A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Beyond the Sunrise by Mary Balogh

Note for sensitive readers: This isn’t a particularly graphic book, but there are some upsetting scenes involving rape and violence.

The theme: A book at least ten years old.

Why this one: I’ve owned this (previously) hard to find historical romance for some years, but was put off by it being about spies and war.  Finding it in ebook at the library was incentive to finally try it, especially since I’m trying to take advantage of having fewer reviewing responsibilities by reading longer books and venturing outside my comfort zone.

Jeanne, daughter of a titled Frenchman, and Robert, illegitimate son of a titled Englishman, fall in blissful young love when she’s fifteen and he’s seventeen. But their idyll is soon ruined by her father, who tells Jeanne that Robert had boasted to the servants that he would seduce her. In retaliation, she pretends she was just toying with him, since he’s completely ineligible. This incident embitters them both, and sets the pattern for their future relationship.

Ten years later, they meet in Lisbon during wartime. Robert is a rare English officer who’s got there by promotion rather than money and influence. And Jeanne, now going by the name Joana, is a society belle and consummate flirt… and a spy for Wellington.

This was far more engrossing than I thought it might be, though I did skim some of sections that were entirely about war strategy. Once well in, I appreciated the historical aspects more, and the setting and scenario certainly makes the stakes higher.

But I wasn’t entirely enthralled by the romance. Robert, a somewhat introverted man who feels more comfortable with his fellow soldiers than with the high society provided for officers, is a good character, and kind of unexpected. He doesn’t really hold a grudge against Joana, and his behavior towards her is far less old skool than I feared it might be. But Joanna is highly aggravating; I kept thinking of the show “Community,” and Britta’s D&D nickname, “Britta, the Needlessly Defiant.” Her pride makes her insist on being trusted and believed despite the fact that she’s always lying. Even after she realizes she’s cut off her nose to spite her face, she just carries on in the same way. And the misunderstandings go on for a ridiculous amount of time, deliberately furthered by other people for no plausible reason than to keep Joana’s games going.

I have issues with this kind of character in romance, not just because I find them irritating — which goodness knows I do — but because I find them unloveable. That is to say, the reason we’re given for men fall in love with these Scarlet O’Hara type heroines is because they’re captivating and challenging and yadda yadda yadda. And Joana is also brave, and a worthy companion on a dangerous trip, so it’s not that she has not good points. But I’m immune to her charms, and so I find it hard to understand why Robert (and every other man in the book) isn’t.

It was certainly worth reading, and I’m holding on to my copy just in case, but I don’t think this will be a treasured keeper for me.

 

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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.

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Review: Tropical Storm by Stefanie Graham

reviewed from an e-arc

What tickled my fancy: Good angsty beginning

What ticked me off: Pretty much everything else.

Who might like it: I can’t answer this in a sincere way.

I would like to be kind to this book, because I’ve been in a dreadful reading slump and it not only sparked my interest but even held it for awhile, despite some flawed prose. But eventually the sheer ridiculosity of the characters’ behavior overwhelmed everything else.

Jessica, known as Storm, and her new husband Cairo Kane have only one interrupted night together, when she’s dragged back home by her wealthy, snobbish parents. When Cairo follows to fetch her, Storm has already been convinced to reject him for his own good. Although she regrets it immediately — even more so when she realizes she’s pregnant — it takes her  seven years to track him down.

So… having gotten the information that her husband is now a hotelier in Jamaica, does Storm contact him, explain the situation, and ask if they can try again?  Oh, good one! No, of course she takes her son there — having gotten up his adorable expectations that Cairo will be his new daddy! — and tries to seduce Cairo with her maternally-unhampered hotness, while letting him believe that she actually married someone else and had a son with him, for some neurotic reason of her own. That’s only the start of Storm’s tsunami of lying, which just gets more ludicrous by the chapter. One stupid fear-induced lie per romance novel I can live with, but when you’re caught by the person you’re trying to have a meaningful relationship with, and you then just keep on lying to him til you’re blue in the mouth, I call foul on a happy ending.

The Jamaican paradise setting made me uncomfortable too, especially given that Cairo is white and all the narrative support staff in his life is black. I’m sure this was well intentioned, but it inadvertently plays a lot into racist culture. The narrative flaws were along these lines:

Seemingly unaffected by Shane’s weight, Storm watched as strong purposeful strides brought Cairo closer.

Can you tell who is doing what in that sentence? I bet your guess is wrong. *

Cairo is a pretty typical “disappointed in love so cynical” hero/”you must marry me” secret-baby daddy. Then we got to him meeting with his erstwhile mother-in-law and demonstrating how little power she has over him now by pressing his thigh next to hers and playing with her hair. Gag!

The fake conflicts just get worse and worse; I literally only finished this because I felt I had to for grading purposes, and my reward was that it ended with an angry rape. (Okay, that answers the grading question.) That’s followed by this conversation:

“Ever since you got here all that you have done is tell a series of lies.”

“I never lied to you, Cairo.” Storm argued.

Even Captain Picard doesn’t have a facepalm big enough for that.

 

* Answer: Cairo is carrying Shane.

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