A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: Surrender to the Devil by Lorraine Heath

CN for book: A past rape, a scene of attempted rape, and some violence.

The theme: Historical romance.

Why this one: I don’t remember.

Historicals were my first romance passion, and my TBR cupboard is full of books just like this one: mainstream historical romance by mainstream authors. And there’s nothing wrong with it (well, except the so many things that are) but it’s not much to my tastes anymore. I found this a bit of a slog, though it did get more compelling towards the end.

The first thing you should know: this is book three in a series, and it’s really a series. Characters from the previous books are all over the damn place. It makes sense, given that the link between them — four or so heroes from other books and the heroine of this one — is that they grew up together as child thieves in the “rookeries” of London. But unless you’ve read the other books, or possibly even if you have, the constant reference to backstory is tedious.

This is a tortured hero meets tortured heroine story. Frannie’s torture was being sold and raped at a young age.  She has a good life now, with the help of her childhood friends, but isn’t much inclined towards love; her passion is getting abused children off the streets.  Sterling’s torture is the slow loss of his vision, which will likely result in permanent blindness. He was dumped by the woman he courted, and despised as “flawed” by his father, because of course he was.

Sterling’s disability gives him a vulnerability that is somewhat unusual in a standard hero. He’s both beaten up by Frannie’s mistrustful friends, and loses sight of her when she’s in danger, so he doesn’t get to be bigger and badder than everyone. Other than that the book is just so samey. I don’t even read these kind of books anymore, yet I recognized virtually every part of it. An ending that includes a grand gesture and the appearance of Charles Dickens — his characters were based on the friends, ha ha ha — just made me groan. I guess it’s once again one of those “if this is the sort of thing you like, you may like this” situations.

Leave a comment »

Gentle on My Mind by Susan Fox

After I wrote about The Heart of Christmas, SuperWendy recommended this as a story in which pregnancy options are given serious consideration. And curse you, Wendy, for turning me on to a new author! Like I needed that!

There will be some spoilers here, but nothing that’s not pretty guessable.

For a mainstream romance, this takes a few risks. The heroine Brooke is a recovering alcoholic, has bipolar disorder, is quite a bit older than the hero, was a terrible mom(!), and — rarest of all — is a grandmother! Although she got pregnant when she was 14, so she’s only a 43 year old grandmother. And did I get tired of hearing her talk about being a grandmother as if that meant she was never allowed to have sex again.

We meet her after she’s turned her life around and reestablished a relationship with her son. (The hero of Home on the Range.) Maintaining her sobriety, her mental health, and her respectability — in a town that expects her to fall off the wagon at any moment — is all important to her. And then a guy with a bullet in him crashes his motorcycle into her fence.

I’m not going to go much into the plot, which has a suspense element but isn’t really romantic suspense. The interesting part for me was, as Wendy mentioned, the fact that Brooke accidentally gets pregnant and actually spends some time pondering her options, especially in light of her need for medication. That’s very, very rare in romance — perhaps even more than a grandmother heroine — and I appreciated seeing it.

The story did get into some personal pet peeve territory. Despite all the risks that she’s well aware of — her age, her mental illness, having to go off her medication  — Brooke never really considers how she’ll cope with being a single mother except in the most general and rosy terms. For example, her plan is to take the baby to work with her. Leaving aside the fact that she works in a beauty salon, that is something that is just not going to work with every baby, especially if that baby turns out to have special needs.

I also laughed out loud when Brooke worries that Jake will be bored with her quiet life and he replies, “I bet it’s hard to be bored when there’s a kid around.” Oh sweet naivete…

But it’s quite an enjoyable story, and definitely not cookie cutter.

5 Comments »

H is for The Heart of Christmas by Brenda Novak aka P is for Pet Peeves

I almost didn’t read this. The series has been more misses than hits for me, and in the book prior to this one, a sympathetic character did something so unconscionable, I never wanted to go near Whiskey Creek again, for fear of being a witness when that particular shit finally hits the fan. But I got sucked in by the hook of the most recent book, This Heart of Mine, and then some plot confusion led me to check this one out of the library… and then there was a bunch of other books I should have been reading instead, so there you go.

I quite like Novak’s voice, and it shows to advantage here. Her plots are generally exciting — the hero of this one is Rex, a character from one of her romantic suspense series, who’s on the run from a gang he used to run with — but the people are pretty realistic and everyday, without being dull. The heroine Eve is a pretty pragmatic person:

“And every woman needs a man.”

“Are you being sarcastic?”

She laughed. “Of course. These days most of us believe we can take care of ourselves. But your background puts that comment in perspective, so I guess I can’t hold it against you.”

“You think you could shoot a man?” he asked.

“Probably not,” she admitted. “But I don’t think most of the men I hang out with could, either.”

Eve is turning 35, almost all her friends are married and having kids, and she’s starting to feel like she’s missing out. But a drunken, unprotected one night stand with a guy who’s only passing through town wasn’t the kind of life change she was hoping for.

This is a solid read, but did get into pet peeve territory for me a number of times. One of the recurring characters in the book is the living… well, fictional… embodiment of slut-shaming: the greedy, spiteful, surgically enhanced Noelle. Her character gets a work-out here as resident Bad Girl — Eve even pimps her out to Rex at one point. Eve, of course, is a Good Girl who just made one little mistake, and she’s thoroughly ashamed of herself. She also decides what to do about the possible pregnancy — keeping it, duh — without the slightest hint of any decision making process. It’s 0-60: “Oops, we screwed up! Keeping it!”

But I do kind of like the series again and may keep up with it, especially considering certain events. IIRC, Novak had copped out excused herself from writing a story for her character Baxter, who came out as gay in the course of the series, because he’s already got a love interest. However, that relationship is on the skids in this book, and I believe ended completely by the next one. Will we get a romance for Baxter after all? Hope springs eternal.

10 Comments »

D is for Driftwood and Disappointed

(Miss Bates’s D read: Checkmate, My Lord by Tracey Devlyn.)

Driftwood by Harper Fox

I feel like a very reactive reader lately. A couple of times recently, one aspect of a book has put me off so much that it colored my entire response to it. In this case, it was the most blatantly reckless episode of unsafe sex I’ve ever encountered. It’s supposed to be important in terms of character development, but I couldn’t get past it.

In general, this had many excellent elements which somehow did not coalesce. The main characters, both of whom are suffering psychologically from wartime experiences, are sympathetic. The Cornwall setting is beautifully depicted. The romance happens very fast, but that’s not usually something that bothers me.

I think the problem is that this is a book very much about character — who these men are, what life has done to them — and then the plot throws all kinds of external conflicts at them. The end of the book feels like I was watching… oh say, “A Room with a View,” and then suddenly the Terminator shows up. It’s not quite that out of the blue, but it feels equally misplaced.

I’ve loved everything else I’ve read by Fox, so hopefully this was just the wrong book at the wrong time and I’ll enjoy her again.

3 Comments »

The Sheriff’s Surrender by Marilyn Pappano

I admit it, I wanted to read this one because reviewers talked about utterly horribly the hero behaves. And oh my, were they ever right. But it was also an unexpectedly interesting book, with a theme that’s very pertinent at the moment.

Sheriff Reece Barnett is pissed-off to discover that the witness he’d agreed to protect is his ex-lover, Neely Madison. Nine years previously, Neely had successfully defended a man who then shot and killed his wife, someone Reece had promised to protect; Neely was also wounded. Reece blamed Neely, to the point that he left her bleeding on the ground and never spoke to her again.

When I told my husband this part of this story, he found it impossible to believe it could ever have a happy ending, because he felt that Reece’s action were completely unforgivable. I think it’s a flaw in the book that Neely didn’t feel the same: although she’s very bitter in the present, she was ready and eager to be reconciled after the shooting. And she’s a little too easy on him, in my opinion.

The awful hero who finds out how painfully wrong he was is one of my favorite tropes, so I would have enjoyed this anyway. But what I really liked about it is that Neely takes no crap from Reece — every nasty thing he did or said comes back to haunt him — and she tells him straight out that his department bore some of the responsibility for the death, because it was their trampling of the shooter’s civil rights that enabled her to get him off. Their true conflict is between Reece’s belief that laws aren’t that important when you just know someone is guilty, and Neely’s belief in civil rights and equal protection. Given the generally conservative bent in romance, especially in law enforcement heroes, I was really pleased to see this. Annoyingly, the book eventually comes out more in favor of Reece’s position, but Neely’s argument has still been made, and made well.

The angst flows freely, and Reece is put through the plot wringer to prove that he really deserves to be forgiven, so it’s also a fun romance. (Hub disagrees: “Still not enough.”)

Leave a comment »

TBR Challenge: When Bruce Met Cyn by Lori Foster

The Theme: Contemporary romance.

What tickled me: A sexy, celibate, preacher hero is hard to resist.

What ticked me off: Skanky villains. Torso-less heroine. And the heroine’s name: sub-tle.

Who might like it: Fans of gentler, protective Alpha heroes.

Foster has been on my “not my cuppa” list for awhile, but this book hung around the tbr pile because the plot intrigued me. It was a hit and miss book for me, with ultimately more misses than hits.

It’s been five years since she ran away from an abusive home, and Cyn has saved up enough money to give up prostitution and begin a new life. A recurring dream draws her to a town called Visitation; on the way she encounters Bruce, who’ll be the preacher of the town’s new church. Bruce has experience counseling prostitutes in trouble, and slowly wins Cyn’s trust and affection, while grappling with his conscience over his attraction to her. She’s much younger than him, has never had a good relationship with a man, and there’s that whole premarital sex thing. Mostly, he wants her to feel respected and cherished, rather than used. Of course this has Cyn wondering why the hell he won’t just sleep with her already, and questioning his feelings.

The sections of the book focusing on their relationship and Cyn’s new life were enjoyable. Bruce does get somewhat overbearing at times, and Cyn is hard-edged and crude, but they’re sweet together. What brought the story down was a suspense element with really unpleasant villains; perhaps some readers are all for descriptions of perverts masturbating while they contemplate raping and killing, but for some reason I’ve never been a fan. And there’s also a woo woo element which felt forced and out of place, very peculiar sequel bait.

I thought it was interesting that Cyn had tried to understand her childhood by doing serious reading about abuse, but it realistically hasn’t solved all her issues. She tells Bruce, “It’s like… like you were born in a church with a star shining down on you, and I was born…I dunno. Under a rock or something.” She also has some trouble relating to the helpful heroines from previous books of the series:

Shay was nice, nice enough that at times she seemed unreal. Nice enough that she constantly tried to give Cyn a handout. Be it work or contacts or whatever, Shay wanted to help, and it nettled Cyn that she was a person in need of assistance. She understood Shay’s motives, and appreciated them, but she would rather have just been a friend, not a person who stood out as less than equal.

Luna was lovely, too, very warm and friendly. But she went out of her way to show understanding, to include Cyn. And once again, Cyn felt the difference, how she didn’t quite measure up.

There’s some real sensitivity there, and I think this could have been quite a lovely book if it had just stayed with the characters and their developing relationships, instead of throwing in all the other stuff.  Cyn’s genuine feelings simply disappear, and the other women are suddenly her very best friends. And the gentle Bruce just becomes more and more alpha as the story goes on, forcing Cyn to fight for her independence.

I wouldn’t say I’m sorry I read it, but I don’t think Foster is moving off the list.

 

2 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