A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

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

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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.

*Spoilers*

— 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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Gentle on My Mind by Susan Fox

After I wrote about The Heart of Christmas, SuperWendy recommended this as a story in which pregnancy options are given serious consideration. And curse you, Wendy, for turning me on to a new author! Like I needed that!

There will be some spoilers here, but nothing that’s not pretty guessable.

For a mainstream romance, this takes a few risks. The heroine Brooke is a recovering alcoholic, has bipolar disorder, is quite a bit older than the hero, was a terrible mom(!), and — rarest of all — is a grandmother! Although she got pregnant when she was 14, so she’s only a 43 year old grandmother. And did I get tired of hearing her talk about being a grandmother as if that meant she was never allowed to have sex again.

We meet her after she’s turned her life around and reestablished a relationship with her son. (The hero of Home on the Range.) Maintaining her sobriety, her mental health, and her respectability — in a town that expects her to fall off the wagon at any moment — is all important to her. And then a guy with a bullet in him crashes his motorcycle into her fence.

I’m not going to go much into the plot, which has a suspense element but isn’t really romantic suspense. The interesting part for me was, as Wendy mentioned, the fact that Brooke accidentally gets pregnant and actually spends some time pondering her options, especially in light of her need for medication. That’s very, very rare in romance — perhaps even more than a grandmother heroine — and I appreciated seeing it.

The story did get into some personal pet peeve territory. Despite all the risks that she’s well aware of — her age, her mental illness, having to go off her medication  — Brooke never really considers how she’ll cope with being a single mother except in the most general and rosy terms. For example, her plan is to take the baby to work with her. Leaving aside the fact that she works in a beauty salon, that is something that is just not going to work with every baby, especially if that baby turns out to have special needs.

I also laughed out loud when Brooke worries that Jake will be bored with her quiet life and he replies, “I bet it’s hard to be bored when there’s a kid around.” Oh sweet naivete…

But it’s quite an enjoyable story, and definitely not cookie cutter.

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TBR Challenge: Connal by Diana Palmer

Another year, another tbr challenge. I don’t think I’ve missed a month for the last two years! And my print TBR has definitely shrunk to what I find a manageable size, though it would probably still make the average person run screaming into the night. I really should figure out what would be a good tipping point at which I could give up my “print books only” rule.

The challenge: A short book.

Why this one: Since I’m going with print, I naturally veered toward category romance. I haven’t read Palmer in a while and her siren call of “older alpha male who treats the innocent heroine badly” was calling to me.

I have what I’ve described as a hate-hate relationship with Diana Palmer’s books. I generally think they’re dreadful; it’s quite a shock if I give one a rating higher than 2 stars. But they hit some very weird spot, and I have a few on my keeper shelf.

Connal is her usual formula: Innocent but feisty heroine who adores the much older, tall dark and hairy hero. (In this case, I think he’s only 8 years older — practically younger than her by Palmer standards.) Meanwhile he gaslights her in the traditional way of “c’mere c’mere c’mere, get away get away get away.” It’s less cringe-worthy than many later books in the mold because the heroine hasn’t been made completely downtrodden; she has a loving father, a nice home, and a sweet boyfriend. (Who will never get his own book, or if he does, will have been transmogrified into a complete Alphole.)

The conflict is that Connal goes on a bender every year because his insanely jealous wife — a pot/kettle situation if ever there was one — died while being insanely jealous, and also while pregnant. And if you know Palmer at all, you won’t be surprised to learn that that’s what really upsets him. Penelope — Pepi — is the one to succor Connal during these yearly lapses, but she gets more than she bargained for when a soused Connal insists she marry him or he’ll shoot up the joint. They’re in Mexico at the time and Pepi assumes the marriage won’t be legal. Wrong-o.

Pepi decides it would be better to deny the whole thing and convince Connal that he was dreaming — which gives Connal the perfect excuse to be cruel to her when the truth inevitably comes out. Of course, in Palmer land, any excuse will justify a hero being cruel.

As you know, Bob, I kind of like these stories. Much in the way I kind of like 5 gallon vats of ice cream. But this one was somehow a little too squirmy… I felt like the book was gaslighting me. When Connal assures Pepi that she can do anything in bed and he’ll never use it against her, all I could think about was how he used her most sensitive points against her before (she think’s she’s fat, for one) and then had no compunction about doing it the next time he got pissed off. Pepi very sensibly worries about this issue herself, but then it’s all blown away in the joy of requited love. Unfortunately, in my experience, requited love doesn’t stop the occasional fight, and a lover who immediately goes for your jugular when he’s in a bad mood is a poor marriage risk. Add in the way he constantly talks about how possessive his late wife was, while demonstrating ridiculous levels of possessiveness and jealousy himself, and I’m pretty sure Pepi is eventually going to find herself all alone on a ranch with no car or phone service.

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #20

2592790Harlequin Presents #20: A Distant Sound of Thunder by Anne Mather

Note: This post will be a bit spoilery, but no more so than most of the GoodReads reviews.

Best line: (I guess it wouldn’t be fair to include the “creaming lagoon” line.)

“What did she [the heroine’s employer] think she had seen this morning? What imagined construction had she put upon those moments when she was in Piers’ arms? Did she believe that their lovemaking had exceeded the bounds of what was right and what was wrong?”

Notes of interest: Mather begins her notorious envelope pushing, with a heroine who first gets involved with a married man, and then with his son! (Unknowingly and fairly chastely both times, of course. But give Mather a few years…) Rebecca is also illegitimate and it’s not a plot point.

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I was especially eager to read this one — even going out of order — because the cover is actually familiar to me. Although it didn’t ring a bell otherwise, I do find it interesting that this is the first of the project reads that really feels like the Harlequin Presents I know and love. I think that the prose style has become more informal and immediate, the physical interaction are definitely more sensual, and though there are a greater number of secondary characters than you’d find in a more modern HP and some foreign descriptions, the focus stays on the relationship and the drama. Whatever the reason, despite a rather dull beginning in which the heroine is tediously frightened about her feelings for the hero, I actually cared about how this one would come out!

I think naming the heroine “Rebecca” must have been either deliberate or perhaps subconscious, because the opening of the book is rather iconic: heroine in service to a cantankerous, demanding older woman meets mysterious widower. (Or so she thinks.) The plot and characters depart quite sharply after that though, and it’s mostly a story about two lovers destroyed by the malicious schemings of a stereotypically bitter and twisted disabled person. (Our second villain in a wheelchair.) Here’s her after spying on them making out:

“Oh, yes, miss.” Adele’s face was contorted with triumph. “Yes, I watched you, and it’s given me a new lease on life, believe me!”

Oh, she is so deliciously awful.

Making out is as far as it goes, but Mather is moving us beyond kisses. Apparently arms were the hottest thing going in 1973: In order not to be too attractive, Rebecca wears a caftan that “hid the rounded countours of her arms.” This was a smart move, because sure enough, the first time Piers get her alone, “his fingers curved round her upper arm” and “he bent his head and put his his mouth against her arm, caressing it insistently.” This before they’ve even kissed.

The plotting is a touch confusing at times, but I enjoyed this one because Piers isn’t a total asshole and/or mystery. Even without point-of-view, we can tell that he cares, and that his assholish moments are because he cares. He’s a prince compared to pretty much ever other hero I’ve read so far, and as I said, for the first time I was really caught up in seeing this romance work out. Yay!

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TBR Challenge: the Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly

The theme: A RITA nominee or winner. This won for Best Regency in 1997.

Why this one: It was between this and Stealing Heaven by Madeline Hunter, and I’d used a Hunter book for May. I managed to completely forget that I’d used a Kelly book for June. Oops.

The first chapters of this had tears pricking constantly in my eyes (though nothing compared to how much I’d be crying by the end.) It’s Susan’s 25th birthday, and her birthday wish is for “someone, anyone, to rely on.” Her father’s gambling has taken away everything Susan cares about, most especially her dream for a husband and children — she’s beautiful and bright, but what respectable gentleman would take on a penniless woman with her family baggage?

When things have hit almost rock bottom and Susan faces a life of unpaid drudgery, she decides to boldly seek a life of paid drudgery instead. This takes her to the employment office of Joel Steinman, and I can’t tell you how long it took me to get over the fact that this sweet, one-armed, Jewish tradesman was not going to be her hero. Damn, I love him. (As of a year ago, Kelly was speculating about writing a story for him… I’ll be first in line to buy it.)

Our actual hero is almost as appalling a Prince Charming for our Cinderella — an illegitimate Welsh bailiff, badly scarred from having been whipped for stealing in the army. (Even his last name, Wiggin, was stolen.) He is also steadfast, brave, and caring… a perfect match for our steadfast, brave, and caring heroine, if she can look past their class differences. As they join together in their attempts to help their elderly employer keep her independence, those differences begin to seem less and less important.

This is a more sensual story than any of the older Kellys I’ve read. Susan’s physical attraction to David Wiggin is extremely strong, and often keeps her up nights, pondering the mysteries of sex. There’s some pretty earthy humor, too. But love and devotion of all kinds are the heart of the book — it celebrates the bonds of a chosen family, which can be more meaningful than those of birth.

 

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