TBR Challenge Review: “Lovely Rita” Month Saw Miss B. Read Marion Lennox’s HER ROYAL BABY

“Romance narrative has a sister-soul in melodrama: exaggerated protagonists and antagonists and centred on evoking and portraying emotion.” That’s so exactly right.

Miss Bates Reads Romance

Her_Royal_Baby Charming cover: check out Tammy’s flipflops!

Miss Bates is content to return to her neglected TBR Challenge! Check it out chez Wendy here. This month’s theme was to read a nominated, or winning Rita title. Because Miss Bates is pathetically slumping along to Ros’s Summer Big Fat Book read-a-long, she chose a category romance. They’re short and she’s already behind the BFB, and summer reading piles litter her apartment and slow down two e-readers. (Way too much time on Twitter for Miss B.; also lolling, gazing at sunbeams, and sleeping in. It’s a feline life.) Reading Rita winners was one way Miss Bates segued into romance: their annual nominated and winning title lists provided tried and true romance reading as Miss B. figured out what she liked and didn’t in the genre. (Shudder PNR.) It was with nostalgia for her early romance reading days that she looked at titles…

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An announcement, and a review.


 

The announcement first: this blog will be taking a break from reviewing books until at least Nov. 1, and possibly beyond then. I need to rethink what I’ll be reviewing, and it’s possible I won’t be doing any new releases. I won’t be accepting ARCs in the future.

But before I walk away for a rest and reassessment, I really wanted to get my review of Just for Christmas Night up. It’s a great book, the third in a series I’ve been enjoying, and it deserves some love.

Harlequin Kimani Romance
Published: 01 December 2014

Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One:The complete lack of slut-shaming. The heroine is no virgin, and she’s not ashamed of her choices, in spite of her own mother’s harshness on the subject.

Disclosure: I received an ARC in return for a fair and honest review. 

And about that disclosure: I just want to say in passing that while I don’t know Lisa Marie Perry personally, as an author she has always been pure class. She’s polite and friendly and for what my opinion is worth, she’s someone I feel safe accepting ARCs from and reviewing books for. 
 That all makes me sound a little crazy, right? Like, WHY WOULD I EVEN NEED TO SAY THAT? Well, in the light of another author’s spectacularly bad life choices and scary behaviour, it just seems worth specifying. 



just for christmas nightI’ve been waiting for this book, because Martha Blue was my favourite of the Blue sisters even when she was just appearing as a background character in her sisters’ stories. Raised by powerful determined parents (the mother is downright manipulative), she was the most rebellious, unconcerned with the family brand and with “image” and bent on having a good time.

Including, and ths is one of my reasons for loving this book, a good time with men. Martha doesn’t do “dating” but she does do “sex,” and I love non-virgin heroines who own who they are. The author doesn’t do any cop-outs, either: Martha isn’t secretly a virgin, or a virgin-to-one-particular-sex-act. When sex with the hero is special, it’s special because of Martha’s emotions about Joaquin, not because of any “this is the first time I’ve ever done X” thing.

Also, party-girl Martha has been keeping a few secrets from her family, and they’re in the opposite direction from her mother’s expectations. She’s been building her education and is more determined to manage her family’s brand–and more capable of doing so–than anyone has given her credit for. I loved it.

The only aspect I didn’t love is that she rescues a foster child, and I have an aversion to children popping up in romances when I’m not braced for them. But to be fair, her foster daughter isn’t an ordinary plot moppet, so there was no overdose of sweetness, just some reasonable compassion. So it worked better than most “suddenly, a child appears” subplots for me.

I went on a spree.

A shopping spree, not a killing spree; I feel it’s important to make that distinction.

Don’t these look lovely? I swear I would frame books and hang them on my wall of I could figure out how. The covers are like little, irresistible jewels.

They have that new-book glow.
They have that new-book glow.

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In Days of Yore, Anal was Evil. (Thea Devine: Beyond Desire)

Author: Thea Devine
Zebra Historical Romance
Published: 1993

Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One: The evil cult her archeologist father devoted his life to uncovering, because that’s what archeologists do? The psychic-when-the-plot-requires-it Irish hero, with his mysterious “knowing”? No, it’s probably the anal sex harem that’s going to stick with me longest.

Well, that was amazing. I’m having the hardest time assigning “stars” to it on Goodreads. It’s written in the purplest of prose, by the end I hated the hero, the sister the heroine spends the entire book trying to rescue ends up DEAD, and the version of archeology presented is so nonsensical I have to go read some Barbara Michaels now, as a palate cleanser.

https://i0.wp.com/www.fictiondb.com/coversth/th_0821742159.jpg

On the other hand the sex scenes are AMAZING, and the issues surrounding sex and power are infuriating but fascinating. It’s like a trainwreck where all the boxcars contain appalling beliefs about women’s sexuality: she’ll be addicted to sex! Sex renders her powerless! It would take ten men to satisfy her! If she flirts with men other than the hero, she’s putting herself in danger of rape!

Also this is an Old School Romance, so the sex is lush and baffling.

She swelled, suspended, and then it spilled, crackling like lightning all over her body, incandescent, glittering, a long silver slide of sensation up and down, white-hot, sizzling, blinding…exquisite and so all-enveloping that his thrust of flesh against flesh and his long low groan of repletion was lost in the hot aftermath of her ecstasy. (pp. 143-144)

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“Flesh against flesh” reminds me of “plastic on plastic” now.

I also love how this is, according to the back cover anyway, set in set in Victorian London (and later on in Tehrin and Khartoum and The Desert Generally), yet the hero dragging an unmarried woman along with him all over the place, including the British Legation House, is just fine with everyone.

Also the hero, Ryder Culhane (seriously) mysteriously “knows” things, but still won’t believe that the heroine (Alexandra deLisle. Seriously.) didn’t have sex while she was imprisoned in Evil Guy’s Harem. So he can read the mind of the guy who kidnapped her and threatened her with rape, and read her mind all through the book, but we still have to suffer through several pages of this once she’s rescued:

“It seems my odalisque loved her taste of the harem,” he murmured as he entered the room.

“Your odalisque loved her taste of you,” she whispered, her blood thrumming with excitement.

But he couldn’t let it go; he felt like a bulldog  about to gnaw on a meaty bone. “Tell me the lessons of the harem, odalisque. Tell me what you loved.” (p. 418)

And so on for several pages, and he refuses to have sex with her because…her kidnapper might have raped her? Really? (Weirdly, he’s fine with her again later, after both her sister and two extra Surprise Bad Guys have been killed. It reads as though killing the sister who enjoyed the anal-harem somehow…cleared things up between Ryder and Alexandra. IDEK.)

I’m not making it up about the anal harem. There’s a lot of weird anti-anal stuff in this book. Like the scene  where the heroine chokes another harem inmate almost to death:

“So he admired your beauty did he? I wish I could have heard those lies,” she growled. “But your body is much like that of a boy, isn’t it, Biju? And that is why he keeps you by his side and uses my sister so badly. He trained you both to do his will, and now neither of you can withstand his power. But can you withstand mine? Can you? Can you?” she raged, pressing harder and harder into Biju’s throat. (p. 411)

Okay, okay, we get it: YOU DON’T LIKE BUTT STUFF. Simmer down, lady. There’s no need to choke a bitch.

Also, Bad Guy Who Kidnaps Her Sister* seems to be bad chiefly because he 1) has a harem and 2) prefers anal sex (once with–the horror!!!–another man). I mean, he’s also the head of an ancient religion devoted to the worship of evil. But the only form that takes is training the sister for anal sex, maintaining a harem for anal sex, and kidnapping the heroine and threatening her with–wait for it–anal sex.

Allegra looked at her triumphantly and kneeled down on the bed.

He needed no surrogate tonight to possess her. His was the way of the ancients of Rome, and she felt disgusted by his fervor and the eagerness of her sister to yield to it.

But she knew no different; this was the way he had trained her; this was how he had visited himself on her, on the slender weightless body of a young girl — boyish at best, culminating in curves later, when her tastes had been formed and the way had been set. No wonder she had been his favorite: who would surrender everything to this? (p.388)

Whereas the HERO makes the heroine agree to be his “odalisque” in return for accompanying him on the mission to rescue her sister, and at one point is said to be off getting laid elsewhere (I can’t tell if he really was, or this was misinformation), and by the end has killed as many people on his rescue mission as the Bad Guy did. Possibly more people, since he burnt down an entire harem. An entire ANAL harem.

So in the end (…ow) good and evil in this book are largely a matter of…Choice of Hole?

I can’t say it wasn’t entertaining, though.

* The Bad Guy is named Dzmura. Someone needs to buy that man a vowel.

The Problem with Harlequin titles.

I get that current Harlequin titles are designed to shove in certain keywords to raise sales. I do. But aside from sounding same-y and somewhat silly, the real problem is that it makes it nearly impossible to remember which title went with what story.
Which, I know: Harlequin’s business model has historically been built around BIG SALES NOW and then the books disappear from the shelves and are replaced by the next crop. You aren’t SUPPOSED to remember the titles and go looking for old ones you remember fondly. But…now that you can backorder them for months from Amazon or the Book Depository, or download out-of-date ones onto kindle, wouldn’t it make more sense to make the titles a little more memorable?

All of which is a long lead-in to my point: I loved A Not-So-Innocent Seduction, but boy, I do not love that title. If I’m not actually looking at the cover I cannot even remember what it is called, and I finished it five minutes ago. Christ.

Author: Janice Maynard
 Harlequin Desire
Published: April 2014

Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One: The heroine was a secretly-rich flower child who travels around in a vintage volkswagon van named Bessie, and the hero was a boringly responsible hotel owner-manager who was kind of a jerk but in an understandable (because of his past) way. HOW COULD I NOT REMEMBER THIS ONE? Although I may have to make up a private nickname for it.

a not-so-innocent seductionSo the hero is uptight and reliable, having once fallen in love (back when he was sixteen) with a woman who turned out to be 1) sleeping with his father and 2) a gold-digger. His father went looking for the family’s old silver mine and disappeared, and has since been declared dead. Liam, as the eldest child, was left to help his mother run the family’s very exclusive hotel. There are a bunch of grown-up siblings (seven in total, I think) but they’ve all moved on and had, you know, lives. Liam’s 36 and in kind of a holding pattern.
So obviously he needs someone like Zoe, who enters the scene in a flower-painted vintage volkswagon van which promptly breaks down, stranding her in Silver Glen. She has a limitless platinum credit card, which she uses to check into Liam’s hotel for a six week stay. She tells herself that since she’s recently been sick she needs to recuperate, but throughout the book it becomes increasingly clear that she’s reached the point where she needs to break out of her restless wandering and move on to the next stage of her life.
So both of them bump up against each other abrasively, pointing out things they’re ready to see but not eager to be presented with, and it makes for some realistic fights. Not just arguments for the sake of making the heroine seem feisty, but real confrontations about the things that are so obvious from outside, but which they’ve been unable or unwilling to verbalize for themselves. IT WAS AWESOME.
Also, they have romance-novel sex. I don’t mean that in the obvious “since they are in a romance novel” way: I mean he pretends to be a viking marauder and she pretends to be his helpless captive. No, really.
“You are determined that I will obey you, so you stretch out on your back and force me to service you.” (p. 96)

That goes on for several pages, and I love it, because it reads exactly as though Zoe has read way too many bodice-rippers. They do it again near the end of the novel, too. It’s hilarious both times.

But  aside from the hot sex, they keep clashing because she has secrets and he has…a stick up his arse.

He’s immediately suspicious when she checks in, because she doesn’t look like the platinum-visa type, what with her flowing hippie-ish skirts and battered VW van and guitar and all that. See what I mean about him being kind of a jerk? Liam apparently has never seen a conclusion he wouldn’t leap to. It’s understandable that he’d be suspicious of people keeping secrets, what with his father’s affair and all, so I don’t actually hate him. But seriously, people get to keep secrets.
He’s also snide about her rootless, mobile lifestyle in a way that would have made me leave…and, to her credit, Zoe doesn’t put up with it either. She’s been avoiding her abusive, controlling father, which she’s able to do since her grandmother left her millions of dollars. But Liam manages to sound as if he’s siding with her father when he criticizes her lifestyle, and because there are wads of cash concealed in her van he ALSO believes she’s stolen money from her father. Which is lousy of him, but to be fair, most people lining their vehicles with cash aren’t going to turn out to be secret millionaires, you know?

“Wait,” Liam said, lurching to his feet and grabbing her by the shoulders. “I told you I love you. Doesn’t that warrant a response of some sort?”

She smiled at him politely, as she would a stranger. “Of course, it does….Go to hell, Liam.” (p. 175)

Her father shows up and she confronts him, and she can finally see that he really can’t control her anymore, and the threats (to have her arrested, to keep her away from her mother) are just the blusterings of a bully. She leaves Liam behind (since he basically just called her a thief) and returns home, able to visit her mother now that her father’s been defanged.

And then Liam shows up in her repaired van and grovels, and they ride off for an extended road trip, because he’s finally realized he can take time off without the world collapsing. Yay!

Active Ingredients:
Vintage Volkswagon Van (Bessie)
Guitar-Playing Flower Child
Limitless Platinum Credit Card
Lavish Hotel Setting
Responsible Head of his Family/Business Empire
Opposites Attract
The Odd Couple
Romance Novel Sex (Viking Variety)
Controlling Bastard Businessman (the heroine’s father)
Huge Oirish Family (the hero’s siblings and mother)
Secretly Wealthy Heroine

My “Keeper Shelf” Overfloweth

Back when I was first reading romance novels, my best friend and I had the simplest sorting system ever. Romances were either “keepers,” which we knew we wanted to hold onto and probably reread, or they weren’t. Books that weren’t keepers got handed on to other people or dumped on the library or sold at garage sales; there was no used bookstore in our town at that time.

Of course, back then our purchasing habits were pretty simple too: we bought ALL THE THINGS, by which I mean all the categories we could find and afford each month plus whatever shiny foil-stamped horse-and-castle single titles we could scope out at the drugstore.

Now I’m a real live grown-up, and my buying habits have gotten complex and weird. I buy things I want to read because they sound good, because they sound bad, because the cover is hilariously awful, because I’ve always heard of this author/title and I was on eBay or Abebooks and there it was….

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A random sample grabbed from the “to-read” pile and spread out on my kids’ wooden table.

The problem is I have gotten way less ruthless about my “keeper” shelf than twelve-year-old me. I am drowning in paperbacks, here. I hate getting rid of vintage ones because I always worry I won’t be able to find them again. But also, I tend to collect categories of category (so right now I have ALL THE SHEIKS for some reason). Also, single-title covers are gorgeous, which makes me hold onto them even when I know I’m never going to reread them.

A major purge is in order, I think. I just haven’t made up my mind where to start.

 

A Harlequin Desire with a Harlequin Presents title!

Author: Merline Lovelace
 Harlequin Desire
Published: December 2013 

Reasons I Might Actually Remember This One: This is the first book I’ve ever read by Merline Lovelace, and I got completely distracted by her short biography. Very cool. But more to the point: this novel features a duchess’ socialite-ish granddaughter and a Kennedy-dynasty-esque power-political-type diplomat. The atmosphere was almost more riveting than the romance.

 diplomat's pregnant bride

Actually I haven’t read a Harlequin Desire in ages, so maybe this is the norm for their titles now. I suspect I bought this one by accident, when I was online-shopping for a stack of Harlequin Presents. But I’m glad I did; I enjoyed it.

So. The heroine was raised in genteel poverty by her exiled-duchess grandmother, who gave her (and her sister) an education befitting two members of the aristocracy of a now-defunct (imaginary) country. She had to sell her jewels to do this, and she reminded me of Anastasia for some reason.

The heroine, Gina (Eugenia), has never held a job for any length of time and has (we’re told kind of vaguely) flitted from man to man and career-idea to career-idea.

But now she’s PREGNANT, and motivated to make a living and become a responsible adult. Part of me wants to dismiss this as an idea straight out of Romancelandia, but honestly, pregnancy is a strangely sobering and motivating experience.

Speaking of which, early pregnancy is excellently drawn in this book. The heroine doesn’t vomit within minutes of conception, and doesn’t swoon away gracefully: she experiences an increase in appetite, needs to nap and go to bed early sometimes, is turned on easily and often, and wakes up desperate to pee. Which, yes: all of that.

The hero, meanwhile, is a career diplomat with a someday-maybe eventual shot at the presidency, and has a beloved dead wife. So the heroine sensibly doubts he really loves her, and is uninterested in marrying him just for the baby’s sake (and even LESS interested in marrying him for the sake of preserving his image for political purposes–which, to be fair, isn’t on his mind either, but it IS on his father’s agenda).

Because of the hero’s job there’s more talk of national security than I’m used to in a romance, and also more kidnapping (of the hero, not the heroine). I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t know if this is a feature of HDesires as opposed to HPresents, or its just a strength of this particular author, but there was none of the hand-waving “oh he’s a billionaire in…business” I’ve seen a lot of lately, and both the hero and heroine actually GO TO WORK, instead of being assigned exciting job titles that we never see them living up to.

There are also suspicious foreign cousins from the now-defunct mother country, one of whom is male, gorgeous, and points out within moments of meeting the heroine that they’re distant-enough cousins to legally marry. I kind of adored him.

Active Ingredients:
Dead Wife, Idealized Variety
Socialite Heroine
Imaginary Country
Elderly Duchess (heroine’s grandmother)
Selling the Family Jewels (Genteel Poverty)
Unplanned Pregnancy
Kennedy-esque Dynasty
Sequel-Ready Siblings (in this case the heroine is one of the SRS, since her sister’s romance happened in a previous book, but there are also two Exotic Foreign Cousins whom I suspect will get their own books, if they haven’t already)