A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

Element of Risk by Robyn Donald

When it comes to Robyn Donald, my motto is always “go old skool or go home.” She overdoes the alphole sometimes, sure, but her books with kinder, gentler heroes are so boring. This one hit the sweet spot nicely, as well as being an amazing trainwreck of a story.

Perdita, a stunning model on the verge of retirement, gets a call she’s been waiting for for a very long time — the twin girls she gave up at birth eleven years ago have finally been located. But that’s not all… to her shock, Perdita discovers they were adopted by her beloved cousin Natalie and Natalie’s husband Luke… who is, in fact, their biological father.

I’m not sure I want to say much more about the plot, which only gets wilder from there. Perdita has to square off with Luke to get a chance to see the children (Natalie has conveniently died) and she’s just about perfect at it — intelligent, committed, truly wanting what’s best for them. Meanwhile, Luke is bitter and accusatory and just a step away from serious violence. He might be unbearable if she wasn’t so capable of holding her own.

(One not-so old skool element about this book I really liked, is that Natalie is treated respectfully as the girls’s mother. There’s none of the “now they have their REAL family” crap I’ve seen in other books. It might even be a little too good to be true, but I don’t care.)

The classic bleak moment, when it comes, is rather unusual — though precipitated by an event so over-the-top that I imagined Charlotte Lamb calling to tell Donald to tone it down a bit.  There’s a lot about the past that Perdita has to sort through and understand, before she can have a happy ending.

I don’t always enjoy Harlequin Presents like I used to, these hard days, but this was a fun trip back to when I loved them, the wackier the better.

1 Comment »

The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Leave a comment »

TBR Challenge: When the Laird Returns by Karen Ranney

CN for book: Domestic violence.

The theme: a favorite trope. (Forced marriage.)

Why this one: I’m double-dipping with the Buzzwords Readathon.

(It’s perturbing, by the way, how many books are in my TBR that don’t have favorite tropes. Time for another sorting.)

I just spent a baffled couple of minutes trying to find my TBR Challenge review for One Man’s Love, finally remembering that I had been too rushed (and honestly, not interested enough) to actually review it. That, the first in the “Highland Lords” series, had a most favorite troupe, the lover in disguise, but it was just an average read. This one had its flaws, but interest in the characters keep me reading.

Ship designer and captain Alisdair MacRae is on his way to England to reject a title. (Hmm.) He stops in Scotland to visit the ruins of his family’s keep, only to discover that the McRae’s former enemy, Magnus Drummond, is ruining his land with sheep. Intent on regaining it, Alisdair finds himself forced to marry to Drummond’s daughter Iseabal. Since it’s not a marriage in English law, however, he expect it will be easy enough to annul it once they get to England.

Having grown up with a tyrannical and abusive father, Iseabal prays for the strength to endure marriage. But her new husband is so kind and considerate with her, she starts to think marriage is to her taste after all. And then she learns Alisdair’s plan

The plot hops around hither and yon after this, almost stopping dead at one point for multiple sex scenes. (They are tender and engaging, but space them out a bit!) It was all too episodic for my taste, and I think parts of the plot are over simplified, to say the least. (See this post on inheritance law by K.J. Charles.) But Iseabal’s arc remained intriguing. Her personality has been so stifled from living in constant fear and stoic endurance, she retreats to silent passivity whenever she feels threatened. Alisdair doesn’t have much of an journey, but is a generally charming and likeable hero who does his honorable best, and gives Iseabal a reason to find her inner bravery.

 

11 Comments »

The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #65: White Rose of Winter by Anne Mather

Harlequin Presents #65

(Image: Book cover is a portrait of a white woman with wavy blonde hair. Inset of a man in a white leisure suit — suede, no doubt — and a little girl, walking together in the sunset, on her neck.)

Best line: 

“In the lounge, Robert put several long-playing records on the hi-fi equipment, and presently the room was filled with the fourth dimensional quality of Burt Bacharach’s music.”

(Would that indicate the lack of timelessness?)

This is not the only sign that we’re in the seventies: the sideburned hero wears suede constantly. I’ll bet he has suede boxers. And it’s not the only oddity of word choice.

Another indication… I guess: the plot hinges on heroine Julie’s dead husband having left guardianship of their daughter Emma to his brother Robert. It’s bizarre to me that that could have been possible in a time I was alive, but I know nothing about British law in the 1970s.

If you enjoy classic Harlequin Present, this is a real page-turner. Lots of misery, punishing kisses, and feelings of betrayal on both sides. The downside is that almost all the female characters are intensely unpleasant, including the heroine. I can cut her some slack for her immaturity in the past, when she was quite young and had all her insecurities played on by her future mother-in-law, but when she doesn’t even think to have an adult conversation with Robert about her daughter’s horrible new governess, I wanted to smack her one.  For that matter, she never tries to have an adult conversation with him about anything — it’s all reaction. I guess he’s not much better.

Also, I really hated how the daughter was badly injured as a plot point, and especially when Robert thanked God it happened, because of the happy results. No! No no no!

So not a great read for the parents out there, but pretty fun otherwise.

Leave a comment »

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

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

 

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

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

Deliberate Anne of Green Gables vibe in this cover?

Most memorable line: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

4 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Winterbourne by Susan Carroll

The theme: A recommended read.

Why this one: One of my oldest TBR books; it was mentioned in the paperbackswap forums as an underrated classic. I’ve been intimidated by it — longish scary Medieval! —  but I’ve felt like I have my historical mojo back, so it seemed like the time.

Favorite line: “God’s blood, if this isn’t the last thing I needed to find out today, that I am sire to some half-lunatic Sir Galahad.”

Like many good Medievals, Winterbourne is a story around power. I have a theory that Medievals fell out of favor because many readers want their romance heroes to be at the absolute top of the power chain, and that doesn’t lend itself to stories like this one. Our hero is indeed a rich and mighty warrior… but king John is royally pissed at him, and it really didn’t pay to upset the king. Although he accidentally brings Jaufre and Melyssan together at the start — she pretends to be Jaufre’s wife to escape John’s lascivious attentions — his spite and malice also frequently separates them and causes them great suffering.

There’s also internal conflict to the story, because although Jaufre can take a severe whipping without a sound, he becomes a petulant child when faced with his own emotions. After being betrayed by his first wife, he finds it hard to trust Melyssan, and fears losing his heart again; Diana Palmer-style, his guilt over treating her badly just makes him treat her worse. As old skool epic romance heroes go though, he’s practically a saint — i.e. no rapes, brutality, or infidelity.

I found this easier to read than I expected, though it definitely has some meat on its bones. Jaufre is a bit irritating, but does have a satisfying redemption arc.

5 Comments »

TBR Challenge: The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie by Jennifer Ashley

The theme: a hyped book. And how.

Why this one: I looked up the narrator of the “Psy-Changeling” books, Angela Dawe, and was happy to see she also narrated this one, another sad half-read book still lurking in my TBR. I was much less happy that she uses an upper crust British accent, my bete noir, but she gives Ian a hot Scottish burr, so I was able to stick with it. Also, Mean Fat Old Bat really liked the book, so I figured it must have hidden depths.

I’m trying to remember why I bogged down in this one before. I think my excitement over the first autistic hero in romance was dashed by him being still so romance-hero-y in so many ways. So rich, so hot, so good in bed, so immune to any sensory issues around sex. (And Ian tells Beth he can never love her — it annoys me that’s supposed to be about autism, when it’s such a romance cliche.) I also DNF’d the sequel, and concluded that Ashley is a commonplace kind of writer.

Having finished the book I can now see some of its strengths. The family bonds between Ian and his brothers are powerful but complex. The plot and backstory are interesting. Beth is intelligent, capable and witty, and I appreciated that she had previously had a loving marriage with good sexy-times. (These are particularly rare in historical romance; having now listened to several more of this series, I suspect that the vividly drawn heroines and conspicuous lack of classic wide-eyed virgins is a strong draw for many readers.)

I also feel more able to rationalize away the aspects I don’t like. If you want to write a popular romance, there are certain heroic aspects it’s hard not to include, like abs and sexual prowess. Ian is remarkably articulate about his issues, far more than I’d expect from someone who not only never received any kind of help or understanding, but was actually locked away in a madhouse and given shock treatments — but better that he talks about them himself than someone else doing it, or the author info dumping.

I still find it annoying that Ian is a mathematical savant with an eidetic memory. I remember another mom of an autistic boy telling me how stressful it was that everyone assumed her kid must be super smart, when he was average. Savants are pretty damn rare — if eidetic memory even exists — and it’s such a cliche. It makes Ian useful to his brothers… but couldn’t they just love him for himself? And speaking of that, I’m not really sure just why Beth loves him. I’m guessing it’s his protectiveness combined with his sexy air of mystery, but I’m kind of extrapolating from my own experience there.

Ultimately, I’m still disappointed that Ian feels more like a product of research than a recognizable person. I’ve read a number of romances featuring autistic characters — the lovely Water Bound by Christine Feehan, An Heir of Uncertainty by Alyssa Everett, Phoenix Inheritance by Corinna Lawson — and I could feel in those portrayals that the author really knew and loved an autistic person. I may be completely wrong, but I just didn’t feel that here. Still, the author has a way with characters and some interesting themes… and who could help but adore Ian’s eventual discussion about love with Beth?

4 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Beyond the Sunrise by Mary Balogh

Note for sensitive readers: This isn’t a particularly graphic book, but there are some upsetting scenes involving rape and violence.

The theme: A book at least ten years old.

Why this one: I’ve owned this (previously) hard to find historical romance for some years, but was put off by it being about spies and war.  Finding it in ebook at the library was incentive to finally try it, especially since I’m trying to take advantage of having fewer reviewing responsibilities by reading longer books and venturing outside my comfort zone.

Jeanne, daughter of a titled Frenchman, and Robert, illegitimate son of a titled Englishman, fall in blissful young love when she’s fifteen and he’s seventeen. But their idyll is soon ruined by her father, who tells Jeanne that Robert had boasted to the servants that he would seduce her. In retaliation, she pretends she was just toying with him, since he’s completely ineligible. This incident embitters them both, and sets the pattern for their future relationship.

Ten years later, they meet in Lisbon during wartime. Robert is a rare English officer who’s got there by promotion rather than money and influence. And Jeanne, now going by the name Joana, is a society belle and consummate flirt… and a spy for Wellington.

This was far more engrossing than I thought it might be, though I did skim some of sections that were entirely about war strategy. Once well in, I appreciated the historical aspects more, and the setting and scenario certainly makes the stakes higher.

But I wasn’t entirely enthralled by the romance. Robert, a somewhat introverted man who feels more comfortable with his fellow soldiers than with the high society provided for officers, is a good character, and kind of unexpected. He doesn’t really hold a grudge against Joana, and his behavior towards her is far less old skool than I feared it might be. But Joanna is highly aggravating; I kept thinking of the show “Community,” and Britta’s D&D nickname, “Britta, the Needlessly Defiant.” Her pride makes her insist on being trusted and believed despite the fact that she’s always lying. Even after she realizes she’s cut off her nose to spite her face, she just carries on in the same way. And the misunderstandings go on for a ridiculous amount of time, deliberately furthered by other people for no plausible reason than to keep Joana’s games going.

I have issues with this kind of character in romance, not just because I find them irritating — which goodness knows I do — but because I find them unloveable. That is to say, the reason we’re given for men fall in love with these Scarlet O’Hara type heroines is because they’re captivating and challenging and yadda yadda yadda. And Joana is also brave, and a worthy companion on a dangerous trip, so it’s not that she has not good points. But I’m immune to her charms, and so I find it hard to understand why Robert (and every other man in the book) isn’t.

It was certainly worth reading, and I’m holding on to my copy just in case, but I don’t think this will be a treasured keeper for me.

 

2 Comments »

A Past Revenge by Carole Mortimer

Yesterday I DNF’d one of the creepiest books I’ve ever encountered: Wanting by Penny Jordan. The “hero” is a model of the entitled rapey guy who thinks that his attraction to a woman means she belongs to him, and any rejection on her part is “teasing.” (Which, of course, makes him even MORE entitled to her.) And the heroine’s best friend aides and abets him in stalking and trapping her! Seriously ugh!

This book was similar in some ways, yet also an excellent antidote. The hero is the same kind of instantly possessive guy, aggressive enough to make advances to the heroine right in front of his current lover. But Danielle has been rather handily inoculated — they have past history, although he doesn’t recognize her — and she utterly loathes him, with good reason. When Nick forces a savage kiss on her, she’s had it and decides it’s time for revenge:

She has tried to treat him like any other client, had intended being polite to him if nothing else, but he had made that impossible from the first, was intent now on punishing her for the fact that she didn’t want him as he wanted her. But she had been punished enough in the past by this man, wasn’t prepare to accept his cold-blooded arrogance for a second time.

As you can see from the excerpt, the prose gets pretty sloppy with the comma splices; these aren’t even the worst examples. But it’s a hell of a story. I love the way Danielle continually challenges Nick’s offensive behavior, even getting pissed enough at him not to melt in his arms, as all good Harlequin heroines are required to do. She genuinely has the power in the relationship, which is pretty rare, and she knows it and uses it. I think she’s a little too forgiving in the end — Nick isn’t quite as bad as she thought, but was still very cruel to her — but I’d say he suffers enough for satisfaction. Great read.

3 Comments »

TBR Challenge: A Night of Living Dangerously by Jennie Lucas

The theme: A holiday romance. Or not.

What tickled my fancy: Pain, pain, gratitude and joy. (An old Star Trek joke.)

What ticked me off: Cliches come hard and fast and lie thick on the ground,

Who might like it: Fans of angsty Harlequin Presents who aren’t easily put off by asshat heroes. (Asshat in a very modern way. I didn’t think he was so bad.)

The holiday romance theme is always difficult for me, because I’m not a big fan of them and don’t tend to buy obvious holiday books. This year, it was like my TBR was mocking me: I’d dig through, magically find a book with Christmas in it, start it, and find it unreadable. After the third try, with only a few hours left, I said the hell with it and grabbed the first Harlequin Presents on the pile. It turned out to have a mention of December and decorations for the season. Thanks, TBR!

I was afraid at first this would be another for the scrap heap, because the first chapters are not auspicious. Lusting monologues plus navel gazing = zzzzzz. The plot is basically Cinderella meets unplanned pregnancy, as so many Harlequin Presents are. After the inevitable marriage, it becomes more of an attempted makeover story. I enjoyed this part more, because the timid, insecure heroine Lilley comes into her own. There’s some juicy suffering for both, and the hero does his best to make things up to her; I was quite happy with it by the end.

Allesandro seems to be universally reviled at GoodReads, but I cut him a lot of slack for putting aside his old bitterness and betrayal and being willing to trust Lilley. It all comes back to bite them on the ass, of course, but that’s what makes an HP an HP.

 

3 Comments »

What We've Been Reading

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

Something More

my extensive reading

Blue Castle Considerations

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

...Burns Through Her Bookshelf

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

Cate Marsden.

Love and Zombies. And books. And infrequent updates.

Book Thingo

Reading (mostly) romance books down under

Shallowreader

...barely skimming the surface

Olivia Dade

Bawdy romcoms with a big ♥.

Flight into Fantasy

Reviews, book thoughts and opinions of one omnivorous reader.

Her Hands, My Hands

The vagaries of my mind, the products of my hands. Not always safe for work.

dabwaha

64 books. 1 Champion. Get your game on.

Stop the STGRB Bullies

Your hypocrisy is showing

Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

Miss Bates Reads Romance

“Miss Bates…had never boasted either beauty or cleverness. Her youth had passed without distinction, and her middle of life was devoted to the care of a failing mother, and the endeavour to make a small income go as far as possible. And yet she was a happy woman..." Emma, Jane Austen