A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: The Awakening by Jude Deveraux

The theme: A random book.

Why this one: I was cleaning out my unread Deverauxs, feeling like the right time in my life to read them was past, but I could not resist the description of “a hot-blooded union organizer” hero. My grandpa would have been proud.

(Damn, I suppose I should’ve reached in the cabinet and pulled a book out at random? Too late now.)

The Awakening reminded me that the Deveraux books I’ve enjoyed the most have all been North American-set historicals… and that she thinks up some great stories. The setting of 1913 California is unusual enough, but when you add in the plight of migrant workers, it puts in some compelling history.

The romance plotline is compelling too, at least for much of the book. Hank Montgomery, an economics professor who works with unions, is invited to the Caulden family ranch in hopes he will soften towards their side in a brewing union battle. There he finds a truly weird set-up: Caulden’s wife is hidden away, and his daughter Amanda is subject to the strict rules and schedules of her tutor/fiance, who controls every aspect of her life, down to when and for how long she uses the bathroom. Obedient and adoring Amanda is instructed to entertain Hank and keep him on schedule, too.

It’s love at first sight for Hank — or maybe it would be, if Amanda wasn’t such a know-it-all prissy bore. For her part, Amanda is frustrated and upset with this man who uses the bathroom whenever he wants, insists on huge delicious meals, and makes her feel things that upset the way everything should be. Their interactions are romantically offbeat because a lot of the time they genuinely don’t like each other, yet they’re continually forced into intriguing intimacy. (Such as Hank having to brush Amada’s hair.)

Hank isn’t always a great guy here (though he usually recognizes when he’s messed up.) To be honest, none of the main characters behaves truly honorably — everybody cheats on everybody else — which I guess makes it sort of even out in the end.  Also, though basically a beta hero, Hank lives up to Willa’s law — so if you’re very sensitive about dubious consent and sexual coercion, avoid this one. Hank’s carefree bachelor sexual history is kind of irksome too; he seems to belong to the “nobody gets pregnant unless they have sex 24/7” school of thought. No wonder there were so many Montgomerys.

Even so, about two-thirds of the book felt fresh and captivating — but then the last third pissed away a lot of the tension. The plot meanders to keep things going, and the most action-filled moments in the book are written at a remove. Perhaps this is because, as the author’s note explains, Hank and his union organizing were based on a real person and actual events. The descriptions of the workers’ living conditions are vivid and sickening; it’s a shame the union plot aspects aren’t better integrated into the story.

Still, just having an older historical romance touch on how badly migrant workers were treated feels important to me. The genre has so many romantic Southern plantations and wealthy ranches — I just finished a Diana Palmer book in which the union organizers were the baddies —  that it’s good to see acknowledgement of the exploitation that often accompanies wealth. (Racism isn’t addressed, btw.) If you want a historical read that really isn’t the same old thing, this fits the bill in a number of ways.

 

5 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Angel in a Red Dress by Judith Ivory

CW: Mention of rape.

The theme: a favorite trope.

Why this one: It was the only TBR book I picked up that I felt like reading, though the main tropes — rake in pursuit and spying — are far from favorites of mine.

I think this book, originally titled Starlit Surrender, was Ivory’s first, and it shows. It’s occasionally far from subtle in the storytelling, as you can see in this offhand phrase:

“All three — Thomas, Sam, and Charles — were in league with Adrien to rescue French aristocrats destined for the guillotine.”

This blunt “telling” of a deep secret had already been “shown” perfectly clearly, and I can only assume Ivory had a really crap editor (who perhaps made her insert it.) The same editor obviously didn’t give a hang about historical accuracy, since the hero, Adrien, is breeding roses in the footsteps of Mendel around thirty years before Mendel was born.

The worst part of the story though, is that Adrien rapes Christina in a particularly chilling way — not violently or to punish her as is common in old skool romance, but over a long period of time, while she is essentially his prisoner. It’s too reminiscent of a realistic situation to be glossed over as “forced seduction” though Christina is depicted as ambivalent. (There’s an attempted rape later, not by the hero, which she fights off quite effectively.) The fact that this is all seen through Adrien’s entitled eyes and he barely realizes what he’s doing to her makes it particularly upsetting.

Nonetheless, this is Judith Ivory, which means much of the writing is elegant and gorgeous, especially in the sex scenes that aren’t horrible. She writes so evocatively about attraction and intimacy; early scenes which play with consent are wonderfully done, which makes it even sadder that it got so ugly later on.

There’s also what seems to be deliberate trope subversion. Adrien is highly intelligent, a brilliant strategist and playing a very dangerous game of intrigue, but he’s not the omnipotent historical hero we often see. He’s often taken by surprise, vulnerable, even prone to highly unromantic physical ailments. I adore the classic cool hero, but I enjoyed seeing a more human version. Attempts to give Christina greater depth than the usual feisty redhaired heroine aren’t completely successful, but I appreciated the effort. You can see the seeds here of the amazing writer Ivory would become.

1 Comment »

J is for Through the Storm by Beverly Jenkins or H is for History

I actually started this because I hear Jenkin’s latest, Forbidden, is really good, and its hero Rhine is introduced here. Word is it’s fine to read Forbidden as a stand alone, but there is some interesting background on Rhine, a former slave who is passing for white. He falls out of the story early on, but lingers poignantly in his sister’s memory:

“Rhine crossed her thoughts often. Had he found peace? If she passed him on the street, would he acknowledge her or walk past her with the nonseeing eyes of a White stranger?”

This is also a sequel to one of Jenkin’s most beloved books, Indigo, and the start of a series about the hero’s brothers.

Through the Storm is a Civil War/Reconstruction era romance about a biracial woman named Sable, who escapes slavery and joins a camp of “contraband” slaves which is run by the Union army. The commander of the camp is one of a very few black officers, the charming, wealthy, rakish Raimond LeVeq. Despite some obstacles, they find happiness together while both fighting tirelessly for the rights of “the race.”

I’m not usually a big fan of historical fiction (as opposed to historical romance) which seems to generally focus on long ago and far away politics, war, and royalty. Although this is definitely a romance, it also includes a great deal of history — history which is much closer to our time, and also about ordinary people. I was fascinated by some of the small details that so tellingly show the realities of slavery: for example, the mansion Sable originally lives in was built by slaves to have numerous hidden passageways for eavesdropping, a vital source of information for people who had no voice in their own lives. Sable’s connection to her roots is also a small but intriguing part of the story, as she is not only the granddaughter of one of the Firsts (the people originally captured and sold, rather than born in slavery) but has royal blood. There’s a touch of mysticism to the story that springs from the spiritual beliefs of the Firsts.

As a romance, this is a touch old skool at times — Raimond “charmingly” manhandles Sable at one point — but their relationship is almost entirely consensual and tender. There is a betrayal/Big Misunderstanding but even at his most angry, Raimond never goes beyond sharp words and trying desperately to ignore Sable. The hardest parts to read, aside from descriptions of gruesome wartime medical practices, are the ugly racist attitudes of the book’s villains.

I didn’t love the prose, which is in a very plain, declarative style without much in the way of description. I found it flat and thin at times, and some of my romantic expectations were thwarted. (When Raimond discovers he had misjudged Sable, he doesn’t say a word about it!) The beginning and end are nail-bitingly suspenseful, however, and I enjoyed the cozy in-jokes that develop between the couple, around their sensual “discussions.”

“Looking down, he kissed her sweetly and said, ‘Being parents has cut deeply into our discussion times.’

‘I know. We haven’t lectured each other in over a week.'”

This isn’t my first Beverly book, and even though I preferred Destiny’s Surrender, I have a new appreciation for the way she brings lesser-known history — and happy endings — to light. On to Forbidden!

7 Comments »

Review: Case for Seduction by Ann Christopher

What tickled my fancy: Manages to be a realistic fantasy.

What ticked me off: Dude, worry less about sexual harassment and more about anger management.

Who might like it: Readers who like kids and moms in their romance.

This isn’t really my type of story, but it was such a short, quick read that I went with it. It’s a mostly lighthearted office romance in which struggling law student and single mother Charlotte becomes the paralegal of notorious player Jake Hamilton, who promptly reforms, starts up a workplace childcare center, and childproofs his home. Meanwhile he and Charlotte try to keep their hands off of each other.

Jake is not my favorite kind of hero — women are pretty much disposable to him until he meets Charlotte and finds himself feeling thoughtful and protective for the first time. It helps that he’d already started feeling tired of his lifestyle, and guilty about how he treats women, and that he makes a strong effort to keep their relationship professional. His almost instant devotion to Charlotte’s son Harry is kind of over-the-top; Charlotte’s half of the story is more realistic, as she comes to realize that she has feelings for Jake and that her relationship with Harry’s dad Roger, her “first and only love” is really over for her.  It was nice that Harry’s dad is still in the picture, though he’s a bit of a jerk; Jake shows his superiority by giving Harry a baby doll, which Roger finds unmanly.

The main conflict is Jake’s past, which comes back to “bite him on the ass” with a vengeance. I enjoyed seeing him pine a bit, but was uncomfortable with how physical he gets with Charlotte when he’s angry — not actually hitting her, but grabbing and yanking her several times. She doesn’t even seem to notice.

This is the first in a multi-author series about a wealthy and powerful African-American family, so there’s an introduction to all the gorgeous Hamiltons and some hints at their future issues. I kinda loved Jake’s awful upper-crust mother, who makes pithy comments like “you look like a Depression-era street urchin” and tells Harry that he needs to work on his limp handshake.

Leave a comment »

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

...barely skimming the surface

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