1 star review, 5 star review

Openlibrary Review – After the Night

After the might

FAITH DEVLIN: A poor, outcast child in Prescott, Louisiana, she’d always adored the town’s golden boy from afar. But he called her white trash that sultry Southern night when his rich, respected father disappeared, along with her pretty Mom. Now Faith wanted to hate Gray Rouillard…not to feel a powerful surge of desire. But she couldn’t quench her passion, any more than she could hide the truth about the past she had waited so long to unravel.
GRAY ROUILLARD: Even when he raised hell, he did it with style. Reckless, charming, and backed by Rouillard money, Gray controlled the town of Prescott — and Devlin was a name he never wanted to hear again. But when he gazed at Faith Devlin, all he saw was a swirl of tangled sheets and her silken flesh beneath him. To care for her was impossible, unthinkable…because Gray Rouillard planned to use all his power to ruin her.

So this one is another Openlibrary (read for free legally-just get pdf not epub) AND Shame File. And unlike Shades of Twilight, I am just going to go ahead and admit, yes, I have actual shame for enjoying this book, despite the fact I’ve gone back to it on numerous occasions like an addict looking for my next fix.

Here’s my obligatory warning, there will be spoilers here. I can’t very well discuss the issues if I can’t say what they are. Also, trigger warnings, all the trigger warnings.

So it starts with Faith Devlin as a small child. She is infatuated with Gray, and as she grows older (she is a young teen now) this infatuation turns sexual in nature-of course. In any event Faith grew up in the town’s trashy family, and her mother is having an affair with the town scion who happens to be Gray’s father. When the two disappear, it starts a chain reaction that culminates in Gray and law enforcement going out to the shack the Devlin’s live in and running them out of town. It is the middle of the night and Faith is in a nightgown trying desperately to get her family’s thing packed as LEOs are throwing their stuff in the dirt. The cop cars have their headlights on and it turns her nightgown transparent and all these grown damned men, particularly the “hero”, are gawking and lusting after this teenager, thinking how she looks sexy like her mother. Hence the title – After the Night.

Eventually Faith grows up and finds out her mother actually didn’t run off with Gray’s father, so she heads back to her hometown to find out the truth. And back home all anyone can think about is how Faith looks like her mother and must be a trashy whore like her too. Sparks immediately start striking off Faith and Gray, and while Faith may be a feisty one in any other situation, when it comes to Gray she is a perpetual and unremitting doormat. He pushes her, and coerces her, and manhandles her and is in general a misogynistic a-hole toward her. And basically she just lets him treat her that way and the least little bits of anything remotely resembling kindness she just soaks it up like a sponge-forgiving his every transgression. Never mind that he and his family would have cheerfully bought out her house and run her out of town if she hadn’t bought it outright, that they would have messed with her banking if she hadn’t kept that out-of-state, that he turned the entire town against her so that she couldn’t buy gas or groceries in town, never mind any of that-he says he’s proud of her and she preens. This is a woman who needs freaking therapy, not the dubious love of a jerk who holds literally all of the power in the relationship.

Eventually they do end up together, but he never really apologizes for any of it, and then there is quite possibly the creepiest thing EVER said by a so-called hero. They are talking about the night that her family was thrown out of town and he tells her it wasn’t all bad because he wanted her then. That’s right the most traumatic night of her entire life wasn’t all bad because she gave him a boner when she was 14 years old. Add to that the fact that apparently the villain had been using Gray’s sister as a sexual surrogate for their mother, and she felt compelled to let him so her wouldn’t leave like their father supposedly did, and there are entire levels of sexual creepiness here. And that last was just gratuitous, there wasn’t a real need for it to further the story.

So why do I keep circling back to it? Damn but there are sparks there. And their banter is often hilarious. And Gray could also be funny and humorous, and once he quits trying to run the heroine out of town he’s oddly likable. And there is this just intense and funny and bonding intimate scene that I always go back to. Linda Howard just has a way of writing characters that I can always come back to.

In this case I think I shouldn’t come back to it. There is everything wrong and really nothing really redeemable about this story. And looking at it objectively, the things I enjoy about it should never have outweighed the bad. It is just that I never looked at it objectively. As it always left me on an emotional high, that is the way I always think of it, and I never went past the surface of the emotions I was left with.  ANd now I am looking at it objectively, and it is objectively horrifying…and yet…I still enjoy it. What does that say about me I wonder?

In any event, I should probably quit picking exclusively on Ms. Howard, whom I still love and who has some of the absolute best and favorite books, the author who got me to see that birth control in romance is a good thing and that it can be sexy and funny and good, and that heros could make me cry too. It is just that I have read and reread her books so many times, and her characters and stories are complex so that it was inevitable that some would have issues. So I think I’ll pick another excellent one next, and then try to pick on someone else next time.

After the Night

4 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Shades of Twilight by Linda Howard

Shades of Twilight.jpg

Dear listener,

Shades of Twilight is the story of Roanna Davenport, who grows up in a wealthy southern family but never quite fits in. She isn’t pretty or popular, and she has a real talent for saying the wrong thing at precisely the wrong moment. She’s in love with a distant cousin, Webb Tallant. But Webb marries their cousin Jessie, the bane of Roanna’s life. When Jessie is found murdered, Webb is blamed for her death, even though there isn’t enough evidence to charge him. Webb leaves town, and Roanna is left to pick up the pieces.

All of her life, Roanna has tried to win the love of her grandmother, of Webb, and of her extended family – and every time she’s been slapped down. She’s had enough. Roanna withdraws from the family, and that’s when her grandmother, Lucinda, realizes how very important this misfit is to all of them. Lucinda tries to make amends to Roanna by setting in motion a chain of events that brings Webb back home. But the plan disturbs a killer who is set on vengeance – and this time, the whole family seems to be the target.

I hope you enjoy Shades of Twilight.

Linda Howard

I actually dithered over whether or not to add this to my shame files, or if I should just be ashamed period. In any event it is available through OpenLibrary if you are interested, though the usual disclaimers apply.

This is a tough book for me to parse, and spoilers for this book will abound. It turns out that while the first sex scene and the heroes initial abhorrent behavior toward the heroine are what stick in my mind, that actually isn’t what bothers me most upon further inspection. Yes, the hero treats her awfully when they meet after 10 years, but he realizes his actions are awful (to an extent) and gives her the chance to back out. And yes, for the most part Roanna is a doormat. But frankly they aren’t really the problematic characters, nor are their actions what make this story somewhat objectionable.

That family, they are freaking awful. We have basically all the adults treating Roanna awful, talking about how they don’t care to have her around. They don’t really love her or care for her, and they let her older cousin treat her abysmally. They spoil and cosset Jessie to ridiculous levels to the point that she becomes such a sociopath that she actually starts sleeping with her own father (who is unknown to them), and when she gets pregnant she plans to pass the baby off as Webb’s. This leads to the matriarch of the family bashing her brains in, and then letting first Roanna and then Webb be accused of the crime. Not only that, they don’t pay attention or show much real care to anyone beside themselves. They don’t note when their family members are drug addicts or collapsing. They basically let Roanna starve to death before finally noticing her, and it appears no one gets her any therapy or help. And later with another cousin Corliss, they let her grow up just that spoiled too and don’t even really notice that she has a substance abuse problem and is spiraling out of control. And when she upsets them instead of getting her help they just boot her out of the house. She is painted as wholly a villain when really she is a product of that toxic family. And then, when the truth comes out about the fact that the matriarch killed Jessie, it is all forgiveness. Seriously, an awful family.

So why do I even like this book? Well, honestly, I kind of like Roanna, strange as it might be to say. She gets a bad rap from reviewers for being such a doormat, which from a certain perspective might be true. But I think there are a lot of ways to be, and not everyone has to be a ball buster, or spunky, or a spitfire. And she works on herself and I don’t know, she just hunkers in when there are things she can’t change, which is I think where a lot of us are at in our lives. So it is kind of nice to see someone like that have her dreams come true. Now Webb, he isn’t one of those heroes I swoon over, he’s somewhat overbearing and autocratic, he doesn’t give the women in his life the information they need to protect themselves. But, once he gets over himself, he really is rather sweet in his head about Roanna, and to his credit he likes for Roanna to stick up for herself and buck him on things. And here is where it got me, the whole deal was that the matriarch would give him the inheritance, despite the fact that he wasn’t a direct line descendant, while Jessie and Roanna were. He marries Jessie for it even. It was the lure that the matriarch used to bring him back, even though Roanna had been heir in his stead during the 10 years he was gone. And he just gives it up, the land and the house and the money, he wants Roanna to have that power and security.

I don’t know, the two main characters work for me, and the rest of it is like a trainwreck of a soap opera and it keeps me entertained. This definitely isn’t a book for everyone, you’ve got father daughter incest, abuse, maybe not your most upstanding main characters, completely ignoring birth control, and accidental pregnancies. And oh, I almost forgot, but yes, cousins marrying…but I don’t know if it is geography but I just don’t have that big of a hang-up about 2nd cousins getting married. Down here it isn’t that uncommon for people to show up at big weddings and a couple to realize they are actually 2nd or 3rd cousins. So yeah, there is a lot to be bothered by in this book.

Shades Of Twilight

5 star review

OpenLibrary Review – Heart of Fire by Linda Howard

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A fabulous lost Amazon city once inhabited by women warriors and containing a rare red diamond: it sounded like myth, but archaeologist Jillian Sherwood believed it was real, and she was willing to put up with anything to find it — even Ben Lewis. Ruffian, knock-about, and number one river guide in Brazil, Ben was all man — over six feet of rock-hard muscles that rippled under his khakis, with lazy blue eyes that taunted her from his tanned face. Jillian watched him come to a fast boil when she refused to reveal their exact destination upriver in the uncharted rain forests — and resolved to stand her ground. Neither of them could foresee what the days ahead promised: an odyssey into the fiery heart of passion and betrayal, and a danger that would force them to cast their fates together, immersed in the eternal, unsolved mysteries of love….

River of Eden made me do it. I couldn’t not go back and read this after reading that. I’ve re-read this probably a ridiculous number of times. And besides being an old favorite, it goes into two special blog categories: Openlibrary (read legally for free-just get the pdf not the epub unless you like to play the bad OCR game) and Shame Files. As I said before, the Shame Files category isn’t really meant for being ashamed of reading it, but somehow I have lingering shame about recommending them. Maybe because I fear how others will judge me?

There really isn’t non-consent here, it is more that if I look at it objectively I think I SHOULD find Ben Lewis skeevy as hell, but I could just eat him up with chocolate sauce. And there is a problematical power differential with him leading the expedition and taking some advantage of his power in this situation. He’s certainly a character who is a product of his times, 1993 which is practically medieval in Romancelandia time lines. I mean he embodies so many of the traits that completely skeeve me out about old school womanizing alpha male heroes. Seriously, we first meet him when he’s drinking and setting up a rendezvous with his evening entertainment. And despite that, when he first meets out heroine he comes on to her and is ridiculously dismissive of her as a human being. And as they travel together he is pushy, and touchy, and lies about their relationship to the others in their party. Just a big old skeeveball.

But he is also a hard worker, he is smart and crafty, and very protective-and once they get going he really isn’t dismissive of Jillian’s skills at all. It doesn’t take him very long to start seeing her as a capable person. And when the shit hits the fan, his eyes really get opened to how he sees her.

For Jillian’s part, she’s smart, a real fire-brand, and she takes no shit off Ben. She’s also sneaky and sarcastic and perfectly willing to let Ben lead himself into muddy waters. Their banter is hilarious because Ben keeps making assumptions. I like her. She isn’t perfect, she is single minded to the point of stupidity at times, but you get her reasons. And she has a very practical sort of attitude.

As for the story itself, it is straight up romantic suspense, no paranormal elements at all.

And when we get to the end, instead of Jillian changing for him, when she realizes that their goals don’t sync up, she straight up leaves him. She cuts her losses. And Ben, rather than trying to push, or cajole, or do something underhanded realizes that he wants her as she is more than he wants the other thing, and so he gives it up in a wonderfully extravagant romantic gesture. Jillian didn’t try to change him or ask him to change, she just drew her line in the sand and that was that. I can get behind that sort of relationship shake-up. And when you add this to the fact their relationship didn’t turn sexual until the group power dynamic was essentially resolved, well it gives me (personally, YMMV) a guilt free foray into dominant old skool alpha-hole that I can live with.

Justification? I don’t know. But it was the heroine and her actions and reactions that made it work for me. If she had been a mealy mouth doormat then I don’t think I would have been comfortable with it. In any event, if you are looking for some old skool type alpha-hole hero to dig into, this might be one to try.

Heart of Fire

4 star review, Thoughts and Opinions

OpenLibrary Review – The Touch of Fire by Linda Howard

Touch of Fire

Romancelandia is no stranger to controversy, but the most recent dust-up over a Rita nominee finalist where the heroine is a Jew and the so-called hero (see I’m not biased or anything) is a Nazi in charge of a concentration camp, has really caught my attention. A lot of people have said all the things, but here are the two most relevant to me, and to why I am FINALLY starting this blogging category, which for lack of a better term, I am calling my “Shame Files”.

AztecLady over at Her Hands, My Hands has a nice explanation of the entire situation and links to more information, and she’s much more succinct and precise than I would be if I tried to unpack the whole thing the way she did. But we’ll just say that I have so many issues with the premise of the novel, from the power differential, to the genocide and the idea that everything is forgivable, to the religious aspects.

And then Wendy over at The Misadventures Of Super Librarian wrote this really pointed piece about how we as romance readers need to take a look in the mirror on this issue of the power dynamics, because the genre as a whole and in its various parts, is rife with this issue. And she is absolutely correct.

So I had been contemplating starting up my Shame Files segment for a while now. Not because I am ashamed to read or enjoy these books, but because I am always vaguely ashamed and reticent about recommending these books, even if they are on my re-read list. And the reason that I am ashamed to recommend them or discuss them, is that there is that problematical power dynamic and elements of non-con, and I liked it and forgave the hero any way.

So, here are your warnings: there will be spoilers in this review, and in any other in the future tagged Shame Files, because I can’t start unpacking the issues and my actual opinions without actually talking about what happened. There will also likely be non-consent scenes of some sort discussed, because I can’t think of anything else I’d be reticent to recommend over. Also, I am aware that when it comes controversial subjects, there isn’t always a good way to stay on the side of explaining and critiquing rather than sliding into justification, particularly when it comes to something as personal as reading preferences. I’ll do my best, but that is really all that I can do.

This book is available at OpenLibrary, all the usual disclaimers apply.

The Touch of Fire was originally published in 1993, so more than 20 years ago, so perhaps it isn’t entirely fair to use this book as my first example, but since It was my first example, it is what I am using. Once upon a time I glommed Linda Howard, and there were a ton of firsts for me in her works. This one counts as the first book I can remember reading a non-con scene and not being revolted and feeling like my stomach was turning over.

So for me to start unpacking this, you need to know a little bit about our main protagonists. It is the late 1800’s, and our heroine, Annie Parker, is a DOCTOR. She is almost 30 years old, she’s never been married, and when she grew up she wanted to be a doctor, and so she did it. Despite all the jeers and put downs, she went to Geneva Medical College and pushed through and became a doctor. And then when people in larger cities wouldn’t go to her practice, she moved west until she found a wild and rowdy mining town without a doctor, and she opened her practice there. Because being a doctor is who she is. She had fortitude and gumption.

Rafe McCay is a murderer on the run from the law and with an enormous bounty on his head. He’s killed people and expects to do so again. And then when he is injured by a shot from a bounty hunter, he ends up in Annie’s practice and when she informs him she needs long-term care, he kidnaps her. He holds her at gunpoint and actually kidnaps her. He drags her out into the wilderness, embarrasses her modesty all over the place, makes her sleep nearly naked in his arms, basically has complete control over every aspect of her life, is very pushy for physical intimacy, and then the first time they have sex, it is in a way I’d consider very dubious of consent even if it weren’t for the kidnapping, only since he was her captor it was so much worse.

So why wasn’t I completely appalled by this character, why did I find him a hero at all, even a “redeemable” one? Yep, this is where the unpacking comes in. For one thing, we spend a ton of time in Rafe’s head, so we know that he was pushed into this and that he was innocent of the thing that started this chain reaction. We also know how he feels about Annie, how fascinating he finds her and how he wants her and respects her. Annie however doesn’t know all these things, however, she does see how he has cared for her and protected her (yes he put her in this situation in the first place, but he isn’t as bad as he could be) and that there are inconsistencies in the whole situation. She is of course also wildly attracted to him, and she was attracted even before he kidnapped her, so I think that also helped keep me from completely repudiating Rafe. And she even admits her attraction to Rafe. Was she stupid to fall for a man showing her the behavior he already had shown? Yes, I’d say so. However, the other thing that I think kept me on board with this one, is that in all other ways Annie is such a level-headed and rational person, so when she says she wanted him, when she seems OK with their encounter, I feel comfortable taking her word for it.

Did it take away the awful power dynamic? No, that still existed up til that part of the book. So for the first half of the book, we are still working the captive/kidnapper scenario, even when they begin their sexual relationship. The other thing that worked in this book’s favor, in my opinion, is that this dynamic finally changed, a bit after the half way mark, that power dynamic dissolves and they become partners with the same goals. That certainly, by itself, doesn’t make what he did forgivable, but it does smooth out the rough edges of continuing a relationship, and as I said before, the heroine whose opinions I have already learned to trust, was fine with the whole thing.

So that handles the unpacking business. The rest of the story focuses on Annie and Rafe’s growing relationship, a real relationship between partners, and then getting to the bottom of the mystery that set Rafe on the run and getting it all resolved so that our heroine and hero can have their happily-ever-after, which definitely includes Annie going back to being a doctor. That part of the story was interesting and exciting.

Suffice it to say, I do enjoy this book very much, it remains on my re-reads shelf, and I do acknowledge the problematic elements, but I enjoyed the book in spite of those elements, and maybe even at times because of them. Because reasons, but your reasons may not match mine. So, will I start recommending this book in future? I am not entirely sure. It really is quite a bit of baggage to unpack, but I think I am going to try, with the caveat that I will certainly mention that there are problems, and maybe a bit about why I thought those issues were mitigated or ameliorated.

I am also going to try to do more of these types of posts, but I have a feeling poor Linda Howard and old school Jayne Ann Krentz, may be getting the bulk of such critiques as they are the authors I have loved the longest.

The Touch Of Fire