Feature and Follow Friday (2)

Update: By the way, congratulations to everyone who made it here from the blog hop linky even though I didn’t fill out the form correctly.  The name of this blog is Reading with Analysis, and I need to wear my glasses more often.  Cheers – and enjoy your stay!

Feature and Follow Friday is a meme hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee.  It’s a blog hop–a way to connect with other bloggers and make new friends.  This week’s featured blogs are Alisa from Books Are My Reality and Concise Book Reviews.  If you haven’t checked these blogs out yet, you should (assuming you have time to putz around on the Internet, that is…).

In addition to featuring a blog, the meme also asks participants to answer a question, and this week the question is: “What is/was your favorite required summer reading (in school)?” 

I loved Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton.  Actually, I still love it and reread it every few years.  My copy has all these angsty comments written in the margins, and it’s fun to see how much I’ve changed over the years (and how much I haven’t, as the case may be).  When I was in high school, I had this fascination with the grittier side of humanity, so this story of human nature gone awry really appealed to me.  As an adult, I enjoy this story because it is beautiful and tragic, occasionally transcendent, and because the lines that arrested me as a child still have that power now that I am an adult.  If you haven’t yet read it, you should.

I’m on WordPress, so the following options, should you choose to follow me, are somewhat limited.  I’ve been trying to figure out the mysteries of the RSS feed but no cigar just yet.  In the meantime, if you’d like to follow me, please do so by email, or you can follow me on Twitter.  Happy Friday!

Lots of reading lately, not so much reflecting…

I don’t usually write about every book that I read, but I’ve gotten a bit behind in the last few weeks.  What is it writers always say?  Just write.  Just sit down and do it.  Of course, it helps if I actually have the time to sit and write.  This week, I’ve been a bit over-stretched.

Cover image, The Stranger I Married by Sylvia Day

This is one of those books where I’m not quite sure what I was thinking when I purchased it.  The Stranger I Married is a historical romance (erotic romance, just to be clear) written by a well-known erotica author (contemporary).  I was curious, and it was on sale.  There were a few things that I really liked about the book (Pel’s relationship with her brother Rhys, for example, and the amusing little side romance between Rhys and Abigail.  I also liked Gerard (the hero) in general – he’s very charming – and I loved how awful his mother is!).  But then there were the things that I didn’t like.

It really bugs me when a female character in a romance novel takes the stance that she doesn’t want to get it on with someone and he chooses to run roughshod over her wishes because he refuses to believe that she could have a valid reason for not wanting to do the nasty with him and because he sees evidence of her desire for him.  I can’t believe I’m writing this about characters in a book, but whatever.  I don’t care if the male character is right and the female character really does desire him: if she says no, it damn well means no!  Any pushy sexual aggression/coercion that follows the female character saying no just pisses me off and will usually force me to DNF the book.  Given that, I can’t believe I continued reading The Stranger I Married… Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad I pushed through those uncomfortable moments (the first half of the book) and read through to the end, but there were a lot of scenes that made me feel uncomfortable.

The other thing I didn’t like so much was Pel’s inability to communicate her issues to Gerard.  She seemed to require that he read her mind (and we all know how well it works when a man tries to read a woman’s mind), and the “what’s your problem?” “I shouldn’t have to tell you” nonsense went on for a good hundred and fifty pages.  At a certain point, it got to be a trifle ridiculous that Pel couldn’t read the writing on the wall (that Gerard wasn’t exactly the kind of asshole her late husband had been), and it annoyed me to have to keep reading about Pel’s completely unfounded fears when a single conversation between the two would have cleared everything up.

I realize that I just spent a lot more time and energy explaining what I didn’t like about the book (and barely referenced the things that I did like), and I think I can explain why.  In the case of both of the things I strongly disliked about this book, my personal preferences reign supreme.  Even outside the realm of books I am infuriated by people who do not respect “no means NO!” boundaries of behavior, and I feel very strongly about every individual’s responsibility to speak up and communicate issues to relevant parties.  I try not to make anyone read my mind, and I prefer the folk in my life to be similarly forthright with me.  Those are personal preferences, but they impact my reading experience.  I just can’t read and enjoy a book with rape (or near-rape) scenes, and I find books with characters who are communication-impaired to be annoying.  As for why I didn’t spend an equal or greater amount of time talking about the things I liked, that’s just because I didn’t like those things nearly as much as I disliked the other (obviously).

But, bottom-line, The Stranger I Married is well-written (in its lack of glaring grammar errors and its well-constructed story/pacing/character development), occasionally charming, generally romantic and steamy, and it has a great ending.

Cover image, Hot Under the Collar by Jackie Barbosa

I was the lucky winner of a giveaway hosted by The Dashing Duchesses (always a fount of interesting information).  I love winning things, especially since it doesn’t happen very often, but I especially love winning things that I can really enjoy.  I enjoyed Hot Under the Collar, because it’s a fairly steamy romance novella with a happy-go-lucky vicar as the hero.  No kidding.

One of the things I love about the romance genre is that its authors often take the accepted assumptions about the time (for example that women were downtrodden waifs whose lives were completely controlled by men) and turn them around, writing novels with independent female characters who direct their own lives.  Hot Under the Collar does an excellent job of highlighting one of the cultural double standards of the time (and it’s still a double standard in our time, let me point out) that it was perfectly acceptable for men to have misadventures and then go on to be respectable members of society, but it was absolutely unacceptable for women to do the same, even if those “misadventures” were not really of their own doing.  So Walter is a respectable country vicar even though he spent his youth carousing brothels and gaming hells and being a general ne’er-do-well, but Artemisia is shunned by her community because she was fully compromised (in a family way) when she was sixteen, taken in by false promises of love.  Walter, as a vicar who doesn’t believe he has the right to judge anyone, ends up teaching morals and values to the entire community by behaving morally.

I loved this story and could not put it down.  Walter is glorious, funny, charming, and indomitable, and Artemisia, while generally accepting her circumstances, is confident and strong, exactly the sort of character whose story I want to read. The secondary characters add depth to the story, certainly more depth than I expected from a novella, and allow us to get to know Walter in his professional guise.

I know I’m gushing, but whatever.  The best books (my favorites, anyway) are the ones that make me feel better about humanity, and this one jumped to the top of my list of feel-good favorites.

Review – The Theory of Attraction

Cover image, The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden

That cover seems really weird to me… I didn’t really examine the cover until I placed the image in this post, but doesn’t it look like the lady’s legs are in the wrong place?  Or is that her belly under his arm and her pushed-up shirt is just perfectly hidden?  And, honestly, it looks a little uncomfortable how he’s squashing her boob… but whatever.

Anyway, do you like Big Bang Theory?  How about erotica?  How about a combination of the two?  A few weeks ago someone on my Twitter feed used the term “nerdmance” in connection with this book, and I really think it fits.  Also, it convinced me that I should read this book.  As an aside, I’m listening to a brand-new nerdy playlist to help me connect to my geeky side while I write this review.  Also, my geeky side is never far away.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Camilla can set her watch by her hunky rocket-scientist neighbor who jogs past her window each day. She relishes each glimpse of his shirtless abs, and is dying to see more. But it’s hard to connect with a man who doesn’t seem to know she exists…

Ivan feels at home in the lab, not in social situations. When he finally approaches his attractive neighbor, it’s not for a date-he wants tutoring in how to behave at an important fundraiser. Ivan doesn’t expect the chemistry between them to be quite so explosive, and is surprised when Cami actually accepts his proposal to embark on a series of “lessons.”

Cami soon discovers Ivan’s schedule isn’t the only thing he likes to be strict about-he needs to be charge in the bedroom as well. She’s shocked at how much she comes to enjoy her submissive side, but wonders if a real relationship is in the equation…

47,000 words

I really enjoyed this book, but I’m having a hell of a time trying to figure out what I can say about it on a blog that my mom reads (hi Mom!).  So here’s what I liked about this book:

  1. Cami makes a great narrator.  She is likable, intelligent, funny, and easy to relate to (although I didn’t exactly relate to her willingness to stick her naked ass in the air, but whatever).  Hi Mom!
  2. Ivan is just adorable.
  3. The secondary characters are great, and that’s not exactly easy to achieve in a book this short.
  4. It could have been totally crazy.  As you can see from the publisher’s blurb, there’s a bit of BDSM (I’d call it BDSM-lite, having read The Siren…), and Ivan introduces Cami to his sexual lifestyle, but he does it gently (if such a thing is possible) and with serious attention to her communications, both verbal and nonverbal.  Because of this, the BDSM stuff never veers anywhere near to abuse.
  5. The ending made me smile.  Also, this book has further convinced me that I never want to live in Texas.  Apparently, it gets hot there.
  6. It’s just fun.

There was a scene that was a wee bit too… um… yeah… hi Mom! for my particular taste, but that’s just me.  Shocked and slightly embarrassed though I was while reading that scene, I still thought it was handled very well and made sense within the context of the whole book, and it had this lovely little piece that helped me to understand Dom/sub relationships just a bit better.  I’d quote that section, but, seriously, my mom reads this blog.  🙂

Bottom line, this book is well worth a read, especially if you like erotica.

And I’ve got to finish with a shout out to my mom, because she’s awesome.

*FTC Disclosure: I received a free e-galley of this book from Carina Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

Oh noes, my bodice has been ripped

I have been reading romance novels since I was about 12 years old.  Until I got a job and had disposable income, I pretty much pilfered my mom’s collection of books.  She had Suzanne Barclay and Rosemary Rogers and Daphne du Maurier and a host of others that I no longer remember (pesky bad memory strikes again!).  When I was in high school, I got really into Jean Auel and Kathleen Woodiwiss.  During my college years, I stopped reading romance and spent close to a decade reading the classics and being a horrible snob.  In 2007 or so, I rediscovered my love of romance, and now it’s pretty much all I read.

The thing is, when I tell people I read romance novels, they think I’m reading this kind of thing:

Cover image, Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey

Or perhaps this:

Cover image, Velvet Promise by Jude Deveraux

And I’m not.  When I developed my own taste for romance (and started buying my own books), I veered toward those authors who used Jane Austen as their model and wrote books with charming, witty characters, strong heroines, misunderstood (but not dastardly) heroes and, generally, employed a regency England setting.  Among my extensive romance novel collection there is not a Fabio cover in sight (not even any hidden ones).  But I do have this, courtesy of my best friend.  Seems ill-advised, to me, to kneel on a rocky cliff, but what do I know?

Cover image, For the Love of a Pirate by Edith Layton

For personal reasons, I do not enjoy romance novels that meander into bodice-ripper territory.  You may be wondering, “What’s a bodice ripper?”  I’m about to tell you, so if you weren’t wondering, feel free to skip ahead.

As with everything, I don’t really have the time and interest to do any research, but if you’re really curious, you can read the wikipedia page about romance novels.  The (derogatory) term “bodice ripper” refers to the single-title romance novels that were written and released in the late 70s to early 90s that feature a young (16-22), innocent, relatively weak-willed heroine paired with an older (30s, usually), domineering, arrogant, sexually aggressive hero who often saves the heroine from some sort of peril (and often was the sot who put her in that peril, just to be clear).  The dialogue in these novels is often like this:

I don’t want to make value judgments.  I like a whole lot of crap that would horrify other people, but I just really hate this style of romance novel.  To me, it isn’t romantic to read the antics of a hero character who is all, “Of course she wants me! She might be saying no because [insert one: I raped her on our wedding night; I killed her father; I seduced and abandoned her sister; I’ve abducted her; etc.], but her eyes are saying Yes Yes Yes!!!”  And to pair that nonsense with a heroine character who dithers back and forth between desire and shame (“I want him, but I don’t want to want him, because he [insert one: raped me on our wedding night; killed my father; seduced and abandoned my sister; abducted me; etc.], but when he waggles his eyebrows at me like that, I just melt inside, and I have no control over my wanton desires because I’m just a woman.”) it just leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

Given my profound dislike of this particular romance novel trope, I think it’s interesting that I purchased this book:

Cover image, Lord of Vengeance by Lara Adrian (writing as Tina St. John)

Everything about it screams bodice ripper (except the cover isn’t nearly cheesy enough).  See for yourself… here’s the publisher’s blurb:

Taken captive by Gunnar Rutledge, a dark knight sworn to destroy her father, Raina d’Bussy must teach forgiveness to a man who knows no mercy and lives only to exact revenge on his enemy. But time in Gunnar’s keep stirs an unwanted passion in Raina, and something far more perilous, when she finds herself falling in love with the one man she should never desire.

For Gunnar, vengeance is all that matters. He seeks the ultimate price from his enemy’s beautiful young daughter, claiming Raina as his hostage. But the proud beauty defies him at every turn, tempting him like no other. Setting out to break Raina’s glorious spirit, Gunnar instead finds himself bewitched by her goodness, her strength. Can he seize the justice he is due without losing Raina forever?

So… captive heroine? check!  Dark knight hero who lives to exact revenge on the heroine’s father? check! Unwanted passion stirred in the heroine? check! Hero setting out to break his captive’s spirit? check!  And, finally, hero unexpectedly and unwillingly captivated by the heroine’s goodness? check!

But I bought this book (it was really cheap, but, still, I spent my own money on it) because I hoped that Gunnar would turn out to be the misunderstood hero (I love those) and that Raina would have some backbone (after all, she ‘defies him at every turn’ and has ‘strength’).  My big problem with the archetypes in bodice rippers is not just that the hero is a total assmunch but that the heroine is a weak-sauce pansy who just accepts whatever the hero gives her as though it’s totally his right to be a douche-canoe.  So I bought the book because (1) it was cheap and (2) there was a fairly decent chance that I would turn out liking it.  Let me just interject a tiny little tangent here: if I had been browsing for this book in a physical book store and had to turn over real cash for it, I would not have purchased it.  It is so much easier to blow a ton of money on books that ‘might be good’ when I purchase them online and download them to my nook.

I was a nail-biting ball of nerves throughout the first half of Lord of Vengeance, because Gunnar exudes all of the iconic traits of a bodice-ripper hero, and Raina, though she obviously possesses some steel and fortitude, keeps vacillating between being overcome by her fascination and desire for Gunnar and being overcome by guilt and shame for feeling those things.  Most lamentably, there was a ‘you may say no, but your eyes say yes’ scene, and it pushed me perilously close to making the DNF decision.  But I started reading the book after Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict gave it a high rating, and I trust her ability to recommend books for me to read.  Our taste is eerily similar.

As it turns out, I’m thrilled that I stuck with it and finished this book, because the second half of the book more than makes up for the uncertainty of the first half.  Gunnar, it turns out, is really a squishy, peep-filled fuzzball who just wants to do the right thing and love Raina good.  Raina discovers the power of her own femininity (total tangent: does anybody else have to count all the “in”s when typing that word?) and finds strength in her ability to trust and love bravely.

It really is beautiful, but I think the character transitions for both Gunnar and Raina could have been smoothed out a wee bit in the editing process.  I’ve read books in which the characters undergo complete personality overhauls that aren’t explained in any way (other than plain ‘ol bad editing), and Lord of Vengeance is nothing like that, but the character development for both characters did seem a little abrupt.  Gunnar was always a good guy–just pretending to be a bad guy in the beginning–and Raina was always a strong woman–just shocked into weakness by some of Gunnar’s more blatant antics–and both characters begin acting in a manner more true to themselves as they get to know one another and get more comfortable with each other.

The end is lovely, and I liked that Nigel (I know, right? Who the hell is Nigel?) played a foil to Gunnar’s evil reputation/squishy heart of gold.  There was almost too little Nigel, though.  He’s really the villain of the piece, but he’s not present throughout most of the book.  I guess it’s OK, though, because he manages to cram a whole lot of evil antics into his few appearances.

Anyway, Lord of Vengeance is a great read, especially if you’re interested in a book that contains all the classic elements of a bodice ripper without being awful.  I really enjoyed it.

And now, because I know you’re interested, this is what Gunnar looks like on the inside:

Gunnar’s inner fuzzball

He just wants to love you.

The Apothecary’s Daughter and my ridiculous memory

I possess an uncertain memory.  In some situations, I have astonishingly accurate, detailed recall, and in other situations I have no ability to recall a situation, conversation, book, etc.  I suspect it comes down to focus: at work, I generally focus on the emails I receive and read, and it’s amazing what I can recall (and how quickly).  Years after I emailed someone once, I’ll still remember the content of that email.  My freaky brain latches onto codes, so a full decade after I worked for a telephone answering service, I still remember the switchboard line numbers for some of our clients.  In my private life, I’m known for being flaky, ditzy, and generally forgetful.  I forget to tell my husband about appointments I’ve made; I forget to call people back; I forget to respond to emails.  I forget 80% of what I read.  It’s astonishing that I can be known for my cleverness and exceptional memory in one area of my life and can be famous for my ditzy forgetfulness in all the others.

That’s why it’s funny that I read a book about a character with an inescapably good memory.  And do you know what’s even funnier?  I finished the book last Thursday (July 5) and started writing a blog post about it on Monday (July 9).  In four days, I had managed to forget the main character’s name.  (That’s not all that uncommon for me, and you might notice that a lot of the time when I’m talking about the characters of a romance novel, I just call them the hero and the heroine, usually because I can’t remember the character’s names.  I guess I just don’t pay attention to names.)

Cover image, The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

I enjoyed this story, although I had an understandably difficult time relating to the main character (Lilly… I finally remembered her name this afternoon).  Lilly has fantastic recall for anything she’s read or anything she’s experienced/witnessed.  She remembers dialogue from conversations.  She remembers all the apothecary recipes she’s ever learned.  She longs to forget some things, but she doesn’t get her wish.  Lilly also has a taste for adventure and an ability to attract a horde of suitors.

It is typical for a romance novel to have two main characters, but this book really doesn’t.  It’s about Lilly, and there are a bunch of dudes twirling around her, trying to gain her favor, but none of them is treated as another main character.  In a way, that’s one of the strengths of the book.  Part of what drives the plot is the question of whom Lilly will choose (if anyone) at the end.  But by the time I reached the end of the book, I felt sort of manipulated, as though Klassen had lured me into caring about several characters who ended up having little importance by dangling the carroty chance that there would be a turnaround or a reveal and Lilly would end up loving them.  I felt that this story was a nearly-executed (very nearly… it almost made it) attempt to take a straightforward love story and make it more mysterious.

I suspect I’m being slightly unfair to the book because I could not relate to the main character.  I know that taste in reading is completely subjective, and a character that draws me in and seems to speak to my soul will be completely off-putting to another person.  I know that there is a lot to like about The Apothecary’s Daughter, but none of that likable stuff quite makes up for my not being able to connect to the main character (although I recognize that the disconnect is personal and has nothing to do with the book).  I just happen to be a not-very-adventurous homebody with a poor memory, and stories about people who yearn for new locales and who have problems adjusting to the horror of not ever forgetting anything just don’t appeal to me.

Ready for a horrifically abrupt subject change?  Here it is.  I don’t know how many times I’ve read Pride and Prejudice, but I have certainly read it at least once a year for the past fifteen years.  I was in high school when the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle P&P movie came out (thank you BBC/A&E!), and I got a trifle obsessed and watched it daily for months on end.  I can spot a snatched line from P&P at a hundred paces, so, naturally, a few lines from The Apothecary’s Daughter really stood out to me.

From page 100 of The Apothecary’s Daughter, Nook version

“I am ashamed to think of what I said then.”

Line from section 6 of the 1995 P&P miniseries

“I am ashamed to remember what I said then.”

From page 185 of The Apothecary’s Daughter, Nook version

“Mary Helen Mimpurse!  That is the first nearly unkind thing I believe I’ve ever heard you say about anyone.”

From page 815 of Pride and Prejudice, Nook version (the freebie)

“That is the most unforgiving speech,” said Elizabeth, “that I ever heard you utter.  Good girl!  It would vex me, indeed, to see you again the dupe of Miss Bingley’s pretended regard.”

From page 314 of The Apothecary’s Daughter, Nook version

“I hope you will dance, especially should gentlemen be scarce and ladies be in want of a partner.”

From page 454 of Pride and Prejudice, Nook version (the freebie)

“He danced only four dances, though gentlemen were scarce; and, to my certain knowledge, more than one young lady was sitting down in want of a partner.”

I should really start bookmarking while I read, because there was a fourth eerily familiar line, but I just can’t remember it now, and I don’t feel like skimming through the entire book just to find it.  I’m not trying to start some sort of odd Jane Austen plagiarism brigade (because a hell of a lot of authors would get rounded up in that one, including every author who ever wrote any JA fanfic), but I personally found these lines very jarring.  I’d be trucking along in the story, and then all of a sudden there would be this random P&P reference… and, to me, it was as jarring as a random Rocky Horror Picture Show reference would have been.  Every time I discovered a reference, I felt like I had gotten a joke that the author didn’t intend to make.  I was this guy:

Bottom line… for all that I’ve complained about not connecting with the main character, being irritated by the P&P references, and feeling slightly manipulated by the author, I did enjoy this book.  There are all of these lovely little bits of history woven into the story (history of medicine, apothecary’s lore, etc.), and these details added depth to the characters and explained a lot of the character’s motivations.  I loved Klassen’s descriptions of life in that little village whose name I’ve forgotten.  I loved the scene on Apothecary Row in London…  This book has all these delightful little facets (and a mystery or two!) that make it well worth the read, even if you don’t particularly enjoy the main character.

My favorite thing about The Apothecary’s Daughter is that Lilly learns a very important lesson.  She’s got this crazy-good memory, but that doesn’t always mean that she remembers things accurately.  She remembers all the dialogue of every conversation, but that doesn’t mean that she always perfectly understood the context.  Lilly has the opportunity to learn that things often aren’t what they seem, and that even the smartest of us can be surprised by things that were under our noses the whole time.  Lilly also has a difficulty noticing changes in people over time because her habit is to rely on her memory, using information from the past to inform the present.  The way Klassen allows Lilly to discover the other characters, those that she thought she knew so well (her father, Mary, Mrs. Mimpurse, Francis, etc.), is just lovely.  For this reason alone, you should  read The Apothecary’s Daughter, but, of course, there are many reasons to do so.

BDSM – tie me up, tie me down

Usually I wait a few days after I finish a book before I even think about writing about it, but in this case, I think it will be a good idea for me to record my initial responses, and maybe I’ll do a follow-up post later to log any further reflections I may have.

Did the title freak you out a little bit?  Don’t worry, I still haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, and I’m fairly certain that I never will.  I read The Siren by Tiffany Reisz, thanks to a recommendation from Kim over at Reflections of a Book Addict.  I’m not really reviewing this book, per se, but if you’re looking for a fabulous review of the book, please check out Kim’s post here.  It’s a fabulous post, and I see no reason to attempt to re-create that wheel.  It done been did.

Cover image, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

This book is amazing, straight up.  How amazing?  Well, let me count the ways.  1. I honestly did not have a single snarky thought while I was reading the book.  2. When posting updates on my progress on Goodreads, I couldn’t think of any punchy quips that summed up my feelings – I was reduced to quoting Keanu: “Whoah.”  3.  It’s erotica and cerebral literature, and I honestly didn’t think that combination could exist.  4.  It’s BDSM erotica, but it doesn’t glorify the lifestyle; instead, it cuts a cross-section of that life and lets you form your own conclusions about it.  5.  No topic is off-limits to this book–I went into it expecting fairly good erotica and I got discussions of the Trinity (the Trinity!!!) and art history and literary theory and the nature of love.  6.  The ending may not be what you want, but it is what you need.

Let me start off by saying that I am vanilla through and through.  I do not understand the BDSM lifestyle.  I don’t understand why anyone would be turned on by hurting or being hurt.  That is not to say that I think BDSM is sick or twisted–for those people who actually enjoy the combination of pain and pleasure, it’s what the doctor ordered–but it isn’t for me.  So when I read The Siren, although I kept an open mind about all the…interesting…stuff that happens in it, I found it more disturbing than titillating.  What was most disturbing to me was the idea that the millions of people who have read, are reading, or will read 50 Shades of Grey might be inspired to dabble in a lifestyle that is really not for the faint of heart and might end up harming themselves or others in the process.  So my starting and ending position on this whole cha is: if BDSM gets you off, awesome, but if it doesn’t, there’s really no need for you to be buying this stuff:

Hey, it’s the Bondage Seductions board game!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try new things to heat up your sex life, but I think that fooling around with BDSM is either silly or dangerous, unless you’re actually into it, and if you are, you won’t be buying these kinds of products–you’ll buy the real thing.  Not that your sex life is any of my business (it isn’t, and please don’t tell me about it).

Back to the book.  My favorite thing about The Siren is that it lets you form your own conclusions.  It doesn’t glamorize BDSM.  Reisz isn’t a charlatan proclaiming that a little bondage and dominance is going to save your sex life.  However strange it might seem, the book actually takes a very neutral stance on both BDSM and vanilla sex (that latter term refers to the more straightforward sex practices of the majority. I hesitate to call it normal, because that would imply that BDSM is abnormal, and I don’t want to make that kind of value judgment.)  Essentially, the book’s stance is that there are vanilla sex people and BDSM people, and both types are good in their own ways, but they shouldn’t mix.

I think the central theme of this book is love and all the ways that love can be/need to be expressed.  There are a lot of relationships – Nora and Søren, Nora and Wes, Zach and Grace, Zach and Nora, Nora and Kingsley, Nora and Sherridan, etc. – and each involves some sort of love, whether expressed or unexpressed, friendly or passionate, and every relationship is complex.  I enjoyed the complexity available in this book.  Human emotions and relationships are messy, and that messiness is given free rein in this book.

It instinctively bothers me that love could be the motivation for one person causing another person pain and humiliation, but maybe that’s how some people need to love/feel love.  It seemed to me, though, that while much ado was made of how much Søren loves Eleanor, considerably less ado was made about how much Eleanor/Nora loves Søren.  She belonged to him, was utterly submissive to him, was his, but he was never hers. Doesn’t love require either an equal or dominant position in order to exist as love?  It seems to me that a submissive can feel devotion, but when all control and decision-making power in a relationship is given over to one party, love is given over also.

This is all my opinion, of course, and it’s worth what you’re paying for it.  Love is something you choose.  I love my husband not because I am in awe of him but because, his faults notwithstanding, I choose to love him, to accept him as he is and as he will be.  I am not sure that the choice to love is possible unless one has the independence from which to choose.  To put it another way, I love my children, but I don’t think they love me because they are not yet mentally or emotionally independent and able to choose to love me.  (As an aside, the 3-year-old always repeats after me: “I love you Allie.” “I love you too, Mom-mom.”)  To put it yet another way, I believe that God loves me, but I am not so arrogant that I think myself capable of loving God; I may feel devotion and awe, but that’s not the same thing as love.

I’m a fan of Paulo Coelho, and his Eleven Minutes is one of the most thought-provoking and arresting books I’ve ever read.  I kept thinking about a couple of scenes from Eleven Minutes while I was reading The Siren, and I think the two books dovetail wonderfully, even though they are very different.

He slapped her again and again, whether she deserved it or not, and she felt the pain and felt the humiliation–which was more intense and more potent than the pain–and she felt as if she were in another world, in which nothing existed, and it was an almost religious feeling: self-annihilation, subjection, and a complete loss of any sense of Ego, desire or self-will.

And later (the “you” below is the “she” above, by the way):

“You experienced pain yesterday and you discovered that it led to pleasure.  You experienced it today and found peace.  That’s what I’m telling you: don’t get used to it, because it’s very easy to become habituated; it’s a very powerful drug.  It’s in our daily lives, in our hidden suffering, in the sacrifices we make, blaming love for the destruction of our dreams.  Pain is frightening when it shows its real face, but it’s seductive when it comes disguised as sacrifice or self-denial.  Or cowardice.  However much we may reject it, we human beings always find a way of being with pain, of flirting with it and making it part of our lives….And so it goes on: sons give up their dreams to please their parents, parents give up their lives in order to please their children; pain and suffering are used to justify the one thing that should bring only joy: love.”

I haven’t proven anything, but this is my analysis, anyway, and I don’t feel a compelling need to convince anyone.  I think that if we choose to have our immediate choices taken away from us, to enter a state where we are completely dominated (even by our choice) by another’s will, we lose the ability to feel and be and act with love for as long as we are without our will.  So, in The Siren, Søren maintains his ability to love Eleanor, but Nora can only really love Søren after she has left him.  When in his presence, Eleanor is in awe of Søren, and he holds a god-like status.  That awe is mandatory – one does not choose to be in awe of the Grand Canyon or a full-grown lion… one simply is.

Anyway… The Siren is thought-provoking in all the best ways.  You’d never expect to ruminate about the nature of God or love because you read some erotica novel, but that’s exactly what this book has in store for you.  This book is art the way James Joyce described it in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (and if you don’t know what I mean, go read that book… now).  I highly recommend it.  (And when you’re done, read Eleven Minutes.)

Review – Tempted by the Highland Warrior

Cover image, Tempted by the Highland Warrior by Michelle Willingham

Things that tempt me: Reese’s peanut butter cups; my children (my eldest pulls this adorable innocent face whenever she’s begging for ice cream, and it’s very tempting to give in); my husband (my eldest totally got that face from him); cake; bacon; books.  Highland warriors don’t usually make the list, but I admit that this book held my tempted interest throughout.

Here’s what the publisher has to say about this one (in other words, I’m terrible at regurgitating plot and prefer to let the publisher do it for me):


After years of brutal torture, Callum MacKinloch is finally free of his captors—but his voice is still held prisoner. He’d never let anyone hear him scream. Although Lady Marguerite de Montpierre’s chains may be invisible, they threaten to tie her to a loveless and cruel marriage.

When Marguerite discovers Callum waiting to die, her heart aches for the warrior beneath the suffering—but
they can have no future. Yet she is the one woman with the power to tame the rage locked inside him. Maybe he can find another reason to live…for her.

The MacKinloch Clan:  highland warriors prepared to fight fiercely for their country…and for love

Yes – this book features a silent hero, and it is wonderful in so many ways.  Think about the kind of skill and craft that one would have to wield in order to turn out dialogue scenes that are missing half their lines but aren’t missing any of the communication or emotional punch.  In case you’re wondering, that’s a hell of a lot of craft and skill, and Willingham brought them both to the party.  But the best part is that even though I had a pretty good idea of how difficult those scenes were to write and could guess how many times she had to go back and edit them in order to get them right, you really can’t tell when you’re reading them.  And that, I think, is the mark of a truly well written scene–that one can completely forget that it took craft and skill in order to produce it.

This book is just lovely.  Callum is dreamy with all his tortured hero angst.  He was absolutely my favorite part of the book, and I loved how his story, as it was told through the book, demonstrated his healing process.  I love it when writers show me changes in their characters rather than telling me.  It would have been so easy for Willingham to write, “Callum healed a little bit with every encounter with Marguerite.”  Thank God, she didn’t.  Instead, we get to watch Callum heal and grow, and it’s magical.

There were a couple of things that bothered me, but they have more to do with the setting (Scotland in the 1300s) than anything else.  Although Marguerite gains her strength (eventually), it takes her a frustratingly long time to get there.  I couldn’t quite understand the relationship between Marguerite and her father — he just seemed like a right asshole to me, and it didn’t make sense that she would hold him in such high regard.  But, to be fair, it really would be jarringly anachronistic if she behaved with greater independence, so I can’t really hold it against the book that Marguerite was a biddable character until she (finally) realized she had something to fight for.

All told, I recommend this book to anyone who loves a tortured hero as much as I do and is tolerant of a book that gently meanders rather than races to its finish.  I enjoyed the slightly slower pace as it gives one time to appreciate all of the emotional movement that occurs in this book – and there’s a lot of emotional movement, let me tell you – but if your tastes run more toward plot-driven romps, this is not the book for you.

There’s really no reason for this, but I can’t resist the temptation:

*FTC Disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin Historical through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

I felt betrayed by this book (dramatic, much?)

Let me start out by saying that however betrayed I feel by this book, it only cost me $0.99, so I should really stop bitching and moaning about it (but I won’t).

Cover image, Tempted at Every Turn by Robyn DeHart

I love covers like this one, where the characters seem to be on the world’s most giant bed.  Anyway.

I learned a valuable lesson about myself while reading this book: the angrier a book makes me, the less likely I am to stop reading it.  If a book is just boring, I’ll probably set it aside in favor of something more interesting, but nothing will stop me from finishing a book that offends me deeply.  Weird, huh?

This is the third book in a series, and I should admit that I haven’t read any of the others.   A few months ago, I downloaded a sample of the second book, but it didn’t catch my attention enough to make me want to buy it.  I really should have been paying better attention when I purchased Tempted at Every Turn, but I just didn’t notice that it was by the same author.

There were really three things that I strongly disliked about this book:

1.  “Intelligent” characters did not behave intelligently.

Both the male and female leads in this one are set up as intelligent characters.  Willow is described as being very clever and excellent at solving puzzles and mysteries.  She is a member of the Ladies Amateur Sleuth Society (although the four members pretty much just gather to talk about boys, because that’s what women do when we get together, right?), and all of the expositional indications of her character focus on her intelligence, so you assume that she will act with intelligence throughout the book.  James, meanwhile, is set up as an intelligent man and a stellar Investigator with Scotland Yard, so you assume, going into it, that he will act intelligently and that he will be good at his job (you know, as a stellar investigator).  While it should be safe to assume that supposedly intelligent characters will use their noggins when making decisions, that’s not what happens in this book.  Willow’s decisions have no logical basis at all (frankly, I can’t even figure them out from an emotional perspective), and I can’t think of a single instance of her intelligence in action throughout the book (even the two “Willow is so smart” snippets I highlight below (item # 3) aren’t examples of Willow actually being intelligent…).  James approaches investigating the same way a person would if his entire occupational experience of investigation consisted of his having watched a few episodes of Columbo or Murder, She Wrote when he was a kid.  So what was the point of describing them as intelligent people?

2.  Characters’ decisions (and characters’ character traits) did not make sense

This one is sort of an elaboration on the first point.  In general, the characters in this book did not make sense.  Willow’s mom suffers from some sort of mental illness, so Willow decided, when she was about eighteen or nineteen years old, that she would never marry because it was her duty to take care of her mother.  To that end, she discouraged all male attention and made it to age 29 without a single suitor.  Then, she meets James, and it all kind of goes to hell.  She still doesn’t want to marry, but her reasoning doesn’t really make sense in light of other, much more obvious reasons to avoid marrying.  I mean, if your mom is all kinds of crazy, it makes sense to avoid marrying because you are afraid of passing mental illness on to your children.  With that reason–perfectly logical–just hanging out there like an unacknowledged elephant in the room, it seems really bizarre that Willow is so hooked, so focused on the idea that she can’t marry because it would be impossible for her to care for both her mother and her family.  If she’s so damn intelligent, why doesn’t it occur to her (until a man points it out) that a lot of folks end up caring for both their families and their ailing parents, and they manage to make it work just fine.  Her decision just doesn’t make sense.

James has spent his entire life bucking convention, and we’re given a reason for it, but it doesn’t really make sense.  So his uncle got away with a crime because he was a peer (of the realm)… and that unfairness prompts James to turn his back on society and all of its stupid rules… OK, what does his uncle’s crime have to do with etiquette and polite behavior?  And is James’ haircut (or lack thereof) seriously connected to his uncle’s perfidy?  Really, like that’s his big character motivation?!  And–I love it–he can’t even consider marrying Willow (until after they bump fuzzies) because she’s someone his mom would like, and his most compelling character trait is that he never does anything that would make his mom happy.  Isn’t that romantic?  I’ve always dreamed of marrying a man who still acts like a 13-year-old.

3.  She’s a clever girl, which means she’s almost as smart as a man of average intelligence

I could have ignored the other things that irritated me about this book, but this one just pissed me off.  Willow only really demonstrates her cleverness twice in the book (the rest of the time the author just tells you that she’s clever rather than showing you), and this is how it goes:

“His studio,” she said.  “Not the easiest room to find, yet the killer found it without alerting the servants.”  She paused.  “He’d been there before.”
James watched her eyes light up.  She loved this.  Perhaps as much as he did.  The clues and puzzles, the chase.  And she was good; he couldn’t deny that.  He’d come to the very same conclusion, had even written it in his notes yesterday.
“I noticed the same thing,” he said.  “Quite clever, Willow.”

And again:

James nodded, curious to where she was going with this.  Willow was clever and more than likely was coming to the same conclusion he’d already made.  “Go on,” he encouraged her.
“Yes, well, I remembered that statement and then the box of photographs we found at Drummond’s house.  It seems highly likely that among those images are some wealthy aristocratic ladies.”
And there she had done it.  “I believe you might be right.”
“Really?” she asked, seeming surprised.
“I had already come to this conclusion, and am in the process of wading through those images trying to locate anyone I recognize.”

My reaction was pretty much:

Honestly…  At the first “Wow, you’re pretty smart–you just figured out a concept that I understood instantly–that’s pretty smart–for a girl” mention, I was annoyed, and at the second one, I was angry-cat livid.  What the hell.  So I’m going back to reading a Julie Klassen book next (The Apothecary’s Daughter), because I want a book that isn’t going to make me angry.