A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

More Precious Than a Crown by Carol Marinelli

 

CW: Mentions of rape, family abuse, domestic violence and miscarriage

 

I enjoyed Protecting the Desert Princess, an offbeat mix of “Roman Holiday” and “It Happened One Night” that may be the only Harlequin Presents that could be described as “rollicking.” This is is the previous book in the series, and though it also has a wild child heroine, some humor, and some very unexpected themes, it’s much darker.

I certainly never expected an HP to give us a heroine who was not only raped and impregnated by a family member (by marriage), but whose parents insist on “smoothing over” what happened and continue to invite him to family events. Unsurprisingly, she has a reputation for being uncontrolled and difficult, and she finds it very hard to open up to anyone. I thought the story handled this really well: Trinity’s behavior is all too relatable, and her hero Zahid is just about perfect. He accepts her — even before knowing why she acts out — and once he learns the truth, makes her well being and safety his top priority. In the end, she is free to choose exactly how she wants to handle it going forward, with him as back up.

I also liked the the darkness of the story is relieved by some goofiness between the two that made even a surprise old skool spanking scene, of all things, pretty funny. [Trinity is enjoying the spanking, to be clear.]

“You do not lie to me,” he said, as his hand went to come down again and then stilled. Zahid halted, barely able to breathe as he looked down at her red bottom and realised for the first time he was out of control. “Trinity…” His hand was in mid-air and he waited for her to shout, to tell him what a sick bastard he was, and then he heard her voice.

“One more, Captain.”

This could be a terrific trail-blazer — for Trinity’s story, not the spanking! — if it weren’t kind of… terrible. Marinelli’s writing often veers to the wrong side of effortlessly casual, and in this case, it went right over the cliff. I wanted to scream, “Go home commas, you’re drunk!” They’re all over the place, except where they should be.

The book shows not only lack of editing, but of the most basic proofreading. This paragraph completely baffled me:

Layla was happily late. Besotted with Trinity and when she should be meeting her father and brother, she smiled widely when Trinity knocked and Jamila, Layla’s handmaiden let Trinity into her room.

If the book was trying to imitate the error-filled style of “all the feels” self-published authors, it did a great job. It’s a shame no one seems to have been aiming to make it the best HP it could be, because it might have been fantastic.

 

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His For Keeps by Theodora Taylor

His For Keeps by Theodora Taylor.

This interracial romance is a follow-up to His One and Only, and overlaps with it a bit. It’s also the first of the “Fairgood Boys” trio, but without the controversial aspects of the other two. Country star Colin Fairgood recruits Kyra Goode (I like the parallel naming, because she gives as good as she gets) to help him make his high school crush Josie jealous. Unfortunately, Kyra has an extremely soft spot for Josie’s ex, Beau, and helps him win Josie over instead. But Kyra continues to pursue a friendship with Colin — without telling him that Josie asked her to, and is technically paying her as well. As things get intense between them, the secrets she’s keeping from him, as well as from Josie and Beau, become ever more potentially explosive.

I’d definitely call this romance rather than erotica, but it does get kinky, with domination and bondage. (Nothing really scary or painful.) It’s neither straight-out fantasy nor a realistic safe-sane-and-consensual depiction: Colin throws Kyra right into a power exchange with very little warning or preparation, which I found off-putting. But she does have the power to stop it and chooses not to, so there is consent of a sort. And I did really like their discussions about how to have a D/s relationship while also having a regular everyday life, including having children.

I’ve really been enjoying Taylor’s first person stories, and Kyra has a particularly strong voice. Her interactions with her grandmother add humor and sentiment, and songwriting gives her a life outside her romance.

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The Probably Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #186

 

 

 

 

Trigger warning: Extreme fat shaming.

 

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Harlequin Presents #186: A Bitter Loving by Lilian Peake

Best line: “Karen looked at Charles, who, at that moment, was contemplating the rising mound of his stomach as if it were a tumulus of great archaeological importance.”

Notes of interest: Implied unmarried sex.

***

I’m going completely out of reading order here, but I just had to reread this one when I found it. It’s one of the three HPs that I remember vividly from my adolescence — even the blurb was instantly familiar to me when I saw it. The book probably stuck with me because I was intrigued by a heroine who was fat as a child. On the other hand, it’s also a hell of a blurb:

 

Karen went toward the painting of Glenn like someone sleepwalking. Then, in a spasm of violent, uncontrollable anger, she plunged the points of the scissors into the canvas and ripped it open.

When she saw the results of her action and her brain started to spell out just what she’d done, she was appalled.

“Well,” Glenn asked, “have you got me out of your system?”

Out of her system? “Dear heaven,” Karen thought, “I’ve got you so much into my system that you’re part of the very blood running through my veins.”

 

Since I started reading Harlequin Presents again and keeping records, I’ve tried 4 Lilian Peake books. One I rated one star, two were DNFs, and one I hated so much I gave it one star even though it was also a DNF. But even without the nostalgia factor, I might have continued this one. It’s very odd, and oddly compelling.

Although the term isn’t used, Karen was — or is — clearly anorexic. She’s undergone treatment but I don’t think she could be considered cured, because her relationship with food and weight is still very fucked up. The book is filled with ugly fat shaming, and yet in a way it almost didn’t bother me, because much of it is clearly part of the heroine’s messed up psyche, and she’s aware of that herself. She also points out Glenn’s weight prejudice to him:

“I suppose,” she persisted, “you think that because Jerome’s fat, his mind is therefore stodgy and dull, which is how you described mine. But,” she pressed on in spite of the sharp gesture of annoyance which Glenn made, “he’s passionately fond of music, which means that deep down he’s sensitive and maybe even artistic.” Glenn Earl was silent, so she went on, consciously inciting him. “Which you, as his art teacher, should have discovered. And encouraged.”

It’s miles far from an enlightened book as far as body acceptance goes, so be wary, but there is a little nuance.

Glenn was Karen’s high school art teacher. (And how weird is that for a Harlequin Presents hero profession? But he’s also a very successful artist, so it’s okay.) Karen’s memories of being a fat child in high school are unsurprisingly dismal, and many of them center around Glenn, who mocked her when she was his student.

That was hard for me to get past. Blackmailing rapist heroes sure… or at least maybe. A hero who is cruel to a 13 year old child? Especially a poor child who is already the subject of persecution? Especially when the basis is his own prejudice? Yeech.

I’ve had cruel teachers and 30 years later, would still happily kick them in the giblets. Karen loves and hates Glenn, and she focuses most of her remembered misery on him. It’s not exactly clear why she’s come back to live in her old home and work at her old school — she seems to think she’s seeking revenge, but all she wants is to avoid him. She’s definitely far too depressed and aimless to have a plan.

I had trouble with numerous aspects of this story. The portrayal of the Evil Other Woman is particularly virulent, and Karen’s so-called friends laughingly betray her at every turn. Karen makes herself into a doormat for someone, threatening her health and well being. (She could be the subject of an interesting fictional “why she stayed” discussion.) The approach to an attempted rape is simply infuriating. Glenn comes off as something of an idiot as well as an unreformed asshole — his ex-wife threatens to destroy all his work if he visits Karen, and he still continues to share studio space with her?  And this is where he draws his ethical line:

“By God,” he muttered, “I can’t do it. I have some standards after all. I can’t take another man’s woman…”

Finally, after all that, the resolution is abrupt and unsatisfying. But it’s an interesting book, if you can read it with some detachment.

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Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath

I’m trying desperately to get caught up with ARC Mountain, so just a few thoughts on finally reading this classic.

So I realized that my love for the cruelly misjudged heroine isn’t gendered at all… a misjudged hero is just as good. Authors just don’t write them very often. (Suggestions?)

Another reviewer criticized hero Clay for being a saint. This is definitely a valid criticism, but I appreciated that he didn’t always turn the other cheek. He said a few pretty sharp (and entirely deserved) things to the heroine. And it’s an absolutely essential part of his character that he is totally committed to his beliefs.

The prose isn’t totally solid. In particular, the action scenes are very flat. And everything comes to an abrupt, neat ending. But there’s a beautiful use of incorporation around the themes of courage and what it really means. I had to grade down a bit for flaws, but I couldn’t give such an original and powerful book less than an A-.

Tangentially, it’s interesting how often a book I’ve heard about many times over the years turns out to be truly great, while a book I’ve heard about many times over the course of a week or month… not so much.

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