A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge: The Wild Road by Marjorie Liu.

The theme: Paranormal or Romantic Suspense. As usual, I combined the two. Or maybe there are very few paranormals that aren’t also suspenseful? This is a genuine on the run from baddies suspense story, however.

Why this one: I bought it after AnimeJune wrote a rave review; I generally found her a reliable recommender. Since I’m a completionist, I decided to start the series from the beginning, quite a while ago, but I didn’t really feel it was for me. Seeing this in the TBR reminded me that I still wanted to read it, and luckily it is quite a good series entry. (Though I took a little time to read the related novella, A Dream of Stone and Shadow, and did not regret it.)

My main complaint about Tiger’s Eye was its “sameyness”; with Shadow Touch, it was its gruesomeness. Neither is an issue here. There is horror, but on a smaller scale, and the most of the villains are pathetic as well as hateful. There are also some familiar tropes, but the imaginativeness of the plot and depth of the characters kept them from seeming tired.

Lannes is a particularly darling hero, a lonely, isolated gargoyle suffering from PTSD. (From the events in the novella.) He’s probably a virgin; at the very least he’s never known a true relationship with either another gargoyle or a human woman. When not with his one lifelong friend (whom he’s almost outlived) or mending ancient books, he’s trapped inside an illusion of humanity that can only work if he isn’t touched, because he’s enormous and winged. But like all good literary gargoyles, he’s protective… and when he sees a bloodied, barefoot woman trying to break into his car, his urge is to help her.

This is a favorite Lanness moments, just one in which he breaks away from the paranormal hero mold:

“If we do this,” he whispered. “You’re mine. And I mean that, Lethe.”

“Promise?” she breathed, beginning to tremble.

Lannes inhaled sharply. “Just like I’ll be yours.”

Lethe leaned in, pressing her lips to his ear. “Is this a gargoyle thing.”

“No,” he murmured. “I just love you, that’s all.”

Lannes is undoubtedly the best part of the book, but the woman he finds, and later names Lethe, is compelling in her own way. She knows nothing about who she is, or why she woke up next to several dead men in a hotel on fire… and the more she finds out about her past and present, the more frightened she is. But she faces a number of unpleasant truths and refuses to let them destroy her, or Lannes. And she loves him just as he is.

I’m so glad I got to this one… and perhaps will go back and try some of the earlier books now. (Lethe apparently also appears in Soul Song, under her original name.) Paranormal romance so often aims for toughness and cynicism — I loved finding one that is poignant and life-affirming.

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G is for Cecilia Grant aka CG is for Consistently Good

Note: This is currently free on Kobo, and it’s DRM-free, so can be converted to read on any ereader. Oh, also now free on Amazon.

With A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong, Cecilia Grant maintains her place on my very short “authors whose books have yet to disappoint me” list. This could be attributable to the fact that she’s only published four books, including this longish novella. But I suspect it may have more to do with the fact that she’s only published four books in four years. Authors are pushed to have new stuff coming out constantly, and not only can’t I keep up with them, but the quality almost invariably suffers.

This is a novella that happens over the course of three days, and I’d still say it’s a book that takes its time. Time to get into the characters, time to use elegant language, time to make classic tropes like the starchy hero into people that modern readers can relate to, without making them seem anachronistic.

I feel like I should write more, but I’m kind of in a reviewing slump right now, so I’m just going to post this while the book is still free. It was really good, go get it!

 

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E is for Ethan in Gold and End of The Line?

We’re up to E! Miss Bates’s E is an intriguingly different old SuperRomance, Mr. Family by Margot Early

Ethan in Gold by Amy Lane

This is a very apt choice for the alphabet challenge, because the main character was named alphabetically, after his four sisters Allegra, Belladonna and so on. His birth name is actually Evan, but when he starts working for the porn site “Johnnies,” he immediately assimilates his stage name, enjoying the chance to distance himself from his parents.

Ethan is a very interesting character, and I was absorbed in the first section of the book, which is about his fucked up childhood. I don’t think he’s autistic, but Sensory Processing Disorder comes to mind: he’s clearly a sensory-seeker, desperate for touch, and he stims a lot on textures. His need for human touch was complicated by the fact that he was molested at a young age, and his mother blames everything about him — including his sexuality — on that one incident. She also cut him off from her affection, because he’d been “defiled.”

Geeky virgin Jonah — who Ethan calls kid even though he’s two years older than Ethan’s twenty– is mostly interesting for his family situation. His teenage sister Amelia is an unusually long-lived survivor of Cystic Fibrosis, and her portrayal is as far from “inspiration porn” as you can get: she’s resistant to treatment, disobeys doctor’s orders, and generally drives her family crazy. Her dad is so upset by it all that he actually moves out, though continues to be supportive. I really appreciated this sympathetic portrayal of a caregiver who loves his family but has just reached his limits, and who acknowledges this in a sane way. Amelia is also very human and sympathetic, and Jonah recognizes that her contrary behavior is partially her way of insisting that her family accept her as who she is, rather than as a poster child for disability or survival. And despite her frailty and highly unglamorous illness, she gets to have a boyfriend and have sex.

The conflict between Ethan and Jonah is firstly Ethan’s feeling not good enough for him, and secondly his attachment to his porn career. Since all his coworkers are friends, it means lots and lots of good touch for him.

I loved the first book in this series, Chase in Shadow, and in my memory it was a tight, compelling read. But the second book and this one are so… chatty and gossipy. All three are set in roughly the same time period, and so we see a lot about the events of the previous books — this can be very interesting if done well, but here it just felt flabby to me.  As did pointless paragraphs like this one:

Donnie came up on Ethan’s left, his bright-blond hair so distracting that the girl actually looked up to see him. He was drinking a coffee, and Ethan looked over to the attached Starbucks and thought that was maybe where Donnie had been hanging, waiting for them.

Why is that even there?

The constant emphasis on the other characters made me feel as if the author wants readers to be madly in love with all of her characters, all the time.

So while there was a lot I liked, I’m not sure this author’s style is really for me. Maybe I’ll read the next book from the library.

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Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath

I’m trying desperately to get caught up with ARC Mountain, so just a few thoughts on finally reading this classic.

So I realized that my love for the cruelly misjudged heroine isn’t gendered at all… a misjudged hero is just as good. Authors just don’t write them very often. (Suggestions?)

Another reviewer criticized hero Clay for being a saint. This is definitely a valid criticism, but I appreciated that he didn’t always turn the other cheek. He said a few pretty sharp (and entirely deserved) things to the heroine. And it’s an absolutely essential part of his character that he is totally committed to his beliefs.

The prose isn’t totally solid. In particular, the action scenes are very flat. And everything comes to an abrupt, neat ending. But there’s a beautiful use of incorporation around the themes of courage and what it really means. I had to grade down a bit for flaws, but I couldn’t give such an original and powerful book less than an A-.

Tangentially, it’s interesting how often a book I’ve heard about many times over the years turns out to be truly great, while a book I’ve heard about many times over the course of a week or month… not so much.

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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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