A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Fortune’s Lady by Patricia Gaffney

The theme: Kicking it Old School

Why this one: Gaffney was one of the very best historical writers, but I still have a few of hers unread.

Fortune’s Lady seems likely to have been inspired by the Ingrid Bergman/Cary Grant film “Notorious,” and the first half is somewhat uncomfortable to read in the same way the movie is somewhat uncomfortable to watch. The  basic plot is very similar: a beautiful young woman with a party girl reputation, left alone in the world because of a treasonous father, is convinced to spy on her father’s former comrades by getting “close” to one of them. She and her handler fall for each other, but he’s so jealous that he constantly berates her for doing exactly what he’s telling her to do.

The she here is frivilous 19 year old Cassie Merlin, the he is Phillip Riordan, a British MP and reluctant Scarlet Pimpernel, and the time and place are London, 1792, where a revolution threatens the monarchy. (This is less inherently sympathetic for an American reader than Bergman overthrowing Nazis, but old historicals are like that.) Cassie has a bad reputation (mostly unfounded — because old historicals are like that) so seems like the perfect person to seduce her father’s probable accomplice.

The book doesn’t achieve the excellent characterizations of Gaffney’s later romances, but if it had just told this one story, it could have been a decent read. Cass, it turns out, is farsighted and needs glasses: when she’s able to read without pain, she discovers a real interest in political thought. Phillip expects to marry a cool, elegant lady who seems perfect for the life he wants, but his relationship with Cass grows from lust to genuine partnership, as she helps him keep up his drunken oaf deception and studies with him.

Unfortunately, this was the time of the doorstopper historical, and so the story has to be spun out. And it spins with ridiculous Big Mis after Big Mis. Phillip stops being a complete assclown, and Cass takes over the role for him, with extra TSTL. And then we get the …. wait for it… sadistic, kinky, gay villain!

I love Gaffney’s sprawling, OTT old skool Lily, but this just alternated sex scenes and stupidity in a way that never built up the good angst rush that makes old school so fun.

 

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The Probably-Not-So-Big Harlequin Presents Read #22

CW: Rape. In an Anne Hampson book, shocking I know.

 

Harlequin Presents #22: The Hawk and the Dove by Anne Hampson

Image description: The book cover shows the head and shoulders of a young woman with long, straight blonde hair, wearing a childish wide-brimmed hat, against elaborately decorated glass doors.

Deliberate Anne of Green Gables vibe in this cover?

Most memorable line: 

“You’ve shown me by every conceivable means that you consider me far beneath you.” Janis felt she’d grown up since yesterday and a note of experience and maturity entered into her voice. “But however ill-bred I may be,” she went on, “If I despised anyone half as much as you despise me, I would at least have the good manners not to show it.”

Finally, the worm turns! Annoyingly, it turns right back again!

I was finally able to download The Hawk and the Dove from Open Library, and though the scan is utterly dreadful, I got sufficiently emotionally involved in the story to put up with it. Like many old HPs, it shows a strong Rebecca influence, though hero Perry was never married. The resemblance is mainly in their relationship: Janis is adoring, and as soppy as Con Firth’s shirt; Perry veers between scorn and indulgence. He’s deeply nasty at times; that and the huge power differential between them keep TSTL Janis from being utterly unbearable.

Janis, wrongly fired from her job, is downtroddingly trying to find shelter when Perry’s car crashes into her. He sees an opportunity to fulfil the terms of his uncle’s will, which require him to marry within a week. (His fiance had turned out to have been in cahoots with the alternate heir…  so of course he hates all women now. Except his dead mother and his former nurse and his female best friend.)

Perry intends to annul the marriage after Janis is fully healed from her injuries, but manages to make this as clear as mud to Janis, who thinks he’s waiting to consummate the marriage. By the time she realizes the truth, of course she’s fallen in love with him, and she decides not to immediately reveal that the doctor has cleared her for take off. This will later bite her on the ass, rapey hero style. (Not explicit.)

I was surprised by a subplot of the story: Perry’s friend Avril is in love with John, a married man, and they’re constantly together. This isn’t treated with any hint of scandalousness or shock — perhaps because they’re both upper class?

Although I found a lot to critique, I was absorbed. The estate setting, which Janis completely falls in love with, is well done, and the secondary characters are mostly likeable. And classic HP angst. Basically, if you enjoy this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll enjoy.

 

 

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Review: To Love, Honor, and Betray by Jennie Lucas

What tickled my fancy: Better ending than usual.

What ticked me off: Worse beginning than usual.

Who might like it: Fans of Harlequin Presents who can deal with an awful hero.

I started this and then realized I had previously DNF’d it with extreme prejudice. For some reason it was going down easier this time, and once past the bickerfest beginning, which made me want to flush both main characters down the toilet, it was perfectly readable. By the end, I quite liked it.

Extremely pregnant Callie is about to marry her best friend, when Eduardo — her former boss, and the father — turns up. The past history between them is so nasty, it makes it hard to blame Callie for deciding she and the baby would be better off without this guy. Eduardo continues to fail to endear himself to me by kidnapping Callie, forcing her to marry him, and then completely cutting her off from her family — even covertly suppressing her letters to and from them.

***SPOILER FOR THE END****
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Review: The Jeweled Caftan by Margaret Pargeter

What Tickled My Fancy: I guess it was kind of stereotypically funny that the asshole Moroccan hero turned out to really be French?

What Ticked Me Off: Nigh on everything.

Who Might Like It: Serious sheik fans. Except he’s not really a sheik. But the kind of sheik fans I mean wouldn’t care, right?

A watered down rip-off of The Sheik that has all the sexism and racism with none of the excitement. (Surely you could take out the rape without taking out all the zing?) The heroine Ross manages to both be a wet rag and obnoxiously feisty, generally whichever is most inappropriate at the time. (The one exception is that she does call Armel out for sexually humiliating her — one of the times he does it –so good on ya for that, Ross.)

Armel is equally free of redeeming qualities, and Ross just adores him for it. For example, right after he ruthlessly kisses her and then brutally wrenches her away, exclaiming “You don’t have to act like a little animal!” she thinks “He might have his faults, but in many ways he was wiser than herself.” The twenty year age difference and the fact that she’s been his prisoner for weeks probably helped form that point of view.

To make it worse, the whole “she’s a virgin but he thinks she’s a whore” thing is never even resolved. Chekov’s law, people. I suffered through all the times he called her “girl” and “my small, enraged prisoner,” I’m due some payback. For that reason, I can’t even give it trainwreck points.

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