A Willful Woman…

Thoughts about books from a romance addict.

TBR Challenge – DNF: The Mermaid’s Song by Marianne Willman

The theme: A comfort read

Why this one: I planned on an easily digestible historical. This wasn’t quite what I had in mind… but I needed a Mermaid book for the #RippedBodiceBingo card. Score! Or not so much, since I didn’t finish.

A heroine on the lam is not exactly comforting, and the book only gets darker from there. Flora is in hiding from the Bow Street Runners after a conman seduced her, robbed and murdered her employer, and then claimed Flora was an accomplice. Just when she fears she’s been found, she receives an offer to be a convenient wife to the brooding uncle of one of her pupils, who has removed the young lady from school. You can guess the rest of the story — or can you? I skimmed around and read the end, and it gets pretty wild.

I have no particular quibble with the book; it’s just not really my thing anymore, and I didn’t feel like slogging through. If you enjoy older, darker historical romance, it’s at Open Library.

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TBR Challenge: Angel at Dawn by Emma Holly

The theme: a very sexy book

Why this one: Most of my print TBR is fairly mild, and this had been recommended to me several times.

Angel at Dawn is a sequel to Devil at Midnight, which ended on a sort of cliff-hanger. So there’ll be some spoilers here for the first book, but not much more than you’d get from the book blurb anyway.  I wound up skimming Devil at Midnight because I guessed — correctly — that it was going to make me really uncomfortable. I do strongly recommend reading it (or at least skimming) if you want to read this one, because there are a lot of important connections. Characters from previous books in the series also show up, but it’s not necessary to have read those.

So, Christian and Grace were in love when he was a young medieval mercenary and she was a… ghost. Their story ended after Christian was turned into a vampire and Grace disappeared. The time is now the 1950s, and Christian is flabbergasted to be confronted with a human who seems exactly like his lost love. She’s the assistant of the vampire queen who originally turned him, and they’re there to persuade him to star in a movie called… wait for it… I Was a Teen-Aged Vampire. To make things even weirder, the script of the movie is remarkably similar to the events of Christian’s life.

You have to admit, this is not your usual paranormal plot. The parts relating to movie-making were pretty fun; I especially liked the subtle indicators that are put into the script to imply that two characters are gay. (Shades of The Celluloid Closet.) This leads to a funny scene in which the clueless straight actors are trying to puzzle out the significance:

“It’s an Ibsen thing: there just to be absurd.”

“Maybe it’s supposed to mean we have a telepathic bond.”

“I don’t know how to play telepathic,” Matthew said worriedly.

It was also kind of fascinating to see the past and present interrelated — for example, the two characters are gay because two of Christian’s closest friends had been secretly in love — although I would have liked less vagueness about how things happened and what it all means. It’s an original plotline, I’ll give it that. But I didn’t get Christian’s anger at Grace for deserting him: it seemed obvious in Devil at Midnight that her comings and goings weren’t in her control. His anger seemed more like a useful opportunity to show how much he loved her anyway, in classic romance hero fashion.

I also wasn’t crazy about the sex scenes, which seem to be largely about how enormous Christian’s truncheon is and all the wacky things he can do with it. A typical line: “Her cry of admiration lengthened him, as if being with her made him more of a man in more ways than one.” And the description of their vampire + human sex are so ferocious, I kept worrying that he would break her.

It’s funny… I thought Angel at Dawn was better than Devil at Midnight (if I can make that judgement about a book I only skimmed,) yet what I most liked about Angel at Dawn were the parts that reflected Devil at Midnight. So if I recommended these, I would be recommending you read one book so you can then read another book which will make you enjoy the first book more.

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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.



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