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Willaful Review: Too Hot to Handle by Victoria Dahl

handleSensuality rating: On the tamer end of Torrid

Merry is happy to have found a job in Wyoming, near her closest friend, Grace. And after years of fruitlessly trying to find her niche, it’s also work she loves — turning a ghost town into a destination of historic interest. She’s crushed to discover that there’s a legal dispute over the project’s funding, and that she was hired mainly as a cheap interim measure, with no real power to do anything.

Desperate to make the restoration of Providence succeed, Merry covertly asks her neighbor Shane to repair the town’s buildings. Shane agrees, without telling Merry that he is the one disputing the funding; it’ll let him keep an eye on what’s going on, and perhaps help him stop the project he despises.  But as they get to know each other, Shane finds himself drawn to Merry’s enthusiasm, appreciation for domestic history… and wide, smiling mouth.  Against their better judgement they wind up in bed together, leaving Shane with a big problem: “Why the hell did her greatest passion have to be the one thing he couldn’t support?”

I had trouble getting into this at first — Merry seemed like such a sad sack, and Shane started out so cold. But Shane heats up very nicely, gradually noticing Merry’s attractive qualities — first her sweet round face and wide mouth, leading into her cleavage. This makes Merry come across as attractive in a believably ordinary sort of way. She thinks of herself as big and awkward, wears mostly funny t-shirts, and has no idea how to fix herself up, telling Grace, “When I put eyeliner on, I look like a five-year-old playing dress up. Or an eighty-year-old alcoholic trying to recapture her glory days.”  Even with Grace’s expert help, she knows that “[her] liner would be smudged and smeared within an hour. Her body rejected any transplants of prettiness.” That rang so true for me, and I enjoyed seeing her more subtle prettiness come through for Shane.

And Merry’s character turns around completely, the desperate, needy, unfocused woman who thinks, “I’m not even geeky enough to be good at being a sci-fi geek” (oh, I relate!) revealing herself to be strong in an unusual and striking way.  Merry’s life has been hard and it’s tempered her, because she’s refused to let it break her. By the end of the book, I admired her tremendously.

The depiction of Merry’s mother also stood out for me. The “hippie mom” is such an annoying stereotype, usually floating around wearing patchouli and sensing auras. Merry’s hippie mom wasn’t all that different from any other young single mom who struggled financially, did her best, and is now pretty much like any other middle aged mom. (With one minor exception which I won’t spoil.) Believably, she has a lot of sadness over Merry’s less than ideal childhood: “I wish I could’ve given you that when you were a little girl. A nuclear family. The American dream.”

As you can probably tell, the book hit me in a very personal way, which might not translate to other readers.  And Shane’s backstory and journey don’t have the authenticity and surprise of Merry’s, going in a predictable direction.  I liked the rest of the book so much I’m not really grading down for that, and give it 4 stars.

This is the second in a series, not counting several novellas; Grace and Cole from Close Enough to Touch are featured characters, but I think it would stand alone just fine.  You can buy it here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy provided by netgalley.

Willaful Review: A Most Unconventional Match by Julia Justiss

matchSensuality rating: Steamy

A huge, inarticulate guy who’s shy with women — how could I not want to read more about Hal Waterman, after he was introduced in The Wedding Gamble?

Hal is instantly smitten with his best friend Nicky’s new sister-in-law, Elizabeth — which is why he instantly runs. The son of a noted ton beauty, he has no interest in having yet another selfish, demanding woman in his life. Besides, such an exquisite woman could never be interested in a big lout like him.

But when Elizabeth is widowed seven years later, at a time when Nicky’s entire family is abroad, Hall feels obligated to offer his assistance.  He finds her sorely in need of help, since she’s been cherished and protected her entire married life — including being protected from the fact that her husband was terrible at managing money. Hal takes on the role of helpful family friend while sternly admonishing himself not to consider being anything more. He has no idea that Elizabeth’s artist’s eye is fascinated by his unfashionably muscular body and handsome profile.

This book is all about the characters — in fact, every time the plot seems to be going to a possibly exciting or scary place, the issue is resolved fairly quickly.  Being an angst-whore, I thought that a bit of a shame, but it’s a charming story regardless, because Hal and Elizabeth are worthy characters going through interesting changes.

Everything we see about Hal shows how intelligent, competent and admirable he is — including a touching scene in which his warmhearted mistress urges him to leave her and follow his heart, despite the fact that she obviously adores him. Trust Hal to have a sweet, genuine mistress! (And I wish the poor woman had her own happy ending.) Hal might seem almost too perfect if it weren’t for his genuine trouble with speaking. Because of a childhood stutter, he’s learned to concentrate on the most important idea he’s trying to convey; his elliptical speech drops most articles and pronouns in a way that can make him appear cloddish. He’s also generally at a loss in an argument, because his brain outruns his ability to speak.

Elizabeth’s character is also sympathetic — she’s not a fool, but she’s been sheltered for so long, she has trouble finding her feet and knowing who to trust.  One of the lovely things about the story is that though Hal is only to happy to advise and protect Elizabeth, he also respects her talent and encourages her to live a life beyond being a proper, helpless lady. Elizabeth blossoms to the point that, in the end, she seduces him — pretending to want to paint him, she persuades him to strip. I was charmed by how the ladylike Elizabeth is so entranced by Hal’s body, she can’t stop herself from staring and touching. It also shows how she’s gained confidence in her ability to make decisions, and learned to trust her own feelings.

My gut is sort of leaning towards a 3 1/2 rating for this because of the overall lack of tension, but I’m going with a 4 because it’s unusual and thematically interesting.  It’s no longer in print but easy to find used, or you can buy it for Kindle here.

Published by Harlequin. Review copy purchased by me.

Willaful Review: Silent Scream by Karen Rose (TBR challenge)

screamSensuality Rating: Steamy

The TBR challenge theme this month is a book in an unfinished series. I DNF’d this a few years ago, and honestly was just going to move on, but it turned out that the next Rose book I have to read follow-ups the events in this one. (Or so I thought. Paige actually doesn’t play that large a role here. Oh well, it’s read now.)

Silent Scream is romantic suspense, and the romance aspect has an interesting premise. In previous books, firefighter David Hunter has always seemed like the world’s most perfect man: giving, compassionate, heroic, as well as pretty as all get out. Here we discover why he’s so conspicuously awesome: he’s been doing penance for half his life, trying to make up for one night’s tragic, careless selfishness. The guilt he feels, along with that from another painful (though less tragic) mistake, has kept him from following up on a night spent with homicide detective Olivia Sutherland two years previously.  Olivia believes she means nothing to him, and because of painful events in her past, she’s disinclined to give him another shot.  But a complicated case involving arson and multiple murder gives them a new opportunity to find each other.

I’m sorry to say that just like I did on my first attempt, I felt very impatient with this story.  There are too many darn demons from the past hanging around – each main character has several and the information about them is dealt out bit by bit. A little of this goes a long way for me, and it seemed like they spend most of the first half of the book bewailing different top secret parts of the past. There are also way too many characters from their history mentioned. Even having read all the previous books and knowing who most of them were, I got overloaded.

Once the secrets are out, the romance is good. David and Olivia are well matched, both protective and competent people.  I’m one of those readers who wasn’t very big on Dana, the former unrequited love of David’s life, so I was rather pleased when David’s thinks, “That’s how Olivia’s different. She had the same need to protect without the drama Dana had always had swirling around her. Olivia got the job done. Efficiently and quietly. She’d do what needed to be done, the right way.” Including helping David heal his wounded heart.

The suspense parts of this romantic suspense were decently plotted, with some good twists. Violence-wise, this is one of Rose’s tamer books; there’s still a high body count, but no graphic scenes involving fixated serial killers who adore torturing people.  I was less relieved than it seemed like I should be, because the plot was incredibly creepy and seemed more like something that could actually happen. And there were so many unpleasant characters!

I think this may be one of those cases where since I started out annoyed, I just kept being annoyed. Even a highly emotional plot point didn’t work for me;  it was telegraphed a mile away and I found it manipulative rather than sad. I’m also getting tired of Rose’s tricks in regards to villains.

I’m giving this 2 1/2 stars, a rating I almost never give. I just can’t bring myself to give it 3, but 2 seems too low for a generally good book. You can buy it here.

Published by Grand Central. Review copy purchased by me.

 

Willaful Review: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

rowellSensuality rating: candyfloss

What I most love about Rainbow Rowell’s books (among with their wit, emotional resonance, perfect zeitgeist and so on) is that they make me feel like there’s a place for people like me, my husband, and my friends in romance. Not that either of her first two books is a romance in the genre sense, but I certainly don’t care.

This story alternates between two narrative styles. Half is told in the form of chatty emails between two coworkers at a newspaper, Beth and Jennifer. The other is from the point of view of Lincoln, the guy in charge of reading any company emails that send red flags, and then reprimanding the senders. But Lincoln loves the funny, interesting emails so much, he can’t bear to make them stop, or to stop reading them.

Jennifer is married, Beth is… kind of wishing she was too, but her ultra-cool musician boyfriend isn’t into it. And Beth is the one who becomes increasingly important to Lincoln.

She and Jennifer were both funny, both caring, both smart as whips. But Beth’s whip always caught him by the ankle.

He loved the way she put on kid gloves when Jennifer talked about her marriage and Mitch. He loved the way she riffed on her siblings and her bosses and herself. He tried not to love that she could recite scenes from Ghostbusters and could name all of the original X-Men — because those seemed like reasons a guy would fall for a girl in a Kevin Smith movie.

It’s lovely to see geeky characters who are neither made fun or nor idealized.  Lincoln, who’s never quite recovered from being dumped by his first love,  would look like a total loser on paper — underemployed, lives with his mother, still plays Dungeons and Dragons with his college friends. But he has enduring qualities like loyalty, sincerity, intelligence, and respect for love and relationships. So do his college friends, who would be a bunch of stereotypical dweebs played for laughs elsewhere. Most of them are married, some to each other; they have homes and kids. They still play games because they really like playing games. I was never much of a gamer, but most of my friends were/are, and I appreciate seeing that reality portrayed.

The book is mainly about Lincoln’s journey to full adulthood,  as he finally starts to let go of the past and blossom as a single guy, and it shows us why he’s an awesome person. He’s so tender and has so much to give; he cares in all the right ways.  We don’t see Beth other than in her emails until the end, but they show her humor and kindness, and the need she has for someone like Lincoln in her life.

This was my second read of Attachments — reading Rowell’s latest book Eleanor and Park made me want to reread it — and on this reading I was struck by a minor subplot about a bar-hopping player type and a woman he picks up. Romantic Lincoln thinks it would be impossible to find true love in a bar, but in fact that presumed one-night stand turns into a genuine relationship. I really liked how Rowell included a very different type of person, pursuing companionship in a very different type of way, but gave him just as happy an ending.  Yes — I won’t say how it works out, but the book does have a happy ending.

I gave Attachments 5 stars on the first reading; I think I liked it slightly less on the second, because I read it too soon after Eleanor and Park, but I’m not changing the grade — it’s an amazing book. You can buy it from Amazon here.

Published by Dutton. Review copy borrowed from the library.

P.S. I can’t write anything about geeks without including this video. It’s the law.

 

Oh reeeeeeeally?

Oh reeeeeeeally?

Saturday, March 9, 2013
Posted in: Azteclady Speaks, Racism
Tags:,

Hello, people, long time no post.

But, as Karen hasn’t revoked my posting privileges 😀 here I am, ready and willing to rouse me some rabble.

To wit: you remember this post? (For those among you who’d rather not follow linkage, Karen blogged briefly about the many excuses black men have not to date black women–mainly the oft mentioned “angry black woman” stereotype.)

Every now and again someone–mostly men, from their comments–drops by with some witticism. Just today I saw this lovely pearl of wisdom, by some intellectual giant by the name of Jonathan:

Black women are the worst human beings on the planet. Their internal sense of inferiority combined with an external braggadocio cause them to act irrationally and obnoxiously in every possible circumstance.

If every black woman dropped dead, this world would be a better place.

Dear Jonathan, if every asshole who thinks as you do dropped dead, the world would be an incredibly nicer place.

Willaful review: Something Less Than Love by Daphne Clair

lessNonconsensuality rating: Steamy

Notice: contains spoilers. A version with most spoilers hidden can be found at GoodReads.

This romance from 1980 has a serious intrinsic problem: the hero is not appreciably better than the villain.  What’s most interesting to me about that is that the author obviously knew it.

“Already today, Ross had manhandled her — her inner lip still throbbed with a small swelling from his brutal kiss, and her arm tingled where he had held her to stop her struggling — and now Thad seemed determined to treat her equally roughly.”

“… he had left her, alone with her terrible humiliation. His brutal cruelty far surpassed anything Ross had done to her.”

Vanessa to Thad, about Ross: “I might have managed it by flattering his vanity. Like you, he has more than his fair share of that.”

Can you even tell which one is supposed to be in which role?  These are just quotes from the last quarter of the book, which is when I started taking notes. There’s also quite a bit earlier about how Thad and Ross are similar in their style and approach to women (even aside from their manhandling ways.)

I started to wonder whether Clair was being deliberately subversive, but by the end of the book thought it more likely that she was trying to achieve something that just doesn’t play very well today, if it ever did. Thad’s bad behavior (yes, he’s the hero) might be easier to overlook in another context but when it’s highlighted by its similarity to the bad guy… well.  Notice to romance writers: when you have your hero rape your heroine right after she just escaped being raped by another guy,  you had better provide a damn good grovel/redemption/world’s largest box of chocolates from the hero. Or in this case, have him hit by a truck again.

Vanessa is thrilled to have her husband home from the hospital, after the accident that happened right after their honeymoon. But the scar on his face isn’t the only thing different about Thad  — he’s hostile, withdrawn, and humiliates her when she initiates physical contact. (At first — later he just starts raping her.)  Something has poisoned their marriage. Meanwhile, Vanessa is having to fend off the increasingly nasty advances of her ex-lover and current boss, Ross.

I’m giving this 3 stars mainly because I did find it interesting, but I wouldn’t call it a satisfying romance. It’s understandable that Vanessa would make some allowances for Thad after a serious accident, but things get so ugly between them and she just does nothing, not even really attempt to talk to him about it.  The resolution lacks closure for me, especially after Thad does something else I think it would be incredibly hard  for a marriage to easily bounce back from: he creates a clay figure of Vanessa that makes it obvious he finds her sexuality repellent and disgusting. The ending is supposed to say something about love and forgiveness, and show that Thad truly is a different man. Who knows… maybe I would have bought it in 1980.

The book is out of print, but inexpensive copies are available here. It’s also available at paperbackswap.