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.
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.
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.