#tbrchallenge: October. Death is a Red Rose.

death is a red rose
Is anyone else having an overwhelming urge to go shopping for nightgowns right now?

Title: Death is a Red Rose

Author: Dorothy Eden

Published: 1970, Ace Books

October TBR Challenge theme: Paranormal or romantic suspense

Does this fit the theme? Hell, no. I have read some romantic suspense lately, but since it’s October I thought this might be a good time to clean out some of my backload of Gothics.

death is a red rose 2
My copy has this cover.

Summer before last (so, the summer of 2014, when neither of my children had yet started school but kindergarten for the eldest was looming over me like a storm cloud of hormones and sentimentality, threatening rain and tears every time I thought these are his last months of real freedom and babyhood) I went on a gothic-novel binge. I’m sure a psychiatrist could unearth a lot from that statement. Anyway, September rolled around and I got frantically busy, and then moved on to other things, leaving me with twelve or fifteen paperback Gothic romances still in the stacks.

Reading these does nothing to reduce the crowding on my shelves, because I can’t bear to get rid of them. I’d actually like to find some way to frame them, because the covers are amazing. But at least I can shift them out of the TBR column.

The book opens with an elderly lady named Arabia Bolton. You know the gently eccentric, meddling old ladies of Small Town romances? Arabia is their polar opposite. She’s had a long, eventful life; alludes to past lovers, including a sheikh; lies and exaggerates; manipulates people into arguments when she gets bored; and keeps secrets, including some pretty dark ones. I can’t say I liked Arabia, exactly, but she’d definitely be interesting to know.

She misses someone called Lucy, so she places an ad saying she has a ground floor flat, but it’s only available to someone named Lucy Cressida. (She has other tenants, as well, but when the book opens she’s feeling bored with them). The heroine, Cressida Barclay, is actually named Cressida Lucy, and she needs a place to live (and a job) because she’s had a fight with her insufferable fiance, Tom. I can’t do justice to him, so I’ll quote a bit:

“Oh no. We’re only engaged. We’re going to be married on the twelfth of June in 1957.”

“A long-term plan?” Jeremy put down his glass and picked up a pipe. “Do you mid if I smoke?”

“Not in the least.” Pipe smoke, drifting fragrantly about, would add to this pleasant illusory sensation. “Tom’s very cautious,” she said.

“I gather he must be. How old is he?”

“Thirty, but I’m only twenty-two. He says twenty-four is a better age for me to marry, and by that time, of course, he’ll have paid for the house and furniture. We bought a bedroom suite the other day.” (p. 16)

The whole engagement to Tom sounds so stifling I almost asphyxiated every time the book mentioned him. I mean, it all sounds very safe, but when I was twenty-two I don’t think I wanted that much safety. Or that much furniture.

The pipe-smoking Jeremy, by the way, is the ground-floor (basement, that is) tenant in Arabia’s house. You can tell he’s the hero because he argues with Cressida, and helps her solve the mystery of what happened to Lucy. but he doesn’t actually profess his love until the ending. There are hints he finds Cressida attractive, but they’re mostly buried in affectionate arguments.

The other people in the house are a violin player named Vincent Moretti; a widow named Mrs. Stanhope who has something wrong with her throat and can’t talk; Mrs. Stanhope’s fifteen year old son, Dawson, who is obsessed with chemistry and murders; Miss Glory, a plain and plainspoken woman whom Moretti flirts with; Arabia herself; and above all else, Arabia’s deceased daughter Lucy, whose room has been left untouched because Arabia claims it makes her feel as if Lucy isn’t dead, but merely late getting home from her last dance.

The whole thing is divinely morbid and creepy, and [highlight for SPOILER] as it turns out, Lucy wasn’t really Arabia’s daughter, and isn’t really dead. Far from being an innocent girl who died tragically, Lucy is a murderer, and she’s still in the house.

So basically this was perfect Halloween reading. It had that vaguely-familiar feeling that all 70s Gothics do once you’ve read a few of them, but this was memorable both for being well-written and for genuinely giving me the creeps at a few points.

reading: Her Stolen Past

Title: Her Stolen Past

her stolen pastAuthor: Amanda Stevens

Published: Harlequin 2002

I’m fairly sure I bought this because I was on a brief “small town romance” spree, and this is one of several books (by different authors) set in “Cooper’s Corner.”

But it’s actually romantic suspense, even if it is set in a dreadfully wholesome small town. In spite of the publication date some elements of this really, really felt like they’d been plucked from the late 80s/early 90s; that might be why I feel into it so contentedly.

Comforting elements: amnesia, a reclusive piano playing composer, the heroine being driven off a cliff (and left for dead) in a storm. We also have a stalker (who turns out to be a victim, not the villain of the piece) and a personal assistant (our amnesiac heroine, also a victim of the madwoman composer). I’m making this sound like an assemblage of cliches, and in some ways it is,  but they’re perfectly deployed. I could even overlook the matchmaking teenage boy, even though I hate all matchmaking children on principle.

Active Ingredients:

left for dead, or at least soggy

amnesia

kindly elderly dying lady

former cop (hero’s sister)

stalkers everywhere

ongoing larger plot in the background

sad tinkling piano music of sadness, which is also a clue

Unexpectedly Charming

Title: Unexpected Family

Author: Jill Kemerer

Harlequin Love Inspired

September 2015

Unexpected-Family-SmallReasons I Might Actually Remember This One: I unabashedly loved this story of ordinary flawed people who’ve grown up since their divorce, but my single favourite scene was the Parents Night. Stephanie scrambles to get herself and her four-year-old there; Tom shows up late, yet the teachers and parents fall all over him. It’s an important scene in the book, since it brings up Stephanie’s issues with his previous absence from their marriage and her own mother’s absence from, well, everything. But more than that, it was achingly real. I don’t know a single mother who doesn’t have a story like that, because dads get credit just for  showing up. I even understand, a little, why we do it: we want to encourage men to be involved in parenting, so we go overboard praising even minimal efforts, whereas somehow we just expect mothers to parent. But it stings sometimes, and I appreciated the book for acknowledging it.

Active Ingredients:

Pumpkins

Secret Baby

Sequel-Ready Family

Circumstantially Celibate

Divorced but not Forgotten

Mommy Issues

She Works Hard for the Money

Plot Moppet

Christianity

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.

Christmas. Books.

My husband made the most incredible find at the used-book rack in the giftshop at his work. I mean THE MOST INCREDIBLE.

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The Sheik and the Christmas Bride

It is a SHEIKH ROMANCE set during CHRISTMAS.

Now, my husband didn’t know this when he bought it, but I have been on Book Depository looking for Christmas Sheikh romances, because to me that sounded like a thing that should exist. I mean, the local grocery stores have broken out in tangerines (from Tangiers) and dates and figs, and when I was a child I associated Arabian Nights with Christmas for some reason (it seemed to be one of those books you got given illustrated versions of at Christmas).

So…sheikh Christmas romances. That should be a thing, right?

It is, but barely. Searching permutations of sheikh/sheik and Christmas brought up one result (the one my husband just bought me, because he is a genius and also knows me way too well). Sheikh/sheik plus “desert” gave me four. and

Why isn’t this more of a thing? I mean, I understand *real* sheikhs don’t have anything to do with Christmas, but romanceland-sheikhs seem barely to have heard of Islam, let alone practice it. (Although THAT is also on my romance-novel wish list, if anyone’s listening.)

In non-desert-related Christmas-romance-novel news, I have gone overboard a little.

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It’s a thing I do.

Also I finally found time yesterday to wrap the books for the Advent calender of books. Ours aren’t as fancy as the ones on Pinterest, but we really loved doing it last year, so I thing it’s officially a tradition for us now.

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Mummy Dearest

For some reason I decided this would be the summer I watched ALL THE MUMMY MOVIES (which I’ve been doing, and wow, there are a lot of them).

Naturally that leaked over to my book-buying…

Two Harlequin Intrigue (one is the sequel of the other) and an unrelated Zebra Regency.
Two Harlequin Intrigue (one is the sequel of the other) and an unrelated Zebra Regency.