A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

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.



The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #8

Harlequin Presents  #8:  The Sanchez Tradition by Anne Mather


I’m having trouble making this cover illustration out — are those scenes of local color in the heroine’s hair? Quite beautiful otherwise, though. I don’t know if it always looked so delicate and romantically faded, but like the book itself, it’s worn pretty well.

Most Memorable Line:

“There was a refrigerated cabinet for drinks, hi-fi equipment, and a portable Japanese television set.”

The world depicted in Harlequin Presents usually bears no resemblance to any I ever knew, but this actually brought up a sense of zeitgeist. 🙂

I was a little surprised that the recent digitizing of Anne Mather’s backlist went this far back… but aside from a touch of casual racism, and Andre yanking Rachel by her hair, (!) this hasn’t aged badly at all. Its primary difference from more recent HPs is the closed bedroom door, the large cast of characters, and the heroine’s constanting smoking. (Don’t worry, she cuts back when pregnant!)

The romance is one of those tumultuous relationships in which the hero is controlling and the heroine is childish, and they never really work out their problems, but there’s a sense of underlying passion that keeps it interesting.


TBR Challenge: A Dangerous Man by Candace Camp

The theme: A historical romance.

Why this one?: I’d like to say it was for biting social commentary, but I literally picked the first book off one of my many piles.

I almost gave up Candace Camp forever after reading Suddenly, a mediocre rip-off of Heyer’s The Convenient Marriage. It’s perhaps inevitable that she would also have had a stab at Faro’s Daughter — those two seem to be Heyer’s most imitated books — but in this case, that was more of a jumping off point; there’s quite a different plot and characters. Although not up to Camp’s most powerful work, it turned out to be a undemanding, entertaining read… just the sort of easily digested story I needed right now.

Anthony, Lord Neale, is really not looking forward to having to meet with his nephew’s widow, Eleanor. The first time he saw her — a failed attempt to buy her off — his attraction was immediate and unsettling. But his sister Honoria insists there was something sinister about her son’s death, so Anthony is forced to investigate. Oddly enough, his silly, selfish sister is not wrong.

My favorite part of the book was Eleanor. Although in some ways a historical heroine cliche — philanthropic, open-minded, fiercely protected by her devoted servants, and… something else I won’t mention, but which you’ll likely quickly guess — she’s also a smart, independent person. And it’s not just that everyone says she is — she actually is. Anthony is less distinctive, but a perfectly adequate hero, and there’s good chemistry between them.

There’s a mystery involved that’s pretty well done, and a satisfactory secondary cast, including several POC (albeit in small roles.) My biggest complaint is how many things are left hanging. The hero is cynical about beautiful women because of something dark in his family’s past that is only alluded to, never explained. A secondary romance is started and then the characters are sent off to safety, never to be heard from again. No one even mentions the potential scandal/weirdness of a man marrying his nephew’s widow. And the relationship is shafted by the mystery.

It certainly could have been a better book. But as a way to pass time that is extremely hard to pass right now, it made me happy.


The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #148

I’m hopelessly out of order at this point, but oh well. I keep getting stuck on The Hawk and the Dove, which will never download from Open Library for me. (I’ve checked it out at least 3 times.) But a lot of ancient Anne Mather books have now been digitized, so I may backtrack.

Harlequin Presents #148 – For the Love of Sara by Anne Mather


I kind of love this cover. The heroine looks like she has a terrible headache, and by God, she deserves one.

Best Line:

“Where’s Greece?”

“Sara, I told you. It’s a long, long way away, where the sun shines all the time.”

“I don’t want the sun to shine all the time.”

For the Love of Sara was published about 3 years after the first Harlequin Presents but it’s like another world. Virginity is still a hot button — heh — and sex is only in the past, but the whole tone of the story is different. It actually starts off with the hero’s point of view, though it does drop it later to keep things suspenseful (a trick that still happens in some HPs.)

Mather tended to be an envelope pusher, which is great in theory but in practice often ends up being fairly icky. This definitely scores high on the ick scale, with the heroine engaged to the father of her former lover and the grandfather of her child. Talk about bad parents — apparently that’s how much dear old dad wanted to score off his son. Another way in which this book is different is that the hero’s father is considerably worse than the Evil Other Woman, who actually isn’t all that bad. And there’s a well drawn, far from angelic child character.

The book on the whole is thoughtful and intriguing, which perhaps makes it worse that the heroine stunk up the whole thing.  I was seriously tempted to change my “heroine needs a kick in the pants” tag to “heroine needs to be thrown through a plate-glass window.” However, this is a very tense time in our lives, so I’ll try to keep it sane.

But seriously, what an awful, dislikable person Rachel is. I’m not generally upset by secret baby stories, but Rachel is so obviously at fault here, and so damn stubborn for so long.


— She kept her pregnancy secret from Joel, and continues to distrust him and try to push him away, despite his interest in getting to know his child.

— Rachel is marrying James because he’s promised to donate a kidney to Sara. She assumes that if the operation is not successful, she won’t have to go through with the marriage. (Hey, dude still gave up his kidney!) Later when he asks if she was thinking about changing her mind about marriage after the operation, she’s indignant to be asked.

— After Rachel has an old skool fall — from running away from Joel while refusing to listen to what he’s actually saying — and requires surgery, her main freak out is about her head being shaved.

Joel is no saint, mind you, especially when he mocks Rachel for insisting that just because she was a virgin when they had sex, he should marry her. Though it is fairly mockworthy, for 1975. But he takes responsibility for his behavior, which is more than Rachel ever does.

So — not a bad book, but I kind of wish Joel had just sued for custody and never had to deal with Rachel again.

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October in Book Bingo


Recurring themes of the month: Main characters whose siblings get married to their exes. Ambiguity. Characters being killed off so their loves will get new romances. (Ew.) Small heroines with big heroes. Jewish characters. Children being kidnapped. (Ack!) References to “Top Gun.” Organized crime bosses. Romance heroes who would be considered abusers in real life. Childhood sweethearts. Water sex. Homicidal mania. “Me” titles. “Girl” titles. Pittsburgh, again. High school boys with odd social roles. Characters who were adopted. Widows, virgin or otherwise. First books in series. The name Voldemort.

The horror… The horror…: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. The main character and his friend like to remake movies, including “Apocalypse Now.”


I have mixed feelings about this book. It was funny, and had moving moments, but its frequent self-conscious meta asides about not being one of those profound YA books about cancer got really old. (They might work better in print than audio, but reviews seem to indicate not.) And the portrayal of Earl made me uncomfortable — he came off as a magical Negro, and he’s totally shafted.

Turtle: Leave Me by Gayle Forman.

This would also work well in “Blossom,” but I like the metaphor of the main character retreating into her shell and then slowly emerging.

(Holy crap! I wrote the above before finishing the book, and just opened it up and read, “when she and Jason got into a fight, this was exactly what he did: became a turtle, all hard shell.” BONUS.

I started out finding this really upsetting, and ending up finding it heartwarming.

October: Asperger’s From the Inside Out by Michael John Carley. Because it took me all October to struggle through this book. Not that it’s bad! I have kind of a block about autism books of the “helping kind (as opposed to, say, fiction or autobiography) and there wasn’t much here that was new to me. I’ll save it for my son. Though his block is worse even than mine.

From Beyond the Grave: Return to Me by Shannon McKenna.

I chose this square name, and I was envisioning a book in which characters are brought together because of a will. It turned out to be more apt than I figured, because the plot is driven by a letter from a dead man… and there are also ghostly visitations. My TBR Challenge read.

Spring: Sting by Sandra Brown. They have to spring someone out of jail — I won’t say who. Prime Brown romantic suspense with great twists.

Power Failure: The Rich Man’s Whim by Lynne Graham. A perfect square because every time the book comes close to possibly being interestingly dramatic, it pulls its punches. It’s like reading The Little Engine That Could going “I think I can, I think I can… nah, it’s a bad idea, better forget about it.”

Head: The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev. Ria’s mother and grandmother were both severely mentally ill, and she spends a lot of time in her own head, freaking out.

I didn’t get the love for Dev’s first book, which I remember as kind of twee, but this one caught me with its intensity. There are some problematic aspects — Miss Bates’s comparison to Jane Eyre is apt — but the combo of angst and strong writing can’t be beat.

Fester: Unforgiven by Mary Balogh. I had planned to use this square for The Hating Game — and then I noticed “Death Stare.” No contest! Anyway, Unforgiven is the ultimate in festering resentment. These are some seriously bitter people.

Signed sealed delivered: Galgorithm by Aaron Karo. Dorky boys, your time has come — Shane’s technique will get you the girl of your dreams, signed, sealed, delivered.

I started this audiobook right after The Girl Before (see directly below) and it was almost terrible timing. Nothing like a book about sex trafficking to make you really, really not in the mood to read about a junior PUA. I kept going because Shane’s character seemed genuinely good-hearted — his goal is to get boys into happy relationships, not get them sex — and I was glad I did, because it’s not the book it initially appears. Also, the secondary character of the bully who has two moms and will threaten you for not recycling was straight out of Gordon Korman, which made me happy.

Whitewash: The Girl Before by Rena Olsen.

Note: all the trigger warnings for this book. It’s not very explicit, but scary and upsetting af. The best you can say is I don’t think any dogs die.

My initial thought for this square was that it fit because the ugliness of Clara’s life has been whitewashed/prettied up but then I realized it fits even better than that… because the villains have convinced her to do some of their dirty work for them. Tom Sawyer would be shocked.

This is a very compelling psychological thriller about extreme Stockholm syndrome, and the ability to use our minds to deceive ourselves. It’s not that plausible and has some plot holes, but I was glued to my mp3 player. (An excellent narrator helped.)

But then I thought about the game: Talk of the Town by Beth Andrews. The hero is a hocky player who generally puts the game — winning and security — before his daughter.

This is an ambitious, interesting romance. Both main characters have messed up badly in different ways; both earn sympathy and forgiveness. But there’s so much bad feeling between them that much of the book was a tough slog.

Campus Life: Winning Back His Wife, by Gwen Hayes and Zoe York. The characters originally fall in love at summer camp, and then meet again as college students. Though as the book starts, they’re on the verge of divorce. Not especially memorable but nice lead in to a series  — they buy the camp to run it for adults.

Delight: The Secret Life of the American Musical by Jack Viertel. I have to put this in the “delight” square, because not only is it a delight to read, but it’s about delight, and how it’s created in a musical show.

BEER: Another Man’s Wife by Dallas Schulze.

“You might be surprised what a man will do for a cold beer on a hot day.”

A widow and her husband’s best friend fall in love irritatingly slowly. Pleasant enough, but meh. Very little real conflict.

Death Stare: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. What Lucy and her much-hated coworker Josh give each other every day.

I absolutely loved this, but it’s not for everyone. More at Heroes and Heartbreakers.

78: Castelli’s Virgin Widow by Caitlin Crews. Heroine was married to a dude old enough to be her grandfather, but young enough to be the father of the hero. (Which, in fact, he was. But it’s okay, ’cause like the title says, virgin widow.) I unilaterally declare dude to have been 78.

I am really liking these new Harlequin Presents! This is an updating of the classic “hero thinks she’s a gold-digging whore but she’s really a virgin,” always a fav. The main update is that Kathryn has a lot of backbone and doesn’t put up with Luca’s crap (though still unable to resist his punishing kisses), but I also liked the bit of a twist that she married Luca’s father not as a family martyr but to escape from a lifetime of being one. Luca is far less sympathetic but the intensity of his feelings let me forgive him. The resolution of the conflict was too abrupt and those seeking a grovel will be disappointed.

Spawning: Brothers in Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold. I am chortling with glee over the perfection of this square choice. I don’t want to spoil the book but (metaphorical and otherwise) versions of Miles are spawning all over the place.

Dutch Oven: Didn’t find anything. #SorryNotSorry

SLIT: The Young Blood by Erin Satie.

“She narrowed her eyes down to slits and hunched closer to the rails.”

Lovely writing, strong characters, and a genuine unprincipled rake for a starchy heroine to reform while she gets unstarched. Excellent in many ways, but I found the pacing off — not that it was dull, but it kept switching from leisurely to fast-moving in jarring ways.

Wild thingFly With Me by Chanel Cleeton.  Heroine has relatives on her case about relationships, implying she’s “too wild” to settle down.

Not really my kind of book — sex, sex and more sex — but I was grabbed by the heroine’s sassy narrative and the hero’s uncomplicated admiration for her. The unexpected sadness of the end was moving. But I didn’t buy the heroine as a potential strong and long-suffering military wife, given her high-maintenance freakout when her boyfriend simply grew a mustache without warning her.

BlurMarried for Amari’s Heir by Maisey Yates.

(There’s a line about blurring, but I returned the book before remembering to quote it.)

Kind of like a Harlequin Presents version of Dragon Bound (which I always saw as a paranormal romance version of The Hobbit.) The hero is Smaug guarding his treasure — for emo HP reasons, of course — and seeking revenge. The heroine is Bilbo, daring to steal from him —  for emo HP reasons, of course — and then having to deal with his wrath. I enjoyed how blunt she was, even snarky at times, and there’s an unusually realistic (for an HP) discussion of their potential shortcomings as good parents. Topped off with a nice redemption for them both. Note: the heroine is apparently not white. We’re never actually told what her racial background is, but her skin is frequently compared to coffee, so we’ll know. Sigh.

In decent: Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker. An excellent square for this story about a BDSM relationship between two Orthodox Jews, which is very much about public modesty, private needs, and personal choices. It’s more on the SM side than I personally enjoy, and the relationship develops kind of abruptly, but the juxtaposition of religious faith and submission was fascinating.

BLOSSOM: The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife by Annie West

“He tried to match the clever, avaricious schmer with the woman of simple tastes. The woman who’d flowered before his eyes with just a little care and attention.”

Reread of one of my favorite fabulous wallbangers.

Legend…: Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie. On the scent of a  murderer in a small village, our detective pretends to be studying old legends and superstitions.

This was an odd reread because it turned out to have been published in America in its edited serial magazine form, like The Moving Finger, and I kept being startled by the parts I didn’t remember. Unlike that book, I didn’t think the original was significantly better than the one I was used to. (I cherish my British copy of The Moving Finger!)

stripped: Almost a Gentleman by Pam Rosenthal. The heroine (ha! I originally wrote “hero”) has two personas, and stipping away her male clothes to reveal her female self is very emotionally significant.

More about it at Heroes and Heartbreakers.

Also read (or not):

Five, Six, Seven, Nate by Tim Federle. DNF. Didn’t have the exuberance or high stakes of the first book… seemed to just be about a chaotic group of eccentrics.

A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James. DNF. Interesting premise, but very unfunny banter.

Falling for the Enemy by Dawn Stewardson. DNF. Hero works for the mob boss who kidnaps the heroine’s son. I figured he had a good reason, but I had trouble getting past that premise and the book didn’t especially grab me in any way.

The Invisible Orientation by Julie Sondra Decker. Very thorough, dense discussion of asexuality, yet I still don’t feel I entirely understand it. I could use a specific definition of “sexual attraction” and apparently that’s a hotly debated point.

Change of Heart by Sonali Dev. DNF. Ironically enough, I only read The Bollywood Bride because I was interested in this, but it was simultaneously too dark and too soppy for me, and unlike the previous book, the prose didn’t seem noteworthy.

Adulting 101 by Lisa Henry. DNF. Fun style, but I could not get past a 25 year old guy who’s traveled the world getting involved with an 18 year old virgin who still lives with his parents. Read some Dan Savage, dude, learn the campsite rules at least.



TBR Challenge: Return to Me by Shannon McKenna

The theme: Paranormal or Romantic Suspense

Why this one: continuing my October tradition of using a McKenna book to kill two themes with one stone , though the paranormal aspect here is very minor. Believe me, I’m not complaining. (It’s a nice Halloweeny sort of title and cover, too. I’m going to use it for my “from beyond the grave” Shallowreader Bingo square.)


A sweet, domestic, “classy” heroine and a bad boy who knows he’s not good enough for her… pretty typical McKenna fare. This was a little different in that Simon and Ellen were childhood friends and had lost their virginities to each other — right before he ran away. Now he’s back in town, still hated by everyone, and afraid that he is much too cursed to be part of Ellen’s life. (The mild paranormal element is Simon’s clairvoyant feelings of dread and occasional ghostly visitations.)

Also typical for McKenna, Simon is somewhat physically controlling, pushy, and untrustworthy. He would have “danger: potential abuser” signs written all over him in real life. In a book, Ellen stands up to him pretty well and frequently calls on him on his bullshit; I wound up liking her character more than his. The darkness is lightened somewhat by cute, down-to-earth moments between them:

“He leaned forward, kissing the tops of her thighs, and ellen pulled out the elastic tie that held his hair. She spread it over his muscular back and stroked it.

He peered up impatiently through the tangled dark veil and shoved it behind his ears. “El, give me my hair thing back,” he complained. Oral sex is tough to do with your hair all over the place.

She threw the hair tie across the room. ‘Cope,’ she said.”

We always know who the bad guy is, which I found a little disappointing; there doesn’t wind up being a whole lot of suspense, just a few awful scenes. There’s also a refreshing secondary romance between the town “bad girl” and the rich boy who threw her over — she really makes him work for it — and of course, lots of juicy sex.


September in Book Bingo part 2

Recurring themes of the month: Heroes who get shot protecting their heroines. Voluptuous Latina heroines. (Could we please have a flat-chested Latina heroine sometime? Or literally any other body type?) Romance between colleagues. Villains with narcissistic personality disorder. Really good cooks. (Useful for this month!) Heroines with “masculine” nicknames. Heroines who think they’re plain. Southern accents. Abusive/downright evil parents. “Other side of the tracks” romance. Interfering fathers. Secret couples caught at high school dances. Theater. “Awakenings.” Pittsburgh. Chubby Jewish teenage boys. (Aww.) References to Pride and Prejudice. Unions (pro and anti.) Video games (pro and anti.) Fighting against isolationism. Manhoods, presumably throbbing. Recommendations from #ownvoices chat on Twitter. Recommendations from friends, with mixed results.


Christmas Gifts *wink wink nudge nudge: Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran.

“Lucas. Two years, I’ve waited. Will you keep me waiting longer? Or will you give me my gift?”

Reunion novella set during a Christmas houseparty. It was a very nice gift indeed.

This is a pretty good story, especially if you like a serious bluestocking heroine, but more conventional/samey than I expect from Duran.

Do You Remember: Inherited by Ferranti by Kate Hewitt.

“You undid me, with your loveliness. I was caught from the moment I saw you, at your father’s palazzo. Do you remember? You were standing in the drawing room, wearing a pink dress. You looked like a rose.”

There wasn’t a lot going on in this story, but I liked the strong emotions. Pining hero for the win.

September: Craving Jamie by Emma Darcy.

“His skin was warm, despite the coolness of the September evening. How did he transmit the electric vibrancy that was racing through her?”

A Harlequin Present version of the classic “childhood sweethearts” tearjerker romance.

A Woman in Her Prime: Mayday by Oliva Dade. (Usual disclaimer: author is a friend.) 35 year old virgin finally gets her long-time crush into bed… and it’s TERRIBLE. (Let’s hear it for her getting it on with another guy to try to wipe the memory out of her mind.) Then he has to win her back and make up for it. This hit my sweet spot, because it had pain as well as laughter.

Balance: On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis.

I decided fairly early on that this book would get the “balance” square, because I thought there was excellent balance in the portrayal of an autistic person in an emergency situation. She’s freaked out and having a really hard time but she’s also contributing. By the end of the book though, I realized that the whole point is it shouldn’t matter–that people don’t need to be useful to be valuable. I’ll still leave it in this square, in appreciation of a depiction of autism that isn’t either super powers or tragedy. This is why we need #ownvoices. More random thoughts.

Where There’s a Will: Carides Forgotten Bride by Maisy Yates. Romance manipulated from beyond the grave, mwah ha ha ha ha!

This seemed like a fairly standard amnesia story, with way too much naval gazing… and then it got interesting. I actually reviewed it at GoodReads (something I almost never do any more unless it’s for an ARC) because I was so irked at reviewers who will happily read heroes who’ve had more lovers than hot dinners, as long as there are no unpleasant consequences for their actions. If you like old skool HP intensity but aren’t fond of old skool rapey-ness or brutality, give this one a try.

Taming of the Shrew: The Awakening by Jude Deveraux. A REVERSE-SHREW! My tbr challenge book.

BIRTH DAY: Downtown Devil by Cara McKenna.

“If you’re there, God, hear my birthday wish: Give me just three hours alone with that man and I’ll die a grateful woman.”

I didn’t read this straight through, so I’m not sure how much is fair to say about it. Also, it’s hard to articulate my complaints without spoilers. Basically, I was not buying the story’s premise, and then I read a spoiler which made me feel that the writing was very manipulative. However, since I didn’t read the entire thing, I may not have gotten nuances that would have changed my opinion.

You Complete Me: The Way Home by Linda Howard. Not exactly the most psychologically healthy relationship.

Twenty Fifth: Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas. I got a yen to reread this old fav (the only contemporary Kleypas I really love) just as my husband and I were leaving on a trip, so it turned out to be the book I read on our 25th anniversary. 🙂 To make it even more appropriate, Hardy calls Haven “brown-eyed girl”; one of my husband’s favorite memories from our wedding is dancing to that.

Coupling: The Object of the Game by Vanessa James.

“…she leapt into the bath, leaned back luxuriantly, propped her copy of Couplings on the soap tray and prepared to read. She stayed there quite a long time, her eyes growing rounder and wider as she read on…”

Almost any book I read could fit this square, but how perfect is that?

Gush: The Italian Millionaire’s Virgin Wife by Diana Hamilton. Much gush about the hero’s hotness.

Swooning: Merry Christmas by Emma Darcy.

Well, I haz a sad. I wanted this square for a book that made me swoon, even if just metaphorically. Instead I had to go for a swooning woman in a book I DNF’d with extreme prejudice. If there’s one thing I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate, it’s the trope of “selfish or otherwise terrible adoptive parents conveniently die so the adopted child’s REAL parents can get the child.” Not even amnesia could make me finish this. (The hero’s amnesia, that is.)

Naked Truth: Shrill by Lindy West. Audiobook.

This was the perfect square for this book, because it’s true and it’s raw. I really admire how West writes about the importance of body positivity and fat acceptance while not being afraid to show the many ways in which being fat in a fat-hating world has affected her emotionally and psychologically.

You’re History: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs. “You’re history” is a message that Adam’s ex-wife has not quite gotten.

I was putting off reading this one because it sounded uncomfortable — and it was. The dynamic with the ex-wife taking over and Mercy being all put upon… she came across as a real Mercy-Sue.

69: Never Let Go by Deborah Smith.

Why is this older Loveswept reissue in the “69” square? I have no idea! I went to Overdrive, searched on “69” and almost 10,000 romances came up. I went with this one because it looked chock full of betrayal.

It was a fairly fun read, but hasn’t aged all that well. Lots of mockery of country stereotypes… perhaps meant to be fond, but it didn’t feel that way to me. I enjoyed the angst — though the heroine’s actual innocence made very little sense — and there was some cute banter. This turned out to be a sequel to another book featuring the same couple, but I didn’t feel lost.

Somewhere Around the Corner: This Side of Home by Renee Watson.

This square seemed appropriate for a story about a neighborhood, and also about people who spend a lot of time thinking about their futures. Set in a traditionally black Portland neighborhood that’s becoming gentrified, it’s a poignant YA coming-of-age story narrated by Maya, who coping with a lot of change in her life: her identical twin sister Nikki has developed different interests, their best friend was forced to move, their new high school principal is pandering to white parents… and she’s falling for a white boy. There’s sadness and painful themes, but also hope for Maya’s community, depicted in prose that’s beautiful and accessible. (Romance fans, take note: though there’s a romantic element, it’s not a genre romance.)

Ravish: Awakened By Her Desert Captor by Abby Green. Kidnapped by a Sheikh, dude!

HATE: Shifting Shadows by Patricia Briggs. There’s much hatred in this collection of stories, usually because someone was turned into a paranormal being against their will.

These are good stories — including the wonderful “Alpha and Omega” and a very poignant vampire/ghost story — but the grouping makes the similarities of themes very obvious. I’d recommended reading in small bites.

Cool Dude: Looking for Group by Alexis Hall. Self-aware and self-accepting 19 year old Kit is who I want to be when I grow up.

This was a NetGalley arc, so I reviewed it for GoodReads.

Flip Back: All I Am by Nicole Helm. Lots of flipping back and forth in this relationship.

Mixed feelings about this one. Both characters are very emo. But there were some fresh touches I liked, including a more realistic than usual initiation for a virgin hero.

HOME cooking: The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux. Heroine is a chef who “can make dirt and rocks taste good.”

This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice was a recommendation from the awesome Janet W, so I’m sad that I really, really didn’t like it. 😦 It got up my nose so much, I’m not sure there’s even any point in detailing the things I didn’t like, though I will anyway:

— So, so many characters, with complicated relationships. And many are related to Deveraux’s other long-running families,  because of course they are.

— Nobody notices any resemblance between Pride and Prejudice and the events actually happening in the story until near the end.  Even though each character is playing the role in a play version of P&P that they play in the retelling, including sometimes using similar dialogue.

— Tate, the Darcy, is basically perfect. He does absolutely nothing wrong. How can this be a Pride and Prejudice story if it ignores one of the most basic themes?

— There were many scenes of described action, which seemed intended to seen in a visual medium rather than read, and they were extremely dull. It didn’t help that Deveraux’s prose style is not well suited to audio; it has a very bland rhythm. Towards the end, I actually got so bored I switch to print. At least it went faster.

One positive point: I did like the modern interpretation of Lydia, which really brought out the awfulness of what happened to her in the original story. “Lizzie Bennet’s Diary” did it better, though.

Pillow Talk: September Morning by Diana Palmer. Meh. Very irritating hero constantly blows hot and cold. But Palmer does write a nice sex scene, even when there’s no sex.

Subtle: Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. 13 year old musicals geek Nate doesn’t feel remotely ready to have a sexual orientation yet — “I am a freshman at the College of Sexuality and I have undecided my major” — yet somehow this sort of thing keeps happening to him:

“out he comes from the bedroom, wearing pajama bottoms and — oh how funny — no shirt.”

It’s like Nate is living this scene from “Community.”


Jokes aside, I loved this book. Nate’s search for freedom to be himself, and his appreciation of the wonders of New York — “Everything is so flipping jubilant here” — made me laugh and cry and wish I had found a way to let my musicals geek shine when I was young.

Gamma: Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner

me: Can I justify “gamma” as the bingo square for a book about space flight?

hub: bit of a stretch, but there was a gamma rocket engine back in the early days of rocketry

me: good enough!

I would have enjoyed putting this one in “You’re history,” but this way I don’t have to worry all month about what definition of Gamma to use.

Terrific book! There’s nothing like a grumpy irascible hero who is totally ground to dust by a strong heroine. 🙂 The tension is excellent, and though the historical setting is important, it doesn’t overpower the romance.

Also read (or not):

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed. DNF. It’s not you, book, it’s me…  It’s a very important real life topic — forced marriage, and not the fun fantasy romance kind — but I read spoilers and just couldn’t face how the story was going to go.

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. DNF It’s not me, book, it’s you. Super cringey attempt at including diverse characters which includes white savior storyline.

The Cosy Teashop in the Castle by Caroline Roberts. DNF. Not my cuppa.

Carrying the King’s Pride by Jennifer Hayward. Another friend favorite that didn’t work for me.  The prose was awkward and I didn’t feel much connection between the characters.

The Unromantic Lady by Lucy Gordon. How many of my favorite category writers will turn out to have written Regencies under different names? This was originally written as Penelope Stratton.

Smoke and Secrets by Suleikha Snyder. Reunited lovers with secret babies — it’s like Harlequin Presents in Bollywood!

Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs.

Self-Reg by Stuart Shanker. Very interesting book about the factors affecting self-regulation. I wish it had more concrete ideas, however; just when I thought it was about to put forward a specific plan, it ended! Still, I picked up a lot of helpful information.



I’m rethinking doing the diverse romance challenge. No one has said anything negative to me, but I’m starting to feel uncomfortable with the bingo square format in this context. Am I overthinking?


TBR Challenge: The Awakening by Jude Deveraux

The theme: A random book.

Why this one: I was cleaning out my unread Deverauxs, feeling like the right time in my life to read them was past, but I could not resist the description of “a hot-blooded union organizer” hero. My grandpa would have been proud.

(Damn, I suppose I should’ve reached in the cabinet and pulled a book out at random? Too late now.)

The Awakening reminded me that the Deveraux books I’ve enjoyed the most have all been North American-set historicals… and that she thinks up some great stories. The setting of 1913 California is unusual enough, but when you add in the plight of migrant workers, it puts in some compelling history.

The romance plotline is compelling too, at least for much of the book. Hank Montgomery, an economics professor who works with unions, is invited to the Caulden family ranch in hopes he will soften towards their side in a brewing union battle. There he finds a truly weird set-up: Caulden’s wife is hidden away, and his daughter Amanda is subject to the strict rules and schedules of her tutor/fiance, who controls every aspect of her life, down to when and for how long she uses the bathroom. Obedient and adoring Amanda is instructed to entertain Hank and keep him on schedule, too.

It’s love at first sight for Hank — or maybe it would be, if Amanda wasn’t such a know-it-all prissy bore. For her part, Amanda is frustrated and upset with this man who uses the bathroom whenever he wants, insists on huge delicious meals, and makes her feel things that upset the way everything should be. Their interactions are romantically offbeat because a lot of the time they genuinely don’t like each other, yet they’re continually forced into intriguing intimacy. (Such as Hank having to brush Amada’s hair.)

Hank isn’t always a great guy here (though he usually recognizes when he’s messed up.) To be honest, none of the main characters behaves truly honorably — everybody cheats on everybody else — which I guess makes it sort of even out in the end.  Also, though basically a beta hero, Hank lives up to Willa’s law — so if you’re very sensitive about dubious consent and sexual coercion, avoid this one. Hank’s carefree bachelor sexual history is kind of irksome too; he seems to belong to the “nobody gets pregnant unless they have sex 24/7” school of thought. No wonder there were so many Montgomerys.

Even so, about two-thirds of the book felt fresh and captivating — but then the last third pissed away a lot of the tension. The plot meanders to keep things going, and the most action-filled moments in the book are written at a remove. Perhaps this is because, as the author’s note explains, Hank and his union organizing were based on a real person and actual events. The descriptions of the workers’ living conditions are vivid and sickening; it’s a shame the union plot aspects aren’t better integrated into the story.

Still, just having an older historical romance touch on how badly migrant workers were treated feels important to me. The genre has so many romantic Southern plantations and wealthy ranches — I just finished a Diana Palmer book in which the union organizers were the baddies —  that it’s good to see acknowledgement of the exploitation that often accompanies wealth. (Racism isn’t addressed, btw.) If you want a historical read that really isn’t the same old thing, this fits the bill in a number of ways.



Diverse Romance Challenge


(No one seems to have a problem with this, so I’m going to proceed as planned.)

This new challenge just started and will run til the end of the year. Since it’ll take awhile, I’m going to post now and update as I fill it in. I think I will also attempt to find “own voices” stories for as many of the squares as possible. Suggestions very welcome!


interracial: Hold Me by Courtney Milan. Hero’s ethnicity is Thai and Chinese, heroine’s is way back Latina. This also features a trans heroine, but I’m hoping to fill that box with an “own voices” square. (Which as far as I know, this isn’t.)

Latinx MC

Muslim MC

MC w/mental illness:

Desi MCSmoke and Secrets by Suleikha Snyder. (own voices)

The second book in the “Bollywood Confidential” is set in the same world as Spice and Smoke, with some recurring characters, but it’s a far more conventional genre romance. The two storylines could have come straight out a Harlequin Presents: one is about a betrayed ex-wife who fears to love again, the other is reunited lovers with a secret baby! And an Evil Other Woman tries to destroy both.The frequent references to Bollywood movies make this all kind of meta, but not in an annoying way. The main characters — Priya, “item girl,” and her former love, producer and actor Rahul, and Sunny, talk show hostess loved by Davey, her producer — are all awash in the Bollywood milieu and living a life right out of a romantic movie seems only natural.

Jewish MC: Craving Flight by Tamsen Parker. I don’t know if this is own voices, but it seems to be really well done. Clever, insightful juxtaposition of religious orthodoxy and kink.

Trans MC:

Physically disabled MC:


Diverse Historical:


Ownvoices: The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev. I’m hoping to get own voices books for as many squares as possible; since I already filled the “Desi MC” square, I’m putting this story here. Intense, angsty romance. It’s actually less about Bollywood than about first and second generation Indians living in America, and the immersive supporting detail is lovely.

Black MC: Tell Me Something Good by Jamie Wesley. (Own voices.) Fun opposite attracts romance about dueling radio hosts. She’s a relationship expert that’s all about feelings, he’s a good-time sports guy.

East Asian MC:

WOC in Romance:

Set outside US/UK

Full figured MC: Mayday by Olivia Dade.


Asexual MC:

Middle Eastern MC:

Poc on Cover:





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