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ClioReads

Clio Reads

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

Currently reading

Mr. Impossible
Loretta Chase
Progress: 17 %
Book of Life
Deborah Harkness
This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women
Jay Allison,Dan Gediman
Progress: 92/288 pages

Progress: page 3 of 564

Book of Life - Deborah Harkness

I should've re-read books one and two before picking this up: I'm so confused....

 

Off to a Very Slow Start (Status Update: 17%)

Mr. Impossible - Loretta Chase

I'm going to give this another two chapters, and if things don't look up, I'm moving on. The hero is pretending to be a moron, and I'm not a big fan of dishonesty plots.

Hmmm, Didn't I See This Plot on Grey's Anatomy a Few Years Back?

Then Came You - Jill Shalvis

I'm generally not a fan of what I like to call the I-don't-wanna-love-you-because-REASONS trope. You know what I mean: those books where the lovers have great chemistry and the stars align to throw them together over and over again, and everything would be all peaches and roses except one or the other of them (or sometimes both) has some kind of bullshit mental block against commitment. I know every romance has to have some sort of conflict that must be resolved before the Happy Ever After, but I don't have a lot of patience with stories where the conflict exists solely in a character's mind.

 

In Then Came You, both the main characters have "reasons". Emily is a veterinary intern assigned to a clinic in tiny Sunshine, Idaho, which she considers a frustrating departure from her Grand Life Plan -- to make the big bucks in Beverly Hills treating the pampered pets of the rich and famous. It's not that Emily's a golddigger, exactly, but her family never had much money, and then her mother's terminal illness put them into bankruptcy, and now Emily supports not only herself but her widowed father and her underemployed sister. Because her stay in Sunshine is supposed to be temporary, she doesn't want to make long-term attachments to the people there, which proves complicated when her new supervisor, Dr. Wyatt Stone, turns out to be the guy she hooked up with in an uncharacteristic but memorable one night stand at a vet conference a few months ago.

 

Wyatt also has "reasons." His parents uprooted the family over and over again as they moved around in diplomatic service, so now that he's an adult, Wyatt wants nothing more than to put down roots and settle down. Unfortunately, he tried that already, but his last love, Caitlin, left him to take a job with Doctors Without Borders. Wyatt's tired of falling for people who only end up leaving, and since he knows Emily plans to go back to California the instant her internship ends, he doesn't want to get serious with her.

 

-Except that Wyatt and Emily can't help but get serious. They keep falling into bed together (and into Wyatt's truck, and over his desk, and...), despite their halfhearted protests that sex isn't a good idea. The whole book goes like that: they have sex, Wyatt asks, "hey, you still planning to leave?", Emily says "Yup," they agree more sex would be bad, and then they do it anyway. This wouldn't be quite so annoying if, instead of saying, "hey, you still leaving?" Wyatt said, "hey, we've got something special here, and it'd be really great if you'd stay" or if Emily countered the question with, "You know, maybe I'd stay if you gave me reason," but that level of adult communication is beyond their abilities.

 

Wyatt and Emily are both perfectly likeable, the dialogue is funny, the pacing is snappy, but the story was just kind of "meh," and maybe that's just because this particular trope is not my personal catnip.

You would think that an organization that publishes its own Stylebook would know better. Oh, AP: proofreading matters.

Frog and Toad Are Friends - Arnold Lobel

My son Henry is a big Frog and Toad fan, and so he was over the moon when his Great Auntie sent him a new book and matching t-shirt today.

Smart and Sexy Historical Romance with Unbelievably Timely Feminist Themes

The Suffragette Scandal (The Brothers Sinister Book 4) - Courtney Milan

Add me to the ranks of Courtney Milan's squeeing fangirls. I was up until 1:00 AM reading this book, and then for another hour just enjoying the post-book Feels. While I didn't enjoy the Brothers Sinister series quite as much as I loved Milan's Turner series (and that mostly only because I really disliked book three of Brothers Sinister, The Countess Conspiracy, and also because I luuuuurrrrvvveee books one and three of the Turner series, Unveiled and Unraveled, like I love no other romance novels ever written), it was still pretty great, and this was a hugely satisfying capstone to the series. (There is supposed to be a novella coming out in August to officially wrap things up, but we all know novellas don't count.)

 

Frederica "Free" Marshall is a fantastic heroine--smart, funny, sexy, and unapologetically independent. She runs a newspaper by, for, and about women and women's causes, and she will stop at nothing to get her story -- even pretending to have syphilis and getting herself incarcerated in order to write about the deplorable treatment of imprisoned prostitutes in the government's lock hospitals.

 

Unfortunately, she finds herself in a bind that will seem all too familiar to modern readers: she rejected a man's sexual advances, and now he's trying to destroy her by threatening her, ruining her business, and burning down her house. As another reviewer pointed out, despite its Victorian-era English setting, something about this book feels like the most epic #yesallwomen tweet ever.

 

Enter Edward Clark, the brother of the man trying to ruin Free. Edward aligns himself with Free first to protect one of her writers, who is an old friend, but within moments he becomes devoted to Free alone. However, Edward doesn't consider himself worthy of her because of his (literally) tortured past, and so he tries to keep his distance even as he falls deeper in love.

 

This book works as a standalone, but readers familiar with the series will get more out of the scenes in which Free and Edward meet up with her family -- her parents, brother, her brother's half-brother and cousin -- because they will recognize these couples from prior books in the series, and it's lovely to see everyone still enjoying their happy-ever-afters.

Marriage of Convenience with a Contemporary Twist

The Perfect Match - Kristan Higgins

This is a contemporary twist on the old Marriage-of-Convenience trope. When Tom's employer tells him they won't be renewing his work visa, he's got to come up with a backup plan to stay in the States so he can stay close to his stepson -- who isn't actually is stepson (since the boy's mom died before they married), and with whom he isn't actually "close" (since the angsty teen wants nothing to do with him). Enter Honor Holland, who has just lost the man she's loved for her entire life to her backstabbing so-called best friend. Start with mutual desperation, stir in a few drinks, add a hot shag, and viola, you have a recipe for marital immigration fraud.

 

Kristan Higgins is hit or miss for me, and this was an uncomfortable read in a lot of ways. Higgins has a tendency to use her heroines' extreme public humiliation as a plot device, which isn't my cup of tea. Here, Honor tries to get her lover's attention by doing the whole nude-under-the-raincoat thing, only to be caught by his visiting parents, and then he compares their sexual relationship to an old baseball glove (comfortable and familiar, but not something you need every day), and then he meets her in a crowded pub in front of the whole town to share the news of his engagement to her erstwhile best friend, and Honor and the ex-friend get into a brawl right then and there. (Compare all this with the previous book in the series, in which Honor's little sister gets jilted by her high school sweetheart at the altar on their wedding day, when he comes out of the closet, and later on, if I'm remembering correctly, Faith has her own episode of public nudity at the very same pub.)  Anyway, Higgins puts her heroines in these epically mortifying situations for comic effect -- but I've never been one to laugh at others' misfortune, so these scenes rarely work for me.

 

Worse, these heroines are so nice that they try to save the relationships with the people who orchestrated their humiliation. Honor never tells the jackass who slept with her for seventeen years and then ran off with her best friend that he broke her heart; she just puts on a brave face and apologizes for "overreacting" when she brawled with his fiancee. She even makes some tentative advances toward forgiving the backstabbing best friend. She's simply too good to be true, and her niceness is a little bit stomach-churning, honestly.

 

I also found it hard to connect with the hero, Tom. He's been burned in relationships in the past, so he decides not to let himself fall for Honor because surely it can never work out anyway. This bothered me for two reasons: 1) generally, I'm not a fan of the I-don't-want-to-love-you-because-REASONS trope, where one of the lovers has some prior damage or experience that makes them willfully resist commitment and emotional entanglements, because, come on, grow the fuck up already, and 2) specifically to this story, the one thing Honor asked for when she agreed to commit a felony by marrying him so he could get a green card was that they give the 'fake' relationship an opportunity to grow into something real, and by resisting love at every turn, Tom is betraying that promise. Then, rather than talking to Honor about his fears, he behaves like a jerk and wounds her deeply, and though in the end he proves he would literally run into a burning building for her, a heartfelt apology would have been more powerful and far more satisfying.

 

The other thing that bothered me about Tom is that he drinks too much (he says he's just British, not a lush), and that's always a huge issue for me since I grew up with alcoholic parents.

 

All that said, though, Kristan Higgins is funny and I like the familiarity of her small town romances even when I have major issues with the main plot, as I did here. I'm sure I'll keep reading most of what Ms. Higgins puts out, even though her plots and characters sometimes set my teeth on edge.

The Windflower: Challenging Old Skool Romance Conventions Since 1984

The Windflower - Laura London

Wow. It's hard to even know where to begin to review The Windflower. Written in 1984 by husband-and-wife team Tom and Sharon Curtis, Windflower is one of the most famous books in the romance canon. It's gone in and out of print several times, and in between releases, it wasn't unusual for used copies to sell for hundreds of dollars, since demand for the book remained sky high even in times of scarcity. Rereleased (for the first time in ebook form) this spring in honor of its 30th anniversary, Windflower faces a new generation of romance readers (like me) who tend to be skeptical, even contemptuous, of the rape-y conventions of old skool bodice rippers of the 1970s and '80s. I approached this read with trepidation, doubtful that it would live up to the hype, because virtually every attempt I'd ever made in the past to read "vintage" romance ended with disappointment at best and mad feminist fury at worst.

 

Hoo-boy, but Windflower was a revelation. Yes, it is a product of its time. The prose is unabashedly florid, even tending toward purple, especially in the love scenes:

Under the press of his body, Merry ached in colors... she tingled every hue in the prism. The world was a collection of sweet and vivid light beams, and she was one of them, and mindless, a spinning miscellany of liquid cells.

(p. 155 -- Huh?) The heroine, Merry, is such a perkily innocent Mary Sue that when Alexis Hall reviewed Windflower for Dear Author, he changed her name to Rainbow Sparkles. The plot is full of over-the-top WTFery: spies, kidnapping, pirates, man-eating crocodiles, betrayal. 

 

In other critical respects, though, Windflower subverts the old skool conventions, most notably with respect to sexual consent. On the surface, Windflower follows the old skool trope of the kidnapped virgin at the mercy of pirates, her virtue ever in jeopardy. The hero does threaten to rape her, and worse, to throw her to the crew to be gang raped by the lot of them. But it doesn't take very long before the reader realizes that these threats are all talk, and neither Devon (the hero) nor the crew would ever follow through. Even at his angriest, most alph-holey moments, Devon's threats are belied by descriptions of his character and his demeanor--he is constantly described as 'kind', 'gentle', 'compassionate,' "infinite in [his] ability to warm and reassure"--so the reader gets the sense that whatever he may say, Merry's virtue isn't in any real danger. Likewise, while we're told, along with Merry, that the pirate captain and crew are rough, dangerous men, fond of raping and pillaging and drinking and mayhem, what we actually see is a remarkably clean and organized crew that functions as a democracy, indeed, almost as a family, and to a man the pirates protect, support, and educate Merry at every turn. (And, boy howdy, is Merry sadly in need of educating!)

 

The second, less obvious but to me more fascinating, way that Windflower subverts old skool convention is in the character of the pirate captain, Rand Morgan. Readers of vintage romance will probably recognize that, in that era, a character revealed to be bisexual was invariably also a villain, as if bisexuality somehow functioned as code for "Unspeakably Evil." Windflower's plot unfolds very methodically, and the reader learns that Captain Morgan is bisexual (indeed, that he bought a traumatized teenaged boy from a brothel to serve as his lover, so he's not only bisexual but a pedophile), and that he is secretly orchestrating much of the drama befalling the other characters (including Devon and Merry). In the absence of information about his motives (which comes only much later), Morgan initially appears to fit within this bisexual-man-as-shadowy-villain trope. However, as the plot unfolds, the reader begins to question these assumptions, and even to question whether Morgan and Cat (the aforementioned traumatized teen) actually have a sexual relationship at all. (I vote yes.) In the end, one questions the methods of Morgan's Machiavellian manipulations, but at least his motives appear (mostly) benevolent.

 

Indeed, Morgan, Cat, and some of the other secondary characters (ahem, Raven) made The Windflower the compelling, timeless story it is, much more so than the romance between Merry and Devon. One tires of Merry's perpetual naiveté, the pirates making ribald jokes that fly right over her pretty little head, her repeated, fumbling escape attempts that inevitably end in ignominious failure. Devon isn't tiresome, but neither is he particularly interesting, either as compared to the other leading men in The Windflower or to other heroes in the Romance Canon: he's a privileged English peer (a duke, no less) whose power and influence is never questioned, and who has faced no real adversity. While both Merry and Devon grow as characters and the bond between them is convincing, it isn't particularly satisfying, and it definitely isn't what has driven the Windflower's enduring success over the past three decades.

 

No, instead, most readers (including me) are entranced by Cat, who is probably the most interesting and compelling character I've encountered in the entire romance genre, charmed by the winsome young Raven (conscripted into the pirate crew from a captured whaling ship when he was only 12), and intrigued (and at turns repulsed) by the manipulative Captain Rand Morgan. There is so much to this book, and these characters, that I don't think it's possible to absorb it all in a single reading: no wonder so many fans put The Windflower on their "keepers" shelf and read it again and again.

I just did a scary thing...

I joined Wattpad. -And I put the first several chapters of the book I've been working on up there. And this is really, really scary, because I haven't shared my work with anyone but my wife since college, and now I'm putting it out there for anyone in the world to read and judge. (Though a big part of me will be shocked if anyone actually cares enough to read it.)

 

Anyway, if you want to check it out, here's where you can find me. http://wattpad.com/ClioReads

 

Be gentle, friends; I'm new at this.

Hurry Up and Rape Her, Already! (Reading progress update: I've read 298 out of 534 pages)

The Windflower - Laura London

"... An honest man would have raped her at once and let her go."

 

"Are you mad at me," Devon said slowly, "because I want to take her to bed, or because I haven't?"

 

"I'm mad at you because you've kept her a prisoner while you made up your mind whether your lust was more important to you than your bloody vanity. It would have been better to have ravished her and released her than to keep her living all those weeks in air turrets."

 

I'm reading the 30-year-old re-release of that canonical classic of the romance genre, The Windflower. Going into it, I'd braced myself for plenty of old skool plot WTFery. I knew there would be pirates. Given the era in which this was written, I was expecting a treacly-sweet virginal heroine (though I wasn't prepared for Merry to be quite such a manic pixie dream girl) and probably a rapetastic hero (though I wasn't prepared for a whole shipload of rapey pirates vying for the manic pixie's favors). So, you know, at almost 300 pages in, I suppose I should be pleasantly surprised that Merry hasn't actually been raped yet. I laughed out loud at this passage, in which Devon (ostensibly the Hero) is arguing with Cat (who ought to be the Hero, because he's a bazillion times more interesting than Devon, but isn't the hero because I'm pretty sure he's more interested in sleeping with the pervy and Machiavellian pirate captain than he is in the manic pixie) about why the hell hasn't Devon gone ahead and raped her already. (P.S. Did I mention this argument takes place while the Manic Pixie is on her death bed?)

 

Even immersed in the retro glory of old skool WTFery, I never expected to come across the phrase "an honest man would have raped her at once." The really disturbing thing is that in this context, after almost 300 pages of Devon saying rapey things to the heroine but never actually doing anything about it, I'm almost inclined to agree with Cat. On with the raping and pillaging already! What kind of pirate do you think you are, Mon?!

The Book Fairies Have Visited!

The Suffragette Scandal (The Brothers Sinister Book 4) - Courtney Milan Book of Life - Deborah Harkness

I love when I pre-order books and almost forget about them, and then I check my kindle on Tuesday mornings, and find I've been visited by the Book Fairies! I know what I'm doing this weekend! (Well, actually, my 20 year high school reunion is this weekend, but I'm sure I'll be able to fit in a few minutes for reading here and there.... I hope.)

 

P.S. - Is it just me, or does the dame on the cover of The Suffragette Scandal bear an uncanny resemblance to Anna Kendrick?

Intelligent, Body- and Sex-Positive Novella About Mature Lovers

Fanning the Flames - Victoria Dahl

I really enjoyed this novella about 'mature' (he's 46, she's 43) lovers getting a second chance at happiness. Though the romance genre, especially in contemporary romance, is growing more diverse all the time, the old trope of the virginal ingenue taming the world-weary manwhore is still the rule rather than the exception, and it's refreshing to read about a couple who are evenly matched in intellect and experience. Lauren is a divorced librarian whose sexual needs have suddenly and inconveniently come out of hibernation now that her son has gone off to college. She finds herself tempted by Jake, the captain of the fire department next door to her library.

 

Jake's wife died a few years ago, and now the whole town wants to set him up with someone as wholesome and sweet as Ruth was -- only Jake isn't necessarily looking for wholesome and sweet.

 

I loved that Lauren is deliciously selfish. She's not interested in another marriage, doesn't want to settle down and keep house, doesn't have any interest in replacing Jake's sweet, schoolteacher wife. She wants to f*ck, and feel good, and not be ashamed of putting her own needs and desires first. I loved that Jake was down with that, and was honestly attracted to her confidence and experience. I loved how sex- and body-positive this story was, and I loved that they talked about their insecurities like the intelligent adults they are.

 

(I think the clean-shaven man on the cover is funny, since Lauren is always panting after Jake's hairy chest and thinking about how much more sexy she finds it than the clean-shaven chests of the other, younger bucks on the fire crew.)

 

BONUS -- This is free right now at Amazon.

Lightning Girl Grows Up.

Missing You - Meg Cabot

This book takes place two years after the events of the previous books in the 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU series. Protagonist Jess has matured a lot and Missing You finds her in a darker place than we've seen her before. After working for the US Government in Afghanistan, using her psychic abilities to find terrorists, she has seen the horrors of war first hand, and has returned to the States broken. Nightmares plague her sleep, and since she can't sleep, she can't find missing people -- her "gift" is gone, as quickly as it came.

 

She has also broken up with Rob Wilkins, the hero of the preceding books, because she saw him kissing another woman at his garage. Reeling from the trauma of war and the heartbreak of losing Rob, Jess went to New York to live with her best friend Ruth while they both attend Julliard. While Jess has been very successful in her studies there, she isn't happy: she doesn't want to be a concert musician, but she doesn't know what she wants instead.

 

Jess's life is plunged even further into uncertainty when Rob shows up at her apartment in NYC, looking for her help to find a sister Jess never knew he had.

 

The mystery of the missing sister is resolved with such ease it's anticlimactic, and the sister's recovery and dealing with the aftermath (the sister had gotten mixed up with amateur child pornographers), isn't enough of a plot to carry this book. However, Missing You is my second-favorite book in the series (after the first, When Lightning Strikes), because it's a pleasure to see Jess and Rob grow up and behave as (almost) adults. Jess has finally gotten a handle on her anger management problems and learned to use her brain rather than her fists to solve problems, and Rob is no longer the disreputable juvenile delinquent from the wrong side of the tracks, but a responsible and self-sufficient young entrepreneur. I found this a satisfying end to an entertaining (if somewhat dated and uneven) series.

Lightning Girl Takes On White Supremacy

Sanctuary - Meg Cabot

This 4th book in the 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU series picks up right where book 3 left off: Jess is still in high school, still possesses the psychic ability to find missing people after seeing their photos, still lusting after older-and-nominally-wiser Rob Wilkins, who is still resisting her because she's jailbait. As with the previous book in the series, Safe House, this book finds Jess and Rob in very serious danger when they go up against a white supremacist militia group responsible for killing and kidnapping minority kids.

 

This was originally the last book in the series (Cabot later wrote a fifth book, that takes place two years in the future), and it works well as a capstone: Jess and Rob make some progress in their will-they-or-won't-they relationship, Jess's brothers appear to have found their happy-for-now endings, and Jess seems to make peace with how to balance her need for privacy and normalcy with the government's interest in using her psychic powers to catch terrorists.

 

The conclusion was satisfying, but the story was only Meh. As I've mentioned in my review of Safe House, when the series ventures into dark territory such as racism and murder, Jess's adolescent flippancy strikes an off note... but I'm the first to admit that, at 37, I am hardly the target audience for these books, and a younger reader probably wouldn't experience the same cognitive dissonance that I did.

Darker Plot Twists Bring Teen Protagonist Dangerously Close to Too Stupid To Live Territory

Safe House - Meg Cabot

Okay, can I just say the the name of this series, 1-800-WHERE-R-YOU, is really bugging me? It's too many letters! Why not call it 1-800-WHERE-R-U? I know that's totally petty and not relevant to the quality of the series, but it's the sort of easily-fixed imperfection that just sets my OCD into overdrive.

 

Other than that, I'm still whipping through these books and (mostly) enjoying them, though they're a bit dated. (Note to authors: if you're going to use slangy dialogue and pop culture references, be prepared to be out-of-date within a decade of publication.) However, I didn't like Safe House as well as the first two books of the series (When Lightning Strikes and Code Name Cassandra).

 

Safe House is darker than the preceding books. Sixteen-year-old band geek protagonist Jess still has an anger management problem, and she still has the psychic ability to find missing people -- but in this book, she's no longer finding kidnapped kids on the backs of milk cartons. Instead, girls from Jess's own high school have started to go missing. One of them has even died, and pretty soon, Jess is receiving threats that she might be next.

 

Many readers will probably enjoy these heightened stakes. I found Jess's casual narrative style and superficial adolescent concerns about boys and clothes, while fitting in the breezier earlier books, to be kind of jarring here, where one of her classmates has been brutally murdered and Jess's own life may be at stake. Also, Jess is a relatively intelligent and very likeable protagonist, so I was disappointed when this book saw her wading into Too Stupid To Live territory. She's been headstrong and impulsive before, but never clueless until now. I'm on to the next book--hopefully, things will get better!

 

 

Psychic Goes to Summer Camp

Code Name Cassandra - Meg Cabot,Jenny Carroll

Code Name Cassandra picks up right where When Lightning Strikes leaves off. Sixteen-year-old Jess has gotten the press off her back by telling the world her psychic ability to find missing people vanished as quickly as it had arrived, but the feds don't believe her: there's still a white van parked on her street, and she's sure they're bugging her calls. To escape this scrutiny (and also to avoid toiling away at her father's restaurant all summer), Jess takes a summer job as a counselor at a camp for musically gifted kids, but of course trouble follows her even into the wilds of Northern Indiana.

 

This book, and this series, is hardly groundbreaking, but I'm still entertained enough to keep reading the next book -- and Meg Cabot's poor grammar didn't bother me as much in this one (but maybe I'm just building up a tolerance for it).