A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Reading, February 2017

So we have BINGO again! But it’s now being released towards the end of the month, which is going to make it a lot harder to squeeze books into categories. Challenge…accepted!



The bingo card of someone who has not yet quite figured out how to do this on the computer. As you can see, sort of, I got two lines this month and read 20 books. I’m partially through about 20 more.

Recurring themes of the month: heroines who need to be carried by their heroes. Caregiver heroines at a loose end when their ailing family member dies. Heroes who do yoga. Heroines with men who want them completely passive during sex. Historical heroines who have had a lover. Valentine’s Day (sheer coincidence.) Couples with large age differences. Heroines who reject arranged marriages. First loves crushed into hate on 21st birthdays. (Yes, that specifically similar.) Characters who caused a lot of trouble as child witnesses. Really evil brothers.

Sweet Nectar of GloryKeepsake by Sarina Bowen. (New Adult. Farm setting. Virgin hero. Heroine with PTSD.) Although this exact phrase isn’t used, “glorious” is, and in the context of the hero’s sweet nectar. *snort*

Possibly the best book in possibly Bowen’s best series. Really lovely, tender hero. Very tortured heroine who is helped but not saved by him. Emotional sex scenes. I was tempted to do the whole card on this book because he is a kind pure loving beta adonis who has, as his friend puts it, gone 23 years without girl trouble.

Tomato Sauce: The Older Man by Laurey Bright. (Category.  Much older hero. Single father.)

” ‘It’s all right,’ she said. ‘It’s not blood, it’s tomato sauce.’ “

Scratching: Wild Embrace by Nalini Singh. (Paranormal romance. Anthology of Psy-Changeling world novellas.) When you have cat and wolf shifters, there’s bound to be scratching.

Black: The Black Angel by Barbara Samuel. (Historical romance. Set in England and Ireland.) The titular hero is “Black Irish,” but the story is also notable as an  older historical romance with several black characters (half-siblings of the heroine.)

I Wrote a Letter to My Mother: A Stormy Spanish Summer by Penny Jordan. (Harlequin Presents. Judgey hero.) I learned this song from my great-uncle, who sang it “to my father” and if it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. The letter the heroine wrote to the father she never met is intercepted by the hero.

BetaHow Not to Let Go by by Emily Foster. (New Adult. Second half of a duo. Tortured hero.) Charles is probably the ultimate romance beta, because he believes –and acts on —  pussy ideals like “enthusiastic consent” and “responsibility” and “balance of power.” What a wuss!

Uncup Me: Rocky Road by Anne Stuart. (Category romance. Grumpy cop hero, busybody heroine.) Drugged, unconscious hero cups the heroine and she can’t get him to uncup her.

Suck It: Own It By Joss Whedon and Christos Gage. (Graphic novel.)The conclusion of “Season ten” of Buffy. No one can say suck it like she can.

Happy Dance: The Doctor’s Diamond Proposal by Annie Claydon. (Category, medical romance. Disabled heroine.) The heroine is Cinderella at a ball.

Kind: Don’t Ask Me Now by Emma Darcy. (Harlequin Presents. Love triangle.) Will our heroine pick her kind friend or the passionate lover from her past?

Beauty: Valor’s Reward by Jean Ewing. (Traditional Regency.) Beauty can be a mixed blessing, especially when your father is a compulsive gambler…

Bad Hair Day: Stormswept by Sabrina Jeffries. (Historical romance. Set in Wales. Lovers are separated by a Big Mis. Secondary romance.)

The title says it all. 😉

The most interesting thing about this book was wondering about how it was updated from the original (published under the name Deborah Martin.) My guesses are that the hero was not celibate while they were separated, and that he was significantly rapey-er.

23: Payment in Love by Penny Jordan. (Harlequin Presents. Foster sister/brother.) Heroine is 23.

That Would Be Grand: The Boy is Back by Meg Cabot. (Epistolary novel. Reunited lovers.) There’s a pretty grand mansion, but I’m going with this box because even though there’s swearing and mentions of sex, all Cabot’s books have a sort of “gosh, that’d be swell!” old movie feel to them.

Octopus: “Chocolate Kisses” by Judith Arnold in the My Valentine’s Day, 1993 anthology. (Categoiry romance. Novellas.) This hero has at least 8 hands… he is all over the heroine while she’s trying to work! Enjoyable collection of quick romantic reads.

Self: No Greater Pleasure by Megan Hart. (Gaslight fantasy. Second in a same-world series.) The heroine belongs to a religious order which teaches,”selfish is the heart that thinks first of itself.” She feels somewhat differently by the end.

New to You: Playing with Fire by Victoria Thompson. My TBR challenge read.

No Lycra: Bootie and the Beast by Falguni Kothari. (Contemporary romance. Set in Texas. Hero and heroine from India.) Diya is both health and fashion conscious and her hero is very much a no-lycra kind of guy.


How Not to Let Go by Emily Foster

How Not to Let Go by by Emily Foster.

I really got into How Not to Fall, despite it having way, way more sex than I enjoy, and no HEA. It’s a successful attempt by the author to write a feminist New Adult romance that’s both emotional and hot, and it also has a wonderful narrator in science-loving Annie.

How Not to Let Go adds Charles’s voice to the narrative, which I found disappointing, since he comes off sounding like every other brooding NA hero. And I think the focus on his life — mainly huge family issues — takes away from Annie’s: she’s mainly a support to him here. Which I guess is fair, since he was mainly a support to her in the first book, but I missed her experiences.

As with the first book, I’m unclear about whether the depiction of BDSM style sex is offensive or empowering. We see Annie get uncomfortable when her best friend is put off by a description of what Charles likes to do to her, but I don’t think that was resolved later. And there are “reasons” for Charles’s unusual desires, which is always potentially iffy. But nothing happens without Annie’s enthusiastic consent.

On the positive side, these were aspects I really liked:

Like the first book, the prose is sometimes challenging with allusions, metaphors, and philosophy. As a reader, I had to do some googling and also make some intuitive leaps.

Although Charles is typically rich (and even titled!), his relationship with Annie has nothing to do with expensive gifts. His gifts to her are of time, attention, and shared experiences. When she needs financial help, she turns to her loving parents.

Also typically, Charles is fucked up to hell and and back. Untypically, he is working very hard to heal.

Although we don’t see enough of Annie’s life, it isn’t denied importance. She’s a student and they both prioritize that.

Most importantly, Charles’s issues aren’t an excuse for him to be a terrible person. Annie continually tells him, “you’re the best man I know,” and she’s not wrong. No matter what his feelings, he battles valiantly to always do the right thing for his family and for Annie.

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TBR Challenge: Playing With Fire by Victoria Thompson

The theme: A NTM author.

Why this one: I’ve been reading a lot of European-set historicals and felt like some Americana.

This author is not only new to me, but I don’t think I’ve heard her mentioned before, so I expected this to be pretty forgettable. While not great, it was lively story that kept me interested until the last fourth. Since it’s almost 400 pages, that’s a reasonable amount of interest, though it really did drag at the end.

After the last of her family dies, twenty-nine year old Isabel Forester impulsively decides to take a teaching position out west. She doesn’t expect much more than a change of scene. But when she arrives in Bittercreek, Texas, she’s amazed to find that she’s no longer considered a plain, superfluous old maid but a desirable woman every bachelor in town wants. Unfortunately, the only one to catch her eye is Eben, a taciturn blacksmith who reportedly adored his late wife so much he’ll never marry again.

This is a fun plot reminiscent of several favorite old movies — “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “The Harvey Girls”… and another I won’t mention, since it would be a spoiler. The setting is well realized, with a strong cast of supporting characters; I enjoyed the wooing hijinks, and the antics of Isabel’s students– likeable in the style of the Avonlea stories. Then the book went into romantic gear, with Eben trying to woo Isabel and doing everything wrong, romance-hero style. There’s some effective tension, and nice sensuality — Eben the blacksmith is quite good with his hands! But the push and pull between them went on way too long, and a whole bunch of extra plot at the end didn’t help my exhausted feeling.

Though I wish it had been shorter, it was a nicely immersive historical and felt like it offered more than just the romance.


January 2017

There’s supposed to be some new game this year, but it hasn’t as yet materialized, so just a few comments. I read a lot more than this, but haven’t felt up to writing. Surprise.

CW: Mentions of rape, abuse, torture and death.

Recurring themes of the month: Couple follow-ups. (Good ones! Blow me down!) First person narration from multiple points of view. Heroine who were raped. Fathers who know or learn they aren’t biological fathers. Heroine watching their heroes being sweet with babies. (Awww.) Cinderellas and balls, including in contemporaries. Dead siblings. Bad first marriages but not totally Evil first wives. Christmas. English historical heroes who learned martial arts. English contemporary heroes prone to bestowing nicknames. Heroes who need Fight Clubs. Heroes with monstrous fathers who fear they’re also monsters. Remorse scholarships.

A Reluctant Betrothal by Amanda Weaver. Historical romance, series.

I wrote about A Duchess in Name that it had kind of an old skool plot, but with a more new skool hero. That seems to be Weaver’s forte and she does a lovely job with it here, providing emotional satisfaction for readers with both the hero’s role and the heroine’s.

The Year of the Crocodile by Courtney Milan. Contemporary romance, series. Short story. Tropes: Couple follow-up. Family feud.

This short follow-up to the novel Trade Me was such a nice surprise. Rather than simply a frothy check-in with the couple, or some manufactured conflict, it had some real meat on its bones… because Tina’s Chinese parents have a legitimate grievance with Blake’s dad’s business practices. It’s maybe tied up a little too neatly to play well in the current world situation, but I appreciate the effort.

Someone to Love by Mary Balogh. Family series, first book. Tropes: Strongminded heroine. Secret ninja hero.

After the snoozefest that was Only Beloved, I was glad to find this had a little snap to it. It doesn’t hurt that the hero is that most irresistible type, the bored, resplendent, and secretly vastly competent dandy. (He’s also refreshingly small and slight.) As is typical of recent Balogh, it gets prosy at times, and as others have pointed out, the hero’s background of having learned martial arts from an unnamed Asian man with no history whatsoever is problematic and weird.

Christmas on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morgan. Contemporary romance, best friend series. Tropes: Opposites attract. Afraid to love again. Friends are family.

Both characters are grieving, and Lucas helps Eva see that she doesn’t have to try and be sunny all the time. Some nice angst. In some ways I liked this more than the others in the series, because it had more emotional oomph. But Eva really got up my nose. Her blather isn’t as charming as it wants to be, and I find it hard to believe that she’s an incredible romantic when she has a list for what she wants in a man that begins with broad shoulders and abs. I know romance. Romance is a friend of mine. You, ma’am, are no romantic.

The kicker was Eva’s insistence on interfering with Lucas’s life, to the point of actually changing his manuscript. I guess this could have been written as a harmless prank, but it didn’t come off that way. I would have kicked her to the curb immediately.

Tiger Eyes by Robyn Donald. Category romance. Tropes: Rich boy, poor girl. Prisoner of Love. Creative passion.

An unusually interesting heroine for an old HP: Tansy is deeply committed to music and ran away from home to put herself through music school by busking. The hero, not so interesting. My tolerance for old skool alphas is fairly high, but Leo is entitled, condescending, and stomach-turningly controlling. This is in character, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant to read. I’d have liked to see more reform and apologies from him. If you have a strong stomach, it’s still worth a read.

The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne. Historical romance, Victorian era. Second in a series. Tropes: Tortured hero. A Big Secret.

This almost feels like a paranormal in (well researched) historical garb. Ruthless assassin Christopher is close to superhuman in his fearlessness, ability to withstand pain, and ability to inflict it. And like many a paranormal hero, when he falls he falls with every fibre of his being. Actress Millie is our ordinary human, but fierce as anything when her son is threatened.  And like many a paranormal heroine, falling in love means she has to learn to live with moral ambiguity.

This was definitely compelling and I appreciated the author’s attempts to write original, evocative prose. There are some weird bobbles and clunky moments. It’s also squicky at times, though I was more bothered by the aspects of Christopher that are similar to stereotypes about autism: he doesn’t make eye contact, speaks in a monotone, has no sense of empathy, etc. Presumably this is from his tortured life, but it perturbs me that he could be read as autistic.

Note for sensitive readers: there are depictions of rape and torture, and mentions of necrophilia.

Steadfast by Sarina Bowen.

TIt was hard for me to really appreciate this, because I listened to it and the male narrator sounded like one of these guys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0wYchCT_1U Didn’t love the female narrator’s tendency towards a petulent tone either. (Ironically, her hero voice was quite good. A shame they didn’t switch.) So that really colored my feelings about the book. I also didn’t enjoy the unexpected suspense element. There was plenty of story potential without it, and it felt over the top. But I listened to the whole thing, so obviously there was an interesting story, and I do love reunited lovers who are still passionate about each other.



TBR Challenge: Roarke’s Kingdom by Sandra Marton

(CW: a past rape)

The theme: “We Love Short Shorts.” Except for maybe Courtney Milan novellas, my most loved shorts will always be category romance.

Why this one: I went through a few books from my HP stack pretty much randomly and this is the one that stuck.

Roarke — no relation to another fine billionaire Roarke, though he does have a similar fondness for choosing his lover’s clothes — lives on a lonesome but luxurious island off of San Juan, with lots of servants and his young daughter Susanna. After a bitter divorce he’s very Cynical About Women, HP-style. Which means he falls fairly quickly under the spell of sweet, non-materialistic, child-lovin’ Victoria despite his initial suspicions. But of course, she is hiding a Big Secret.

This could easily have been a wallbanger. Not because of the feisty heroine and totally controlling hero — the first doesn’t go on painfully long, and you know I eat HP alphas with a round-bowl spoon. But it came close to serious pet peeve territory because there’s an Evil Other Woman — you can tell how evil she is before she even appears, because she doesn’t like babies or living on isolated islands — and she’s an adoptive mother, and Victoria is the child’s biological mother. That sort of story can so easily go wrong.

What saved it is:

  • I don’t know if it was intentional on the author’s part, but she draws a good picture of the importance of closure for a birth mother. Victoria, at a very vulnerable time in her life, is cheated out of the chance to say goodbye to her baby, or even see her. She has no trustworthy assurance of the baby’s welfare. The uncertainty eats at her, as well it might.
  • Although there’s undoubtedly misogyny in the story, the biological bond is not given ultimate importance. There’s no sense that the adoptive mother didn’t bond with her child because of biology — she’s just evil, you know.

So within the framework of an old HP, the book didn’t strike me as horribly offensive. (There is a scene where they observe a voodoo ceremony, but it seemed fairly neutral. Then again, what do I know.) And there’s some delicious pain and heartbreak, even though Victoria spends most of the beginning of the book ill, and the end of it lachrymose. 4 stars on the angsty-goodness scale.


Not entirely everything about 2016 sucked

Books read, including shorts: 343, of which 29 were rereads. Below average for me, probably because of the last few months of 2016.

Books DNF’d: 32. Technically more, but I don’t usually make a record unless I’ve read further than the beginning.

Best book overall read in 2016: A Seditious Affair by K.J. Charles.

Best book (non-romance) and best depiction of an autistic person read in 2016: On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis.

Runner up (non-romance) : I Am Princess Ex by Cherie Priest.

Runner up (best depiction of an autistic person): Forget-Me-Not by Jordan Castillo Price.

Swooniest romance: A Gentleman’s Position by K.J. Charles.

Romance that most made me laugh and go Awwww: Manties in a Twist by J.A. Rock. 

Most entertainingly written romance: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.

Best Golden Oldie (not a reread): The Lily Brand by Sandra Schwab.



December in Book Bingo (2016)

decemberbingoI’ve really enjoyed doing Shallowread Bingo. Part of it was it got me to make note of my reading, even if only very briefly. Part of it was the joy of synchronicity — and I learned an interesting lesson, which is that if I searched for a specific theme, I usually wound up with a book I didn’t particularly like, but if I just read what I wanted, usually the themes would come to me.

But mostly I liked it because something about the structure really slowed time down for me. I know 2016 has been a terrible year and people want it to be over (I can’t say I do, because it’s probably the closest to safety we’ll be for some time) but I hate how life has speeded up for me over the last ten years or so. It got to the point that if I had a wall calendar I didn’t like, I wouldn’t bother to change it because it would be gone soon enough. Even before the horror started, this year felt like a year.

TW: Mention of rape and abuse.

Recurring themes of the month: Unusual locations. Tidy heroes. (Talk about writing your own fantasies!) Characters who are Trouble. (Like in 85% of the books!) Jewish characters. Students. Teachers. (But no teacher-student ickiness.) Step relationships. (Quite a bit of ickiness.) Tattooed heroes. (Yeah, that’s new.)  Male characters who were raped. Characters who keep thinking they see a lost love. Horticulturist heroines. Non-compos-mentis nookie — or was it? — resulting in pregnancy. Heroines with fear of heights or claustrophobia. References to romantic comedy movies. Whirlwind romances. Romance with a best friend’s sibling. Blue collar heroes who think their heroines are spoiled, useless rich girls. Women driven to nervous breakdowns by their awful husbands. Widows. Non exclusive relationships, but somehow it’s only the guys who avail themselves. Childhood sweethearts/first loves. This proverb.

Light One Candle: The Forgotten Man by Ryan Loveless.

“Taking Joshua’s hand, he led Joshua to the window where a half-burned candle stood. ‘Light it with me.’ He picked up a box of matches from the sideboard and held them out.

‘It’s not the same as during Chanukah, you know,’ Joshua said. ‘I mean, if you’re expecting a miracle…’

‘You said it was a reminder of a miracle. You’re here.'”

This is a square name I suggested, thinking of this song. I wound up with a book that also brings a song to mind.

I didn’t love the prose of this novella, which felt unsubtle and had a lot of “telling,” but the premise of a gay, Jewish man finding love during the Great Depression kept my interest. There’s a good sense of time and place, and the author obviously did her research. (One piquant detail: the gay men holding a “Pansy Ball” get away with it — sometimes — by hiring the police as security. Actually, I guess that would be more piquant in a less currently corrupt world.)

Morpheus: The Last Chance Christmas Ball by various authors.

“Deciding that a book might help quiet her mind and allow her to drift into the land of Morpheus, she tugged on her wrapper…”

It’s always a bit risky to go looking for a book in the middle of the night in a Regency romance. Didn’t anyone bring books with them? I never go anywhere without one. On the other hand. I never have midnight sex in the library, so what do I know.

This harkens back to the good old days of traditional Regency Christmas anthologies, with Christmas cheer, Christmas miracles, and very little steam. (Though somewhat less chastity.) A very pleasant, familiar, cozy read, though only Joanna Bourne’s story had much interesting tension.

December: Hold Me by Courtney Milan.

“It’s early December, and I don’t walk away from people who are upset.”

This quote is cryptic even in context; we don’t understand it until later, and I won’t spoil it.

I love me a good “Shop Around the Corner” type story and I was especially tickled because this is kind of a… deconstruction of them. Everything you might hate about that kind of story — the deceit, the easy resolution — is exploded. It’s also a great driving plotline to give so that this story about a trans heroine is not about her being trans, except inasmuch as she has a lot of emotional baggage. The hero has some intense emotional baggage too, and they’re a compelling couple.

I did feel things were perhaps too idealized, especially around sex. It’s great that Jay isn’t put off by learning Maria is trans, but his complete lack of any kind of processing around it didn’t seem plausible. And the lack of any discussion between them about her situation and needs before having perfect het sex did not seem either plausible or careful. Still, a very good story.

And Then Came the Rain: Sleepless in Manhattan by Sarah Morgan. My initial take on this square was, “and then something bad happens,” but then I remembered, I love rain. Luckily, this story applies either way. The heroine expects something good, which turns out to be something bad… which turns into something good.

HOHOHO: The Master Fiddler by Janet Dailey

Funny story: I started this because it was a freebie, and didn’t have much expectation that it would fit a bingo square. But it turns out that in 2011, this fools-gold-en oldie was revamped to cash in a slight resemblance to “Sleepless in Seattle” and retitled “To Santa With Love.” Even though it was originally set during September and has not the slightest mention of holidays. Ho. Ho. Ho!

Tycoon: Midnight at Tiffany’s by Sarah Morgan. Hero is a tycoon who of course just wants to be loved for himself. Short, super whirlwind romance.

Irony: Wicked Sexy Liar by Christina Lauren.

“‘I worry she’s not taking this as seriously as I am.’

My sister looks towards the heavens. ‘Let me enjoy the irony of this for a second.’

Luke and London were side characters of this series, so it’s nice that their romance didn’t feel like a forced afterthought but one of the best of the bunch. I’m kind of fussy about rakes reforming, and I love when it’s done right. Luke isn’t really a liar, by the way, but he is most definitely a player. (He does have sex with another woman during the story, if that bugs you. It’s pretty sad sex, though.) We see the process of change for him, and it’s not just from meeting “the one.” I even liked the sex scenes! Also, it’s cool that the characters in the series all stay friends without everyone ending up living next door to each other, covered in babies.

Pet: Moon Witch by Anne Mather. The heroine becomes the pampered pet of her guardian’s father, despite the guardian’s angry boner man disapproval. More here, though not a whole lot more.

Just the One You Want: Satan’s Master by Carole Mortimer. You know those annoying HPs from the 80s with titles like “Savage Surrender,” and the hero always turned out to be named Jack Savage? This is one of those sorts of titles. Satan is the hero’s cat.

I enjoyed the old skool Penny Jordan-ish cruel hero beginning, but the tension dissipated into a bickerfest in the second half, where it seemed to be trying to be a classic romantic comedy in which everyone is paired up with the wrong person. It’s also very uncomfortably dated re women’s rights and domestic violence.

Luxurious: Sunset in Central Park by Sarah Morgan. Romances are filled with the trapping of luxury — private jets, expensive jewelry, limo rides. In this one the hero owns an apartment building in Brooklyn with a roof garden. That is pretty much the height of luxury, from my point of view.

I’m not that fond of the tender hero helps scared-of-love and/or sex heroine dynamic, and I also found Frankie’s fear of relationships a bit over the top. Also, her introversion seems to be “cured” by true love. Nice enough read otherwise. Hell, I finished it. That’s saying a lot right now.

Hot Summer Nights: Dirty, Rowdy Thing by Christina Lauren

“October on Vancouver Island is chilly. In San Diego, it’s as if the summer is only getting started. Perpetual summer. No wonder everyone here is so laid back.”

I didn’t expect to like this one as much as book 1 and 3 (I listened out of order) and I didn’t, but not for the reasons I expected. Harlow came off as rather obnoxious in the other books; here in her own, her strong points are given a chance to shine. But I was annoyed that 1) sexually assertive Harlow has actually not been around that much and of course has never really enjoyed herself with anyone but Finn, 2) Finn is another damned Dom, and 3) Finn landed on the dreaded “he’s just not that into you” shelf. He treats her really badly and I never felt like his regret afterwards was sufficient. All the effort comes from her side.

Seeking Refuge: Wish Come True by various authors. An anthology of mostly New Adult m/m stories, lightly Christmas/New Years themed. A number of the characters have sought refuge from difficult home situations.

My Love: Anniversary by Mary Balogh. A Valentine’s Day story seemed perfect for this square.

A forced marriage, love turned to hate, and a holiday in which to somehow turn it all around… Mary Balogh just the way I like her. This is a short story, but it’s got some heft to it.

Moist: Rogue’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing

First of all, ew.

So there is an actual moist sighting in this book — which is luckily a traditional Regency, so it relates to “moist” dirt rather than sex. But I prefer to use this square in honor of the hero taking a Regency cold shower.

The story is very similar to Scandal’s Reward: Suspicious heroine thinks badly of roguish hero/heroic rogue. In this case, both the suspicions and the heroism border on ridiculous, and they both cried out for a good spanking.

He sees you when you’re sleepingOnce a Cowboy by Linda Warren. Hero ponders the heroine’s impact while she sleeps in his arms.

A pretty good story, but the melodramatic ending was just ridiculous. As was the stereotypically macho cowboy hero gossiping about his friend’s romances (from the previous books.)

12: Unwrapping the Castelli Secret by Caitlin Crews. There are twelve chapter. Coincidentally, it also takes place at Christmas.

I found this rather a slog. There were a lot of irritants: the deliberate playing up of the stepsibs taboo, the heroine , of course,  having been with no one else while the hero deliberately sleeps with other women, the particularly icky memory she has of seeing him with someone else.  There wasn’t really a good catharsis after all the awfulness, either.

Dreidel: “The Eight Days of Hanukkah” by Laurie Graff. (From Scenes from a Holiday.)

“…Nicki was out of the Matzo Ball and onto the street before you could spin the dreidel.”

Weird chicklit novella/unsubtle social commentary about a commitment-phobic Jewish woman who gets a bonk on the noggin and finds herself in “Menorahland,” which is populated entirely by singles who can only get out if they find someone to marry. Basically a fictional version of Marry Him. Not really my thing, but so silly it’s sometimes funny. Note: there’s a subtle touch of anti-Arab bigotry.

Christmas Joy to All: Blame it On Chocolate by Jennifer Greene. Not actually a holiday story, but it’s about a company that makes high quality Chocolate, and I can’t think of anything more likely to bring Christmas Joy to most, if not all.

This was pretty frothy, and a lot of it wasn’t my cup of cocoa, but it had some sweet parts too.

Virgin Birth: Claiming His Christmas Consequences by Michelle Smart.

“‘Who’s the father?’

She pressed her lips together.

‘A virgin conception? How fitting.”

(No, not really. I could have chosen from amongst several romances with actual virgin births, but why would I want to?)

A dutiful virgin princess headed for a political marriage goes off the rails for one night, and whoops! The plot is full of holes — the princess has no privacy at all but managed to steal a whole night with the hero? And they couldn’t find someone else that they didn’t loathe to force her to marry? Even worse, I wasn’t feeling the love from the hero until the end. It was a good end though.

Self Care: A Guilty Passion by Laurey Bright. The heroine is severely depressed, less from the unexpected death of her husband than from the years of psychological abuse he inflicted on her. She begins to find herself again through peaceful living on an island — sometimes interrupted by the hero being a dick to her — and doing art. If you enjoy cynical heroes who care in spite of themselves and maligned heroines, this is pretty good. The constant descriptions of the heroine’s fragile, depressed state is a bit much, though.

Comes but once a year24/7 by J.A. Rock. Sorry for this terrible joke. Gould’s submission includes orgasm denial.

There have been serious themes in all of the “Subs Club” series, but this one is downright dark, though still with some humor. I continue to admire Rock’s clever writing and complex themes around kink and grief. Also, the bravery of putting an m/f/m couple in a m/m series. Unlike the previous books, it’s more erotica than romance, but offers its own form of happy ending.

Emotional Rescue:  The General and the Elephant Clock of Al-Jaziri by Sarah Black. Retired General John Mitchel is recruited to rescue two Americans falsely imprisoned in Tunisia, but discovers that one of them has been so badly abused, he requires more psychologically than simply getting away.

The sequel to The General and the Horse-Lord is hard to classify; romantic suspense in its most literal sense probably comes closest. John and Gabriel are still in love and still happy, but don’t spend that much time together here; much of the story, other than the rescue, is about interactions between John and the many young people, gay and straight, that he becomes “Uncle John” to. It’s a very warm-hearted story, and more interesting for being set in a real place rather than some made up Fauxistan. I found the portrayals of people of color tended towards exoticizing — John fondly remembers being “half in love with Omar back then, as much for his subtle, quiet mind as for his desert hawk beauty” — but John’s Korean-American nephew Kim continues to be a sweet, thoughtful delight.

thank you for playing: Captured for the Captain’s Pleasure by Ann Lethbridge. A risky wager on a chess match ends with everyone getting what they want. Fun revenge on the high seas story.

At the end of the rainbow: Whisper of Heaven by Candice Proctor. An even worse joke: the hero is Irish and tends to exaggerate his accent for effect. It’s magically delicious. My TBR challenge read.

AdieuSweet Filthy, Morning After by Christina Lauren. A bit from Ansel’s point of view, as he wakes up in bed with a beautiful sleeping woman… whom he is now married to. Very short, which was a mercy, since Ansel’s French accent sounded a lot like Michel from “Gilmore Girls” — NOT sexy. (Everyone on GoodReads disagrees with me… lucky them. I much preferred the Ansel performed by the female narrator of Sweet, Filthy Boy.)

Also read (or not):

No Mistress of Mine by Laura Lee Gurhke.  Reunion between a lord and the lover who white-fanged him 6 years before. Has a nice maturity to it, and some good emotion. The ending’s a bit over-the-top fairytale.

Counterfeit Lady by Jude Deveraux. DNF’d with extreme prejudice. I’m aghast that someone thought this was worth digitizing; it should have been left decently interred. Or better yet, buried at a crossroads with a stake in its heart.

I decided not to finish the book around page 50, when it’s revealed that the “hero” is a slave owner in Virginia, but since I’d invested time in the characters, did some skimming. The rest of the story is one of the most gloatingly thorough, revolting dissections of someone’s weight/character (they’re obviously the same thing here) I’ve ever read. Endless descriptions of her eating and her monstrously disgusting size. It’s weird because Deveraux has done some decent books with large heroines… maybe protests over this raised her consciousness? I’m not even donating my copy; it’s going straight in the trash.

Legend of Lexandros by Anne Mather. DNF. Wow, Mather loved to be icky. I’ll put up with it in an interesting book, but this one was snoozesville.

Take What You Want by Anne Mather. Another icky one — probably one of the first stepsib romances. Unfortunately, also one of the dullest.

The Millionaire’s Pregnant Mistress by Michelle Celmer. DNF. The hero is extremely controlling, in this adorably boyish way that made my stomach turn. And he thinks the heroine being pissed at him for destroying all her clothes is just too cute for words. Yeech.

Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts. DNF. I did read a fair bit of it, but I never should have started this type of book at this time. Bring on the puppies and rainbows, please.

The Lily Brand by Sandra Schwab. Okay, this was undeniably a very strange choice of book after I had just rejected Sweet Revenge. But though the entire book is dark and intense, the worst is over pretty quickly. (I’ve seen a reviewer that felt we didn’t see enough horrors to justify how messed up the hero and heroine are… I don’t know what else she’d been reading, but spare me from it!) Wonderfully old school, and kept me riveted.

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TBR Challenge: Whispers of Heaven by Candice Proctor

The theme: A holiday read. I declare the new holiday, “National Going Off-Theme Day.”

Why this one: After browsing through a ridiculous number of books for mentions of Christmas, and then DNFing every single one I found, I craved something rich and satisfying. Also, this one keeps spawning on my TBR shelves!

Set in colonized Tasmania  during the Victorian era, Whispers of Heaven includes much of what I hope to see in historical romance. It has a strong sense of time and place, including vivid descriptions of the beauty of the land, much loved by heroine Jessie. It justifies its historical setting through exploration of the mores of the time — particularly the power differentials of class and sex. It makes an innate plea for justice and compassion without making the main characters incongruously enlightened. And though I suppose it’s not essential, I never mind a forbidden love story.

Jessie and her brother Warrick are members of the wealthy ruling class in Tasmania, but their lives aren’t entirely free of troubles. The deaths of their four siblings and father have left them to carry out their stern mother’s insistence on proper role. (Warrick has even inherited his brother’s fiance.) While Warrick is pettishly defiant, Jessie struggles to fulfill the role she’s been born to, while also finding ways to express herself: studying science, and secretly befriending the town “fallen woman” for real conversations. But when a brooding Irish convict-labourer is assigned to be her groom, Jessie begins to have questions about the ethics of her family’s way of life, and about the possibility of happiness in her arranged marriage. The more she gets to know Lucas Gallagher, the more she cares for him, leading her to the age old question: “Where is the line between what a woman owes to others and what she owes herself?”

This is an immersive, adventurous, romantic story, and Lucas is an excellent hero: brave, tortured, and able to believably say things like “Even before there were stars in the sky, I was loving you.” But somehow, though I enjoyed it very much as I was reading it, I wound up admiring the book more than I really got swept away by the romance. It might be because Jessie comes off as bland, or because the theme is a little too in-your-face… or maybe it’s just the timing. In any event, I certainly recommend it.




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


Harlequin Presents #38: Moon Witch by Anne Mather

Best line:

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

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

‘Oh, Sara, stop getting so uppity!'”

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

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

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

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November in Book Bingo


TW: Mention of rape under the “Queen” square. And a Charlotte Lamb book under “Awakened.”

Recurring themes of the month: Dull mysteries. Scandal in the title. Anger because of fathers whose businesses were ruined. (Or were they?) Characters who have sex with two members of the same family. (Or did they?) Futuristic cell phone technology. Greeks. Convenient marriages. Older, mainstream historical romances that acknowledge black people weren’t recently invented. Heroines with mercurial tempers. Not-too-creepy stepsibs. Confused heroines. Heroines I wanted to kick in the pants. Heroes with dormant libidoes. Heroes who were once child prostitutes. (There may be a link.) Heroines with scars. Lovers offended because they think they were given money for their “services.” Heroes seeking divorce from their heroines. Heroes named Leo. Characters with leg injuries — a subset of whom had ruined dance careers. Mud. Tangerine outfits. (Yes, I notice and remember the weirdest things.)

Smoke Screen: The Yuletide Seduction by Carole Mortimer. The heroine has changed her name, lifestyle, and hair color to escape the hero — but did it work? That should be “did it work?!” Because! So! Many! Exclamations points!

Proposals: Sweet, Filthy Boy by Christina Lauren.

Long tangent: The other day I was watching the director commentary for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (short tangent: it’s adorable! He loves the movie so much! He sings along with the songs!) and it reminded me of a scene from the original “Odd Couple” show. The plot is, Felix objects at the wedding of Oscar’s ex-wife, and Oscar is pretty steamed about it, because it means he’ll have to keep paying her alimony. The scene goes something like this:

Felix: “What are you watching?”

Oscar: “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Felix: “How is it?”

Oscar: “Great. Seven weddings and no one’s objected.”

The comic timing is wonderful, as I remember it from about 40 years ago, but possibly the main reason this stuck in my head is… well, it’s wrong. There are only two weddings in the movie.

Anyway, this square choice is a little like that. There are three Las Vegas weddings, so presumably three proposals.  So I’m using it for this square, even though we don’t actually see any of them. And you can’t stop me.

Oh, the book? I enjoyed it very much, though it was heavy on the sex scenes for my taste. Likable, relatable characters, which is not something I can say about most New Adult romance. There are strong, believable issues without a lot of overdone angst.

November: Her Enemy at the Altar by Virginia Heath

“Only when he threw them open, and felt the biting November air rush into the room, did he feel that he could breath.”

This had terrific potential. Connie and Aaron are forced to marry after being caught in a compromising position, even though not only are their families feuding, but he won her personal enmity by giving her a nasty nickname several years previously. Both characters hide behind masks — his charm, hers indifference — and both suffer from feelings of inadequacy. (Aaron also has PTSD from the war.) The strong elements never quite coalesced into a really good story, though. Connie is very irritatingly self-righteous — though she does improve and get a sweet redemption by the end — and their incessant internal loathing monologues got tiresome.

I was also frequently thrown out of the story by modern sounding phrases. Sadly, my library no longer subscribes to the OED, so I couldn’t check on their accuracy but as a general rule, I think it’s better not to have your historical romance heroine think in phrases that belong on a t-shirt (“Now that he had been there and done that…”)

My Hands Are Tied: The Sanchez Tradition by Anne Mather. The hero feels he has to deal with other responsibilities before speaking to the heroine about their relationship, creating the perfect opportunity for an evil relative to create a Big Misunderstanding. Part of my Harlequin Read.

Hahaha: The Return of the Di Sione Wife by Caitlin Crews. There were a few witty remarks amidst the angst of this story, but what really made me laugh snarkily was the heroine’s remarkably smart, cutting, and HP-atypical reaction to the hero’s dreadful behavior. Excellent betrayal story.

Undone: The Greek’s Nine-Month Redemption by Maisy Yates.  The hero and heroine have completely undone each other since they became step-sibs as teens.

A good effort to flesh out a tired plot, but the old-skool/new skool balance felt off in this one. Lots of pain and roaring revenge that kind of got pissed away. And I hate stories in which a good conflict is derailed by pregnancy — though that’s entirely my own fault, since they made it extremely clear it was going to be that kind of story! (Not only the title, but I read it as part of a collection called “One Night With Consequences,” for goodness sake! But it’s easy to forget stuff like that on an ereader.) I did like the tough but insecure heroine.

Dare: Dark, Wild Night by Christina Lauren. Two best friends are madly in love with each other. But will they DARE?

I remember DNFing this in print — probably because the above scenario tends to irritate me — but the audiobook was recommended to me by a rare person who shares my narrator tastes. And the narrators were indeed very good, especially the man voicing Oliver’s sexy Australian accent.

But I don’t think the narrators made the book — I think the characters did. Lola is a rare heroine, an introverted, creative artist. Geeky Oliver is a more typical Beta hero, but with the difference that he’s a bit dom-mish, and I enjoyed that unusual combo.

Cords: For the Love of Sara by Anne Mather. My goodness, did Mather love her some corduroy. The hero is mentioned several times as wearing corded pants and the heroine also has “a pair of close-fitting corded velvet jeans in an unusual shade of green.” Purty!

A Tempting Stranger: A Dangerous Man by Candace Camp. My TBR challenge read.

Captive: Comfort and Joy by Joanna Chambers, Harper Fox, L.B. Gregg, and Josh Lanyon.

There’s both a literal and a figurative captive in “Out” by Harper Fox, which features an agoraphobic hotel worker who never leaves the premises, and is consequently being exploited by his boss. Great idea for a story, but it felt too rushed.

Good Greek Girl: The Heiress Bride by Lynne Graham.

I went looking for a good Greek girl and found a rather interesting one. I’m not sure what you’d call Ione, technically, since she was adopted from England, but she was “raised to be a dutiful Greek daughter” and realizes in the end that she “could not think of herself as anything other than Greek or a Gakis” — despite the fact that her father was horribly abusive and only adopted her in a ghastly and misguided attempt to improve her adoptive mother’s fertility. It’s a hell of a backstory; unfortunately the rest of the book is same old/same old Harlequin Presents and doesn’t live up to it.

Suit Up: Scandal’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing. (Julia Ross)

“‘Must we always meet when our clothes are so bedraggled?'”

Going for the ironic choice here, since the hero and heroine keep encountering each other while covered in mud. There’s also a fair bit of dressing down to mingle with the common folk while trying to solve a tiresome mystery. I’m glad this series is now in ebook, since I’d only read one before, but this is not her best.

EntangledA Right Honorable Gentleman by Courtney Milan.  The hero knows he can’t ethically seduce his governess… but he can’t let her go, either. This is so short I barely feel like I read it. Love the older woman who’s very sure of her own worth and gives her boss what for, but they needed and deserved more page time.

Queen: Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen.

“Leo had treated Georgia like a queen until the day she’s broken his heart.” (No, this doesn’t mean he starts treating her like shit after!) Also, they were homecoming king and queen. And she is now the queen of PR. And they take the subway to Queens. There were literally four pages of queen references in this book!

There was some very effective sequel baiting for this story in The Fifteenth Minute. (See the “Scandalous” square.) Basically, Leo and Georgia were madly in love as teens. Then Georgia was raped. Leo took the utmost care of her until she broke up with him when they started college, saying she wanted a clean start. Here we get more of the story, which is that Georgia felt Leo’s love had dissolved into pity and misery. When they’re reunited she… painfully slowly… discovers how wrong she was.

I started out loving the fact that this was a book featuring a rape survivor which is not primarily about that. Georgia has gotten help and moved on; she is cautious, but no longer traumatized. So I was kind of bummed when it turned out she hadn’t had sex with anyone since the rape. It’s written as a classic romance heroine “I just didn’t want anyone but you” scenario, but I call bullshit.

Overall, the story was nice enough but not as strong as the build-up to it. Leo is typical uxorious-type hero, Georgia is typical career-focused-type heroine; I never found either of them that interesting. The ending is quite good though, focusing on the unexpressed trauma that Leo and Georgia’s father had each felt over the rape; both of them had helped her without ever realizing they needed some help themselves. I wouldn’t want to read an entire book about that situation, for obvious reasons, but it worked here.

Moving toward the light: Shadows at Sunset by Anne Stuart. Reread. I was going to put this in “suit up,” for the reference to the hero’s “California Armani,” but there is literal moving towards the light. An intense contemporary gothic, with very sweet secondary romances.

1996: The One and Only by Carole Mortimer. Yay for the internet… it took only a few minutes to find a Harlequin Presents published in 1996. I should perhaps have spent a little more time trying to find a good one. Lots of dumb misunderstandings and bickering. And the title rubs me the wrong way, because the hero was a widower who’d been happily married. Which is fine — I’m not a romance reader who insists a character have never loved before — but titling the book that really puts a laser focus on the heroine’s virginity.

Soulless: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling. In which we discover Voldemort’s huge secret. No, this is not a spoiler.

Scandalous: The Fifteenth Minute by Sarina Bowen.

“I’m a guy with nothing to offer her except scandal.”

I’m honestly grateful I’d forgotten this book is problematic — and I agree with all of Kaetrin’s points — because I’ve been having such a hard time reading lately and I was up all night finishing it on November 7th. I have to give huge props for how engaging it is (though I think it lost steam at the end… or maybe that was me.) Very endearing characters, sweetly falling in love, and I liked how genuinely young they seemed. One minor annoyance: both hero and heroine are short (short hero for the win!) and his nickname for her is “smalls.” Which to a historical romance reader such as myself sounds like he’s calling her underwear.

Flirt: The Flaw in Raffaele’s Revenge by Annie West.

“‘Don’t what?’

Don’t flirt. She didn’t know how. Had no experience of it. Which made this game he played even more cruel.”

This has a theme I’ve always found very tiresome — the character who has a physical flaw she’s extremely self-conscious about, and the hero who’s the only one who can see behind this ghastly imperfection and make her feel beautiful. In this case, it’s somewhat redeemed by the hero asserting it’s the heroine’s defensiveness that have kept men away, not her scarred face — but this is still not a great disability narrative. A decent read, aside from that. I appreciated that the hero brought himself out of poverty initially through modeling and then investing the money he earned, rather than the magic rags-to-tycoon in an improbably short time that we so often see in Harlequin Presents heroes.

Marsh mallow: The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian. Cynical underworld Robin Hood Jack Turner turns into a total marshmallow when faced with the sweet charm of gentleman Oliver Rivington. Some strong characterizations and a swoony romance, though I thought the plotting lacked focus and oomph. I didn’t get invested in the mystery plot, which felt like a McGuffin, and that helped dissipate the impact of the ending.

Bosoms: Virtue’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing. Reread. I had hoped to go with f/f for this square but I don’t usually read it and I’m too stressed to seek out anything new right now. This book earned the square for going beyond the usual traditional Regency closed door and actually getting in some boob action — which is nice, because writing gorgeous sensual love scenes was really Ewing/Ross’s strength. Virtue’s reward indeed!

Navy: A Lost Love by Carole Mortimer. This is another that would work especially nicely in “Suit Up” (hero: “Do you have any idea what it’s like to have to be impeccably dressed all the time?”) but there are several mentions of of navy colored clothes. Huzzah for the ereader search function.

A highly implausible plot leads to a rather thoughtful and highly emotional reunion story.

Flower Boy: Pansies by Alexis Hall.

“‘Hey,’ he whispered, breaking the kiss. ‘Hey, you smell of flowers.'”

(Usual disclaimer: the author is an online friend.)

There was a lot going on in this story, perhaps too much, including an unusually serious look at one of my favorite romance tropes: former bully and bull-ee. But what tickled me the most is that it’s a “character returns from big city to small town” story but with an English town. An ugly, provincial place full of bigots, that’s like “being stuck in the seventies.” That also happens to be home.

BTW, I literally had this internal conversation:

“I feel like reading Pansies. But I really should start In the Midnight Rain, because I need it for the “Flower Boy” square… wow, am I an idiot.”

Awakened: Twist of Fate by Charlotte Lamb. Reread. The heroine’s mother is extremely narcissistic, and has tried to keep her a child. Interesting story that explores some unusual themes.

vintage: The Hollow by Agatha Christie. Oldie and goodie, one of her best.

Also read (or not):

Crosstalk by Connie Willis. DNF’d at 19%.  A romantic comedy that isn’t the slightest bit romantic or funny. There are about 500 characters and I hated every one.

School Ties by Tamsen Parker. DNF. I hardly gave this a fair shot, but it struck me as simultaneously creepy and dull.



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