A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Miss Grimsley’s Oxford Career by Carla Kelly

The theme: A comfort read.

Why this one: This theme is a bit of a conundrum, because for me a true comfort read is always a reread. But Kelly’s wholesomeness is usually comforting — though I have been burned before — and many of my most loved books are set in schools and colleges.

I’m not sure this traditional Regency will join that list, but it was great fun to read, though with a serious underpinning. Unlike some of Kelly’s darker books, the stakes are small and personal… yet at the same time, universal. Ellen, the daughter of a wealthy squire, would seem to have very little to distress or vex her other than her ridiculous family. But Ellen was unfortunately born with a thirst for scholarship, and all she has to look forward to is the complete waste of her brains and talents. Enter, pursued by creditors, her rascal brother Gordon, who no longer has the money to pay someone to write his Oxford literature essays…

As Ellen begins disguised scholarly research into A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure for Measure, she has the pleasure of learning from talented educators and reading in the sacred Bodleian library. Her masquerade is assisted by two people: the charming young scholar Jim Gatewood (sadly far too poor to be eligible) and the mysterious Lord Chesney, who for some completely unknown reason is greasing wheels for her socially.

It seems perfect that a book so concerned with Shakespeare should have its share of women passing as men (despite a lingering lavender scent,) men with secrets, ridiculous parents, and unwise pranks. But when all the mysteries have been cleared away, Ellen is still left to wrestle with unanswered questions, and yearnings she can’t satisfy.

As you can expect from Kelly, the main characters of this story are goodhearted, witty, and very pleasant to spend time with — and you have to love how much physicality she can get into a completely “clean” book. (It’s not so much sexual tension as just feeling like these characters crave closeness and don’t much care who knows it.) The plot falters towards the end and the resolution is perhaps a little too realistic to be completely satisfying. But all in all, it’s a delightful romp.

 

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The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

What tickled my fancy: Sensible heroine who doesn’t lose herself in unrequited love.

What ticked me off: E.L. James has much to answer for, and not just crappy BDSM scenes.

Who might like it: Someone looking for a friends-to-lovers story or more realistic, less overwrought NA.

 

It’s very easy for a certain kind of romance to go wrong for me.  Ones in which, say, the fat girl with low self-esteem gets the conventionally gorgeous guy who suddenly discovers he adore curves, despite having only dated rail-thin women in the past… and it’s so obvious that it’s being written as a fantasy, not as something that could reasonably happen.

This manages to escape being one of those books. It is a story about an underdog heroine who gets the gorgeous guy, but it’s a relationship that happens organically, as two friends come to care about each other.

Corey and Hartley get to be friends because they’re both athletes who are sharing the “gimp” floor at college. The difference is, Hartley’s only a temporary gimp, while Corey will never walk unassisted again. But they share a lot of experiences, and are very comfortable with each other. Corey is still physically and psychologically settling into how different her new life is, so having someone to be easy with means a lot. But his gorgeous, perfect, trophy girlfriend makes everything else hard.

I would’ve liked the book so much more if it weren’t for the incessant references to Corey’s imaginary “hope fairy,” which is straight out of Ana Steele’s repertoire. I wish that instead of imagining putting duct tape over the fairy’s mouth, Corey had had a giant foot step on her the first time she appeared. But I appreciated that Corey realizes she needs to take care of herself, get over Hartley, and work on new ways to make herself happy.

Hartley’s feelings towards his girlfriend are interestingly complex — she really is a trophy for him — but I would’ve liked to see his revelation that it was time to end it and follow his heart. And maybe just a teeny bit of suffering for him would’ve been nice… he gets to decide what he wants, and there it is, waiting for him. Though perhaps it’s unfair to complain of that when I’m praising the book’s realism. In any event, the story is very sweet, with just a little bit of touching heartbreak instead of the usual NA hog wallow of angst.

Final thoughts:  Although I didn’t love it, I guess I won’t ask Jane for my money back.

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