A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly

The theme: Old School (book ten+ years old. That no longer feels very old…)

Why this one: I usually prefer going really Old Skool for Old School month, but this book was being discussed on Twitter and I felt like reading it. It actually has quite an old skool blurb and starts off with a divorced hero who’s very cynical about women, but that doesn’t last past his first laying eyes on the heroine.

(Incidentally, there’s a nasty flu epidemic in this story, so it was not great timing.)

 

Six months after burying the husband she nursed for years, Roxanna Drew is starting to feel ready to live again. Unfortunately, her brother-in-law’s idea of taking care of her and her two young daughters is to insist that they live with him, where he can offer her “the comfort of a husband” she’s been missing. Desperate to escape a pressure she might be tempted to give in to, Roxanna impulsively rents the dilapidated dower house of a titled neighbor she’s never met.

Fletcher Rand, Lord Winn, wouldn’t seem to be a great knight errant for this damsel in distress. Not only did he shoot a friend he found in bed with his wife — apparently getting him in a very sensitive spot — and feel no remorse about it, but he also divorced his wife in extremely ungentlemanly fashion, calling on all her lovers to testify. I’m not sure how to feel about this, to be honest. On the one hand, it’s cruel; on the other hand, she was pretty terrible. By the lights of the book, we’re not supposed to think particularly badly of him.

In any event, this hardened cynical lord is soon turned into a bowl of mush by Roxanna’s adorable children and her adorable self. As usual with Kelly, the development of the relationship (relationships in this case) is sweet and disarming in its swift intimacy; her characters are always old friends who just met. In Roxanna’s case, missing “the comfort of a husband” is definitely a factor. Here she cleans up after the stranded Lord Winn has spent the night (alone) in her bed:

She made her bed, noting the indentation of Lord Winn’s head on the empty pillow next to hers. I wonder if men have an instinct about these things? she thought as she fluffed her pillow and straightened the blankets. After Helen was born, she had claimed the side of the bed closest to the door, so she could be up quickly in the night. She started to fluff his pillow but changed her mind. She traced her finger over the indentation, then pulled the bedspread over both pillows. I really should change the sheets, she thought, but knew she would not.

Kelly’s books are known for being “clean,” but there’s some powerful sexual tension in this story. It wasn’t that usual when this was published for a romance about a widow to be so honest about her needs; it’s one of the charms of the book, along with Fletcher’s unexpected vulnerability, and the beautifully drawn children — the younger lively and mischievous, the older sadly quiet and matured by her father’s death.

I didn’t love everything: Fletcher’s past is unpleasant, and the plot meanders its way to a truly ridiculous Big Misunderstanding. There’s certainly adventure and drama enough without throwing that in. And then there’s Fletcher pushing Roxanna to forgive her brother-in-law, whose redemption could have used more work. But I was very drawn into this story about a woman trying to “play her hand,” no matter what terrible cards life dealt her, and glad that she finally got to put down… let’s call it a full house.

7 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Sandstorm by Anne Mather

The theme: Contemporary.

Why this one: It was available in ebook, of course! I’m too precious to read print books!

CW: Politics, racism, Islamaphobia

 

It’s to be expected that an old Harlequin Presents would be pretty iffy, especially an old Harlequin Presents (or, for that matter, a recent one) with an Arab hero. But there’s iffy and then there’s… this. I’m think this might be the one book Cheeto Mussolini ever read, because it’s practically a Birther playbook. Twice, heroine Abby insists that her estranged husband is a Muslim, specifically to demonstrate he’s beyond the pale.

“Don’t you know?” she taunted bitterly. “Muslims don’t have to do anything so boringly official. All Rachid has to do is say the words of repudiation and he’s a free man.”

“Abby!” Liz came towards her, putting a sympathetic hand on her shoulder. “Rachid’s a Christian. You told me so yourself–”

“Is he?”

Later she has the same conversation, only worse, with her father.

“I did love him, you’re right. I–I loved him very much. And I thought he loved me. But the Muslim way of loving is obviously different.”

“Abby, Rachid’s a Christian, you know that.”

Notably, neither objects to her characterizations of Muslims.

Throughout the book, Abby panics whenever she sees Rachid refuse alcohol:

“How about you, Rachid? Will you taste the vine?”

Rachid shook his head, and Abby subsided on to the low couch her father used when he wanted to relax. Has he been absorbed into the dictates of his father’s religion at last? she wondered, feeling a slight chill of apprehension along her spine. It was all very well telling Liz that Rachid was a Muslim, when she really believed he was not, and quite another to turn up against the implacable force of will that abhorred the use of alcohol and upheld the rights of man.

Whaaa? I guess she’s talking about sexism in that last line, because Abby does have some genuine complaints about her husband’s controlling nature. Though oddly enough those drift away as soon as she realizes Rachid wasn’t unfaithful to her after all, and she becomes completely fulfilled by motherhood. Rachid’s fake Arab kingdom is a dream of luxury and everything is perfect in the garden. Except for that one pesky little foreign thing…

They had called the baby Khalid Robert, in deference to both his father and hers, but the English name was much easier to use.

‘Nuff said.

 

4 Comments »

TBR Challenge: Beloved Stranger by Joan Wolf

The theme: A recommended read. I believe it was my friend Janet’s GoodReads review that made me request this from paperbackswap.

Why this one: Not sure, really. I found it in my historicals, realized it was actually contemporary, and decided to go for it.

I originally DNF’d this. The description of the Colombian hero felt othering — “in this enchanted moment he seemed to her almost a god, a strange and mythical being, enormous and overwhelming…” — and the initial sex scene, in which he somehow gives her an orgasm immediately after the obligatory hymen tear, was weird. I moved on to Summer Storm (I have the 2-in-1 edition), but that turned out to be so interesting, I decided to review it for Dear Author, and so I gave Beloved Stranger another try.

Beloved Stranger almost crosses the line into “women’s fiction.” Although the basic plot is certainly a romance staple — unexpected blizzard –> sex with a handsome stranger –> pregnancy –> marriage –> love — the story is very strongly focused on the heroine’s personal journey, and how her feelings about her husband and her marriage complicate it. Ricardo is not only from a wealthy background, and a famous member of the New York Yankees, but he’s used to being the spoiled center of feminine attention at home. He expects Susan to be happy with a traditional society wife role, as his mother and sisters are. But Susan is a quiet, somewhat introverted person with aspirations to write. When she realizes that she loves Ricardo, she feels intensely vulnerable, because she doesn’t feel that she knows him at all, and because she fears she can’t be what he wants.

He was pleased with her; she knew that. Why shouldn’t he be? In all their relationship so far she had conformed to what his idea of a wife ought to be. She had been as docile and tractable as her mother thought her. She had bent before the overpowering force of Ricardo’s personality, given in to all his wishes. But if the day came when she had to stand up for herself? If she stopped being what he thought a wife should be?

She shivered a little, suddenly cold in the pleasant heat of the ballroom.

For Susan, writing is “the door into her deepest self,” but she faces the classic challenges for creative women: lack of time, of space, and of support from people who take her needs seriously. Still, she perseveres, and finds that that she can be her own person and happily married.

Nothing really dramatic happens in this story; there are no big upheavals or misunderstandings. It’s just about two intensely private people learning to know and care for each other. If you like gentle marriage of convenience stories, check it out.

4 Comments »

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.

 

3 Comments »

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