tbr challenge post: May

I’ve really fallen behind on Wendy’s 2015 TBR Challenge (which could be why my TBR pile is approximately ceiling high). But May’s theme is “Kickin’ It Old School,” and I have SO MANY vintage paperbacks on my shelves, so I couldn’t pass this one up.

Title: With Open Arms

Author: Kathy Alderling

Publication date: 1986

Line: Candlelight Ecstasy Supreme #111

barn elves
Locked in a passionate embrace, they failed to notice the tragedy that had befallen the tiny Barn Elves.

Reading something from the past is like time travel. There’s a clunky, clunky “to our readers” note at the beginning that talks about “the great romantic tradition you’ve come to expect only from Candlelight Ecstasy.” Wow, be less subtle. I guess the Romance Wars really were a thing.

Also, I don’t think Dell had worked out that romance readers were in the mood for romance novels, because the ads at the back not only include the order form for other Candlelight Romances, and a page devoted to some book called “How to Make a Man Fall in Love With You” (ugh), but ALSO something called “Victim: The Other Side of Murder” AND a book about a nine-year-old who died of leukemia. It’s like the marketing department launched a full-out assault on the happy ending by sticking their Ultimate Buzzkill Selection at the back.

The book is about grad student Ruth Mueller, who has been overworking herself as the assistant to a self-absorbed anthropologist she’s convinced herself she’s in love with. The rose-coloured glasses shatter when the jerk replaces her with a younger infatuated-assistant whose father chairs a private endowment fund–in other words, he casts away Ruth’s devotion for funding. She salvages enough of her self-respect to convince him she needs to go do independent research for her Ph.D., and he agrees to keep her teaching position open for the year she’ll be gone.

So she returns to her elderly aunt’s farm in Elkhart country, where she intends to study her Amish neighbours. Her aunt has gone into partnership with (and sold half the farm to, yikes; every nerve in my body was on edge about this EVEN THOUGH this is a romance novel, so of course it was going to work out. Seriously, though: don’t bestow major chunks of property on men you’ve known for three years.) Jacob Yoder, her formerly-Amish farmhand.

He left the Amish, was shunned for ten years, and is only now returning to a state of uneasy peace with his family and neighbours. Which leads to the book’s biggest conflict: he’s sleeping with Ruth, but won’t acknowledge her in front of anyone Amish because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the fragile ties he’s forming.

Which was just too high on the Jerk Quotient for me to overcome, even with the declarations of love at the end. I liked the book–I liked Ruth and her aunt, like the tiny glimpses of the Amish, liked the way Jacob kept reminding her that they were people, not just subjects for research–but I just couldn’t overcome my dislike of the hero.

Silently they drank their coffee and listened to the conversations around them. Once Ruth tried to start a conversation of their own, but Jacob shook his head. “Too noisy. Can’t hear you,” he said.

Ruth smiled and looked down at her cup. Don’t push, she thought, and tried not to feel too discouraged. (p.250)

It’d be one thing if he’d wanted to get involved with Ruth but didn’t, resisting their attraction because of his reputation among the Amish. Being willing to bed her but ashamed to acknowledge her? Yuck. A man who does that, for ANY reason, is not a Good Man.

Her voice smoldered with contempt. “You worked awfully hard at keeping our relationship hidden. Afraid, were you, that your fine Amish family would find out about us? Have you found someone more acceptable now, and so it’s time to break it off between us?”

Jacob looked away. His fear and confusion had been spent in a single burst of mindless retribution. Shamed by his own words, Jacob could not look into Ruth’s anguished eyes. (p. 253)

He doesn’t explain for another fifty pages, though. It was upsetting enough to me that even the happy ending couldn’t quite overcome it.  It was like a rerun of Ruth’s issues at the beginning, with Jerk Professor, only with sex added in to make the rejection more crushing. Jacob’s explanation–that because she didn’t tell him she’d accepted a job at a local college, he’d had no idea she was staying–doesn’t really help.

He was afraid to ask her to stay because it would be urging her to give up everything she wanted (except she’d told him all about her various disappointments with academia anyway, and he knew she loved the farm, so….couldn’t they discuss it?). She was afraid to tell him AGAIN that she loved him because she wanted him to be free to return to an Amish life (which was a reasonable assumption, given that he wouldn’t let her touch his arm in front of some Amish people, and yelled at her for attending a barnraising that literally everyone in the county went to).

Perhaps I am just Old and Cantankerous, but two people this afraid to impose on each other in any way should maybe just keep their clothes on and learn to use their words first.

March 2015: romances read

This is really a “just for me” post. I’m trying to ease back into my regular reading habits, after a period of distraction, so I’m flailing around a bit grasping at possible motivating habits to keep myself on track.

Romances this month:

best friend to wife

Best Friend to Wife and Mother by Caroline Anderson. I hate the title (so much so that I’m puzzled as to why I pre-ordered it, actually), but I ended up liking the book quite a lot. The relaxed visit with a large Italian family did wonders for my nerves (and filled me with envy tbh), and the baby was neither an annoyingly precocious moppet nor one of those “wonder babies” that show up in books needing no care whatsoever. I mean, she was still a terribly GOOD baby, but not inhumanly so.

a pregnancy a party a proposal

A Pregnancy, a Party & a Proposal by Teresa Carpenter. Did someone else pre-order a bunch of books for me? Because these titles are really, really terrible, and don’t appeal to me personally at all. Although I suppose this one has the virtue of announcing its contents precisely, because that’s exactly what happened. This was nice and readable, and kept me up an hour past my usual bedtime because I was in the mood to gulp down a romance in one evening (which hasn’t happened in a long time), but I’ve forgotten the details already.

mother by fate

Mother by Fate by Tara Taylor Quinn. Ha. That title’s not just bad, it’s threatening. Like children might just start SHOWING UP in your life because you are FATED to be a mother and that’s all there is to it. But the book itself was wonderful. This is easily my favourite of the romances I’ve read in the last while (not that I’ve been reading many. *sigh*), and I can’t even explain why without getting mildly incoherent with enthusiasm. The heroine works at a women’s shelter, and I SO WISH that The Lemonade Stand was real so I could volunteer or donate or something, because it’s wonderful. A well-funded, well-run, perfect-in-every-respect shelter is a nice bit of fantasy. The heroine is also admirable, and appears to have swallowed The Gift of Fear at some point, because she has way better self-control and gut instincts than many heroines (or actual people–I was nowhere near as careful and self-possessed when I was younger). I want to shove the book into people’s hands and say “This. This is what I mean” during conversations about being careful and taking precautions. She’s also dealing with a horrible ex, and yet dealing with him in an adult, appropriate way that avoided that “Saint Doormat who lets horrible people treat her horribly” standard of behaviour still found in way too many romances.

Well, UGH.

I don’t often update this blog, but this morning I have something I need to communicate, and it’s a bit of a policy statement. I apologize in advance for the sheer pomposity of that.

As you may already have read, the Guardian recently published a piece in which an author writes lightly and amusingly about stalking someone who gave her a bad review. No, really, that really happened. There’s a good list of links at Love in the Margins.

Obviously I don’t ever want to be stalked by creepy authors. I realize the likelihood of that happening is pretty slim: I’m not a well-known or prolific reviewer, and I can usually only find the energy to review books I enjoyed, not the ones I hated. But, you know…if the atmosphere surrounding book reviews has gotten so entitled and toxic that some authors think this was justified (and they do: there are people praising the stalker on Twitter), then I have no interest in participating.

No, honestly, I just don’t. Take your much-wanted stars and shove them somewhere in need of light, because I’ll no longer be providing them for any authors I don’t already know/trust/have reason to believe are sane. So the list of things I’ll be bothering to review just shrank considerably.

But the more important thing I wanted to say is this: I don’t Google myself, look for mentions of myself, or even read reviews of my stuff anymore. If you are reading anything I’ve written, you can talk about it (or not) however and wherever you want to: I promise not to whine, stalk, complain, or even look. You are allowed to have opinions of my work! Even negative ones!

So this is my one and only comment: Thank you for taking the time to read me. I’m delighted if you enjoyed the read, and sorry if you didn’t, but either way I’m not comfortable responding to reviews. I hope you understand, and that you know I’m making this decision with a lot of respect and affection for the world of readers.