A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: The Legacy by T.J. Bennett

The theme: I’m off-theme again. Somebody stop me!

Why this one: It also fits a Geographical challenge I’m doing.

CN for the book: abuse, sexual violence, and implied rape

 

It’s nice to read a historical that’s been on my TBR for far too long and not feel regret about how much more I might once have enjoyed it. Although not as timeless as an old Carla Kelly, The Legacy is still quite my cup of tea. 

Set in Medieval Germany during the Protestant reformation, it’s a romance between Sabina, who recently escaped from a nunnery with the help of Martin Luther, and Wolf, the prosperous owner of a print shop. Both have been blackmailed into marriage by her adoptive father, Baron von Ziegler. (There’s a cross-class element here, but it’s not particularly important to the story.)

Although wanting to be cold to the wife forced on him, Wolf is aghast to realize how badly the Baron has mistreated her, and attracted in spite of himself. But two things stop him from commiting to the marriage: his guilt over having feelings for another, after the death of his beloved first wife, and his guilt over having to take Sabina’s legacy from her mother, which she dreams of using to help vulnerable children and women like herself. Sabina doesn’t know whether to be angrier about losing her dream, or about Wolf’s refusal to let her in.

The theme of legacy resounds throughout the book. At one point, Sabina tells Wolf the most traumatic secret of her past, that her older brother was murdered trying to save her from sexual assault. Their father blamed her for the death and hated her thereafter, and she’s hated herself as well.

“Your brother was a hero, Sabina, not a sacrifice. Don’t let that devil take that away from you… It was his choice, Sabina. No one forced it upon him. He did it because he thought you were worthy of being saved. That is his legacy to you. Don’t ignore it. Don’t throw it away, because  if you do, he really will have died in vain.”

The Baron’s legacy of cruelty rebounds on him, when Sabina chooses not to be forgiving. And in the end, Sabina helps Wolf with his own ugly secrets: “Neither of us is responsible for the sins of our fathers. Let the legacy of guilt and shame die with them today.”

Well researched history is nicely woven into the plot, and Wolf manages to seem true to the time while being essentially a decent man. Sabina is admirably strong, with her basically feminist views given appropriate historical roots. And… there’s just the sort of angst I like.

Sadly, Bennett seems to have either stopped writing, or perhaps is writing under a different name. Does anyone know?

2 Comments »

The Loving Spirit by Penelope Stratton (Lucy Gordon)

Book content warning: depiction of rape

 

The Loving Spirit by Lucy Gordon.

This opens with what would be the epilogue of a typical historical romance: an ordinary woman named Amelia captured the heart of a harsh, withdrawn Earl named Justin, and they are now happily married with several children, and another on the way. But such happy endings were more precarious than most historicals like to acknowledge, and the birth of little Amelia leads to the death of her mother. On her deathbed, Amelia makes her husband and her children’s governess (her beloved school friend Kate, who fell on extremely bad times) promise to marry each other immediately, seeking to protect both of them.

Over time, the grief-stricken, bitter Justin and lonely Kate grow from having “no sympathy between their minds” to respect, liking, attraction, and then passionate love. But of course Kate’s horrible past comes back to attempt to destroy them.

I’m glad my attention was piqued by the plotline, because this is much meatier and more satisfying than Gordon’s frothy traditional Regencies. It’s a bit like a literary ancestor of The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson, but in more traditional genre romance form; readers who hate when a previous wife is downgraded and badmouthed to make the heroine look good will appreciate this one. Kate is a bit TSTL at times, but only when under tremendous pressure, and she’s a strong fighter. And there’s an excellent redemption for the narrowminded Justin.

.

 

3 Comments »

The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #21

 

 

Trigger Warning: loss of a child

Harlequin Presents #21: The Unwilling Bride by Violet Winspearunwilling1 unwilling2

Another one of those odd, “look how happy and in love we are” covers for a forced marriage story, despite the obvious title.The original Mills and Boon cover conveys the tone much better.

Best line: “The men of Sicily slap the face of their bride on the wedding day – we of Sardinia save the slap for the occasion that merits it.”

Notes of interest: Nothing new here. Sex is happening, but so obliquely I wasn’t sure of it until the heroine got obliquely pregnant.

~~

Mark, who is from Sardinia — a fact he mentions about every other sentence, so there’s no fear of forgetting it — lost his son in a horrible car wreck; he was also badly burned, and scarred. The wreck was caused by a hit and run driver, Rhodri, the son of Ravena’s beloved, frail guardian; to spare her guardian pain and stress, she agrees to marry Mark and have children with him. I almost DNF’d this one right there, because I was not happy about the death of a child being used as a plot point in such a way. It is treated more sensitively later.

Despite the plot and the threatening quote above, Mark isn’t half bad for an HP hero. He’s a little annoying with his insistance on believing that Ravena is in love with Rohdri, and I liked that she called him on it:

‘Each time we are alone he shares the room with us.’

‘Because you always have to mention him,’ she retaliated.

But he both catches Ravena with another man and finds her half-written letter to Rhodri without doing anything more than being all sad and bitter at her.

For her part, Ravena first believes Mark is still in love with his perfect first wife and then with a Sardinian girl. Jealousy makes her realize that he’s pretty damn hot, despite his scars. (Which are mentioned almost as often as Mark’s heritage.)

It’s a typical sort of story, but has a nice flow. The local color isn’t overdone, and the developing attraction Ravena feels for Mark is is well drawn.

3 Comments »

The Greek’s Bridal Bargain by Melanie Milbourne

What tickled me: The hero swims with dolphins!

What ticked me off: The heroine is so obnoxious, I would not have been unduly distressed if she had swum with the fishes.

Who might like it: Fans of devoted heroes.

The classic mode for a Harlequin Presents is an innocent heroine being unfairly judged by the hero. This reverses that, with a heroine who is often pretty awful, and a hero who constantly forgives and excuses her. (He puts on a show of being out for revenge against her family, but is pretty much a marshmallow underneath.) It’s all kind of thin, but I liked the trope reversal.

2 Comments »

Moonlight Mist by Laura London

What tickled my fancy: Evocative, funny, sensual writing.

What ticked me off: Too much Heyer influence, and pain in the butt heroine.

Who might like it: Fans of young, stubborn heroines who are always getting into scrapes. Surely there must be a few.

Most early London books have a dash of Heyer in them — probably very few traditional Regencies don’t — but this was a little more obvious than I care for, with many echoes of The Convenient Marriage. (I don’t know why that particular book has inspired so many imitations; I know of at least two others.) There’s plenty of lively, original plot and characters as well — I can’t imagine Heyer ever making her hero a reknowned poet — so it’s certainly not a total rip-off.

But its flaws are also similar: the stubborn, childish heroine is even more annoying than Heyer’s Horry and the romance is similarly on the light/off-page side. Though I’d say it’s more successful, even as I wonder how anyone could have fallen in love with the obnoxious 17-year-old Lynden, because it oozes that wonderful tension you only find in really well-written traditional Regencies from the no-sex days. Not a great story, certainly not up there with The Bad Baron’s Daughter, but entertaining enough.

Leave a comment »

The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #13

Harlequin Presents #13: A Kiss from Satan

3813969

 

Trigger warnings may be redundant when discussing old Harlequins, but just in case: warning for domestic violence

Best line: “‘I must admit that until a short while ago, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of marriage–‘ He broke off and for one fleeting second his lips curved in contempt. ‘A man doesn’t really need to these days – when women are so cheap.'”

Notes of interest: This may be the first Greek Tycoon. The bedroom door is so firmly shut, we miss the first month of their marriage. But we do get to witness the hero shaking the heroine until she’s almost unconscious, as punishment for ordering him around. Lucky us.

~~

As I read this, I half expected D’Hoffryn to appear to recruit our heroine Gale as a vengeance demon. After being cheated on by her fiance, Gale has deliberately become a femme fatale, trying to punish all men for being the rotten beasts they are. She’d like Greek hunk Julius to be her next victim, but unfortunately he sees through her right away.

I’m not sure which next parts of the plot I found weirder:

— that after narrowly escaping being raped by Julius, Gale not only stays in the house alone with him, but cooks them both breakfast. (Addendum 7/11/14:  some further thoughts on this.)

— that Gale agrees to marry Julius because her mother threatens to leave Gale’s philanderer father for another man if she doesn’t.

— that Gale’s mother was actually in a conspiracy with Julius.

Like Hampson’s last HP, Waves of Fire, this had a tendency towards long pauses in the action. Something dramatic happens, then the hero leaves and nothing else happens for a long time. I rather missed that when the shaking began. It had been a pretty good read until then — Gale’s interactions with her family are interesting — but that was so upsetting, I almost quit the book. There was no reason for me to be glad I continued; there aren’t even any repercussions from the shaking… in fact, she apologizes to him at the end!

I’m not sure I can face the next Anne Hampson.

3 Comments »

The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #10

#10 Waves of Fire by Anne Hampson

waves

I will likely enjoy this project a lot more when it stops being the same three authors over and over again…

Best line: “What sort of man was this whom she had married? Dark and sinister, a foreigner in whose blood ran the pagan traits of his idol-worshipping forbears, he would crush and subjugate her until she had no will of her own, no personality, no life other than that of a slave, a possession to be used, indifferently laid aside, and used again as this man’s passions and desires dictated.”

Notes of interest: And…. we has sex! Bedroom door painted shut, blink and you’ll miss it, forced seduction aka “tender lovemaking.” Guess which one of these fashions went out of date first. And I think we’ve had the heroine have some kind of accident that renders her unconscious in every book so far.

As you can see from the quote above, this was an uncomfortable read. Shani is thinking stuff like that all the time. Her husband is actually a decent guy by HP standards — we can overlook a little blackmail and forced consummation, right? Because he loves her! — but that doesn’t make the book feel any less racist. I skim-finished, so I suppose it’s possible that Shani wakes up and thinks, holy shit, I can’t believe all those stereotypes I was thinking about Greeks…. but I’m skeptical.

There’s a lot of travelogue, which is a little more narratively interesting than usual because it’s about Cos and the characters are into it because they’re both in the medical field. Then it veers into the adventures of the locals, while Shani and Andreas do pretty much nothing. There’s quite a lot of doing nothing in the book overall, and I’d had enough.

 

 

3 Comments »

What We've Been Reading

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

Something More

my extensive reading

Blue Castle Considerations

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

...Burns Through Her Bookshelf

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

Cate Marsden.

Love and Zombies. And books. And infrequent updates.

Book Thingo

Reading (mostly) romance books down under

Shallowreader

Hidden Depths

Olivia Dade

Bawdy romcoms with a big ♥.

Flight into Fantasy

Reviews, book thoughts and opinions of one omnivorous reader.

Her Hands, My Hands

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

dabwaha

64 books. 1 Champion. Get your game on.

Stop the STGRB Bullies

Your hypocrisy is showing

Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

Miss Bates Reads Romance

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