A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

Gavin, a successful but somewhat insecure baseball player, is devastated when his wife asks him for a divorce. That’s when his fellow players introduce him to their book club and “the manuals” — romance novels which help them understand what women need from relationships. With the help of a Regency called Courting the Countess, Gavin sets out to woo his wife. But he forgets the most important lesson: backstory is everything. Unless Thea deals with the pain in her history, they don’t stand a chance.

I had some issues with this story and it might have been the audiobook.The second narrator, who reads the “book within a book” sections, has a die-away upper-crust English accent which is very much not to my taste. But the main narration, while in a perfectly pleasant voice, may have done more harm. All of the women characters sound very bitchy, and the way the voices emphasize the “inherent” humor of manly men athletes seriously discussing romance novel tropes really put me off.

Still, there was a lot to enjoy. Unlike most athlete heroes in romance, Gavin has tremendous sweetness and vulnerability, and Thea loves him for it. At one point she overhears a spiteful member of the “wives and girlfriends” club mock Gavin by wondering if he even stutters in bed and she retorts, “yes he does stutter in bed, and it’s beautiful!” Thea’s continual rejection and mistrust of Gavin’s efforts make her seem unpleasant for much of the story, but it all comes together by the end.

 

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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.

 

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Once Upon a Tower by Eloisa James

What tickled me: Nifty plot, lots of juicy pain
What ticked me off: Overlap with Julia Quinn’s books was kind of twee. And veered close to pet-peeve territory a few times.
Who might like it: Readers like me who loved older angsty romances but are uncomfortably growing past them.

Oh yay — an English narrator that I liked! I have grown as a listener. It didn’t hurt that many of the accents, including the hero’s, are Scottish. Yum.

As you might guess, this is one in James’ non-linked series of Regency romances loosely based on fairy tales. Gowan, the starchy Scottish duke of something-or-other falls instantly in love with Edie, the daughter of somebody or other important. (I hate reviewing audiobooks…) They quickly marry, only to discover that their lifestyles aren’t very compatible — Gowan constantly supervises his estates and has very time alone, while Edie practices her cello 5 hours a day. To make things infinitely worse, their sex life isn’t working — Edie’s in a lot of pain but is too shy to talk about it, and her stepmother’s advice to fake orgasms backfires with a vengeance.

Marriages in trouble because of bad sex are one of James’ recurrent themes, and I always enjoy how she extrapolates what problems people might have had in a historical context. (In the Georgian An Affair Before Christmas, Poppy is too distracted by her horribly itchy unwashed hair to enjoy herself.) In this case, both characters are virgins and they barely know each other; Edie is especially inhibited by the lack of privacy in the castle. The Rapunzel theme is worked nicely into the story, through Gowan’s jealousy and wish to possess Edie, but as usual there’s an interesting twist.

I thought this was a wonderful melding of classic romance themes with more realistic problems and sympathetic characters (yes, the hero can utterly break the heroine’s heart without being a total asshole!) And I enjoyed Edie’s seemingly wicked but actually quite lovable stepmother. The pet peeves were around her: she winds up giving up all her flirtatious ways and naughty gowns for motherhood, which is all she’d really wanted all along. It is possible to be a mother and still show some cleavage, trust me. And there’s a magic baby epilogue, though that didn’t bother me too much because it isn’t completely improbable in the circumstances.

The narration is very well done, with distinct voices for each character and a lovely low Scottish burr for Gowan.

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Semi-reviews: Holiday Weirdness Edition

help

I’ve had a perfect storm of blogging weirdness lately. My computer’s fan broke, making a ghastly noise whenever I used it.  The holidays. A new phone to drive me crazy and distract me with games. Some very hard to write reviews. And a whole lot of feeling like I’m not doing a good enough job, and having trouble concentrating, and being stressed by review books.

I’m going to tackle it by doing what I did after my “review vacation”a few months ago: I’m going to attempt to write something about everything I’ve read recently — which isn’t much — but give myself permission for it to be very short and/or meaningless. Just whatever it is I have to say, who cares if it’s any good. I’m hoping that will help me break out of the perfectionism trap.

I’m also reading some out of genre, to try and recapture my reading excitement.  I seem to be most drawn towards memoirs.

The Countess Conspiracy by Courtney Milan. Historical romance. Grade: B

What tickled my fancy: A wonderful plot surprise; intriguing insights into Victorian England.

What ticked me off: As often with Milan’s work, felt too deliberate.

Who might like it: Everyone seems to love it but me.

This one is causing me a lot of angst; I may review it, but I’ll have to reread first and I’m not sure I’m up to it. Not that it was bad — there are some terrific ideas and strong characters. But I’m having a hard enough time reading without rereading. Who knows though, maybe it would help.

Fairyland by Alysia Abbott. Nonfiction: memoir. Grade: A-

What tickled my fancy: Testify!

What ticked me off: Veered into memoir cliche at times.

Who might like it: Anyone who grew up in a less traditional home or who enjoys reading about people who lived in unusual ways.

This was kind of a stunning read for me, because I grew up in a very similar situation to the author – in the midst of the counterculture of the 1970’s — and I almost never get to read anything that reflects my reality. In fact, one way in which the author and I differed is that she loved sitcoms like “Family Ties” and I loathed it, because to me it was nothing but lies lies lies.  This does a really good job of depicting the time as it was for the kids, who had to deal with not having the structure and established cultural norms than most kids yearn for. And it shows some of the benefits of living in an experimental, questioning way as well.  Abbott is really honest and unsparing of herself, and she creates a very loving picture of her father that made me cry for him.

Iron and Velvet by Alexis Hall. Urban fantasy pastiche; f/f. Grade: C

What tickled my fancy: Sharp, funny prose. Delightfully British.

What ticked me off: It didn’t seem to go anywhere much and I kept stalling.

Who might like it: I’m not sure. I can’t pinpoint its audience.

I did review this at Goodreads, but it was like pulling teeth.  It took me so long to read it and I had so much trouble following it, and I just didn’t know what was the book and what was me. Add in the author being a friend and oh bother. I gave it 3 stars mainly because at different times I might have gone with either 4 or 2.

A Lost Love by Carole Mortimer. Category romance. Grade: B

What tickled my fancy: Delightfully nutty.

What ticked me off: Could’ve used more redemption for the cruel, rapey hero.

Who might like it: Fans of older Harlequin Presents.

A woman estranged from her husband and kept away from her baby son fakes her own death after an accident and has plastic surgery so she can see her baby. What can you say but wow.  The prose is basically adequate, but the passion runs thrillingly high. There’s also a side-story which at first I thought was a waste of space, but turned out to have an unusual point of view about children and adoption. (Heroine’s sister-in-law is freaked out because her husband wants to adopt an older child and she doesn’t know if she can cope, and this is shown more sympathetically than judgmentally. Of course all ends happily.)

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