A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Married to the Viscount by Sabrina Jeffries

The theme: Series catch-up.

Why this one: I’ve owned it forever and got tired of looking at it. And it’s the last of the series, so it feels more like accomplishing something.

(Edited to add: I’ve discovered that I actually still have the previous book of the series in the TBR. How annoying is that!)

If I had to choose one phrase to sum up this book, I’d be torn between “kind of a downer” and “five pounds of plot in a ten pound sack.” The basic premise is that Abby, an American whose father recently died, arrives in London to join the charming Englishman she married by proxy. She’s horrified to realize that not only is he a pompous, controlling jerk at home, but he didn’t agree to their marriage and doesn’t want her at all. (Except for how much he wants her, of course.) But even though he’s obnoxious, he’s got that hot broody thing going on, so Abby sets out to make Spencer realize she should be his wife in truth.

There’s actually a fair bit going on in the book — de rigeur dumb mystery, Abby’s plans for her father’s medicinal business, Spencer’s tragic backstory — and yet it finds time to be dully repetitious. The interactions between Abby and Spencer never seem to get anywhere, except occasionally to making out. Which is fun to read — until Spencer uses it as a weapon. (Admittedly, Abby behaves badly too, in trying to manipulate him.) And the rest of the book is Abby being comforted and advised about Spencer by her women friends. No Bechdel test passing here.

It’s probably not as bad as I’m making it sound, for readers who enjoy wallpaper historicals. (I guess this is Georgian, but only because King George makes an appearance.) But… kind of a downer. Abby tries so hard, and continually feels so bad about herself, because Spencer refuses to tell her the real reason he won’t keep her as his wife. (He thinks he can’t have children, and his father’s refusal to have more drove his stepmother away.) The conflict is resolved rather sweetly, and though of course there’s a baby epilogue, it’s a reasonable one.

I should probably mention that Abby is half Native American. The story doesn’t do much with this, but I don’t think it’s overtly offensive either, except when Spencer makes a comment about the supposed extra sensuality of dark-skinned women.

 

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TBR Challenge: A Night of Living Dangerously by Jennie Lucas

The theme: A holiday romance. Or not.

What tickled my fancy: Pain, pain, gratitude and joy. (An old Star Trek joke.)

What ticked me off: Cliches come hard and fast and lie thick on the ground,

Who might like it: Fans of angsty Harlequin Presents who aren’t easily put off by asshat heroes. (Asshat in a very modern way. I didn’t think he was so bad.)

The holiday romance theme is always difficult for me, because I’m not a big fan of them and don’t tend to buy obvious holiday books. This year, it was like my TBR was mocking me: I’d dig through, magically find a book with Christmas in it, start it, and find it unreadable. After the third try, with only a few hours left, I said the hell with it and grabbed the first Harlequin Presents on the pile. It turned out to have a mention of December and decorations for the season. Thanks, TBR!

I was afraid at first this would be another for the scrap heap, because the first chapters are not auspicious. Lusting monologues plus navel gazing = zzzzzz. The plot is basically Cinderella meets unplanned pregnancy, as so many Harlequin Presents are. After the inevitable marriage, it becomes more of an attempted makeover story. I enjoyed this part more, because the timid, insecure heroine Lilley comes into her own. There’s some juicy suffering for both, and the hero does his best to make things up to her; I was quite happy with it by the end.

Allesandro seems to be universally reviled at GoodReads, but I cut him a lot of slack for putting aside his old bitterness and betrayal and being willing to trust Lilley. It all comes back to bite them on the ass, of course, but that’s what makes an HP an HP.

 

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

 

 

 

 

Trigger warning: Extreme fat shaming.

 

9783374

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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