A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: several holiday-ish reads

I’ve thinned out the few holiday romance I had in print in previous TBR challenges, so this year I turned to my ebook TBR. And then I had to keep reading, because none of them inspired me to write a full post.

Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox.

This is a bit of an odd duck, probably because it was originally written for a holiday anthology. It’s very dark, but in a kind of “Frosty the Snowman” way. Did you weep copious tears over Frosty’s death when  you were a kid? And then he came back? This is kind of like that, minus the Christian symbolism — a lot of bad stuff goes down but then in a Chanukah miracle it’s all okay in the end.

Coming Home for Christmas by Carla Kelly

These are three linked stories about three generations of doctors/nurses in a family. The first two are stuck away from home in wartime, the third encounters some complicated adventures on the way back. The details about doctoring during wartime are vivid, as was a subplot about a woman who grew up with a Native American tribe and is forcibly torn away from her children and returned to her original family. (I think a whole book about her might have been more interesting.) Nice enough holiday reading, but not particularly memorable.

Snowbound by Janice Kay Johnson

A teacher and her eight teenage charges get snowbound with a hermit innkeeper. She and he fall in love, but his inability to acknowledge and deal with his PSTD causes a rift between them. Once I got past the idea of all those kids, I really enjoyed this.

The Admiral’s Penniless Bride by Carla Kelly

(This has an extremely tenuous connection to Christmas. Eh, so do I.)

Kelly’s books generally tend towards the sweetly warmhearted, but for me, she crossed the line into saccharine here. A middle-aged admiral at loose ends impulsively marries a younger, destitute widow and everything in the garden is simply too lovely for words, until he finds out she lied to him. I was uncomfortable with how everything in the story was designed to show how compassionate and wonderful they both are — charitable, free from prejudice, etc. — and then abruptly shifted into melodrama. By the time something exciting happened, the balance of the story felt way off.

On the plus side is a very matter-of-fact depiction of a disabled hero; his arm was amputated many years ago and he’s perfectly comfortable with his new normal. And there are some fun and wryly witty moments.



Reading, October 2017

Recurring themes of the month: Neck obsessions. The phrase “just like a man/woman.” The word “articulation.” Being bitten by animal corpses. (Weird month, am I right?) Author’s notes I liked more than the books. Thanksgiving. Desperately self-sufficient people. Titled characters who made secret misalliances. Parental misalliances. Late night library visits. Characters whose siblings want to be in society when they don’t. Genderfluid characters. (I’m really realizing the limitations of the usual hero/heroine terminology.) Hirsute heroes. Artists.

The Secret Wife by Lynne Graham.

Hero is forced to marry the woman he thinks was his adopted father’s mistress, but who was really his illegitimate daughter. One of those tempestuous relationships Graham loves, sometimes veering into a bickerfest.

Riveted by Meljean Brook

Really sweet love story mixed with awesome steampunk adventure. I would love to see a movie of this, because the visuals would be amazing.

The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb

I was searching for Hunting Eichmann and only found the ebook of this version, edited for younger readers. (I’ve since compared it to the original and it’s not rewritten or dumbed down, just shortened.) Very powerful read.

Tempted All Night by Liz Carlyle

Hero is uncomfortably rakish.

Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life by Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields

Eye-opening and powerful, but a very dense academic read. There were whole chapters I think you’d need a Ph.D to understand. At any rate, I didn’t understand them.

Ruthless Contract by Kathryn Ross

The Markonos Bride by Michelle Reid

Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews

A little too much of the “heroine who knows she’s not beautiful yet nonetheless desired by simply everyone” trope, but an interesting premise and possible relationship set-up.

The Ghost and Mrs Muir by R. A. Dick aka Josephine Leslie, and that pseudonym just kills me.

A book after my own heart. Witty and sweet and old-fashioned in the best way. Widowed Mrs. Muir escapes from her stifling Victorian in-laws, and makes a happy life for herself with some help from the ghost of a crusty old sea captain. It’s very like the movie, if memory serves, but worth reading for the prose.

Wicked All Day by Liz Carlyle

Despite the historical basis for the premise — being “compromised” leads to a forced, highly unwanted engagement —  this had the feel of an angsty teen drama for me. It was like watching “The Fosters”: I felt so bad for all the characters and their immature mistakes that get them in such deep trouble and misery. Perhaps the involvement of several motherly characters (heroines of previous books in the series) helped activate my own motherly impulses, making me more sad than aggravated at them.

Bountiful by Sarina Bowen.

Read for a Heroes and Heartbreakers First Look.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass.

I read this middle-grade story because my son read it in his book club and wanted to share it. It’s kind of odd. The first half is like an old-fashioned YA problem novel, in which Mia fears that she’s crazy but then gets a diagnosis of synesthesia. Then it turns into a completely different old-fashioned YA problem novel, as Mia starts ignoring friends and schoolwork to concentrate on learning about synesthesia, even deliberately using it like a drug. (She fakes needing acupuncture because it makes her see bright lights and auras/pheremones.) She’s frankly pretty awful, and then get punished in an old-fashioned literary way. (The author hangs a lampshade on this, but it didn’t work for me.) So… not the fan my son is.

The Italian’s Convenient Wife by Catherine Spencer

I hate when books kill off adoptive parents in order to reunite the child/ren with biological parents. As such plots go, this one wasn’t too bad… they were great parents and the children deeply miss them, and aren’t eager to accept their “aunt.”  But it never really lived up to its angst potential otherwise.

Love With a Chance of Zombies by Del Dryden.

Cute post-apocalyptic short, not too scary.

A Dream of Stone and Shadow by Marjorie M. Liu

Despite gruesome elements and a horrific plotline (children trapped by a pornography ring) I enjoyed this novella very much. (Being short probably saved it from too much grisly detail.) The gargoyle hero is sweet, protective, and essentially a ghost for much of the story, with the best kind of non-corporeal presence. (Siiiiigh….) There’s a redemption arc for him and a more complicated one for his emotionally isolated heroine. It’s part for the “Dirk and Steele” series but works fine as a standalone.

Hamilton’s Battalion by Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan and Alyssa Cole.

Reviewed at GoodReads. From an ARC. I didn’t really do the Rose Lerner story justice in my review, because I read it too long ago and didn’t make notes. 😦

The Wild Road by Marjorie M. Liu.

My TBR Challenge read.

An Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles.

Gorgeous period atmosphere and two lovely heroes — one of whom is autistic — made this really work for me, despite some weaknesses.

An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles.

The strongest book of the trilogy, IMO. Enemies-to-lovers with a powerful attraction/repulsion, and an emotional redemption arc for the seemingly amoral hero.

The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

If “Matilda” had not had psychic powers or Miss Honey… she might have wound up like Dee Moreno. Who makes a deal with a demon, because it seems to be the only way she can stay in boarding school and have a chance of escaping her ghastly, alcoholic parents.

Excellent writing and self-contained but hurting heroine. I was a little disappointed that it went in a romantic direction, which was pretty samey. (Be warned, not genre romance.) I think it could have been even better if it were just a story about friends. But very good in any case.

An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles.

I don’t think Charles can write a bad book, but this one missed the mark for me. It was a strong plot and ended well — except that I expected the mystery arc to follow the mystery “rules,” and it didn’t, so I found that part anti-climactic. But primarily, the romance never really spoke to me. Love that Mark has a congenital disability rather than an acquired one, though, which is really rare in romance.

Is That What People Do? by Robert Sheckley

A collection of some of Sheckley’s best collected science fiction stories and some uncollected ones — which to be frank, might as well have stayed uncollected. (Even, sadly, the Arnold and Gregor story. They’re a hapless duo of planet decontaminators and always run into ridiculous situations.) Sheckley is hard to read these days, and not just because of  casual classic SF misogyny and racism… he was way too prophetic. I only wish that the election of a reality star show had been peak Sheckley. And I think almost anyone, anywhere could relate to “the Store of the Worlds.”

Tempt Me Not by Susan Napier

Ugh. I was just wishing they’d digitize more old Napier, but this one can stay forgotten. All of the characters are dumbshits.

The Truth About Love and Dukes by Laura Lee Gurhke

A light Victorian historical — seeming especially so after KJ Charles’s foggy Dickensian gloom — but not as painfully floofy as I feared from the “Dear Lady Truelove” series title. I wouldn’t call it better than readable, though. The “battle of the sexes” trope in which the arrogant hero just annoys the heck out of the feminist heroine is one I find irritating and it almost always winds up seeming actually anti-feminist. At least Irene has some good arguments to make, since they argue all the damn time.

Wife to Christopher by Mary Burchell

Burchell’s first book is less original than her later work, but shows her interesting way with characters. A major tearjerker. Sensitive readers should watch out for content warnings. (Note to self: find a way to do spoilers here!)

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

An utterly devastating book, especially since it needed updating practically the day it came out in 2016.

Baking With Kafka by Tom Gauld.

Very funny cartoons about reading, writing and literature, previously published in “The Guardian.”

Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews.

Considerably better than the first in the series, although a bit repetitious. I appreciated seeing Kate’s strong moral center and capacity for caring, and am excited about the series now.

A Midnight Feast by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner

(Read from an ARC.) A touching marriage-in-jeopardy story, with two vivid, strong-willed characters.

That Summer by Lauren Willig.


This was recommended by someone as a comfort read, and I can see that… it’s rather old-fashioned in tone, not unlike The Ghost and Mrs. Muir in some ways. But it’s also desperately sad — perhaps especially so in the context of TGaMR, in which the main character actually got to escape from her stifling life. Like other Willig books, it has both a modern times and a historical plotline; I was most caught up in the past story, and desperately hoping it would somehow get to a HEA. The parts about art and art history are interesting, and the two storylines nicely juxtaposed. Overall I did really enjoy it, but I wish it had had two happy endings.

Divine Intervention by Robert Sheckley.

Another collection of previously uncollected works, and again not great — except the Arnold and Gregor story is hilarious.


At The Dark End of the Street by Danielle M. McGuire

No doubt a very valuable book, but just too painful to read right now.

Beautiful Stranger by Christina Lauren

Not my cuppa. I probably should just forget about this particular series, since it’s so sex-focused.

The Flower and the Sword by Jacqueline Navin.

I might have enjoyed this one years ago but then again, I did own it for seven years and it was picked up and put back down again several times. I like the old skool vengeful husband plot, but the prose and the characters were just meh.

Labyrinth by Alex Beecroft.

Too hard for me to follow.


Reading, September 2017

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

Sweet Spot by Amy Ettinger.

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Castle of the Wolf by Sandra Schwab.

Blind Obsession by Lee Wilkinson.

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

Wake Up Call by J.L. Merrow

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

Set the Stars on Fire by Sally Wentworth.

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

Dawn of a New Day by Claudia Jameson.

A Touch of Frost by Jo Goodman.

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

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

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

Life on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers.

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

Ryan’s Revenge by Lee Wilkinson.

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

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

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

A Chance Encounter by Mary Balogh.

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

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

Reading, August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ms. Marvel volumes 6 & 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review at GoodReads.

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

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

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

Best response to a shovel talk ever:

“‘I don’t intend to hurt Tiffany.’

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

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

Nice mix of old skool elements and modern style.

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

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

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

(I received this from an RWA giveaway.)

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

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

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


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

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

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


Reading, July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enjoyable, but on the long side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Really not my cuppa.

Jacob’s Faith by Lora Leigh.

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

Beach House #9 by Christie Ridgway

Just wasn’t working for me. Too cute.

Beach House Beginnings by Christie Ridgway

I guess this series just isn’t for me.

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

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


Reading, June 2017

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

CW: racism, sizism.

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

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

Lovely short story. Very interesting hero backstory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The best of the digitized Gordon historicals, IMO.

His For Keeps by Theodora Taylor.

My thoughts here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Very well done.

Little Sister by Mary Burchell.

Sad story, with the romance almost an afterthought.

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

Sequel to Poacher’s Fall.

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

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

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

Conditional Surrender by Wendy Prentice

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

Such is Love by Mary Burchell.

Gorgeous oldie. Available at Open Library.

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

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

Decent modern humorous version of Pride and Prejudice.

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

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

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

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


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

Burning Up by Sarah Mayberry. Boring insta-lust.


Reading, May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Baby for Easter by Noelle Adams.

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

Incarnate by Claire Kent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Heart of It by Molly O’Keefe.

Intriguing, but too short for its issues.

Bad Neighbor by M. O’Keefe

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

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

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

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

Meh, with a side of rapey hero.

Home for Christmas by Noelle Adams.

Music of the Heart by Mary Burchell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


January 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steadfast by Sarina Bowen.

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



December in Book Bingo (2016)

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

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

TW: Mention of rape and abuse.

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

Light One Candle: The Forgotten Man by Ryan Loveless.

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

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

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

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

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

Morpheus: The Last Chance Christmas Ball by various authors.

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

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

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

December: Hold Me by Courtney Milan.

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

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

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

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

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

HOHOHO: The Master Fiddler by Janet Dailey

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

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

Irony: Wicked Sexy Liar by Christina Lauren.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Summer Nights: Dirty, Rowdy Thing by Christina Lauren

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

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

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

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

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

Moist: Rogue’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing

First of all, ew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virgin Birth: Claiming His Christmas Consequences by Michelle Smart.

“‘Who’s the father?’

She pressed her lips together.

‘A virgin conception? How fitting.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also read (or not):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November in Book Bingo


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

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

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

Proposals: Sweet, Filthy Boy by Christina Lauren.

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

Felix: “What are you watching?”

Oscar: “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.”

Felix: “How is it?”

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

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

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

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

November: Her Enemy at the Altar by Virginia Heath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Greek Girl: The Heiress Bride by Lynne Graham.

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

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

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

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

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

Queen: Rookie Move by Sarina Bowen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scandalous: The Fifteenth Minute by Sarina Bowen.

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

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

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

“‘Don’t what?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flower Boy: Pansies by Alexis Hall.

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

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

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

BTW, I literally had this internal conversation:

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

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

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

Also read (or not):

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

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



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