enjoy most of it. I found it odd that the heroine is completely absent from the escapade-filled ending.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai. (Contemporary. Family feud. Reunited. Childhood sweethearts. Tattoo artist.)

(I received this from an RWA giveaway.)

A “Romeo and Juliet” story in which the two characters got to live, but suffer a lot from being apart. A well-written and deliciously angsty page-turner. Lots of smouldering. Can’t wait for the next one.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole. (Historical. Civil War. Interracial romance. Black heroine/white hero. Power imbalance.)

And speaking of the heroic confederacy myth… I don’t think I’ve ever read a Civil War romance before which was firmly and completely pro-Union, and how disgusting is that? Usually the main characters are on opposite sides. Or both rebels. :-\ In this book, they’re both Union spies, so the main conflict is the extreme power imbalance between them. The fact that the hero is an excellent actor and a smooth talker doesn’t help the heroine trust him, but he manages to prove his worth and love. The story is both intelligent and exciting, one of the most compelling historicals I’ve read in awhile.


Naked in His Arms by Sandra Marton. I vaguely remembered not liking a previous book in this series, but I’d forgotten how offensive I found it. Unfortunate, because this is more of the same.

Burning Down the Night by M. O’Keefe. (Romantic suspense. Third in series. Gang member. Prisoner of love.)

For some reason, I just had no interest in this couple. I made myself read it because I was really eager to get to the next book, but about a quarter through I gave up. (And the last one stands alone pretty well anyway.)


TBR Challenge: The Love Charm by Pamela Morsi

The theme: Kicking It Old School (publication date 10 years or older)

Why this one: I was actually reading it for #RippedBodiceBingo (theme: hero shorter than the heroine) and decided it was worth writing about.

When picking a book for this theme, I expect to go for an obviously “old skool” element. But there are other aspects to older romances besides abductions and betrayals and rapey heroes. Perhaps it’s just the cream, or the memorable, rising to the top, but it often seems like there was more variety in the past, especially in historicals. Morsi in particular wrote unusual characters and settings, as she did in this story about a bayou community of Acadians in the 1800s.

There are three romances here, and none are standard types. Armand Sonnier loves Aida Gaudet, but because he’s short and slight from a childhood illness, he doesn’t expect her to ever look at him. Aida is a “featherbrained” beauty (easily recognized now as having ADHD) and she knows she’s not smart enough for scholarly Armand. Hoping for love eventually, she’s gotten engaged to Laron, Armand’s best friend — who’s in no hurry to marry her, because he’s in love with Helga, an older German woman with three young children and unfortunately, a still living husband.

When Armand suggests that Laron shouldn’t marry someone he doesn’t love, everything begins to unravel, leaving Armand afraid that Aida will set her sights instead on his brother, Jean Baptiste. Jean Baptiste certainly seems to admire Aida more than¬†his wife Felicite, who’s basically been pregnant nonstop ever since they got married. Could a love charm hidden in blueberry pie possibly sort out this mess?

It sounds like a farce and certainly some of it is; there’s humor even in lovemaking here, even in a childbirth scene. But it’s also an immersive trip into a distinct community, with a very strong set of values and traditions. There’s no way these characters can get a true happy ending, unless they can find ways to reconcile their desires with their needs as members of the community.

It took me a bit to get into the prose of the story, which is very tell-y. But soon I was sucked in by the strength of the worldbuilding, and the appealing characters. It’s not a typical “id” romance — if you had to pick one that was the exact opposite of a Harlequin Present, this could be it. But it’s not purely a cerebral enjoyment either. Just warm and sweet and funny and real.


Reading, July 2017

Recurring themes of the month: The 4th of July (coincidence.) Older women with younger men. Women attacked by groups of men in bars. (Don’t worry, they’re tough.) Macys. Mermaid decorations. Heroes with dead siblings and/or survivor’s guilt and/or seeking revenge. Professionally inappropriate/unlawful relationships. Degenerative neurological conditions. Napoleonic wars. Jane Eyre. Beowulf. Dead loves named Peter. Sex on the stairs (and I didn’t even reread Black Silk.) The cultural practice of bacha posh. Disabilities caused by accidents. Intense YA.

The Bad Assassin by S. Doyle (Contemporary. Romantic suspense. Alaska)

Fun book, if you don’t mind amoral characters and violence. Could have used more editing. Cool point: the hero mentions anal sex several times, the heroine always adamantly refuses… and there is no anal sex.

Kiss Me Deadly by Shannon Stacey. (Contemporary. Paranormal. Shifter. Novella. Heroine is an abuse survivor.)

Hero is cursed to kill randomly, but his touch doesn’t kill his target. Kind of same-old, but the characters are sweet.

Going Nowhere Fast by Kati Wilde. (Contemporary. New Adult. First person present tense. Heroine POV only. Road Trip. Enemies to Lovers. Starchy hero. Gazillionaire. A Matter of Class. Uxorious hero.)

A Pride and Prejudice-ish¬†enemies-to-lovers story, which I inhaled.¬†Aspen is sharp, loyal, and relatable, and the single point of view narrative is very effective: you can see how much she’s driving Bram crazy, so it works when he melts into a great dirty talker. The more Cinderella aspects of Bram being a perfect former bad boy — he can give you everything you want AND ride a motorcycle! — ¬†didn’t mesh as well; I’m reminded of “Gilmore Girls,” when Rory starts hanging with the rich kids and everything becomes weird-as-fuck. Still, the serious character issues underneath the flying sparks and wish-fulfillment keep it somewhat grounded, and I loved Aspen’s close relationship with her mom. And there’s some great angst. The dark moment was so vicariously painful, I reread it several ties.

The Way of the Tyrant by Anne Hampson. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Heroine pov only. Masquerade. Reunited. Heroes behaving badly.)

The beginning of this book was intensely familiar, but I couldn’t find any record of having previously read it. I’ve concluded that I probably started it, decided “this is bullshit,” and tossed it. Because it pretty much is bullshit. The heroine spurns a proposal because her boyfriend isn’t man enough for her — i.e. bossy and a player — then runs into him again while pretending to be married to her own brother*. She finds him hard, cynical, and no longer remotely interested in marriage, and is all remorseful — while falling in love with his nasty new persona.

This had an issue I find common in Hampson, which is the hero being very threatening towards the heroine and then the threat just fizzling out… until it happens again. It’s frustratingly dull.

*I was thinking it was nice that this particular plotline has died out, and then ran into it in an HP from 2009.

The Hawk and the Dove by Anne Hampson. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Heroine pov only. Convenient marriage. Heroes behaving badly.)

I don’t know why I went from a crappy Anne Hampson to another Anne Hampson, but it didn’t work out too badly. My thoughts here.

The Love Charm by Pamela Morsi. Lovely book! It’s going to be an upcoming TBR challenge read, so I’ll link later. (I’ve been preparing my summer TBR challenge posts early, because of travel plans.)

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold. (Fantasy Romance. Series.)

I don’t really know what to say about this one. Cryoburn was much harder to read. After that… okay, whatever.

I did like it as a look at marriage, and how people outside of it, even the children of the marriage, can never really know what’s going on inside. And as a romance featuring older people. But it continues Cordelia as a frequently obnoxious Mary Sue character — whenever she tried to analyze other people’s sexual attraction, I want to hide my face in a pillow — and I deeply miss the Cordelia of Shards of Honor and Barrayar. I feel a reluctant agreement with the many reviewers who say this is basically Cordelia fanfic.

Bujold’s bisexual representation was gawdawful in previous books –Beta and Betans were retconned a fair bit in the series — and I’m not sure it’s all that much better here, because there’s never a clear distinction made between “bisexual” and “polyamorous.” I’ve also seen other reviewers complain of queer baiting, which makes sense.

It’s Bujold, so it was sometimes funny and sometimes thoughtful, but not her best.

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup. (Nonfiction. Science and history.)

I read this for a nonfiction challenge, the Christie tie being the draw. It discusses the history — scientific and personal — of a number of poisons Christie used in her books, and the accuracy of her depictions. The chemistry aspects were dull at times, but the historical anecdotes were often fascinating.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. (Young Adult. Romance. Contemporary. Family.)

Not sure what to write about this, because reading it was kind of like being slapped in the face by my own past. Certain parts were simply excruciating to read. The hero is adorable, ¬†and I related a lot to the narrator’s concerns as a fat girl wanting love.

To Steal a Heart by K.C. Bateman. (Historical romance.  Adventure. Napoleon era France. Spies. )

This was recommended as being similar to Joanna Bourne’s books, which I guess is true enough, but the romance elements were extremely old hat. I seem to be the only person who felt this way.

By Her Touch by Adriana Anders. (Contemporary romance/Romantic suspense. Second in series. Unlawful/unethical love. Violence. Doctor/patient. Cop.)

Underneath way too much mental lusting, IMO, is an interesting story about a man who is not only suffering from PTSD, but tremendous identity confusion and guilt after years deep undercover. Clay goes to Blackwood Virginia because, like Uma in the wonderful first book, he’s both in hiding and desperately needs tattoo removal done. (How George can keep her dermatology practice going in a small town, where she seems to do mainly pro-bono work, is not clear. I guess paying customers travel for her specialty.) Clay is waiting to testify against the biker gang that caught on to his deception and almost killed him, sure they’ll come after him. (He’s right.) His mental state is extremely unstable

George also has problems besides the urge to caress her patient. She’s lonely, and just about to try to get pregnant using her dead husband’s frozen sperm.

I was less bothered by the doctor/patient relationship than by the fact that Clay is clearly mentally unstable and George pushes him to have sex with her right after he had an intense flashback. And there were a lot of loose ends. I’ll still read the third book, because the first was so great.

First to Burn by Anna Richland. (Contemporary/Paranormal/Romantic Suspense. Immortals. Unlawful/unethical love. Soldiers. Doctor. Disability caused by an accident.)

Enjoyable, but on the long side.

Mother to the Millionaire by Alison Fraser. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Secret baby. Bickerfest.)

An odd book. The heroine seems to think she’s in an old skool HP and never notices that the hero is actually a decent guy. There’s no justification whatsoever for her keeping her pregnancy and child a secret — and even putting that aside, I had no idea what he saw in her.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho. (Historical. Short story. London. 1920s. Interracial romance. First person. Heroine pov only. Writer.)

An adorable story in diary format, reminiscent of Jean Webster’s books or of Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther by Elizabeth von Arnim. Jade’s voice is lively and intimate; here she describes herself at a party,

“…trying as hard as I could to look inscrutable and aloof but feeling scrutable and loof as anything.”

It doesn’t have enough hero presence to be considered a true genre romance, but there is a happy ending.

The Mathematics of Love by Hannah Fry. (Nonfiction. Mathematics. Relationships.)

A quick, fun read about applying mathematical equations to real-life situations.

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs. (Urban fantasy. Same-couple series. First and third person pov. Alternativ pov.)

Exciting entry in the series. Repetitious at times, and a little Mary Sue-ish when other people are talking about Mercy. (Not when she’s narrating herself.)

How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford. (Young Adult. First person. Friendship. Twins. Made me cry.)

This reminded me of the movie “Radio Flyer,” in that it’s realistic yet also somewhat fantastical. It could be considered an ace love story, because it’s about a very intense love that isn’t remotely physical — though it’s equally likely that Jonah is just too traumatized/angry to be sexual towards anyone. It’s also a very unhealthy relationship, so certainly not the best representation… and the disability rep. is iffy too.¬†I have mixed feelings overall, but the narrator’s voice is very striking, and it was deeply touching.

Dangerous Enchantment by Anne Mather. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Good girl/bad boy. Celebrity. Kisses only.)

A very dated story about a “good girl” who falls for a man who would never marry her.

I should do this as a Harlequin Read, since it’s #41, but frankly it just wasn’t interesting enough to write much about.

Echoes in the Dark by Gayle Wilson. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Intrigue. Romantic Suspense. Amnesia. Hero is blind.)

What a disappointment! Most of this book was excellent suspense, very tautly plotted, but then there were loose ends, no satisfying resolution of the suspense, and worst of all, no apology or anything from the hero after the heroine had to keep chasing after him for the whole book.

The Italian’s Deal for I Do¬†by Jennifer Haywood. (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Multi-author series. Tycoon. Model/dress designer. Fake engagement.)

This started as one of those incredibly illogical HP plots, with the hero wanting a fake engagement, to show how stable he is, with the woman he thinks was his grandfather’s gold-digging lover. Because¬†that¬†could never come back to bite him on the ass! But then it turns into more of a Sandra Marton kind of story, with a pleasing growth from enemies to lovers.

Heart of the Outback by Emma Darcy (Contemporary. Category. Harlequin Presents. Secret Baby. Reunited. Single father. Single mother. All the disability cliches.)

It didn’t age well at all, but I still enjoyed this one. The heroine is pretty awful — yelling dark secrets to the hero’s thirteen year old daughter! — but she does realize it and works on doing better.

When the Moon was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore. (Magical realism. Young adult. Romance. Interracial romance. Transgender hero.)

I’m not usually into magical realism, but this was just so gorgeous. And I loved the way it used both reality and metaphor to write about issues around identity. I was so happy when I read reviews by transgender writers who loved it, because I would have been deeply sad if it turned out the representation was shit.

Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang. (Contemporary romance. Second in series. Doctor. Hockey player. Hero is a mountain. Sexy beta.)

I had to give myself a little time after When the Moon Was Ours to read another book, but thankfully the reading hangover didn’t ruin this one for me. It’s a funny, thoughtful romance with appealing characters and a strong voice. I really liked that Adam is only an average hockey player and hasn’t built up tons of money and fame — very unusual in sport romance — so now he’s getting older, he has to figure out the rest of his life. And he’s an absolute sweetheart. Helen has a tough journey too, because she’s a neurologist with a very personal, painful interest in brain injuries. After DNFing the first book in the series, I’m so glad I gave this one a try.


Dirty by Kylie Scott. (Contemporary. First person. Runaway bride.)

Really not my cuppa.

Jacob’s Faith by Lora Leigh.

Trying to catch up before Cassie’s story is published, but not sure I’m going to make it through.

Beach House #9 by Christie Ridgway

Just wasn’t working for me. Too cute.

Beach House Beginnings by Christie Ridgway

I guess this series just isn’t for me.

Wicked Abyss by Kresley Cole. (Paranormal romance. Series. Inspired by fairy tales. Fated to be Mated. Betrayal.)

I seem to dislike every other IAD book these days. (Though I haven’t had a chance to read Shadow’s Seduction, which might break the trend.) This should be my catnip, with the angry, betrayed hero wanting to punish his mate, but I found the writing very prosaic and aimless.


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.



The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #22

CW: Rape. In an Anne Hampson book, shocking I know.


Harlequin Presents #22: The Hawk and the Dove by Anne Hampson

Image description: The book cover shows the head and shoulders of a young woman with long, straight blonde hair, wearing a childish wide-brimmed hat, against elaborately decorated glass doors.

Deliberate Anne of Green Gables vibe in this cover?

Most memorable line: 

“You’ve shown me by every conceivable means that you consider me far beneath you.” Janis felt she’d grown up since yesterday and a note of experience and maturity entered into her voice. “But however ill-bred I may be,” she went on, “If I despised anyone half as much as you despise me, I would at least have the good manners not to show it.”

Finally, the worm turns! Annoyingly, it turns right back again!

I was finally able to download The Hawk and the Dove from Open Library, and though the scan is utterly dreadful, I got sufficiently emotionally involved in the story to put up with it. Like many old HPs, it shows a strong Rebecca influence, though hero Perry was never married. The resemblance is mainly in their relationship: Janis is adoring, and as soppy as Con Firth’s shirt; Perry veers between scorn and indulgence. He’s deeply nasty at times; that and the huge power differential between them keep TSTL Janis from being utterly unbearable.

Janis, wrongly fired from her job, is downtroddingly trying to find shelter when Perry’s car crashes into her. He sees an opportunity to fulfil the terms of his uncle’s will, which require him to marry within a week. (His fiance had turned out to have been in cahoots with the alternate heir… ¬†so of course he hates all women now. Except his dead mother and his former nurse and his female best friend.)

Perry intends to annul the marriage after Janis is fully healed from her injuries, but manages to make this as clear as mud to Janis, who thinks he’s waiting to consummate the marriage. By the time she realizes the truth, of course she’s fallen in love with him, and she decides not to immediately reveal that the doctor has cleared her for take off. This will later bite her on the ass, rapey hero style. (Not explicit.)

I was surprised by a subplot of the story: Perry’s friend Avril is in love with John, a married man, and they’re constantly together. This isn’t treated with any hint of scandalousness or shock — perhaps because they’re both upper class?

Although I found a lot to critique, I was absorbed. The estate setting, which Janis completely falls in love with, is well done, and the secondary characters are mostly likeable. And classic HP angst. Basically, if you enjoy this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll enjoy.




Reading, June 2017

Sorry for the lack of info on some books this month. I’m trying to keep track of too many things right now.

CW: racism, sizism.

Recurring themes of the month: Ginormous heroes. Heroes who grew up in isolation. Tattoos (good and bad.) Metaphorical birds. Abusive fathers. ūüė¶ Mothers who betray their abused daughters. ūüė¶ Heroines who change hair color a lot. Canadian athlete heroes. Photographer heroines. Celebrity gossip problems. Heroines in hiding. Scheming grandmothers. Characters trying to be perfect to please a parent. Heroines who white fang their heroes. Men bonding on road trips. Celibate heroes.

We Are All Found Things by Molly O’Keefe. (Contemporary romance. Short story. Virgin hero. HFN.)

Lovely short story. Very interesting hero backstory.

Eden Burning by Elizabeth Lowell. (Contemporary. Hawaii. Scientist. Dancer.)

All the misogyny, plus all the cultural appropriation. Still manages to be fun, but got repetitious and draggy.

His to Own by Theodora Taylor. (Contemporary. Dark romance. Tattoo artist.)

Extremely fucked up book, though I suppose there are worse. There’s basically no ending, which is infuriating. But the “white supremacist literally owning a black woman” plotline was what really got to me.

The Devil’s Bride by Lucy Gordon. (Traditional Regency, but rated R. Convenient marriage. Hero is a rake. Heroine is in love with another man.)

Cons: not enough care for historical accuracy; worldbuilding is mainly down through gowns and food.¬†Evil=fat. There’s a tedious and obvious mystery. Heroine Calvina vows to keep her love for another man true, even after he dumped her for her (evil/fat) cousin, and she married someone else. (Any Mary Balogh heroine would be ashamed of her.) And hero Rupert is rakish to the point of ewww. (In one scene Calvina is romance by the son of his former mistress, possibly the half-brother of one of his own sons!)

Pros: it’s pretty lively and emotional, unlike many a carbon copy traditional Regency. There’s some fun comic secondary characters.

The Loving Spirit by Lucy Gordon. (Historical romance. Regency. Widower. Forced marriage. Governess. Single mother. Deceit.)

The best of the digitized Gordon historicals, IMO.

His For Keeps by Theodora Taylor.

My thoughts here.

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me. (Audiobook. Contemporary romance. Heroine pov only. First person. Boss/personal assistant. Convenient marriage.)

I’ve dubbed this sort of first person narration, “Excessive Eyeroll.” Which doesn’t mean that I was rolling my eyes — though there were a few plot holes — but that the narrator sounds like she’s constantly rolling hers. ¬†To make it even more tedious, the book could have used extensive editing and cutting. There’s a lot of repetition, grammatical errors, and silly scenes that go on for far too long.

But I wouldn’t have listened to 16 hours of audiobook if there wasn’t something there. The hero fairly obviously has Asperger Syndrome and it’s an interesting portrayal.

Poacher’s Fall by J.L. Merrow. (Historical. Post WWI. Novella. Class differences.)

The Greek’s Forced Bride by Michelle Reid. (Harlequin Presents)

The Next Competitor by Keira Andrews. (Contemporary. New Adult. M/M. Figure skaters.)

One Starry Night by Olivia Cunning. (Contemporary. Novella. Menage. HFN.)

Under Her Skin by Adriana Anders. (Contemporary. First in series. In hiding.)

Very good. Strong, appealing characters. Looking forward to the next one.

Where We Left Off by Roan Parrish. (Contemporary. New adult/coming of age. M/M. Age difference. Third in series. First person.)

Was a bit of a slog at first, but I wound up appreciating the coming of age aspects, especially considering the narrator is just starting college and the man he’s in love with is older.

Pretty Face by Lucy Parker. (Contemporary. Theatre.)

Very well done.

Little Sister by Mary Burchell.

Sad story, with the romance almost an afterthought.

Keeper’s Pledge by J.L. Merrow. (Historical. Post WWI. Novella. Couple follow up.)

Sequel to Poacher’s Fall.

Folly’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing. My TBR challenge read.

Gilded Ashes by Rosamund Hodge. (Young Adult Fantasy. Short story. Series. Inspired by a fairy tale.

An intensely creepy retelling of “Cinderella,” in which the ghost of her dead mother is basically the little boy who wishes people into the cornfield. Like Cruel Beauty, this looks at the powerful bonds of sisterhood and how love can twist us; though chilling and tragic, it does have a HEA. It’s set in the same universe as Cruel Beauty, but stands alone.

Conditional Surrender by Wendy Prentice

Dating You, Hating You by Christina Lauren. My thoughts here.

Such is Love by Mary Burchell.

Gorgeous oldie. Available at Open Library.

Married to the Viscount by Sabrina Jeffries. (Historical. Georgian? Fake marriage.)

Epic Fail by Claire LaZebnik. (Contemporary. Young Adult. Inspired by Austen.)

Decent modern humorous version of Pride and Prejudice.

Thick as Thieves (Young Adult Fantasy. Bromance — or more? Road trip.)

Wanted, A Gentleman by KJ Charles. (Historical romance. M/M. Interracial romance. Road trip. Redemption.)

Wonderful characters: a shady conniver who writes Minerve Press romances but secretly wishes he could have his villains get it on, and a former slave grappling with survivor’s guilt and fierce resentment.

Seven Minutes in Heaven by Eloisa James. (Historical. Victorian. Third in series. Spin-off series. Big Mis.)


Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig. DNF’d with extreme prejudice. Interesting story, but massive case of “autism voice” and very obviously not #ownvoices.

Burning Up by Sarah Mayberry. Boring insta-lust.


Dating You, Hating You by Christina Lauren

I’m really squeeing about this book — not just because it’s good, though it is, and not just because the characters are very likeable, though they are. What impressed me the most is how much it just gets right. I’m a fan of the enemies-to-lovers story, but even those who aren’t might like this one.

Starting off, the trajectory is different from the usual instant lust-hate. Evie and Carter meet at a costume party where they’re the only singles — and he just happens to be Harry Potter to her Hermione. “Perfect. I ship it,” says Carter, and so do I. They’re two sweet, funny people who seem made for each other, although the fact that they’re both married-to-their-jobs Hollywood talent agents is a little concerning. But before their relationship has gotten further than dinner and making out, Carter’s company is suddenly bought by Evie’s… and the two of them are informed that there might only be one job between them.

What follows is the more typical competition story — defensiveness leading to anger leading to some nasty tricks. But though both somewhat enjoy their sparring, there’s something serious underneath the situation: Evie is being screwed over. And Carter is too good a man not to eventually realize it. So the pranks are a fairly small part of the story and never get truly nasty. And they would both much rather be lovers than fighters. There’s no hate sex, by the way, and though I love me some hate sex, I think that was a good call in this case. It’s also lighter on the steam than previous Lauren books, which I also appreciate. There’s still sex, and it’s plenty hot, but it takes up considerably fewer pages.

I was disappointed in the ending, which I felt took an easy way out rather than having to deal with the genuine difficult issue of sexism in the workplace. Also, it turned into a caper plot, which just rubs the falseness in. But the rest of the book, though often lighthearted, is pretty realistic and takes the subject matter seriously, and there was a part of me that — ever since Practice Makes Perfect — ¬†was just crying out to see that in this kind of romance.


TBR Challenge: Folly’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing (Julia Ross)

The theme: A favorite trope. Say it with me: Amnesia!

Why this one: I wanted to finish the series.

In the fifth of Ewing’s traditional Regencies, a young man is washed up on the Scottish shore where governess Prudence is watching over her young charge Bobby. He has no memory of who he is, other than the sense that he’s named Hal short for Henry, and no idea where he should be. But when Prudence is forced to flee to save Bobby from his evil guardian, he appoints himself their protector.¬†Bobby, who believes Hal to be “a Selkie man,” is only too happy to have him with them, but Prudence fears the impact of his beauty and seductive nature on her peace of mind.

For the first half, this was pretty same old/same old. Despite his amnesia, Hal is a very typical Ewing/Ross hero: goodnaturedly cynical, reckless, and always ready with a suitable (or unsuitable) literary quote or bawdy rhyme. Prudence is decidedly bland, so his instant besottedness seems based only on her being the first face he sees, regaining consciousness. But when he recovers his memory in the second half, the story becomes far more intense and interesting;¬†Hal’s memories are… very bad. There are strange but compelling subplots, and¬†the Selkie metaphor is rather sweetly wrapped up, with Prudence showing some fire and backbone. I wound up enjoying it much more than I expected to.

Note: Most of the series is only loosely linked, but this is a direct sequel to¬†Virtue’s Reward.


Reading, May 2017

I’ve been saving this, hoping to be able to bingo-fy it… but the further I get from actually having read the books, the less likely it seems to happen, so I’m just going to forget it for this month.¬†Lots of author glomming, because I have a trial Kindle Unlimited subscription that runs out in June. You can tell that I was getting pretty punchy.

Recurring themes of the month: Football players who ignore dangerous concussions. Acquired disabilities. (The two themes are sometimes related.) Really crap treatment of disability. Heroines who inherit farms and marry their foremen. (Not always the hero.) Heroines on the run from abusive partners/gunshy heroines. Churchgoers. Being different is a sign of evil. Dandelions. Alternative versions of ancient Greece. Twins with issues. Overheard conversations. Massive student loans. Fighters. Vegans. Virginias.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah — putting this here because I apparently forgot to note it when I read it around the beginning of the year. Less funny than I expected, but a fascinating history. Noah’s mother is just amazing.

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. (Young adult. Fantasy. Beginning of series.)

I reread all the “Queens Thief” series so I could write about it for Heroes and Heartbreakers.

The Broken Wing by Mary Burchell. (Harlequin romance. Second in series. Boss/secretary. Disabled heroine. Singer. Good sister/bad sister.)

Tessa works as a secretary for Quentin, who is organizing a music festival. When she agrees to help her more vivacious twin sister audition for a part, she’s horrified to not only be forced to hide her own superior voice, but to have to watch her sister go after the man she secretly loves.

I have mixed feelings about this, since it was an excruciating read. I love good sister/bad sister romance¬†but when the bad sister seems to be getting everything the heroine wants, while she’s left out in the cold, it really cuts. Luckily this is Mary Burchell, so we barely have to wonder if the hero and sister even kissed.

The disability narrative is also very old-fashioned — the original title was actually “Damaged Angel,” after a broken figurine Tessa identifies with, and oh my God. But I liked where it wound up going:

“For the whole of her life her lameness had been a matter of anguish to herself and slightly irritated embarrassment to the people around her. The idea that one might, so to speak, deal with it and then ignore it was shattering in its revolutionary simplicity.”

Later in the book, Tess has internalized this new idea so much, she “could refer to her lameness without pain — purely as a matter of fact.” Not half bad for 1966.

As with A Song Begins, the focus on artistic dedication is very engrossing, and it’s fun to see Tessa stop being a doormat to her sister, and get over her lovesickness enough to start giving¬†Quentin what for. And there’s quite a bit of delicious, understated sexual tension. Another really good Burchell.

Blackmailed into her Boss’s Bed by Sandra Marton (originally published as Consenting Adults.) (Contemporary romance. Category. Harlequin Presents.)

Woman forced to work for man who wants her. Old skool Marton — ie, needless bickering, dubious consent, and a heroine who rarely finishes a sentence. Good angst, though. I’d think the obvious irony of the original title prompted them to rename it, except HQ never seems to worry about unintentional irony.

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. (Young adult. Fantasy. Second in series.)

All Played Out by Cora Carmack. (Audiobook. New adult. Series. Texas. College students. Football player. He’s just not that into you. Shy/geeky.)

This wasn’t as enjoyable as the previous books, for several¬†reasons.

  1. Overdose of cute couples from the previous books.
  2. Way too much set-up for the next book, which has yet to actually appear.
  3. The hero is initially into the heroine because she looks so much like his ex, he thinks she’ll be a good antidote. Yeech.
  4. I suspect the heroine is intended to have undiagnosed Aspergers Syndrome and it’s a pretty stereotypical portrayal, which I find annoying.

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

When Love is Blind by Mary Burchell. (Category romance. Harlequin Romance. Third in series. Secretary/boss. Musicians. Heroines behaving badly. Deceit. Stalkeriffic heroine. Stay in your own damn book.)

As soon as I saw this title on a 1960s romance, I expected the worst, but after the relative inoffensiveness of The Broken Wing, I hoped for the best. Nope. Every single ablist¬†cliche you’d expect to find in a book with a (temporarily, of course) blind character is here, including someone saying, “In a way it would almost have been better for him if he’d been killed.”

On top of that, the heroine is a spineless worm unworthy of the title. She inadvertently causes the hero’s blindness, refuses to take any kind of responsibility, and lies through her teeth until the very end. When faced with her lies by the Evil Other Woman, she says,¬†“I’m sorry you had to find all this out in circumstances that put me in a very bad light.” I’m failing¬†to think of circumstances that could show her in a good light. And though she does grow a bit as a musician — through her aching pity for the tragic¬†blind man! — she never gets a real redemption. Almost a complete stinker.

Everything I Left Unsaid by M.O’Keefe. (Erotic¬†romance series. No HEA. Cliffhanger. Domestic violence. Abusive husband. Adultery.)

Mostly very good, with wonderful sexual tension: the hero and heroine interact primarily by phone for most of the story. But the cliffhanger is so trite,¬†I felt I’d have been pretty happy if the previous book had just stopped before the last chapter, even without a HEA.

The Truth About Him by M. O’Keefe. (Romance Suspense. Series. Couple HEA. Domestic violence.)

I was disappointed in¬†the suspense direction this book went in, and that a lot of it was Annie being TSTL and Dylan being “I’m not good enough.” Again, I thought I might have been happy if the first book had just ended on a note of hope. But there were issues to wind up for Dylan, so it wound up being effective. Also had some good sequel-baiting.

The Curtain Rises by Mary Burchell. (Harlequin Romance. Series. Beta. Hero falls first.)

Similar to other Burchells — opera setting, broken hearted heroine who thinks she hates the hero — but unusual in that he’s rather sweet and sensitive, a rising star rather than an established power, and very obviously head over heels for her.

The Way Home by Keira Andrews. (Contemporary romance. End of series. m/m.)

Christening by Claire Kent. (Contemporary romance. Couple follow-up. Marriage in jeopardy. Adorable kid overload.)

Short sequel to Nameless, heavy on the parenting. Dullsville.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier. (Gothic historical fiction. Cornwall.)

One of the books discussed in How to Be a Heroine. I’m sorry I went with audiobook, because the narrator made the main characters sound so unappealing, it was hard to feel the romance. But an excellent creepy gothic. Watch out for a really offensive depiction of albinism.

A Baby for Easter by Noelle Adams.

Adams insists these books aren’t inspies, but I’d argue the point.

Incarnate by Claire Kent.

Another sequel to Nameless. I related a bit more to this one, since it’s about getting older and being parents of teens. The male-relative-getting-all aggressive-over-his-female-relative-dating trope is blech, but I liked that it touched on the problems of raising children well when you weren’t loved yourself.

A Family by Christmas by Noelle Adams. (Contemporary romance. Third in series. Convenient marriage. Hero is divorced. Child is a major character.)

This didn’t work as well for me as the previous two books. Everyday realism is Adam’s thing here, which didn’t gibe with two people having a convenient marriage and agreeing on both faithfulness and no sex, without ever thinking about what that means. Or a 27 year old woman still “saving herself” for marriage without apparently ever having had any kind of issue around it. And neither paid much attention to how this marriage might affect the hero’s daughter. (Especially given that he constantly lies to his daughter¬†about the relationship, and that his wife is¬†planning to leave for India soon.) I did enjoy the dark moment, but the conflict is very similar to that in the previous book and resolved in much the same way.

The Elopement by Megan Chance. (Short story. No HEA.)

I have no idea how to classify this short story. It doesn’t seem detailed enough, or to have enough sense of time or place, to count as historical fiction. Two of the main characters don’t even have names. But I feel concerned for the two people on goodreads who tagged it “romance.” It’s dark and very sad.

An interesting aspect of this story I realized after the fact:¬†the unnamed man is basically a Victorian hipster. Nothing new under the sun…

Child of Music by Mary Burchell. (Harlequin Romance. Series. Music teacher. Evil Other woman. Child is a major character. Stay in your own damn book.)

Some nice angst, but it’s too talky and the hero is such a doof over the Evil Other woman. And then the heroine does that finger to the mouth thing when he apologises. I hate that finger to the mouth thing!¬†I’m not usually big on kids in romance, but the matter-of-fact child prodigy Janet was the best part. I wish she’d gotten a story.

The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe.

Intriguing, but too short for its issues.

Bad Neighbor by M. O’Keefe

This had a lot in common with¬†Everything I¬†Left Unsaid, so I might have enjoyed it more if I’d read it later.

Reconciled by Easter by Noelle Adams. (Contemporary romance. Fourth in series. Marriage in jeopardy.)

This may be the most “inspie” of the series, since the conflict is basically handled by trust in God. It’s also one of the most interesting. Abigail,¬†who was raised in a much stricter and unforgiving religious tradition than other characters in the series, has tried to overcome her training and became her own person. But she believes her husband only wants her as she used to be.

The Only One by Penny Jordan. (Contemporary Romance. Category. Harlequin Presents.)

Meh, with a side of rapey hero.

Home for Christmas by Noelle Adams.

Music of the Heart by Mary Burchell.

Mary Burchell¬†was a true heroine in real life and her experiences no doubt¬†inspired¬†parts of this story which speak about the sorrow and strength of refugees. It’s also a return in the series to a strong emphasis on music, and the conflict¬†has higher stakes than just love, including¬†artistic vision, and the importance of authenticity.

Baby, Come Back by Molly O’Keefe. (Contemporary romance. Sequel. Suspense element. Heroine is the bad sister.)

Has some plotting issues, but the story really grabbed me.

Unbidden Melody by Mary Burchell. (Contemporary romance. Category. Harlequin Romance. Singer.)

(You might not want to read my thoughts if you haven’t read the book.)

I might have had a different reaction to this if I hadn’t recently read a bit of Burchell’s autobiography, which gave me a feeling that this “ordinary office girl/famous opera singer” romance might have been inspired by actual events. (Also if a tenor singer didn’t bring to mind — ugh — Dick Powell.) When I realized the heroine is¬†named “Mary Barstow” I wondered even more. It has a touch of reality in being¬†the first Burchell I’ve read that even approaches¬†the concept of sex: Mary¬†actually ponders whether, should the hero invite her for a “dirty weekend,” she should accept.¬†And then the ending is… ambiguous. In the last line, the heroine is “nearly sure” that the hero is over the trauma of his past and things will be okay for them. Come to think of it, even the title is suggestive.

My (completely uninformed and fictional) take¬†is that Burchell wanted to write a happy ending for a true sad story but couldn’t quite bring herself to do it completely. Or perhaps her publishers insisted on a hopeful ending, like with the end of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. In any event¬†this is one of those sad cases where the book itself is good, but¬†I couldn’t buy the happy ending.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge. (Young Adult Fantasy.  Audiobook. Inspired by another source. Forced marriage.)

A fascinating beauty and the beast retelling (with shades of “Cupid and Psyche” and “Tam Lin”) featuring¬†a bitter, resentful beauty and a truly beastly beast. A much more complex look at the popular “evil hero” than we usually see in either YA or romance, though you could argue that the ending undoes it.

Finished by Claire Kent. (Contemporary. Erotic romance. Polyamory.)

A polyamorous threesome implodes, for rather more complicated reasons than usual. Interesting story, though the writing¬†is rather prosaic. ¬†FYI, I think the author tried very hard to be respectful of polyamory but I’m not sure she always pulled it off.

His Forbidden Bride by Theodora Taylor. (Contemporary romance. Second in series. Interracial romance. Dark romance?Amnesia. Dominant hero. Doctor heroine.)

WOOF! This book was a hell of a ride. I’m not sure how much I can say about it without spoilers, and spoilers would be a terrible shame, but warnings for some violence, depictions of racism, and vast amounts of cray-cray, some of it seriously problematic as romance. Many readers will find it too upsetting, but I loved the appealing characters and the twists. (It’s a bit like the Sookie Stackhouse book in which vampire Eric gets amnesia and becomes vulnerable and lovable instead of simply deadly.) If you have any doubts, see the GoodReads reviews which are full of spoilers and disgust.

Tangentially, I thought it very cool that in her “50 Loving States series” ¬†— Janet Daily, but with interracial romance — Taylor touches on the fact that loving in some states can be pretty difficult. It’s set in West Virginia and the black heroine says frankly, “West Virginia and me have a complicated relationship.”

ETA: I’ve started the follow-up to this, His to Own, and it’s actually making me rethink my fairly positive feelings. The overt racism is seriously disturbing. More next month.


Living with Regret by Riann C. Miller. (Contemporary romance. Reunited. Amnesia. Slut shaming/disposable other women.)

I find the prose too OTT, but I skimmed because I’m a sucker for amnesia plots. But it set up a great conflict — dumbass hero has dumped the heroine *twice* — and then pissed it all away. If you’re going to go OTT, at least provide some payoff!

Wildfire by Anne Stuart. (Contemporary. Romance suspense. Heroine is married.)

To quote the Simpsons, “I can think of at least three things wrong with that title.”¬†I got through more than half of this, desperately thinking, surely something will happen now? Instead the heroine plots revenge on her evil husband and thinks about how lean the hero is, the hero wonders whether he’ll kill the heroine or not, and the evil husband is skanky with some evil skanks. Forever.¬†Not to mention, still yet more ableism out the wazoo. Too bad, because the story idea was great.

The Bride by S. Doyle. Just didn’t grab me.

Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman. Might be more interesting in print; really dragged in audio.


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Miss Bates is Austen's loquacious spinster in Emma. No doubt Miss Bates read romances ... here's what she would've thought of them.