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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Working With Heat by Anne Calhoun

(reviewed from an e-arc provided by NetGalley)

Short, hot contemporary read, bad dates, no-strings fling with a friend… to be honest, this had “not really my thing” written all over it. But I thought this author might make it work for me, and I was right.

It’s not that the story doesn’t fulfill what it promises in the blurb, but it doesn’t feel the need to do it stereotypically. Milla, a travel blogger and youtube personality currently stationed in England, has a refreshing attitude towards her bad dates — she cuts her losses and moves on. They might be funny, but they don’t make her ridiculous. Her absorption in blogging, selfies, etc. isn’t played for laughs, either.

And being with Milla is a genuine risk for Charlie: he’s been badly burned by a (literal) East End Boy and West End girl marriage, and by social media. His trust in her as a friend and lover, nonetheless, is adorable. Of course there’s a conflict, but part of what I most liked about this story is that the characters change, but not through any kind of coercion. It’s always their decision.

If you like blokes with beards, this is the book for you. Many of the sexiest moments in the book involves Milla’s fascination with Charlie’s beard:

“The sharp edge of his scruff scratched deliciously at her lips as she brushed them back and forth across his mouth, tempting him to open them.”

“His beard, she discovered, had reached the soft, curling stage. She stroked it with her palms as his mouth coaxed hers open, savoring the sensation of smooth, hot tongue contrasted with the denser, soft hair around his lips.”

And then there’s a shaving scene…

Charlie’s art is also used for sexy metaphor. He “had learned patience handling sand heated until it became liquid, pliable. He’d learned how to seduce a woman by working with heat.” But it’s not just that, but an integral part of his personality. His commitment to his art, and what it says about him, gives substance to the story.

My only complaint is that the short format leads to a few initial short-cuts of telling rather than showing. I pretty much forgot about that as I read on. This isn’t a heartbreaker like Breath on Embers, but confirms my opinion that Calhoun is one of the authors who really makes short form romance worth reading.

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Semi-Reviews: Pretty Good Reads Edition

One Night With Her Best Friend by Noelle Adams

I tend to find “Friends to Lovers” stories frustrating, because of all the wangsting and passivity. Since this is quite short and only from the heroine’s point of view, it was blessedly free of most of that. It’s one of the unrequited love plots that Adams writes so well — light and quick, but nonetheless intensely passionate.

When the Marquess Met His Match by Laura Lee Gurhke

What tickled me: Goes in some unexpected directions.

What ticked me off: An uncomfortable read at times.

Who might like it: Fans of charming beta heroes.

It took me some time to warm up to this. It begins with a battle of wits, one in which significant damage is done to the hero by the heroine. Lady Belinda, a highly respectable society matchmaker, is appalled at the idea of finding a rich wife for Nicholas, the Marquess of Trubridge — she believes him to be a callous wastrel like her late husband, and she has no compunction about spiking his guns. The things that happen to poor Nicholas in this book — not all Belinda’s fault — make him seem a model of patience and sanity, which comparatively makes Belinda extremely unlikable. But the sense of growing intimacy between them was beguiling, and she does redeem herself.

Although in some ways a conventional historical romance, by the end it didn’t feel at all cookie-cutter. Nicholas is unusual for romance heroes in that although burned by love once, he puts the blame where it really belongs, rather than despising all women forevermore. And the ending was surprising and unexpectedly satisfying, nicely balancing out what had come before.

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Review: Brooke by Veronica Rossi

What tickled me: The Evil Other Woman gets her own story! And she’s not really all that evil.
What ticked me off: Maybe a bit over-romanticized.
Who might like it: You won’t want to read it unless you’ve read the first two books in the series.

Brooke is a bridging short story between Through the Ever Night and the upcoming Into the Still Blue, narrated by Brooke, Perry’s former lover. The opening, in which Brooke is somewhat haughtily caring for the rescued Dwellers, whose immune systems are being heavily challenged, brought to mind Scarlet tending the wounded in Gone with the Wind, and the rest of the book somewhat continued that theme — Brooke is tough, and fierce, and very much herself, much like Scarlet. But she shows herself to be a lot smarter about getting over the fact that her first love loves someone else.

This is told in first person present, but I didn’t notice for five chapters — so it’s either really well done, or I’ve just gotten used to this ever-present style. I really liked Brooke getting a voice here, and was pleased with how relevant the dystopian science fiction tale is to themes of young adult life.

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