A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

September in Book Bingo part 2

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


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

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

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

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

Do You Remember: Inherited by Ferranti by Kate Hewitt.

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

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

September: Craving Jamie by Emma Darcy.

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

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

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

Balance: On The Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis.

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

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

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

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

BIRTH DAY: Downtown Devil by Cara McKenna.

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

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

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

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

Coupling: The Object of the Game by Vanessa James.

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

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

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

Swooning: Merry Christmas by Emma Darcy.

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

Naked Truth: Shrill by Lindy West. Audiobook.

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

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

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

69: Never Let Go by Deborah Smith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Gamma: Earth Bound by Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner

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

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

me: good enough!

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

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

Also read (or not):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs.

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


August in Book Bingo

Recurring themes of the month: Witnesses in jeopardy. Tough guys dancing with babies. Revenge. Artists. Cornwall. Sassy gay friends/relatives, including in m/m. Heroines named variants of Katherine. Russian heroes who get to call such heroines Katya. Heroines who had loving but passionless marriages with much older men. Significant others with bad secrets. Adultery. Somewhat off-genre romance. Terrible books that I hated. 😦

August Bingo


Delusional: The Sound of Snow by Katherine Kingsley. The heroine believes her cousin is a little spoiled but basically good-hearted. Hahahahahaha. My TBR Challenge read.

Suddenly: Midnight Man by Lisa Marie Rice. Everything was sudden in this. BAM they’re hot for each other, BAM they’re having sex, BAM she’s in deep shit, BAM he makes everything okay again.

I haven’t read a lot of Rice because my reaction to her “traditionally hypermasculine meets traditionally hyperfeminine” formula ranges from “Not really my thing” to “Jeez, that’s disturbing.” (Leaning towards the disturbing: the description of the heroine’s much-softer-than-other-women’s pubic hair.) There were definitely disturbing elements here, particularly the truly superfluous, nasty treatment of a sympathetic gay character. (In a book with so little space devoted to anything other than sex scenes, you have to give time to that?) But the fantasy of the incredibly strong, competent, sexy hero who comes along and makes everything okay is a pretty powerful one, and perhaps works especially well in such a tight, concentrated book.

AugustAnd One Last Thing by Molly Harper. The heroine married her husband on August 1st, a fact which becomes very pertinent when she receives the wrong woman’s anniversary flowers.

A July read from Valancy. Funny story about a woman going a bit ’round the bend when she discovers her husband is cheating on her. Overall, pretty positive. Very chicklit in feel, with a nice emphasis on her personal growth, but also romantic.

Kick it!: Only Beloved by Mary Balogh. I kicked it to the curb. 😦 So freaking nice and sweet, I fell asleep in my blancmange.

Glacial: The Sun at Midnight by Sandra Field.

I figured this would go to a cold character, but then a Harlequin Presents with an Arctic tundra setting fell into my lap! Oh man, do I miss the 90s.

Quite a lovely read; the heroine is a biology student doing research, and her passion for the animals and environment really shine through. The story was also pretty good if you like anger and betrayal, though the plot details felt a little off in some ways.

I’m Not Worthy: Claiming His Wife by Diana Hamilton. Insecure heroine is so afraid she’ll suck in bed for her player husband,  it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Shallow, dull, stupid book. I was especially pissed when it turned out the heroine’s independence after leaving her husband was entirely orchestrated by him.

Shades: Once Upon a Moonlit Night by Elizabeth Hoyt.

This square made me think of Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice: “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” She would be beyond horrified by this match. And it amused me to use a historical romance for shades. No, you’re reaching.

PRIDE: The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black.

“John, did you see those boys at the bar the other night? They weren’t just out and proud, they were out and proud in flashing neon, you know? I’ll never be that far out of the closet. I’ll never be anyone but myself. But it seem to me I’ve been missing something critical. I see that in you too. Missing the right to love.”

I decided to go with “pride” because it’s something the two main characters have never gotten to feel around their sexuality or relationship, but they’re starting to move there at the end. More thoughts at “Heroes and Heartbreakers.”

Cool Bananas: The Counterfeit Secretary by Susan Napier.

“Ria was thankful that she had never felt a spark of personal interest in the man. She knew him too well to find him as irresistible as other women did… she had been too well forewarned.”

Yes, she starts off cool. Then she goes bananas.

Evil Side Eye: The Desert Virgin by Sandra Marton.

I was side-eying this entire ridiculous and offensive book, but especially the “hero” who is EVIL. On top of more typical douchecanoe hero behavior, he tacitly approves of enslavement.

Dreaming: Even Odds by Elia Winters.

A erotic romance in which

— POC are described in ways which don’t sound like bad food porn?

— The hero has non-appropriative tattoos and a great awareness of the importance of consent?

— both heroine and hero respect each other’s boundaries?

— the characters get creative when they don’t have condoms, instead of assuring each other they’re clean?

—  non-physical perfect geeks have confident social lives? (And gimme a book for Dan now, please.)

— sexual harassment is taken seriously?

— All with laughs and lots of steam and a few heart tugs?

I must be dreaming!

Bop: Scarlett Epstein Hates it Here by Anna Breslaw. The main character is dragged to a dance and even dances a bit. Sharp, funny YA story. I didn’t buy the resolution of the romance plot.

So Utterly Perfect: The Wedding Journey by Carla Kelly. I wouldn’t say this is Kelly’s best book, or my favorite, but it was exactly the palate cleanser I need after the false piety of The Sound of Snow.   It’s a harrowing story, but always goodhearted and life-affirming.

This was also the story that made me realize if Lois McMaster Bujold wrote historical romance, it would read a lot like Carla Kelly.

Would you like a cuppa tea, Love!: Vows of Revenge by Dani Collins. It seems kind of wrong to give this square to an American book, but the hero going to visit a mother-figure is a turning point for him.

Loved this one. Just what a modern day Harlequin Presents should be, IMO.

Rags to Riches: With His Kiss by Laurey Bright. The heroine’s late husband was a philanthropist who helped musically talented kids from poor backgrounds; the hero is one of the success stories.

!: Labyrinth by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread.

I thought that The Mountains of Mourning had deepened on reread! This one I barely remembered, other than Taura, and now it hit me like a ton of bricks.

“‘What else do you wish for, Taura?’ Miles asked earnestly.

Slowly she replied. ‘I wish I were normal.’

Miles was silent too. ‘I can’t give you what I don’t possess myself,’ he said at length. The words seemed to lie in inadequate lumps between them. He roused himself to a better effort. ‘No. Don’t wish that. I have a better idea. Wish to be yourself. To the hilt….

Look at Nicol — or look at Captain Thorne, and tell me what ‘normal’ is, and why I should give a damn for it.'”

Almost Kiss: Red Moon Rising by Lori Handeland.

“His gaze drifted to my lips. I swayed, and I wasn’t even dizzy. I wanted to kiss him, right there in the middle of another burning wasteland. We should be running for cover, calling the cops; instead we were staring into each other’s eyes and puckering up.

Clay dropped my hand and stepped away. At least one of us had some wits left.”

Terrible short story. TSTL heroine and brusque sloppy writing that feels more like an outline than a narrative. There are a few laughs.

Small MAN: A Shot at Forgiveness by Cardeno C.  Hero is a small man who likes big men. He scores.

Romances about former bullies and their bull-ees are my catnip — BUJEET all the way! — but this short story required a huge suspension of disbelief. If someone who had once bullied me started stalking me, I would at the very least be nervous about his possible agenda. Definitely a fantasy read, and doesn’t have much angst, which seems like a waste. I think it’s an interracial romance, although we aren’t told much beyond — you guessed it — “mocha-colored skin”

roam: Gunslinger by Lorraine Heath. Novella originally titled Long Stretch of Lonesome. The hero is always on the move, longing for a home he thinks he doesn’t deserve. An enjoyable sentimental story. (Insert obligatory “I wish Heath still wrote Westerns” comment here.)

A+ Bestie: Rightful Possession by Sally Wentworth. I won’t say what the bestie does, since it’s a spoiler, but it’s just what you’d want in a bestie.

Soft focus: Snowed by Pamela Burford. The hero is a photographer and there’s a nice soft-focus cover.

This seemed very familiar to me, and I’m guessing I started or skimmed it a few years ago, but then got put off by the reviews. Despite the faux incest, I quite liked it, as it turned out. Very sensual. The hero is a touch old skool, but not too bad as they go.

HOMEcoming: Breaking the Rules by Barbara Samuels (Ruth Wind). The heroine, a former foster child, has yearned for a home and security all her life.

I’m not sure exactly why — maybe it’s classism on my part — but the hero of this book totally put me off. Even his dancing with a baby couldn’t make up for him referring to himself in the third person as “old Zeke.”  Bleh.

Petite: No Longer Forbidden? by Dani Collins. A sad square choice… the heroine was coerced into pursuing a dancing career by her mother, and has infertility caused by lack of body fat. There’s a happy ending but no magic cure. (I know petite is more height than weight in terms of fashion, but the dictionary definition allowed it. Enough, anyway.)

Gaslight: Lessons in Pleasure by Victoria Dahl. Victorian set novella. The heroine has been gaslighted by her entire society, but specifically by a very evil doctor.

I didn’t find this as touching or powerful as Dahl’s Americana historicals, but it did have some teeth to it. And it gave me some serious shivers, though thankfully the scary part is over quickly.

X: The Wicked Duke by Madeline Hunter. I’m going with X as in X-rated here… not because the book is all that graphic (though more so than she would’ve written ten years ago.) But the scenes showing how “wicked” the duke can be were more X-rated than I really wanted in a romance hero. Props for not making him another fake-rake, I guess…

A well written book, but the relationship arc reminded me a lot of The Rules of Seduction, which is one of my top ten favorites, so this inevitably suffered in comparison.

Also read (or not):

Static by L.A. Witt. Fascinating story. More here.

Fallen by Lauren Kate. YA paranormal cliches galore, particularly the undying love for a completely blah character. Meh. A better narrator might have saved it — not bad overall, but the teen voices were pretty terrible — but then again, there is the scene in which the heroine has witnessed another character cut an innocent person’s throat in cold blood, before tying the heroine up  in a sacrificial cross with a knife to her throat, and then actually says in bewilderment, “you wouldn’t hurt me?” THUD.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. Cute, romantic story with a prickly heroine. Shallower than I expect from Tyler, but considering I couldn’t finish her previous book, I’ll take it.

Indiscreet by Mary Balogh. Reread. I wouldn’t call this a favorite, and yet somehow I seem to reread it more than any of her others. Perhaps it’s because I passed on my copy when I owned it, so I keep borrowing it when the opportunity arises.

Exposure by Susan Andersen. Another one for “almost kiss” and “I’m not worthy.” I was pretty iffy about a book recommended for having an adorable little girl character, but I guess now my son is a teen, adorable little kids work for me again. She is indeed damn cute, but also believable. The big hero is very sweet too, although I felt he was sometimes hypermasculinized, as if to make up for the fact that he’s disabled. (Prosthetic hook.) He always seems to be flinging the heroine around.

Sweet Ruin by Kresley Cole. After a bumpy start, I was surprised to find myself totally into this.  It goes in a different direction with fated mates than Cole’s usual, because the hero has been a whore for so long, he’s cut himself off from feeling any emotional connection to sex. He can’t understand why fidelity is important to his mate. The bad-ass but deeply lonely heroine is pretty awesome, and there’s some good banter as well as angst.

Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole. DNF. Snoozeville.

The Curse on Tenth Grave by Dyranda Jones. DNF. Shark. Jumped.

The Bedding Proposal by Tracy Anne Warren. DNF. Could not get into the writing style at all. People laughing at things that aren’t funny.

The Master by Kresley Cole. Kind of an odd mash-up of Cole’s paranormals with Harlequin Presents. The snark works, the Russian guy sounded just like one of her werewolves not so much. Don’t know if I’ll bother to read the others in the series, since they all sound exactly the same (tortured Russian mob billionaires into BDSM.)


July in Book Bingo

July bingo

Full card!

Recurring themes of the month: An unusual amount of science fiction/fantasy, all with characters of Slavic origins. Rereads. Books with the same titles as other books I’ve read.

XXL: The Mountains of Mourning by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread, science fiction novella. I chose this square because Miles believes he has to be twice as good as everyone else — larger than life — to compensate for his short stature/physical disabilities.

*semi spoilers*

I love this story, and have remembered its last paragraph for years, but I’m not sure I got the full meaning on previous reads. In my memory, it was a story about Miles fully accepting his responsibility towards the seriously impoverished people of his father’s district. But it’s actually much more than that; it’s Miles realizing that he has to be a voice for the people who are like him — different, disabled, considered useless by society — but without the privilege of wealth, education, and status he has. I expected to cry, but realizing that just killed me.

It’s Complicated: Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 10: Relationship Status: Complicated. But filling this square could not be easier.  As long as my colon key works.

July: Playing for Keeps by Avery Cockburn.

“‘What’s the date of this music festival?’

‘First Saturday of July. I think it’s the fifth.’

John’s hand spasmed, making his player kick the ball far over the net into the stands.”

July 5th is a day of dread for John, because he’s promised his father to march with the Orange Order. And if his Catholic lover Fergus finds out, their relationship will go straight to hell. Reviewed here.

Insta-WHAT!: Macrieve by Kresley Cole. The hero is sickeningly manipulated to believe he’s found his fated mate.

Mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, the hero betrays the heroine and treats her horribly, so I ate it with a spoon. And it doesn’t hurt at all that she stands up for herself and continually calls him on his crap. (The best part of New Old Skool.)

But — the hero’s backstory of being horrifically sexually abused as a child gave me certain expectations for the story around his healing, and those weren’t met. I was also disappointed that he could never really see the parallels between what happened to him and what he was doing to her, no matter how strongly she pointed them out. So I found it very enjoyable but it also left me yearning for the story that didn’t happen.

Quaint: The Bride Fonseca Needs by Abby Green.  Boss/personal assistant marriage of convenience because the hero needs to look stable and secure for a business deal. It’s adorable!

Joking aside, props to the author for modernizing the plot in other ways. I appreciated that the hero is grateful to the heroine for her help, rather than despising her for asking for payment in that annoying way of romance billionaires. And she’s no pushover. Also, I can’t resist a hero who falls against his will. On the other hand, boos for the heroine who feels dumpy and then turns out to have a tiny waist. Boo I say!

Tyranny of Distance: Bring Him Home by Karina Bliss. The heroine is a soldier’s widow, whose grief is complicated by anger at her husband for constantly leaving her and their son for another tour of duty.

A very slow burn romance, which is appropriate given that both characters are grieving and the hero is also suffering from survivor’s guilt. It almost went into “he’s just not that into you” territory, but the ending pulled it together beautifully.

Ghost Town: One Frosty Night by Janice Kay Johnson. The death of an anonymous girl metaphorically haunts many residents of a small town. Booya!

I read this because of Lynn’s TBR challenge review; Miss Bates also reviewed it. My reaction is pretty close to theirs. The characters and the depiction of the small town are believable and very well done, and the emotions were strong. I didn’t care as much for the mystery aspect, especially its resolution (or lack thereof.) And the big gesture that reminded me a touch of “Harper Valley PTA.” But I was attracted by the trope of lovers-reunited-after-betrayal and really enjoyed that aspect.

LICK: The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman. This couple has a jar of honey and they’re not afraid to use it!

I continue to struggle with former fav Goodman. This felt so overwritten to me it took me weeks to get through the first half — I actually had to put my Kindle in airplane mode so the library book wouldn’t disappear. Once they get in the sack, the gorgeous sex scenes made it more fun to read, but the ending was somewhat anticlimactic.

Pyrrhic Victory: Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed by Michelle Smart. The hero gets everything he ever wanted… but it means he’ll lose what he now wants most of all. Fun, angsty read. I wrote more about this book and the author at Heroes and Heartbreakers.

Fifty-Fifty: Angel by Victoria Dahl. Short story. I’m going with this square because the story reaches an unexpected equality in the happy ending. The heroine is a biracial prostitute in 1800’s New Orleans and the hero is one of her white clients. It’s a very sweet, tender story, but both realistic and with a strong feminist underpinning that saves it, in my opinion, from being a white savior narrative.

Crushed it!: The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold. The book starts with Miles literally crushing both his legs and thus figuratively crushing his dreams, but that crushing failure leads to a totally crushed-it triumph!

They: Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread

“‘It’s the one thing that convinces me that the Cetagandan haut-lords are still human, after all that genetic tinkering.’

Ivan grimaced. ‘Mutants on purpose are mutants still.'”


“‘Emperors are only human.’ Well, Emperor Gregor was. The Cetagandan emperor was haut-human. Miled hoped that still counted.”


“You can’t get anywhere with these people, or whatever they are.”

I was dreading this part of my reread, my least favorite Vorkosigan book. (Thankfully, it’s clear sailing after here for many books.) It wasn’t so bad. I still dislike the space mystery — a genre I can never follow — and Mile’s instant and completely unwarranted crush on an obnoxious haut Lady — a genre that always pisses me off. But there’s some humor, and his interactions with his cousin Ivan are entertaining.

True Love’s Kiss: Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt. Reviewed here. I expected to go with a fairy tale or something very innocent for this square, but it does end with a kiss and the words “She was with her true love.” Also, I kind of like going in exactly the opposite obvious direction, if you hadn’t noticed.

And the fandom rejoiced!: Waiting for Clark by Annabeth Albert. Cute, geeky former-friends-to-lovers stories. I was going to put this in “Pi” because one hero is a mathematician, but when you have a story that ends with Superman kissing Batman, even in cosplay, well….!

Ice Castles: Can’t Stand the Heat by Shelly Ellis. The Gibbons girls are a entire family of Gigis, literally trained from childhood to take men for as much money as they can without ever feeling emotions towards them. Castles of ice is a good metaphor.

(Content warning: domestic violence. The book is a little scary in parts, though not explicit.)

Lauren breaks away from the family goals after being brutally beaten by her “sugar daddy,” and resolves to change her life. But navigating a healthy relationship with retired football star Cris is complicated, especially with her ex constantly trying to ruin her life.

This African-American romance was really fun in a soap opera sort of way, though I kept wondering how the family kept finding new rich men to fleece in what’s supposed to be a small town. Despite the drama, the main characters are pretty straightforward and likeable; Lauren’s struggles for independence despite all her baggage are touching.

Some parts of the book made me squirm though, including short bits of: transphobia, iffy BDSM portrayals, and objectification of the half black/half Filipino hero. I was also bugged that Cris basically lies about his involvement with another woman while he and Lauren are apart, so if you’re sensitive about even minor cheating, avoid this one.

Pulling Out: Harlot by Victoria Dahl. Novella.

“Try to get him to finish on your stomach instead. It helps if it’s not all inside you. They like to show off that way, anyhow.”

Although I adored the angst and hate sex, I initially thought this was a bit disappointing after reading its prequel, Angel. It’s a more conventional romance, with a gently-used heroine who hates herself for selling her body even more than her childhood sweetheart hates her for it. But Dahl did not let me down.

Wicked: Try to Remember by Vanessa James. Oh, so much wickedness it’s ridiculous. But I love this one.

Summer Lovin’: The Cozakis Bride by Lynne Graham. The heroine frequently flashes back to her early romance with the hero, just like in the song. Okay, so it’s a bit strained, so sue me. The book is a bit strained too.

Pi: Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

“But I was no prize pupil: when I didn’t just forget the spell-words he taught me, they went wrong in my mouth. I slurred and mumbled and muddled them together, so a spell that ought to have set a dozen ingredients neatly out for a pie — ‘I am certainly not trying to train you on potions,’ he had said, caustically — instead mixed them into a solid mess that couldn’t even be saved for my supper.”

Magic + pie. That’s all I got.


Happy Dance: Marriage Under Fire by Daphne Clair.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 1.22.47 AM

“She loved to marriage under fire dance, and he took her dancing…”

Because funny formatting errors make me happy.

Betty: The Rawhide Man by Diana Palmer.

I think a “Betty” is what you kids today — or rather, what you kids today 20 years ago — call an attractive woman. Presumably Wilma is the ugly one? Anyway, the heroine of this story definitely thinks she’s the Wilma, and her stepsister is the Betty who steals all her guys. (Since I’m older, I think that should be the Veronica, but this is just getting way too complicated.) Her convenient marriage is a mess and she’s terribly afraid her sister is out to steal her guy again. The fact that her spoiled, selfish stepsister actually just wants to spend some time with her is one of the things I liked about this book. Very typical Palmer formula — if you want to know why on earth I read Palmer, this is one to try.

Going Solo: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread. A very protected character breaks free and runs away.

I’ve liked every Bujold book more on rereads except this one. It’s so dolorous and gloomy, like something Eeyore might write.

Delicate: Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair. Hero calls the tough heroine an “air sprite.” My tbr challenge read for July.

Sausage SIZZLE: The Banker’s Convenient Wife by Lynne Graham. She is helpless to resist the sizzle of his sausage.

18: Rage of Passion by Diana Palmer

“‘I was eighteen,’ she said. ‘Green as grass and infatuated, and every time he kissed me, I was on fire. And then we got married.'”

Also reads (or not):

Ms Marvel: Super Famous. Well bless my Torrid jeans, Ms. Marvel’s best friend has moved on and his new girlfriend is sweet, smart, and chubby-to-fat (depending on who’s drawing her, I guess.) AND when Kamala says something snarky about her size, he gives her what for! I love how this series draws on relevant concerns for its incredible adventures: this time it’s gentrification, and the stress of trying to live a normal teenage life and a superhero life.

Troublemaker by Linda Howard. DNF. If I wanted to read a book about the world’s most spoiled dog and constant definitions of Man-Food, I would… well, I don’t, so never mind.

Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta Chase. DNF. I completely loathe Olivia and am giving this up before it ruins Lord Perfect for me.

Mr. Loverman by Mary Lyons. DNF. I was utterly baffled as to why I even own this — the merest glance at the reviews shows it’s not going to be my cuppa — and then remembered it was a Kobo error.


June in Book Bingo

june bingo

This was a hard month for me, and I didn’t fill my whole card.

Recurring themes: “Angel” in the title. Horticultural interests. Rereads of favorite books. Being disappointed in books my friends loved. Heroes named variants of “Wolf.” (I should reread Scarlet.) Characters traveling someplace for no narrative reason and then going back. (My latest pet peeve.) Hero or heroine shoveling manure — no shit.

Naked: Archangel’s Enigma by Nalini Singh. Really enjoyed the hero of this one, a vampire who is also sorta kinda an animal shifter. Sweet “nature boy” type.

A Child’s Grief: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater. Am tempted to put this one under “White Man’s Burden,” but I’ll be nice. Much, much grief in this one.

Favorite line:

“Blue had said that an Aglionby toga party went against everything she stood for. Maura had replied, ‘Private school boys? Using random pieces of fabric as apparel? That seems like exactly what you stand for these days.'”

June: Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas. Heroine wants to wait for a June wedding when she’s out of mourning, hero wants to elope. Guess who wins?

I’m not getting all the love for this one. It was a pleasant enough read, but nothing happened until the second half. The first half was just about arranging pieces on a board to get the characters into bed in a vaguely plausible manner.

Dust: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater.

“Right into Gansey’s ear, he whispered, voice tinged in disbelief, ‘I didn’t — I just asked — I just thought –‘

‘Thought what?’ Gansey asked.

Adam released him. His eyes were on the circle around him. ‘I thought that. And it happened.’

The circle was absolutely perfect: dust without, dustless within.”

I was annoyed when I saw that the Raven Boys series was going to have four books instead of three, and reading the third book did not change my mind. The prose is gorgeous, but it’s a filler book. Gansey searches for Glendower. Blue worries about her missing mom. Noah continues to fade away. Adam waits for his abusive father’s court date. Ronan is, as always, pissed off. The introduction of a supervillain (or two) is curiously mundane. A few magical new things do happen but we don’t know why and I didn’t much care.

The book can kind of be summarized by pointing out that Gansey’s old professor friend from England arrives, does literally nothing except provide some vaguely comic relief, and then leaves at the end.

It’s too well written and funny to hate, but I really got tired of so much ado about nothing.

Delusion: Dreaming by Charlotte Lamb. The hero falls in love at first sight with a woman he’s barely glimpsed, not realizing she’s the same person as the nurse he thinks of as cold.

I almost cried with disappointment over this one. It’s classically emotional; the hero is unwittingly cruel to the heroine, never knowing she loves him. It’s like a great old movie. But then the ending pisses all the good stuff away, so there’s no cathartic resolution.

Au Revoir: Never Say No to a Caffarelli by Melanie Milburne. The hero often uses French endearments, and he dumps the heroine on their romantic trip to Paris. Le porc!

This is the second time I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a Harlequin Presents recently. I think perhaps the guidelines have changed, because authors I think of as being kind of  hysterically over the top have calmed down considerably and are using standard elements in a more believable way. Not a great book, but quite a nice read.

Interrupted Intimacy: Archangel’s Shadow by Nalini Singh. Elena and Raphael are cock-blocked by a call from his mom, which didn’t bother me at all, since I get really bored by continuing couple sex.

Mini: Manties in a Twist by J.A. Rock. One hero is quite short, which the other hero adores. Loved this one even more than The Sub’s Club, if possible. So sweet and funny. I especially love that this series is not just about different kinds of kinks and kinsters, but also different kinds of feelings around kink.

Gratitude: The Spy Who Spanked Me by Doreen deSalvo

“A deep groan left his throat as gratitude and release swamped his mind…”

Short Regency (?) story in which a woman accidentally witnesses an assassination and then has to submit to a bound interrogation she finds extremely hot. Romantic erotica. Well written — except for weird mentions of the heroine’s ‘privities’ — but a little scary.

Just the Tip: Wolf’s Hope by Lora Leigh. Betrayed (he thinks) hero teases the heroine something awful.

I’m So Sorry: Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold. One of the oddest apology scenes ever.

beautiful all along: The Italian Boss’s Mistress by Lynne Graham. Some might have put this one under “hero is a mountain,” since the hero is 6’5″, but I know exactly what I mean by that phrase and this guy isn’t it.

Gold Star: False Angel by Edith Layton. A book I’ve read many times, and it never fails to satisfy.

gesticulate: The Sicilian’s Stolen Son by Lynne Graham. It’s pretty much all there in the title.

Another one I didn’t love as much as others I’ve seen. There was a great good twin/evil twin set-up but the story pulled all the emotional punches so there was no real angsty payoff, not even a dark moment.

Broken pedestal: The Plumed Bonnet by Mary Balogh. Reread.

“I tried so very hard to please you, because I thought you were like a god. I might have better spent the time pleasing myself.”

Oh, how fun it is to read something and then find an absolutely perfect square! (And no, I didn’t contribute this one… I don’t think that  far ahead. 😉 ) Stephanie is totally stifling herself trying to become the Perfect Duchess, because she believes that Alistair is the Perfect Gentleman, who saved her life and her virtue. When she discovers the sordid truth, she has to figure out who she wants to be and whether to try and save their marriage. One of Balogh’s most thoughtful, insightful books.


Mary Sue: An Excellent Wife? by Charlotte Lamb. Cute book told entirely from the hero’s point of view. I actually didn’t mind the heroine all that much, after some annoying initial feistiness, but she is a Friend to Children, Animals, and Old People and wound up on one GoodRead friend’s “h-over-haloed-or-mary-sued” shelf.

White Man’s Burden: Regency Valentines by Jo Beverley

“Longevity was creating another problem. Many estates were carrying the burden of long-lived widows, and maybe more than one.”

A rather meh collection of two previously published short stories and some historical Valentine’s trivia; the most interesting part of of it was an article, also previously published, on “The Importance of Money in Regency Society,” with specific reference to Jane Austen.

With pleasure:

For your own good: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera. Woof! An intense, intense read. I loved it for the spot-on depictions of New York neighborhood kids, which read EXACTLY like I remember them, only appropriately aged 40 years, and with some added racial aspects. The way they’re still playing kid street games while simultaneously experimenting with sex and drugs… I don’t think I’ve ever seen that weird in-between time shown so well before.

And I loved that what I thought was a derivative plot turned out to be… a starting point for a metaphor is the best way I can put it.

Shipping: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold. Reread.

Although this could go in Hero is a Mountain — admittedly, quite a short one — I could not resist the pun value of “Shipping” for a romance between two starship commanders. Also, Cordelia and Aral is a ship I will go down with, to the point that I refused to read Cryoburn for years. (I caved last month.)

Pride: Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. A reread inspired by this article. This is a contemporary old skool book and I love it to pieces.

If you had to choose one word to sum up Kiss an Angel, “pride” might be it. More about it by me here.

Pretty in Pink: Angel in a Red Dress by Judith Ivory. My June TBR challenge read. I chose this square, not for the book title, but because it opens on the young heroine totally grooving on the awesome dress she’s wearing. She also much admires the dandy hero’s lace.

Hero is a Mountain: Out of Nowhere by Roan Parrish. The author must love gentle giant heroes as much as I do, because she’s two for two. A pretty good redemption for the brother-villain of In The Middle of Somewhere, though I didn’t like it as much. High angst.

100: The Italian’s Mistress by Melanie Milburne. Should have checked the publication date on this one. I’m tempted to put it in “I’m so sorry,” as in “I’m so sorry I stayed up til 3am to finish this” but I’ll go with “100” as in “The hero and heroine argue over the same damn thing at least 100 times.” SUCH an aggravating book! And it’s even more aggravating because of all the lampshades the author tries to hang, pointing out how aggravating her couple is being. The hero is a seething cauldron of ridiculous illogic — he’s supposed to be driven mad with loss and jealousy, I guess, but he just comes off as mad. And then after all that, the heroine doesn’t even let him do the absolutely necessary grovel!

Also Reads:

“Season 9” of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (graphic novel.)

A Common Scandal by Amanda Weaver – DNF.





May in Book Bingo


This was an exceptionally hard card! Nonetheless, I filled the entire thing  because a) I read a LOT and b) I am an expert rationalizer!

Recurring themes of the month: Heroes who have never known love. “Unwomanly” heroines. Heroines with odd clothing obsessions. Landscape gardeners. Plastic surgery. Trains, often crashing. Twins (again). Dead brothers. Fake engagements. Depressing pregnancies. Technical adultery. Heroine pregnant with/had hero’s brother’s child (and one carrying her sister’s child.)  Friends who couldn’t possibly be lovers. New to me series. Rereads. Single point of view.

“Ole”: The Unexpected Baby by Diana Hamilton. Heroine lives in Spain. Very typical (especially of Hamilton) Big Mis/Cruel Hero Harlequin Presents starring two idiots. I like that sort of thing so enjoyed it until it got a little too silly at the end.

“Epic Disaster Wardrobe Tragedy”: A Fashionable Indulgence by K.J. Charles. This would also have fit under “twins” but it fits so exquisitely perfectly in this square, I have to wonder if the book actually inspired it. Anyway, this is a rich, complex, gorgeously written Regency romance. The historical aspects are particularly resonant today — or perhaps they would be at any time? I did get a little tired of how many things were effed up — as Charles puts it in the third novel of the series, “Harry attracted disaster like few other men.”

“May”: Forget Me Not by Jordan Castillo Price. A hard book to place, but there is a mention of May. My TBR Challenge read for the month.

“Brunch”: Flawless by Sara Craven. Another simple mention. Wacky “dig two graves” revenge story involving plastic surgery; by no means even the wackiest HP with this theme I’ve read! I kind of love how deeply messed up the heroine is, though an actual happy ending is perhaps a little hard to picture.

“Narcissism”: This Gun for Hire by Jo Goodman.

“‘Oh yes. Apollo, the Sun God.’


She shrugged. ‘That what I called him.’

‘To his face?’

‘Lord, no. What would be the sense of giving a man already so full of himself another reason to beat his chest?'”

This scene is really more about Calico Nash protecting herself. Quill McKenna (this series has the weirdest names… I’m looking forward to my namesake Willa Pancake) is not actually all that full of himself. I found this story a bit slow, and the mystery was super obvious as well as drawn out, but the hero/hero interactions are sweet and fun. Goodman does some of the best sexy beta heroes.

“Inchoate cohesion”: Winter Destiny by Grace Green.

Best line:

“His eyes swirled with the rich blue-green of petrol spilled on a wet road.”

Favorite part:

“‘Your perfume…’ His tone held a faint hint of surprise. ‘I’d expected you to wear something more… sultry. I don’t recognize this fragrance.’

‘It’s new,’ Courtney said tersely. ‘It’s called Get Lost.'”

I love me a cruel hero who thinks badly of the heroine yet can’t help falling for her, but this one was kind of lacking in sense. Somehow the woman who struggled to bring up a daughter on her own is a terrible person and a homewrecker? And it’s better to tell the child’s paternal grandma that the heroine wickedly seduced her child’s father than, oh let’s say, they were both drunk and made a mistake — and to blackmail the heroine into going along with that awful story? Because that will somehow help with the overall goal of getting her and the child stay with them? Some nice angsty goodness, and I liked that the heroine was no doormat, but the plotline hurt my head.

“Love triangle”: Dark Angel by Mary Balogh. Engaged heroine is attracted against her will by vengeful bad boy… or is he? Reread.

“Close but no cigar”: Get Up: A 12-Step Guide to Recovery for Misfits, Freaks, and Weirdos by Bucky Sinister. A lot of good stuff in here — I enjoyed the comparison between the 12 step process and The Hero’s Journey — but I felt kind of let down by the approach for atheists.

“Lashings”: At the End of the Day by Betty Neels. Lashings of cream — twice! I’m so glad I didn’t have to go with the more obvious use of the word. 😉 One of those charming Neels that feels like it was written 30 years before it was (did nurses really scold diabetic patients for not eating their bread, ever?!) Chock full of food and Jersey dresses and green berets (I used to wear one!) and pets and a hero who refuses to just plain court the heroine for some neurotic reason of his own.

“Train Travel”: Sleeping Desire by Charlotte Lamb. Not the best advertisement for train travel, as there’s a crash that leads to the heroine’s amnesia.

This is a fascinating book, because I think Lamb was writing a hero with an attachment disorder, possibly before there was a definition for it. He grew up in an orphanage, without love, and is extremely charming and manipulative, as well as secretive. It says something about me as a reader that I didn’t mind the hero’s bad behavior (lying to the heroine, trying to keep her captive, manhandling her) nearly as much as I minded her family being on his side. An intense but thoughtful read. Also, gotta love the heroine’s obsession with denim pantsuits.

“Touch vs. Sight”: 22 Nights by Linda Winstead Jones. One hero is temporarily blinded.

“a walk in the park”: Bride by Command by Linda Winstead Jones. (Coincidentally enough, the book that follows 22 Nights. A series finished, yay!) The (twin!) hero forces the heroine on a journey thinking to punish her, but it turns out to be a pleasure for both of them. The secondary couple also takes long walks in the garden.

“Abstinence”: Falling in Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath. Our heroine is a spinster firmly on the shelf because men only want her for her dowry. She is damned tired of abstinence and decides to find herself some pleasure. Decent wallpaper historical; I like that Minerva has an unexpectedly full life with her friends and family, much of it spent in her father’s former gaming hell. (Her parents and siblings are characters from previous Heath series.)

“Ooooh! That would be grand!”: Archangel’s Storm by Nalini Singh. (Audiobook)

“‘You can have a garden here.’

‘Yes, I can, can’t I!'”

Heroine is a prisoner for centuries, and dreams of all she’ll do when she’s free.

“Bloom”Against the Wall by Jill Sorenson.

“…my heart blossoms the same way, pumping with vibrant emotion.”

“Suck it!”: Nameless by Claire Kent. There is a blow-job scene, but mainly I chose this square because that’s what the heroine is essentially saying to the hero for at least the first half of the book.

The story: commitment-shy heroine with controlling ex + emotionally controlled hero + one-night stand = pregnancy. Heroine then spends the next 500 years 9 months pushing the hero away.

This was… long. And detailed. Very, very detailed. The author notes at the end that she hasn’t been pregnant or a mother — perhaps that prompted her to go a little overboard on “getting it right.” (Which I’d say she does.) And a good editor could really have helped with various annoyances, and paragraphs like this:

“Her storm of emotions didn’t last very long, so soon she was able to pull herself away from him. ‘That was an unexpected emotional ordeal that I wasn’t remotely prepared for, but at least it didn’t last very long.'”


But don’t think that I hated this. Slow-burn romances in which the experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood are given a great deal of attention aren’t common, so the very novelty was interesting. And the emotions were well drawn and affecting. I thought Kent did a good job of taking her usual scenario — heroine pov only, but hero obviously in love — and going somewhere a little different with it.

“Little Fluffy Clouds”: The Pregnancy Plan by Grace Green. There is a reference to clouds in the book, but I mostly choose this square because I found the book pretty damn gooey. Also bothersome in a number of ways, including terrible fertility/reproduction misinformation (one of my biggest pet peeves.) No sir — I didn’t like it.

“Dead Dogs”: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rawling. Technically, hub hasn’t finished reading this one aloud, but damn it fits too perfectly — in a horrible way — to pass up. Also, if I have to suffer through listening to Harry’s obnoxious 15-year-old tantrums, I deserve some payback.

“That Dress”: In for the Kill by Shannon McKenna.

“That dress is now reserved exclusively for our fantasy sex play. The game I call ‘The Deflowering.'”

(7 mentions of “that dress.”)

I appreciated that this is light on the woo-woo of the last couple of McCloud books — not to mention, the tendency to put the kids of previous couples in danger — but that didn’t save it from being meh. Hero Sam seems like such a sad sack, even when he turns out to be — surprise! — a brilliant financial gazillionaire. (Alas, he’s no Transformer.) And Sveti is dumber than a sack of hammers, which is so disappointing. (She was introduced in my favorite McKenna book, Extreme Danger, so of course I wanted her to be awesome.) There wasn’t the intensity I associate with the best books of this series, or much in the way of humor either. I did like the little twist that Sveti stalks Sam at least as much as he stalks her. The final wrap-up for the series is sweet.

“Do the Shake”: The Greek’s Marriage Bargain by Sharon Kendrick. Shaking with rage, shaking hands, shaking voice, shaking like a leaf.

I stopped reading Kendrick some time ago, but this book got a bit of attention on Twitter for not having a miracle baby ending and I decided to give it a try. It was much more down to earth and realistic than I expect from this author — most notorious for the “Little Lizard” book — and a decently emotional story.

“Twins”: A Civil  Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. Miles and Mark — twins born 6 years apart.

This was my third or fourth time reading this and oh my, how it has grown on me. I laughed so hard. I waited with bated breath for events I, of course, knew would happen. Going to do a whole series reread now, I think.

“Silver Fox”: A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles. Two older heroes with grey in their hair.

I adore Charles’s homages to classic popular literature, but I think it’s awesome that she went completely original here, with characters and conflicts I’ve never seen in a Regency before. It suffers just a bit from overlapping with the first book but is brilliantly complex, vivid, and intense. Superb writing. An excellent choice for a romance conversion kit.

“Unicorns”Well Played by Katrina Ramos Atienza.

A contemporary Pride and Prejudice rewrite set at a University in the Philippines, which is also an NA book with absolutely NO SEX. *faints* It doesn’t really bring anything new to the story, but the fresh voice is fun.

“Elemental, My Dear Watson”: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. Miles Vorkosigan = mystery + science. And the ending that made me bawl, of course. That title is a truly tasteless joke, but apparently was not Bujold’s idea.

“15”: The Burning Lamp by Frances Murray.

“An open cancer of the neck… Phemie stared out the window but she didn’t see the sickening sore which was dressed every day, she saw 15’s patient face and remembered her five children…”

An evocative little scene. Student nurse Phemie may know her patients as numbers, but that doesn’t stop her from seeing them as people.  This would also fit very nicely under “train travel” — much description of Phemie’s journey to the wild west. There’s also a love triangle for about five seconds.

This was one of Valancy’s April Bingo books and it sounded right up my alley. It is. Phemie is what Heyer’s Grand Sophy might be like, if she weren’t born to wealth, privilege, and height. Indominatible and dryly witty, she’s an utter delight. This is an older style of historical romance — the love story is secondary to Phemie’s conquering of pretty much everything and everyone that stands in the way of her Colorado hospital, but totally winning in its understated way. (Note that this was written by an English writer in 1974 so can be a bit wincey around race at times, though always well-meaning.)

Also Reads:

A Gentleman’s Position by K.J. Charles. Although I would have to say A Seditious Affair is a more impressive book overall, this one won my heart with its romance. The prim and upright Richard of the previous books is totally melted here, and love turns him into a poet. So swoony.

Lord Carew’s Bride by Mary Balogh. Reread. Unusual romance, one of Balogh’s best. On this reading, I was really struck by the hero’s competence and creativity as a landscape designer. Wish he would come do our yard.

The Famous Heroine by Mary Balogh. Reread. Another sweet, different romance, with more of an emphasis on humor. A bit too light on the romance.

The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath. DNF. An identical twin reluctantly impersonates his dead brother to get his sister-in-law safely through her pregnancy. I was really looking forward to this one, and saving the “twins” square for it. But I found I just couldn’t hack it. For one thing, I was bugged by how everything about the hero was suddenly so much improved. I’ll give the book credit for having the heroine love her husband, but his new self is just so much better — he’s a better estate manager, he’s sexier, he even sleeps nude, unlike her old fogey first husband! But what most bugged me was the idea of all the heroine’s memories of her husband being tainted by the imposture. It’s just such an ugly thing to do, even with the best of intentions.

Lady Surrender by Carole Mortimer.

Bad Company by K.A. Mitchell. DNF.

Pain Slut by J.A. Rock. DNF. I loved The Sub’s Club, and the parts of this I read were good, but scalpels and needles and such are just too scary for me.

The Persistence of  Memory by  Jordan Castillo Price. Netgalley book. I still owe a review. Any minute now…


April in Book Bingo



Wow. I completely filled my bingo card with no leftovers!

Recurring Themes of the month: twins, adoption, heroes who aren’t physically perfect (!), class differences, low self-esteem, adultery, fairy tale retellings/stories inspired by literature, serious ketchup, recommend reads.

“Pulp:” Broken Resolutions by Olivia Dade. Librarian heroine, author hero, much book love from both. Very funny, light novella. Almost all of it takes place on one night, and I thought the intense commitment happened too quickly. Full disclosure: the author is a dear internet friend and we frequently exchange squishy virtual hugs.

“Mother Ship”: No Matter What by Janice Kay Johnson. Another complex, tangled family situation from Johnson; it’s well written and thoughtful, albeit a bit too tidy. I liked that this book not only took a fairly neutral stance towards abortion, but also considered adoption, from the standpoint of the pregnant woman, which often doesn’t even get a nod in romances featuring pregnancy — though perhaps it doesn’t count since the pregnant woman isn’t the heroine.

“April”: Duncan’s Bride by Linda Howard. The hero’s ex-wife’s name. Reread of a fun oldie.

“Bodily Fluids”:  Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. This young adult m/m fantasy could have gone in a number of squares, but it tickles me to put it here, since it’s a vampire story that isn’t remotely sexually explicit.

I enjoyed the characters and the magic working in this so much — spells come from the power of oft-repeated phrases, like “Nothing to See Here” or “Can’t Touch This” — that I didn’t really notice until after I’d finished that the world building and character building (other than the primary characters) is pretty sparse. Its resemblance to Harry Potter was both distracting (at least initially) and really necessary in order to follow it — it felt like fanfic rather than a complete, original story. But I did love the enemies to lovers romance, and the humor.

“Emoticon”: Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kay Hegelson. Epistolary novel told in blog posts, email, texts, etc. Many emoticons. My review at GoodReads.

“Non Compos Mentis”:  Shadow Play by Sally Wentworth. One of those intriguing Harlequin Presents in which the hero falls in love in a straightforward manner, but the heroine is the rub. In this case, she strongly suspects that the hero’s adopted son is the child she was forced to give up, which she’s sure will come back to bite her on the ass if they stay together. I loved that this wasn’t an offensive, infuriating mess like Sandra Brown’s A Secret Splendour, which felt like a giant slap in the face to adoptive parents.

There’s also a gorgeously tragic story within a story, which I wish I could actually read. (That’s where the “Non Compos Mentis” comes in  — the heroine of that story is drugged and seduced.)

“Bazaar”: Stars Above by Marissa Meyer. I was so tempted to put this in “Dirty,” because of mechanic Cinder and no sex at all, but, well, almost any book could go in “Dirty!” We get Cinder and Kai’s meeting at the Bazaar from his pov, because of course we do.

Aside from the poignant “The Little Android,” which is only loosely related to the series, this is less a collection of stories than short sketches, designed for fan-service or bum bum BUUMMMMMM effect for those who have read the entire Lunar Chronicles. (There are spoilers galore.) I did love the clever HEA epilogue for the four main couples, with a hint of one for a secondary couple.

“68 and I’ll Owe You One”: Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase. As was once quite typical in mainstream romance, especially historical, the heroine gets pleasured more than the hero does.

I almost DNF’d this one; the plot seemed tiresome and the characters pale echoes of those from Mr. Impossible and The Last Hellion. My perseverance was rewarded by one of those great angry love scenes that Chase does so well and so humorously. By the end of the book, I was pretty happy with it.

“Dirty”: Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark.

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the things you said. The one thing was so beautiful and the other so dirty.”

“Nothing wrong with wanting both.”

A mature, satisfying contemporary romance that would also work nicely in “If you can dream it you can do it.”  I really liked that even though the hero has far more money and status than the heroine, it was not a Cinderella story, and they both have important arcs around their life journeys. The parts about the sonngwriter/performer’s hero creative process were especially captivating.

“Dark Lord”: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. ‘Nuff said.

“Aphrodite”: Mirrored by Alex Flinn. It’s impossible not to compare this to Fairest by Marissa Meyer, another origin story for Snow White’s evil queen. They both give the queen the same basic motivations: ugly, horribly bullied, and in love with someone she can’t have. But though Mayer’s Levana was evil on a far larger scale than Flinn’s Violet, there was a true horror and pathos to her story that’s almost missing here. It’s very hard to empathize with Violet, or to feel that she truly lost out on anything, when her “true love” was such a wretched, shallow person. Flinn’s message about beauty and inner beauty feels confused, and I felt the plot squeezed in all the original story elements in an implausible way.

On the plus side, I loved that Celine’s handsome prince is a “person of short stature,”; he’s also a wonderful character, and the best part of the story.

“Ka ching”: Beautiful Stranger by Ruth Wind. Heroine is extremely wealthy. My TBR Challenge book.

“Crush”: His One and Only by Theodora Taylor. Hero and heroine grew up together and both crushed. I liked this interracial romance, though I’m not entirely sure why. Even aside from the infamous “kit kat” issue — the heroine’s only term for her sexual organs — it’s perturbing that she falls for an extremely controlling guy after (just barely) surviving domestic violence. She is aware of the danger signs, but I think trusts him too readily. On the other hand, the treatment of the hero’s recent blindness is pretty good. And I enjoyed the overall Harlequin Present-ishness of it, but with a unique voice.

“Envy”: Light and Shadow by Lisa Gregory (aka Candace Camp.) An actress pretends to be her twin sister, causing confusion for the husband who had learned to hate her. I love this trope, and it’s well done here.  There’s also a surprisingly sensitive treatment of the hero’s child, who is intellectually disabled.

“Magenta”: Violet Fire by Jo Goodman. After DNFing around four books with characters named Magenta, I went for a book cover.

This is somewhat similar in plotline to Light and Shadow, with the difference that both the husband and young child quickly realize the twin is not their missing wife/mother. Goodman hadn’t hit her writing stride yet, but she’s getting there. Unfortunately, this is a plantation romance, and a rather irritatingly coy one at that. The hero owns a tobacco plantation in Virginia, before the Civil War, staffed by “workers” and “servants.” One of the few actual mentions of slavery is a disapproving thought from one of the book’s worst villains; the others are from another villain, and it comes across as him being just too vulgar for words.

“Shot Gun!” : Faith and Fidelity by Tere Michaels. This is such a family story — one of the heroes is a widower with 4 kids — that it just seemed to fit.

“Bluffing”: The Sub’s Club by J.A. Rock. Is the hero bluffing? Half the time he doesn’t know himself. This was my choice for best read of the month.

“This Means WAR”: A Duchess in Name by Amanda Weaver.

“They’d made their deal and the terms were hers to set. But inside those rules? He would take ruthless advantage of every opportunity open to him. This was only the first battle in a protracted war, and he would withdraw to fight again another day.”

One of my favorite tropes: a hero forced to marry cruelly abandons the heroine, then must win her back. In this case, he chooses a delicious slow seduction, which I suppose is more fun to read about than simply telling her what his problem was and asking for forgiveness. It’s kind of an old skool plot, but with a more new skool hero. (He does cheat, but just barely!) A bit heavy on the Big Mis, and could have used more sense of place — the hero keeps travelling to and from Italy, but I never knew how — but a very enjoyable read overall.

“Dear Diary”: The Seal Wife by Eleanor Rees. Hero has diaries of his “misspent youth” which he’s turned into bestselling thrillers. I enjoyed the strong sense of place and evocative theme of this story, but it was the strong sensible heroine that really won my heart.

I have no idea what is up with this box. The WordPress Gods must be angry with me.

“Ice Ice Baby”: Luck Be a Lady by Meredith Duran. An “ice queen” heroine, and not a very sympathetic one at that. I almost DNF’d, because I really wasn’t connecting with the characters. I seem very much against the swim in preferring the previous book.

“Dance Like No One is Watching”: Be My Girl! by Lucy Gordon. The heroine is a professional dancer, but more than that, she’s on a seemingly hopeless quest to get the attention of the man she loves. Cute, mostly lighthearted story that flips the category romance with hero-point-of-view only.

“Silverback”: Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh. Because of the unconventional alpha.

“Uxorious”: Frozen by Meljean Brook. The hero cooks for her! He’ll tear down mountains for her! Oh, and also he’ll literally encase himself in ice to keep her safe from him.

This starts off in the genre of fated mate paranormals ala Kresley Cole, those in which the hero will chew his own leg off to get to his mate. The premise actually made me pretty uncomfortable. But then I realized it was exploring consent in those stories — not only the heroine’s inability to consent, but the hero’s as well, which is pretty damn cool. Heh.

“If you can dream it you can do it”: Wish on the Moon by Sally Wentworth. I’m going for an ironic choice here, because the heroine does nothing but dream — she falls in love with her cousin’s fiance and is trying to be honorable. Really good for an only moderate angst old HP.

“House Keeper”: Leonetti’s Housekeeper Bride by Lynne Graham. Low angst, likeable HP.



March in Book Bingo



Announcing… ahem… A FULL CARD! Well, almost. I’m still reading For Your Eyes Only.

“Gasp!”: Pia Does Hollywood by Thea Harrison. I thought at first this was going to be as dull as Dragos Goes to Washington, but then — gasp! — the Fairy Zombies appeared! Still wound up without much tension, though. Since I’m bloody well sick of this couple between the sheets, I thought it was cool and funny that at one point in the book they can’t even touch each other. It was bookended by tons of sex, for those who care.

“Overdue”: Mistress for a Night by Diana Hamilton. Reunion in the shadow of a Big Misunderstanding — in other words, a Diana Hamilton story. Was pretty good til the hero decided to deliberately be stupid in order to stretch the story out.

“March”: A Matter of Disagreement by E.E. Ottoman. I started this thinking it would work nicely for the “bitter” square, but when it came up on a search of “march” on Calibre, while I was actually reading it, I couldn’t resist. (One of the heroes, a transman, is The Marquis de la Marche.) Sweet alternate world fantasy short story.

“Dramatic Ellipses”: Winterbourne by Susan Carroll. Deathbed confessions… the perfect home for dramatic ellipses! And how cool that my tbr challenge book turned out to be my winning bingo square! It would also fit nicely in “bitter” and “overdue.”

“Artificial Appendage”: The Phantom Lover by Elizabeth Mansfield.  I love how this one just fell into my lap. Started reading it on a whim, thought it likely wouldn’t fit any of the squares very well… then discovered the hero has a wooden leg! Very entertaining traditional Regency, much more lighthearted than you’d guess from the title. Seems to have brought back my historicals mojo, thank you very much!

“Super Spy”: Lady Be Good by Meredith Duran. Historical mojo continues!

“Stalker”: Pagan Encounter by Charlotte Lamb. From the good old days before restraining orders. Rather an interesting book, because it’s kind of the ur Presents of the “bring the controlling man to his knees” type.

“Sloth”: Hot Blood by Charlotte Lamb. No, seriously. It says so right here:


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This was unusual in featuring a heroine who’s a grandmother — and older than me! She had an interesting perspective and I liked her as a character, but the man she’s in love with is such a grumpy pain in the ass that I was rooting for the third side of the love triangle, a charming younger man. The hero does have some good reasons for his inability to commit — not slothfulness — but possessiveness was just not enough to demonstrate love here.

“Love Thy Neighbor”: Burning Bright by Megan Hart et.al. A collection of Hanukkah romances; Hart’s is about two neighbors from very different Jewish backgrounds. The last story is kind of a love letter to Israel, intriguingly different.

“The Alibi”: Cowboy Alibi by Paula Graves. I searched for “alibi” on Overdrive and this title tickled me, though it’s not up there with Pregnesia. Enjoyable romantic suspense about a cop on the run with his former lover, who has amnesia — and whom he suspects of murdering his brother.

“It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”: The Professor by Charlotte Stein

“The rain was particularly heavy that evening,” I put, at that tapping gets more insistent. He only looks like he’s not watching what I write, you see. Really he’s studying every word — and he proves it a second later.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

“What? What do you–?”

“That is what you have written, Miss Hayridge, and quite frankly, I am appalled.”

I love that I live in a world in which I can read both The Professor by Charlotte Bronte and The Professor by Charlotte Stein.

“Whip It”: Crash Into You by Roni Loren. I had all kinds of issues with this, but still found it pretty compulsively readable — except towards the end where I frankly was just tired of all the sex. That seems to be a theme lately.

“Infidelity”: Brotherhood in Death by J.D. Robb. This would also have fit nicely into “Overdue” since a number of men who were not only serial adulterers but far, far worse, get a long overdue comeuppance. But I wasn’t sure I’d encounter another book with infidelity in it, so stuck it here. No worries fans, none of the regular characters cheat, though we do get some juicy descriptions of what would happen if they did.

“Watt”: The Redemption of Matthew Quinn by Kathleen O’Brien.

“Even the notoriously immune older woman melted a little under the wattage of that smile.”

A former yuppie who wound up in jail becomes a handyman for an impulsive woman in a falling-down mansion. There’s also a town full of lovably eccentric millionaires. Surprisingly likeable. The heroine is a touch manic-pixie-dreamgirlish, but since we get her point of view, it works.
“Skools Out!”: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. Heh, I just got the joke in that square name. Very entertaining YA novel about a group of friends who live in an area swarming with Chosen One “Indie-kids” — while a supernatural crisis happens around them, they’re just trying to get through to graduation, hopefully before the high school blows up again. A really good combination of parody and realism, that turns a lot of cliches on their head. Good treatment of disability too, with some caveats.

“Bendy”: Wallflower by Heidi Belleau. A genderqueer interracial romance and a bingo two-fer! Rob is a self-described “gender-bender” and the book opens with him doing yoga. (He’s also “a bit of a chubby chaser” — be still my heart!)  This is a story I’ve been wanting to read for ages, because of the intriguing premise and gorgeous cover, so it was nice that I really enjoyed it. It stresses coming out/coming of age over romance, but certainly ends happily.

“Bitter”: The Innocent’s Sinful Craving by Sara Craven. Oh good grief, that title! Quite an enjoyable book though, with a scheming, extremely bitter heroine who thinks she’s been done out of the house that should have been hers.

“Mad Dogs”: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling. I forgot to include them previously, but my husband has been reading this entire series aloud to my son and I. He read me books 2-4 while I was pregnant (I never could get past Dobby on my own) and it apparently affected son in the womb, because this is his third read-aloud and I don’t even know how often he’s read them to himself. I never got past book 4 though, so this will be my first time of the whole series.

A conversation we have at least three times per book:

me or son: “Wait a minute, that plot point makes no sense!”

hub: “Well, in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, it’s explained that…”

So after we finish all of these, we’re going to read that. 🙂

“Hot and Sweaty”: More Than One Night by Sarah Mayberry. You can pretty much count on hot and sweaty with Mayberry. A low-key, slightly sad story, though all ends happily.

Unintentional pun? “She wanted to believe. She wanted to grab the fairy tale by the throat and hang on for grim life.”

One thing I found implausible: the heroine’s mother died giving birth to her, yet she doesn’t fret about this in the slightest when she becomes pregnant. I can’t believe there’s a woman anywhere who wouldn’t worry just a bit in those circumstances.
“Purple: For Your Eyes Only by Sandra Antonelli. This came up on a search of purple, and not only is it by a fellow bingo player, but the heroine’s name is Willa, so of course I had to read it. Sassy spy story with older characters.

“Old Flame”: Dishonourable Proposal by Jaqueline Baird. Pretty much every problematic element you can imagine in an Harlequin Presents, but I guess that’s what makes it fun.

“Spider”: Winter by Marissa Mayer.

“To her, the system resembled a spiderweb and the capital city of Artemisia was the spider.”

The title character also hallucinates about spiders, because she has been driven crazy through refusing to use her power of psychically manipulating people. I love that Mayer gave Snow White brown skin in this story… as well as an exceptional moral center.

“Beta”: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. This has only the tiniest sliver of romance in it, but the main character is a celebration of all that is best in a beta hero. Even though I have very little interest in court stories and couldn’t follow the names at all, I listened to all 17 hours of it, just for him.

“Broken Record”: Humbug by Joanna Chambers. The hero keeps thinking of the other hero as “stupidly handsome.” Also, it’s kind of a one-note story — which is fine, since it’s short. Nice “Scrooge” retelling; I was surprised when no actual ghosts appeared, because that’s the cliche, but it was well done without them.

“Hatchback Hero”: The Substitute Bride by Kathleen O’Brien. I’m going a little metaphorical here, but the hero not only drives a ratty old pickup, but falls in love with a pregnant heroine. He’ll be driving a hatchback soon enough.

Also reads:

The Bishop’s Daughter by Susan Carroll. Traditional Regency. Proper heroine keeps believing the worst of the hero.

In Name Only by Diana Hamilton. Meh.

Shadow’s End by Thea Harrison.

Liam Takes Manhattan by Thea Harrison. There’s more going on in the blurb than the actual book — in fact, I think there’s even more going on in the title. But it’s a sweet character sketch. And I have now finished the Elder Races series!

Your Wicked Heart by Meredith Duran. OMG, a recent historical I liked! With good sex scenes! *faints*

The Darkest Part of the Forest

by Holly Black. I chose this for my best read (listen) of the month at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Black writes the most amazing girl protagonists.

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February in Book Bingo


I went out of my way not to win this time — being such a fast reader gives me an unfair advantage, not to mention all the short old category romances — but I discovered it’s fun to use the BINGO card to comment on my reading for the month.

“Gotcha!”: Daughter of Hassan by Penny Jordan. Hero gotchas the heroine but good. Rapey old skool sheikh story, with nothing original to make it worth reading, and several layers of ick.

“It’s All Greek to Me”: Baby of Shame by Julia James. Reader of shame. This is so wangsty, I’m seriously embarrassed by the fact that I reread it for the gut punch several times a year. Greek hero, of course.

“Or so s/he thought”: The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones.  Since the narrator has amnesia, there’s lots of mystery and secrets.

I admired how the author set this up, plotwise. Like the “In Death” series, the overall suspenseful awfulness is mitigated by the coziness of the repeated characters and jokes, and she managed to make that happen despite this situation she left Charley Davidson in in the previous book. At one point, I thought she’s overdone it (the new ghost in the new corner.) and even that turned out to work narratively in the end.

But as in the last several books, the pacing really irritated me. For example, at one point Janey (Charley) discovers a neighborhood man is probably in serious danger and she just futzes around pondering about it for days, if not weeks, while a whole bunch of other weird shit is also going on. I’m also finding Charley tiresome as a character. There is a gorgeous moment of sacrifice and and of course some huge ending tension so I’ll probably keep reading, like the sucker I am, but I may switch to print for the next one so I can skim.

“Marriage of Convenience”: Hostage by Madeleine Ker. Hero blackmails the heroine into marriage — but why? Seriously, why? I was confused all the way through.

“Dog Howling”: Midnight’s Kiss by Thea Harrison. Because it’s full of wolflike feral vampires. Good suspense, good reunion passion (even after 20 years, which isn’t as painful as usual since they’re immortal characters.) Really dumb plot point though — seemed like a weird leftover from the author’s previous category romance career — and I just never cared all that much about the characters.

“Family Disunion”: Artistic License by Elle Pierson. To give you an idea of the hero’s family, his best friend calls his parents “Darth and Cruella.” This is by the same author as Act Like It, and though it had some plotting issues and the humor isn’t as polished,  I just loved the characters. The heroine is a shy, introverted artist, possibly on the Autism spectrum (though it’s never mentioned,) definitely “highly sensitive.” The hero is physically tough but emotionally insecure. They have a lot to navigate. Very sweet, endearing relationship.

“Lust”: The Morning After by Michelle Reid. One of the more sensual Harlequin Presents, and pretty romantic, too.

“Love to Hate You”: Kinked by Thea Harrision. This is one of the squares I contributed. I usually use it to mean an epic rollercoaster sort of romance, where the hero and heroine keep going back and forth about their feelings for each other, but it fit this fierce enemies to lovers story too well not to use.  Great power dynamics in the relationship between two alphas.

“Bounty Hunter”: The Seduction of Samantha Kincaide by Maggie Osborne. Female bounty hunter, no less! This was synchronicity… I’ve waited for ages to listen to this audiobook, and just happened to finally do it in February.

“A Flower Amongst Flowers”: Night’s Honor by Thea Harrison. I wasn’t really sure what this square meant, but I used it to signify that the hero thinks of the heroine as special and wonderful while I thought she was a royal pain in the ass. Lovely, gentlemanly vampire hero though, and I wound up liking this one quite a bit anyway.

“Reading Flagellation”: A DNF — but I did struggle through half!

“Green”: Desire Never Changes by Penny Jordan. Many mentions of the hero’s green eyes. An odd title, since the heroine is engaged to, and very attracted to, another man at the book’s opening. And oh my, what a bundle of confused 18 year old hormones she is, too. The hero is one of Penny Jordan’s classics, who goes from Madonna to Whore in under 60 seconds. Twice! A lot of fun.

“Lemon and Lime: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker. Yellow and green cover was the best I could do for this square.  A long, leisurely fantasy with a romance so slow-burning it’s barely a simmer. Ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

“Book Boyfriend”: Bound by Flames by Jeaniene Frost. I don’t generally use the term book boyfriend for myself, so my interpretation here is that it’s a hero who’s only allowable because he’s in a book. (Which would actually explain a lot of the otherwise inexplicable “book boyfriends” I’ve seen…) Decent paranormal adventure, on the grisly side.

“Free to Be a Family”: Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins. Another square contributed by me — it signifies family bonds other than those of blood. Some more cool history in the follow up to Through the Storm, though not as intense a read.

“Gazillionaire”: A Ruthless Proposition by Natasha Anders. Would also have fit well in “Love to hate you.” Interesting because the characters really have negative feelings towards each other, but are forced together (for the usual reason.) Has more depth than her previous Harlequin Presents-y storys and gets pretty sad.

“Letters”: Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas. It’s not episotallary, unfortunately, but there are quite a few rather charming letters. This was an okay read, but it felt a little off to me. Things that happened didn’t seem to be properly linked to other things that happened.  Like just about everyone else, I was more intrigued by the secondary romance and hope their book will be better.

“Road Trip”: I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest. Several small road trips, really. This would also have fit excellently under “Wow.” Super suspenseful and exciting, also a lovely friendship story. No romance at all and it’s not missed.

“Netflix & Chill”: Dear White People by Justin Simien. Fairly funny, but I thought the movie made the same points in a less didactic way. I placed it in this square because I’d just read an article about the origin of the term, and it was mentioned as being one of the terms first used by blacks and then taken over by whites, which is a point that comes up in the book.

“Wow!” Volume 1-3 of “Ms. Marvel.” Awesome! Where were the comics like this when I was a kid?

“Ethically Iffy”: Heart of Obsidian by Nalini Singh. To say the least. The hero is prepared to destroy the world for the heroine, among other things.

Squares not used: the second “ethically iffy.” (Rules.) “Wildcard.” (Rules — that was my handicap because of winning last time.) “Yeeha Cowboy.” “Verse” — The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic would have fit nicely (the main character literally recites poetry to save her life) but I chose to put it elsewhere.

Also in February:

Lonely Hearts by Heidi Cullinan. DNF. Good depiction of disability, as with the previous books in the series, but I got bored with the constant drug use. Skipped to the end and it was so sickly sweet I couldn’t even read it.

A Queer Trade by K.J. Charles. Promising beginning to the “Rag and Bone” series. An interracial across-the-tracks gay couple practicing magic in Victorian England…. should get pretty hairy!

Is This Tomorrow? by Caroline Levitt. Lovely narration by Xe Sands kept me listening when I might not have finished print. I enjoyed the characterizations, period setting, and many evocative moments, but it reminded me of one of the reasons I read genre fiction — because I almost never finish a genre book going, “what the hell was that even about?”

Dragos Goes to Washington by Thea Harrison. Fan service up the wazoo. Lots of sex, a little banter, a pointless mystery, and a set-up for the next book. That’s pretty much it.

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