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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 But the scar on his face isn’t the only thing different about Thad  — he’s hostile, withdrawn, and humiliates her when she initiates physical contact.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.

TBR Challenge: The Ultimate Betrayal by Michelle Reid

Sensuality rating: lightly steamy

Since I couldn’t start reading until Tuesday afternoon,  my pick for this month’s TBR challenge was deliberately as short as possible. It does fit the theme of a “hyped book” though, since I’ve heard it mentioned many times as someone’s favorite Harlequin or as a really different Harlequin.

It is indeed different in many ways, especially for the Presents line. The couple are already married and have three children — we don’t usually see so much domesticity in HPs, especially without any servants involved.  And the issue is a fairly common domestic one: Rachel has been busy with being a mother and less available; Daniel has been working late a lot and under a great deal of pressure. A nasty phone call from a so-called friend tips Rachel off that that’s not the only thing Daniel has been under.

Reid does a good job of making this the sort of angsty read Presents lovers adore, within that unusual framework.  The effect the news has on Rachel and the marriage is painful and believable. There’s a lot of fighting and bitterness. (And one very unusual aspect in a romance — although Rachel and Daniel continue to have sex, Rachel keeps freezing and being unable to have an orgasm.)  Rachel starts to believe that she’s too dependent and boring, and tries to explore some of the things she was interested in before she got pregnant and married at 17. And she tries a new look and flirts with another man.  In a different sort of book, that might all go somewhere and it’s rather disappointing that the story ends with Rachel and Daniel both content for her to continue as the Happy Homemaker without any outside interests.

I have mixed feelings about the way infidelity was handled in the story:

*SPOILERS* (more…)