A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Flirting With Ruin by Marguerite Kaye

The theme: Short shorts.

Why This One: Having realized last night that I wasn’t going to get my book read in time, I searched for a short story. This is an author I’ve enjoyed before, and one of the fews shorts I have that’s not erotica. (I should just delete all my erotica ebooks at this point — except what if I go wild in my 70s?)

Flirting With Ruin is more sedate than its title suggest. It’s designed primarily to introduce the “Castonbury” series, a Downton Abbey-inspired multi author series, most notable for including an interracial romance also written by Kaye. (Unexpected from Harlequin in 2012.)

At 47 pages on my Kindle, there’s not a lot of room here to spend on the characters. Lady Rosalind has acquired a reputation as a wanton widow, a reaction to “six years married to a puritanical man, seventeen before that raised by a puritanical father” — but she hasn’t really done much to deserve the reputation, or enjoyed the little she’s done. On a slightly scandalous evening out at a harvest celebration, she’s immediately attracted to a stranger, and vice versa. They share some passionate anonymous necking but agree to stop there.

The next day the stranger, revealed as Major Fraser Lennox, appears at Castonbury to give the family a medal earned in battle by the dead heir. This reminder of mortality spurs Fraser and Rosalind to say the hell with it and have a fling. It’s a nice enough story, with a nice ending for the heroine who’s had such a repressed, depressing life. But it didn’t leave me panting to get my hands on the rest of the books.

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TBR Challenge: When the Laird Returns by Karen Ranney

CN for book: Domestic violence.

The theme: a favorite trope. (Forced marriage.)

Why this one: I’m double-dipping with the Buzzwords Readathon.

(It’s perturbing, by the way, how many books are in my TBR that don’t have favorite tropes. Time for another sorting.)

I just spent a baffled couple of minutes trying to find my TBR Challenge review for One Man’s Love, finally remembering that I had been too rushed (and honestly, not interested enough) to actually review it. That, the first in the “Highland Lords” series, had a most favorite troupe, the lover in disguise, but it was just an average read. This one had its flaws, but interest in the characters keep me reading.

Ship designer and captain Alisdair MacRae is on his way to England to reject a title. (Hmm.) He stops in Scotland to visit the ruins of his family’s keep, only to discover that the McRae’s former enemy, Magnus Drummond, is ruining his land with sheep. Intent on regaining it, Alisdair finds himself forced to marry to Drummond’s daughter Iseabal. Since it’s not a marriage in English law, however, he expect it will be easy enough to annul it once they get to England.

Having grown up with a tyrannical and abusive father, Iseabal prays for the strength to endure marriage. But her new husband is so kind and considerate with her, she starts to think marriage is to her taste after all. And then she learns Alisdair’s plan

The plot hops around hither and yon after this, almost stopping dead at one point for multiple sex scenes. (They are tender and engaging, but space them out a bit!) It was all too episodic for my taste, and I think parts of the plot are over simplified, to say the least. (See this post on inheritance law by K.J. Charles.) But Iseabal’s arc remained intriguing. Her personality has been so stifled from living in constant fear and stoic endurance, she retreats to silent passivity whenever she feels threatened. Alisdair doesn’t have much of an journey, but is a generally charming and likeable hero who does his honorable best, and gives Iseabal a reason to find her inner bravery.

 

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Devil in Spring by Lisa Kleypas

As soon as I saw this title and plot announced, I knew the book would be fan service. Having now read it, I say, yeah, so what? Kleypas is excellent at keeping her previous characters themselves when they reappear, which makes seeing them again delightful. And though she gives Sebastian and Evangeline a whole prologue to themselves, she doesn’t overdo the nostalgia.

And this isn’t a retread of Devil in Winter, nor would it have made sense for it to be one. Gabriel, eldest son of that couple, has had the privilege of growing up in a warm, loving, and witty family. Unlike his father, he’s also grown up with a strong sense of responsibility and need to achieve. There really isn’t anything particularly devilish about him, other than that he’s having an affair with a married woman.

This misnaming contributes to a flatness at the end of the book. Gabriel thinks of himself as having a sexual “dark side,” which turns out to be absolutely nothing. The story would more aptly be called Incredibly Devoted Sex God in Spring. The ending fails in other ways too, introducing a new, over-the-top conflict instead of dealing with the genuine, realistic issue that already existed for the couple.

That said, the first three-fourths of the book are delightful. Our heroine is Pandora, the rather wild child from the previous two books in the Ravenel series. Here we learn that Pandora has a disability resulting from childhood abuse; she lost hearing in one ear and frequently has episodes of severe vertigo and tinnitis. I don’t know if it was the author’s intent, but I suspect Pandora would also be diagnosed with ADD today, and possibly with ASD. Her mind moves quickly from thought to thought, making her seem forgetful and disorganized, she has anxiety in crowds and unfamiliar places, and she’s always entirely herself, no matter how hard she tries to be like everyone else.

After Gabriel quite innocently compromises Pandora — see, not devilish at all, his father would totally have gotten some foreplay out of it — he knows he has to do the right thing, but is worried about how this scatterbrained, antisocial woman would manage as his eventual duchess. To his amazement, Pandora has no desire at all to manage: she’s on the verge of starting a boardgame design business and her plans for her life do not include giving up everything she’s worked for to a husband. (Which the law would force upon them.) As Gabriel falls more and more for her, he has to use his charms and occasionally devious intelligence to convince her he’s worth the risk.

I adored this courtship. The love scenes are achingly slow and gorgeous. But it was the conversation and witty dialogue that really won my heart. It’s such a funny book, and they have so much fun together.

But Pandora is also very clear about her feelings and needs.

“‘Damn it Pandora, I can’t promise not to protect you.’

‘Protecting can turn into controlling’

‘No one has absolute freedom. Not even me.’

‘But you have so much of it. When someone has only a little of something, they have to fight to keep from losing any of it.'”

Her insights made the ending even more disappointing to me, when a conflict arises between and then is instantly brushed off as nothing after some time in the sack.

So, not as terrific a book as it could have been. But there was much to love, and perhaps most of all, the theme of acceptance. In giving Pandora his acceptance of her, flaws and all, Gabriel also finds he can just be himself with her, flaws and all, the one thing this beloved golden child needed.

 

 

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