A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

If the Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman

CW: sizism

 

Very mixed feelings on this one. As friends-to-lovers stories go, it’s my favorite kind — we only get the heroine’s point of view, so I didn’t have to sit through a bunch of “woe is me, I can’t risk the friendship!” And the hero is adorable, as is the other man, and even the other woman isn’t half bad. I enjoyed the Phillipines setting, and since a wedding is involved, we get to see a lot of cultural family dynamics.

But beware the fatphobia! I feel for Martha, I really do — she’s trying to be positive about her size, in a culture where she’s so out of normal range, she has to have everything custom made.  “Most girls my age in this country  were beautiful, with slim, petite bodies and on the verge of the next stage of their life…I was nothing like the girls my age. I was a 200-pound blip in that statistic.” (Late in the book she visits London and is so thrilled to be able to just find clothes.) Her family doesn’t help, unsurprisingly.

But her internalized issues, or perhaps the author’s, spill out of every part of the book like sideboob. Even the sex scenes seemed to be designed to show how difficult her weight makes things, every single time. (I weigh more than Martha and I don’t have the problems she has!) Her fat comes into the simplest things — after a fight, Martha “walked towards the door to open it, making sure the only thing Max could see of me were my back rolls.” She doesn’t even just have a back.

There’s also missed potential. Early on, Martha says “I felt like I was still waiting for my life to begin, but my weight had nothing to do with that.” Then we discover that in fact, her low self-esteem has stopped her from realizing that she was loved — twice. But the story never really goes anywhere with that. It goes off on a tangent instead.

I know other fat readers have just loved this, so there may be more to it than I got out of it. But I was disappointed.

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TBR Challenge: After All These Years by Kathleen Gilles Seidel

The theme: friends

Why this one: Picked for a “midwest” challenge.

CW for book: Technical adultery, angst-free all around.

 

I’m afraid I can’t do this book justice now, since I finished it over a month ago. (forgive a brief pity-party, but you would not believe how complicated things get when a disabled child turns eighteen.) But in short, I loved this down-to-earth story. It very much fits the theme because Curry, Tom and Huck were the closest of friends all their lives, with a blood pact to always be straight with one another.

Curry and Huck got married, then Huck died in Vietnam, leaving her with another Huck to raise. Tom also fought, was injured in body and mind, and has little relationship with his wife and daughter. But this isn’t the standard “his friend got there first and he’s been pining ever since” story. Part of the story’s realistic charm is that its very straightforward about teens and their hormone-driven behavior, especially when living in a very small town with little to divert them. Tom and Curry started dating first, Tom pushed way too hard, and Curry kicked him to the curb. They both moved on.

Curry is just the best. She’s very much an adult: capable, empathetic, and so honest and true to herself. Tom, though over his pushy teen self, is pretty messed up, but learns that he can be a good partner and father.

It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, and I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much in my all-romance-angst-all-the-time days, but hey, how nice is it that some old books are better now, for a change?

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Working With Heat by Anne Calhoun

(reviewed from an e-arc provided by NetGalley)

Short, hot contemporary read, bad dates, no-strings fling with a friend… to be honest, this had “not really my thing” written all over it. But I thought this author might make it work for me, and I was right.

It’s not that the story doesn’t fulfill what it promises in the blurb, but it doesn’t feel the need to do it stereotypically. Milla, a travel blogger and youtube personality currently stationed in England, has a refreshing attitude towards her bad dates — she cuts her losses and moves on. They might be funny, but they don’t make her ridiculous. Her absorption in blogging, selfies, etc. isn’t played for laughs, either.

And being with Milla is a genuine risk for Charlie: he’s been badly burned by a (literal) East End Boy and West End girl marriage, and by social media. His trust in her as a friend and lover, nonetheless, is adorable. Of course there’s a conflict, but part of what I most liked about this story is that the characters change, but not through any kind of coercion. It’s always their decision.

If you like blokes with beards, this is the book for you. Many of the sexiest moments in the book involves Milla’s fascination with Charlie’s beard:

“The sharp edge of his scruff scratched deliciously at her lips as she brushed them back and forth across his mouth, tempting him to open them.”

“His beard, she discovered, had reached the soft, curling stage. She stroked it with her palms as his mouth coaxed hers open, savoring the sensation of smooth, hot tongue contrasted with the denser, soft hair around his lips.”

And then there’s a shaving scene…

Charlie’s art is also used for sexy metaphor. He “had learned patience handling sand heated until it became liquid, pliable. He’d learned how to seduce a woman by working with heat.” But it’s not just that, but an integral part of his personality. His commitment to his art, and what it says about him, gives substance to the story.

My only complaint is that the short format leads to a few initial short-cuts of telling rather than showing. I pretty much forgot about that as I read on. This isn’t a heartbreaker like Breath on Embers, but confirms my opinion that Calhoun is one of the authors who really makes short form romance worth reading.

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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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Semi-Reviews: Pretty Good Reads Edition

One Night With Her Best Friend by Noelle Adams

I tend to find “Friends to Lovers” stories frustrating, because of all the wangsting and passivity. Since this is quite short and only from the heroine’s point of view, it was blessedly free of most of that. It’s one of the unrequited love plots that Adams writes so well — light and quick, but nonetheless intensely passionate.

When the Marquess Met His Match by Laura Lee Gurhke

What tickled me: Goes in some unexpected directions.

What ticked me off: An uncomfortable read at times.

Who might like it: Fans of charming beta heroes.

It took me some time to warm up to this. It begins with a battle of wits, one in which significant damage is done to the hero by the heroine. Lady Belinda, a highly respectable society matchmaker, is appalled at the idea of finding a rich wife for Nicholas, the Marquess of Trubridge — she believes him to be a callous wastrel like her late husband, and she has no compunction about spiking his guns. The things that happen to poor Nicholas in this book — not all Belinda’s fault — make him seem a model of patience and sanity, which comparatively makes Belinda extremely unlikable. But the sense of growing intimacy between them was beguiling, and she does redeem herself.

Although in some ways a conventional historical romance, by the end it didn’t feel at all cookie-cutter. Nicholas is unusual for romance heroes in that although burned by love once, he puts the blame where it really belongs, rather than despising all women forevermore. And the ending was surprising and unexpectedly satisfying, nicely balancing out what had come before.

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