Dear good lord, what have I done?

https://i2.wp.com/i.chzbgr.com/completestore/2010/9/25/30ff4968-93fa-4297-8964-64902f7a995e.jpgStarting with the BooksOnBoard 50% off sale on Black Friday and ending with yesterday’s 50% off sale at Harlequin, I, uh, bought some books. To share my shame with you all, I’ve listed them all below. And, please, if you see me buying books at all before summertime, call the authorities.

  1. The Law and Kate Malone by Charlene Sands
  2. Abbie’s Outlaw by Victoria Bylin
  3. The Darkest of Secrets by Kate Hewitt
  4. The Husband She Never Knew by Kate Hewitt
  5. Doukakis’s Apprentice by Sarah Morgan
  6. Secrets of Castillo del Arco by Trish Morey
  7. The Wedding Fling by Meg Maguire
  8. A Natural Father by Sarah Mayberry
  9. The Other Side of Us by Sarah Mayberry
  10. The Time of Her Life by Jeanie London
  11. Back to the Good Fortune Diner by Vicki Essex
  12. Heat Of The Night by Elle Kennedy
  13. The Heat is On by Elle Kennedy
  14. Feeling Hot by Elle Kennedy
  15. Getting Hotter by Elle Kennedy
  16. The Lady’s Secret by Joanna Chambers
  17. Captive Bride by Bonnie Dee
  18. Renegade Most Wanted by Carol Arens
  19. Meant To Be Married by Ruth Wind
  20. Christmas on Snowbird Mountain by Fay Robinson
  21. Restraint by Charlotte Stein
  22. Cassie’s Grand Plan by Emmie Dark
  23. Grease Monkey Jive by Ainslie Paton
  24. Rio Grande Wedding by Ruth Wind
  25. The S Before Ex by Mira Lyn Kelly
  26. The Way Back by Stephanie Doyle
  27. Silent Surrender by Barbara J. Hancock
  28. His Virgin Acquisition by Maisey Yates
  29. A Royal World Apart by Maisey Yates
  30. Marriage Made on Paper by Maisey Yates
  31. With This Fling by Kelly Hunter
  32. The Wedding Plan by Abby Gaines
  33. In His Eyes by Emmie Dark
  34. Sunrise Over Texas by M.J. Fredrick

To add to my shame, three of these books – The Law and Kate Malone, Abbie’s Outlaw and Renegade Most Wanted – are Harlequin Historicals. I’ve read maybe a handful of books in that line that I didn’t hate, and I think Carla Kelly wrote them. That’s what a sucker I am for historical westerns.

Also of note is how many straight up Presents are in this pile. I hope buying seven high-angst Presents doesn’t add regret to my already heaping portion of shame. I’m not totally sure why I bought so many.

Of the Superromances I picked up in this sale, only Mayberry is an author I’ve read before (and Fay Robinson, but that book’s a reissue of an old book.) I read and really enjoyed the Emmie Dark, and have high hopes for the others based on the samples I’ve read. Looking forward especially to the Vicki Essex book, as it has a Chinese-American heroine and the author is of Asian descent herself. Well, and because the sample was excellent.

Guess I better get reading…
 

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Rio Grande Wedding by Ruth Wind

A shirtless man in dark jeans with shoulder-length, dark brown hair leans in towards a blonde woman wearing a pink bathrobe. They're in a sunny kitchen, standing next to a counter that has two coffee cups on it.This is another Harlequin I grabbed during the BooksOnBoard Black Friday sale. I saw the words “Green card groom,” and immediately downloaded the sample. Marriages of convenience are one of my very favorite romance tropes, so I was an easy sell.

Widowed nurse Molly Sheffield finds a wounded migrant worker on her property and takes it upon herself to nurse him back to health after he begs her not to call an ambulance. Undocumented immigrant Alejandro Sosa hates to burden the strange woman who’s rescued him, but he can’t risk deportation – not while his eight year old niece is stranded alone in the wilderness after an immigration raid. Struck by Alejandro’s devotion to his niece, or perhaps due to four lonely years alone on her secluded New Mexico farm, Molly decides to do everything she can to keep him together with his niece in America, even if her deputy sheriff brother suspects they’re marrying only to secure a green card.

I really enjoyed this modern take on a marriage of convenience. Wind – who also writes as Barbara Samuel – treats the heady subject with a lot of sensitivity and avoids any grandstanding. Molly’s brother is the story’s antagonist, but he remains sympathetic or at least relatable even with his zero tolerance approach to illegal immigration. Alejandro isn’t some Woobie forced into the role of victim, he’s got some misgivings and doubts over whether he’s making the right decision to work as a migrant laborer in the US. I liked all the characters more for having some flaws.

Where the book wasn’t perfect was in the timing. Everything in the book takes place over a very short period of time. I can buy a week-long whirlwind romance ok, but resolving immigration status, family drama, a gunshot wound *and* tuberculosis as well within a week is a bit much. I really enjoyed the hero and heroine, but I had to put my “this is fantasy” glasses on to digest the neat and tidy ending. B-

~65,000 words
Published October 1st 1999 by Silhouette Intimate Moments

In His Eyes by Emmie Dark

A couple standing next to a wooden wine barrel, sharing a bottle of wine, standing in a large wine cellar with brick walls. Fans of angst and second chances would like this book. The heroine returns to her hometown after leaving ten years ago as a troubled teenager. Intending only to stay long enough to bury her grandfather, bottle his wine and sell his estate off, her plans hit a snag of sorts in the shape of the estate’s neighbor. The hero wants to add her grandfather’s vineyard to his estate’s holdings, but with their messy shared history, secrets come out and what once seemed so straightforward turns out to be anything but.

Lots of emotion in this one. The secrets behind Zoe’s banishment as a teenager are a big ones, with shockwaves that leave cracks in both of their adult lives. Their revelation forces them to reexamine assumptions they’d labored under for ten years and unleashes all sorts of feelings they don’t really want to deal with right now. Upstanding, responsible Hugh just wants to buy her family’s vineyard and get back to his role as CEO of his family’s winemaking business. Restless, rebellious Zoe wants to wrap up their business then get back to California, and away from the bad memories. Walking down memory lane is hugely uncomfortable for them, but they just can’t seem to stop the momentum and go back to how they were before the secrets came out.

I thought Dark did a good job pacing the characters through their journey of rediscovery. She dispenses bits of intrigue and backstory gradually throughout the story, neither character ever launches into a monologue of angst nor are the salient details dangled just out of the reader’s grasp over and over. I felt that the characters discussed and processed their feelings in ways that were unique to their personalities – Zoe giving up information and emotion only under duress, and Hugh relentlessly pursuing further discussion to try to make things right. It’s a dynamic that not only suits the storytelling, it shows me a couple well-matched for an HEA. Their communication styles complement each other perfectly.

The dialog felt a little forced at times, especially when Mr. Plot Expediter Morris is on screen, and I didn’t love how the conflict was finally resolved. I wanted more initiative from Zoe after she flew back to California. That Hugh instead flew to her to make a declaration felt more like the author indulging her own love of the Grand Gesture than the natural outcome for the characters. It was heavy on the style and short on substance. It’s also SOP for the genre.

I picked this up on a whim during an ebook sale, and I’m glad I did. This new-to-me author is now on my list of Harlequin authors to keep an eye on. B-

~75,000 words
Published August 1st 2012 by Harlequin Superromance

Lightning Round: October 2012

A shirtless man in a cowboy hat embracing a woman holding a gun behind her back and looking straight at the viewer.Chasing Rainbows
by Victoria Lynne

I am a sucker for road romances, foul-mouthed gunslinger heroines, gambler heroes and anything set in the old west, so this scratched all my itches. It also had some fabulous, slow-burning sexual tension that more recent books just don’t seem to have the patience for anymore.

I just found the heroine almost Mary Sue-ish. She spends the bulk of the book being acted upon rather than driving her share of the action, then seems to be rewarded in the end for being such a good person before. For a heroine who was supposed to be a rough-and-tumble outlaw, she constantly needed the hero to bail her out after  she charged into things half-cocked.

I had a lot fun reading it, but it wasn’t the best book it could’ve been. C+ 

+++

Never Stay Past Midnight
by Mira Lyn Kelly

This author’s books are consistently enjoyable for me (Wild Fling or a Wedding Ring? even got a rare 5* review from me on Goodreads) so just seeing that she has a new book out is enough to get me to buy without so much as a glance at the blurb or the reviews.

Never Stay Past Midnight had all the elements I love this author for. The heroine’s a grown-up with an adult’s life, libido and responsibilities. The hero’s wealthy and successful, but human. Both are reluctant to commit to a relationship, but neither’s reluctance stems from blanket judgments of the other’s gender, or any high-angst disavowals of the existence of love. They just got unresolved baggage from lives that didn’t come with training wheels.

Unfortunately, the strength of that conflict and the depth of their feelings on commitment made the rushed ending unsatisfying. While their fling that became more was charming and believable, the hero’s abrupt about-face on a serious bone of contention weakened the story. B+

+++

Just about the clinchiest of all clinch covers. Shirtless hero with his arm around the heroine's waist, with her bodice falling down and her hair billowing in the wind. The galloping horses in the background are extra amazing.Texas Destiny
by Lorraine Heath

The heroine heads west to Texas as a mail-order bride after the Civil War destroys her home and family in Georgia. She expects to be met at the train station by her fiance, but is instead met by his younger brother. After falling from a horse and breaking his leg, her fiance couldn’t make the three-week trek each way himself. Hijnks ensue.

Starts slow with a metric fuck ton of angst over the hero’s scars, goes nuts with adjectives and flowery metaphors, but nails yearning and sexual tension like a boss. The end waffled more than an IHOP, but I was invested like whoa. B-

+++

Illustration of an Old West sheriff leaning against a post while a woman in a full pink skirt and white shirtwaist walks past with her back to the viewer.The Marshal And Mrs. O’Malley
by Julianne MacLean

While I enjoyed the main couple and their romance immensely – there are real obstacles to their getting together and the yearning was palpable – the suspense plot lacked, well, suspense, and the heroine’s son was the most convenient plot moppet of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Highly entertaining, but uneven and unmemorable. C

 

 

+++

Standard Presents cover. White cover with a red banner at top saying "Harlequin Presents." Then the author's name, followed by book title, is printed on the white background above the circular stock photo of a poorly acted out kiss between a couple.Katrakis’s Sweet Prize
by Caitlin Crews

All of the standard Presents tropes that I usually enjoy – revenge, self-made men, yachting on the Mediterranean, shitbag family drama – were accounted for in this book, but it very much did not work for me at all.

It wasn’t so silly that I stopped reading it, but pretty damn close. It was the way they treated the whole “mistress” thing, like it was a job position. It was really absurd. She not only walks up to him and says, “I had heard you were between mistresses at present. I had so hoped to be the next.” There was also this bizarre exchange:

“While I appreciate your list of rules and regulations, and will make every effort to follow them, being a mistress is much more than the ability to follow orders.” She traced the strong line of his jaw, the proud jut of his chin, with a lazy fingertip—though she felt as far from lazy as it was possible to feel. She kept on. “A good mistress must anticipate her partner’s needs. She must adapt to his moods, and follow his lead. It is like a complicated dance, is it not?”

Is this a Presents, or D/s erotica? As I told Liz, in a contemporary setting, “mistress” should be used like “pooch,” that is, only in tabloid headlines. D

+++

Close-up shot of a young man with shaggy, dark hair and a wrist tattoo touching the face of a young woman with long brown hair before he might kiss her.Easy
by Tammara Webber

Anyone who wanted to like Beautiful Disaster but just couldn’t hang with the deeply internalized misogyny and textbook abuser archetype hero need to read this book. Everyone else needs to read this book too, but those readers especially deserve to treat themselves. It’s well written and populated with fully-developed characters. A strong theme of respect and empowerment for women runs throughout without ever getting preachy (oh, well, never bad preachy, anyway.) The heroine is self-saving and the hero is just a beautiful person. A-

All They Need by Sarah Mayberry

a couple sitting together on the floor surrounded by pillows

If I had to highlight just one thing Mayberry does that elevates her books above the rest, I would have to choose the way she writes disagreements. Her characters act out at each other from a place of insecurity that feels true to the complicated, flawed little monkeys we all are. They say the same stupid things and make the same silly mistakes we all do, then get to resolve them like we’d all love to. The end result is a powerful, engrossing story where you’re rooting for the couple with your whole heart.

Our heroine is Melanie Porter, recently divorced and the new owner of a string of vacation cottages. It’s been 18 months since she’d left her wealthy husband and she’s slowly undoing the damage he’d wreaked on her self-esteem and emotional state with his constant verbal abuse. When our hero arrives with his girlfriend to stay in one of her cottages she finds she’s still got a long way to go. Flynn Randall was present at the Melbourne society party that proved to be the end of her marriage, and despite he and his girlfriend being perfectly friendly to her, she still can’t help the panic and worry that she doesn’t measure up and that they’re silently judging her. Little does she know, though, that she wouldn’t be the only one feeling awkward that day.

You see, Flynn had come to the area just to meet with a real estate agent about Summerlea, a historic estate with famous gardens that he’s coveted since he was a young boy. When he gets back to the cottage, however, he discovers that his girlfriend had another goal in mind. Blindsided by her heartfelt marriage proposal, he realizes how thoughtless he’s been with her feelings. Preoccupied with his father’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and his taking the reins of the family company as its CEO, he’d fallen into a comfortable relationship without considering what expectations she might have. After awkwardly turning her down, he returns their key to Mel, and heads back home.

They meet again when Flynn comes up to inspect Summerlea, which he’s decided to buy, and thus begins the courtship dance of one gun-shy divorcee and a guy with way too much on his plate to be looking for love.

Before I get into the disagreements I alluded to in the first paragraph, I should point out that the characters do something fairly rare in romance – they share a passion for a particular hobby. Both Flynn and Mel are avid gardeners and gardening plays a major role in their romance. It’s the safe topic of conversation and the window to their hidden selves at the same time. It’s an excuse for Mel to visit Flynn without breaking her no dating rule. It’s how Flynn ends up meeting all of Mel’s family. And it never feels contrived because you see their love of gardening is genuine. You can just tell that well after their HEA, they’ll be working together on their enormous gardens in companionable silence.

And thank heavens they had something neutral to talk about, because they’d have died of mixed signals without it. This was sort of a bizarro world romance in that the heroine was the commitment-averse headcase running hot then cold and the hero was the self-sacrificing, ever patient rock willing to do what it takes to win her love. Her ex-husband all but obliterated her sense of self and she’s scared to death of getting involved with a guy again. The panic rears its head when she and Flynn first try making out in her kitchen:

She started pushing his jeans down, her hands frantic. He smiled against her mouth.

“Slow down, babe. We’ve got all night,” he murmured. His tone was light, but his words hit her like a slap.

Suddenly she could hear Owen’s voice in her head, cold with condemnation and disgust.

Did it ever occur to you that maybe I’d like to take the lead now and again?

It’s not a porn shoot, Mel. Do you have to make so much noise?

Could you at least try to pretend you’re not always gagging for it? And you wonder why I don’t like you talking to other men.

She jerked away from Flynn’s kiss, her whole body tense. She tried to turn away from him but he caught her shoulders.

Baggage: Mel has some.

And so we arrive at why I’m not declaring this a perfect book. I thought Flynn and Mel were great characters working through a perfectly believable and entirely reasonable conflict. However, the book needed to be twenty pages longer to give the conflict more time to resolve. We went from never marrying again, never sharing a home again, full stop, to here’s the spare key to my house, you were right, Flynn, in a single chapter. It was too fast, both for the pace of the narrative and for the characters within the book, since it was dispensed with in just a few weeks. Real problems like theirs deserved more respect. I would have preferred more of a work in progress ending than their neat, tidy HEA. Also, Flynn was kind of too perfect. It’s a precious sort of complaint, but there it is. If he were a heroine, he’d get called a martyr.

All They Need was a delightful read that packed an emotional wallop. I never stopped cheering for them to find their happiness. Not even when they put beetroot and egg on their hamburgers. B+

~75,000 words
Published November 1st, 2011 by Harlequin