Tag Archives: category

Recent read: The Reluctant Wag

The Reluctant Wag - cover artTitle:  The Reluctant Wag (or WAG? – it’s in all caps on the cover art but not elsewhere…)

Author:  Mary Costello

Publisher:  Destiny Romance – I’d never heard of this imprint but given the little penguin, I’m guessing it’s an Australian imprint of Penguin Publishing.

Copyright:  2013

Copy courtesy of Net Galley.

Why this book?  Because I was looking for something a little different from what I’ve been reading lately, which has been mystery-heavy.  I didn’t recognize the publisher but the title indicated sports romance of some sort.  And then the book blurb sold me — I’m a sucker for any fiction, romance or other, set in Australia’s AFL thanks for Sean Kennedy’s Tigers & Devils.

The blurb:

When model Merise Merrick is asked to star in a campaign for the Yarraside Football Club, she couldn’t be less interested. As far as she’s concerned, football players are all overpaid jocks with zero intelligence. AFL captain Cal McCoy is completely dedicated to the game. With a premiership firmly in his sights, he has no time for romantic distractions.The last thing he needs is an inconvenient attraction to the new ‘face’ of the club. But Cal soon discovers that staying focused is easier said than done, while Merise finds herself falling for the excitement and power of footy – and its biggest star. Glamour, sport and fame combine in this irresistible contemporary romance.

What did I like about the book?  The set up — non-sporty person getting over preconceptions about professional sport and professional athletes.  And the setting — visiting Australia is on my bucket list and spending time in Melbourne is high on the subset of things to do in Australia.  The secondary characters were interesting, too, if a little vague since they weren’t POV characters.

The characters:  Merise is actually not an experienced model, despite the blurb:  she’s a journalism student “discovered” at her cafe job.  Which is a fine set up for a fairytale or a category romance, which this very much felt like.  (Is Destiny a category-type imprint?)  But the way she jumps to conclusions and judges people (Cal mostly) without knowing the facts is repetitive and disappointing as a character and makes me wonder how she’ll fair as a journalist.  Otherwise, she reads as young for her age (21?) and pretty immature, I thought, but maybe everyone is like that at 21.

Cal is…a typical Presents-ish hero.  He’s got a pretty cynical and judgmental view of women generally, and I found him difficult to warm to.  At one point he tells Merise that if she’d dressed differently she wouldn’t have been harassed at a  party, then claims not be victim-blaming (I call bullshit on that).  And later, when he sees an advertisement of Merise posing with another athlete, he thinks “How could she sell herself like that?”  Which made me roll my eyes and then irritated me; how is it any different than posing in an ad with him?  And also: it’s her job.  At various other points, he thinks of her as a possible provider of “cheap thrills”.  Perhaps the only things I liked about him were his concentration on his sport and his devotion to his family.  The sport part was clear, but the family piece was pretty awkwardly introduced and handled.

What did I like not so much?  The integration of various characters and plot points was pretty awkward.  For example, family, which is supposed to drive both Merise and Cal, is absent for the most part, then inserted as deus ex machina of sorts.  Merise isn’t just a poor student, we learn:  she’s paying back loans to her poor farmer parents…who are only mentioned twice that I noticed and didn’t even have a cameo.  Cal’s parent’s are injected into the story in order to save him from a PR disaster.

The copyediting seemed okay — although I’ve got some notes on my Kindle, I didn’t highlight any egregious typos or punctuation abuse.  The writing was very much of the telling rather than showing sort.

Overall opinion:  I  loved the setting and sense of place in the book, but I didn’t really care about the main characters.  I think that readers of Harlequin Presents categories might enjoy the book.

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The back end of an old category glom

Jane at Dear Author wrote about the science of the glom earlier this week.  Within the post, she mentioned glomming category authors like Susan Napier.  Napier is one of the Harlequin Presents authors I used to love, and I gathered most of her backlist.  Another older HP author whose backlist I hunted down is Robyn Donald.  Donald’s use of New Zealand settings in her older books was excellent, almost as a third character in each book, but her most recent books, set in fake Mediterranean principalities with royals as main characters, have lacked something for me.

In the last week or so I’ve skimmed chunks of many of the older HPs on my shelves, including those of Napier and Donald. I have to say that if I were a new romance reader, the older HPs would not prompt a glom or even make me willing to try more category romance.  While the heroines seem to have slightly more interesting careers (fewer secretaries and mistresses), the heroes are awful: overbearing hypocrites who jump to conclusions based on the flimsiest bits of information and verbally or mentally abuse the heroines.

Not all of them are like that, of course, but enough of them that I wonder how I can still love some of the categories by Donald and Napier yet be so offended by others.  And I wonder if I would feel the same way if I had read all of these category novels (hundreds of them, literally) rather than just acquiring them and then hoarding them for a rainy reading day.

It’s a mystery, I guess.

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Older category romances

I opened a couple of bins in the basement yesterday afternoon, thinking it would be easy to sort through the contents and consign some books to donation.  I’d spent the morning cleaning out my closets, yielding a very large pile to donate or use as packing material and/or rags.  Books are so much harder to let go of than clothes are for me.  I managed only to pull out a half dozen old category romances.  None of them are what I would consider Old School Harlequins, but they were all dated in one way or another.

Craving Beauty by Nalini Singh – a 2005 Silhouette Desire with a heroine from a made-up Middle Eastern country.  This one felt oddly dated, even though it’s not that old.  Perhaps because it fits into the SD formula so well, with the wealthy and over-everything hero and the exotic heroine.

Love Lessons by Gina Wilkins – a 2006 Silhouette Special Edition.  This was sort of interesting, with a scientist heroine who is slightly older and much better educated than the somewhat immature hero.  The pacing was extremely slow to match the relationship growth but the ending was somewhat abrupt.

The Negotiator by Kay David – a 2001 Harlequin SuperRomance.  SPOILER!!!  The set up for this book probably worked at the time, but opening with a hostage situation in which an armed intruder is in a school is not an intro that works as a hook for romance in the wake of too many school shootings IMO.

Mayan Moon by Eleni Carr – a 1982 Silhouette Special Edition.  The sexual politics of this book were extremely dated and quite infuriating to me as a reader:  I wanted to give the “hero” a giant head-slap and think he did not grovel nearly enough.  He never really even asked for forgiveness!  But the setting was very different — in Mexico City and Merida — and I loved that the author worked in the residual effects of colonialism on culture, social structure, and racism in Mexico.

A handful of other categories failed the 50 page test.  If it takes me two days to work through just a few books, I’ll never finish…

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Maisey Yates’ new(ish) HP

At His Majesty’s Request

Harlequin Presents #3112, January 2013

The blurb:

Marry the jaded prince and receive a title, a small island, a castle and a tiara.

Matchmaker extraordinaire Jessica Carter arranges marriages that work.  And that is exactly what Prince Drakos is looking for.  The last thing he needs is someone as unsuitable as her…but none of the beautiful socialites paraded before him excite Stavros as Jessica does.

Usually unchallenged, Stavros welcomes Jessica’s defiance — his fingers itch to lower her prickly facade and discover what lies beneath.  Will Jessica agree to his final request?  One month to exorcise their scorching passion, before he marries someone fit to be his queen….

As a fairytale, this book works.  The uber-wealthy and responsible prince, heir to the throne, chooses as his mate the commoner to whom he is attracted, throwing over convention and duty.

Any deeper look at the plot leaves me feeling dissatisfied though.  The heroine is from North Dakota, yet is otherwise not identifiable as American or a Dakotan; her word usage and choices (like charity shop) are more BrE than AmE.  Readers are told that she’s an expert in the matchmaking field, yet she seems to constantly make errors in judgment about the women she selects for Stavros and the situations she arranges for them to become acquainted.

The author set up a backstory and used a fair amount of page space to convince me as a reader that Stavros was a duty-driven automaton; his change of heart and abandonment of duty at the very end of the novel felt unconvincing.  Perhaps more POV from him would have changed that?

Recommended as fluff for readers of HPs, otherwise not so much.



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SBD: old school Harlequins

For SBD this week:

Last summer I bought a handful of very old (relatively speaking) Harlequin romance novels at a used bookstore on the cape.  At last I’ve read a couple of them:  For Ever & Ever by Mary Burchell and The Young Doctor by Sheila Douglas.  There are two more medical roms to go, plus another generic rom, but I had to take a break after reading these two.

For Ever & Ever:  Leonie, a former trainee nurse, takes a companion job with a wealthy heiress who is being sent abroad to get away from an unsuitable young man.  They journey by cruise ship to Australia, stopping at former colonies all along the way.  Except it is really no escape since the unsuitable man, a poor fortune-hunting surgeon, follows the heiress aboard as medical staff on the ship.  Additionally, one of the surgeons Leonie knew from her training is aboard as the ship’s senior surgeon.  Hijinks ensue as the fortune hunter acts like a sleeze at sea and the heiress acts like a naive twit.  Our Heroine is noble and helpful, stepping in when the nursing staff aboard suffers an accident, and being totally dense about Senior Surgeon’s intentions.

I found the set up to be somewhat interesting in that it is a reverse of the usual:  the fortune hunter is a man rather than a woman, and a surgeon at that.  In the US, even at that time, a surgeon or other doctor was (and still is to some extent) more likely to be sought out by a fortune hunter than be one him/herself.  The book was originally published in 1959, and its content reflects that.  All problems are solved by marriage and by Big Strong Men who Know Best.  Surgeon, daddy, new love interest for the naive twit.  Eh.  It’s a product of its time but not one that I would recommend reading for pleasure.

The Young Doctor:  This book is a little different in that Our Heroine is a surgeon rather than a nurse.  But still in some stage of training and eventually in love with her boss.  (Of course, how is that any different than Grey’s Anatomy’s first season?)  The boss’s tendency to call the heroine “little one” was both creepy and professionally offensive to me — and this book is relatively modern, first published in 1973!  He knows best, though, and announces that once they are married, she’ll take a long break and then only work part time, which won’t interfere with her wifely duties.  Okay, I have no problem with anyone at that time or today being a stay-at-home-wife-and/or-mom; my problem is his declaration that it should be so rather than any discussion of the decision.

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SBD: checking in

Here we have a collection of random observations or notes for SBD, related only because they all have something to do with books.

+  Four (more) boxes of books packed up and ready to donate or mail, including the entire In Death series which filled one box on its own.  And still, a stranger looking at my bookshelves would NEVER know that the purge was ongoing.  In fact, a first time visitor looking at the pruned shelves asked if I had read all of those books and didn’t I think it was excessive?  (Obviously not.  Are all of his DVDs and game discs excessive?  I’m sure he’d look blankly at me if I even mentioned such a thing.)

~  As I mentioned in my last post, I read a Harlequin Presents published in 1982 (c. 1980) that made me stop and think about the generational change in approaches to premarital sex that have occurred in the last 30 years.  In modern HPs, there are two frequent categories:  those in which the h/h have already established a sexual relationship, and those in which there is no sexual relationship at the outset and the heroine’s virginity is both remarkable and lusted for or prized (but still plucked so to speak).  Sexuality isn’t really at issue, and the conflict usually lies elsewhere.  In the older HP I read and the others I skimmed, sexuality and particularly premarital sex were THE defining issue.  Each of the heroines was a virgin who had been dumped by a fellow who wanted them to put out before marriage.  None of the heroes cared about virginity per se or saw it as something to prize;  it was expected but viewed as merely an obstacle to sex rather than something to value or gloat over.  The glee that heroes in modern HPs feel over finding virgin heroines seems odd, since premarital sex is commonplace, and it contrasts with the general disinterest or disregard demonstrated by heroes in the older HPs.  The books felt extremely dated to me, and much older than the 80s.

–  In Anne Weale’s A Touch of the Devil, the heroine suffers from a martyr complex — she’s busy supporting and caring for her feckless, drunken step family at the behest of her dead mother.  On top of that, she’s still peeved that her boyfriend wanted to live together before they married; she basically disappeared from his life (left the country) and yet she acts as though he was the one who did the dumping. He reappears during the course of the book, but only in order to be seen as the shallow cad that he is in comparison to the True Hero.  (Of course, that couldn’t possibly reflect on the heroine’s poor choices and lack of judgment about her interaction with men, could it?)

Anyway, Our True Hero comes along and persuades the heroine that sex before marriage is okay.  In fact, marriage is explicitly off the agenda.  Yet she wants him enough to give in.  But before they have sex, he’s called away on a mysterious emergency.  The Big Reveal is that he’s from a very wealthy family, although he has been estranged from them for reasons that are unclear, rather than being the drifter the heroine thought he was.  She’s rewarded for her patience and trust with a marriage proposal.  I’m not sure what changed in the midst of the emergency that made marriage palatable for Our True Hero, but he asks.  And then they wait until they are married for sex…because suddenly premarital sex is wrong?  The hero openly admitted he’s had sex with a variety of women, and clearly expected it from the heroine before the Big Reveal, but the change in position is never really addressed.  I guess it doesn’t matter — the heroine is rewarded for her faith, trust and willingness to abandon her principles in the face of a hot drifter.  Meh.

~  I skimmed the opening pages of several other HPs and found:  outright sexual harassment for one heroine; a heroine who is denied a promotion because she’s engaged and thus likely to leave work to get married and have babies, without regard for her skill or talent; another heroine who actively disliked her fiance, which begged the question of why she dated him and accepted his proposal; and two more heroines who at age 25 lamented that they were old spinsters who would likely never marry at their advanced ages.   Both the circumstances and the heroines themselves were enough to make my head feel like it was going to explode.



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A different sort of HP?

His Marriage Ultimatum by Helen Brooks (c)2006

Another book picked up as part of the Great Book Purge of 2012.  I could probably count this as part of the TBR challenge that SuperLibrarian is hosting, although I’m posting a day early.

This reads like a pretty typical backblurb for Harlequin Presents:

A bride for the taking?

Carter Blake is sued to getting his own way — he didn’t become a billionaire by taking no for an answer!  And he has to have shy, virginal Liberty Fox.  He’ll charm and seduce her into becoming his…

But Liberty is not ripe for Carter’s picking. To possess her, Carter is forced to make one final ultimatum…he will have her and hold her in matrimony. . . if that’s what it takes!

Billionaires! Virgins! Ultimatums!  Oh my!


1.  Although the hero is very wealthy and became so after a youth of relative poverty on a council estate, it isn’t explicitly stated (that I recall) that he’s a billionaire.  A mention of his first million and his connections in various places, as well as a vague statement about real estate and entrepreneur are really it.  Beyond that, it’s very clear that he is New Money, and that he’s not that far removed from the poverty of his youth and some of the people who knew him at the time.

2.  Liberty Fox is not shy.  At no point was she ever shy with Carter.  In fact, she’s pretty belligerent and mouthy with him at the outset of the book, giving him a hard time about anything and everything she can.  And even once the belligerence is gone, she remains pretty resistant to following where he’s leading.

3.  There wasn’t really much overt seduction.  There is no sex (and just a little foreplay) until the very last pages of the book.  And it was marital sex.

4.  The blurb implies that he’s forced to propose, when in fact, he proposes because he wants to and has to work to get her to even consider marriage.  He’s the one who realizes he loves her first, who wants to make things permanent, who acknowledges that their original agreement (nothing heavy) isn’t working for him any more.

I especially loved this passage early on, when the two are discussing the viability of long term relationships and marriage:

“You’re saying you would voluntarily choose a solitary lifestyle?” Well you have, the voice outside himself pointed out sharply, and when he answered it with, But I’m a man, that’s different, he felt instantly appalled at himself.  Both in his work life and his love life he had always held to the view that women were equal with men in every way, and it was galling to discover he was as male chauvinist at heart as the next man.  More than galling.

Readers get a fair amount of Carter’s POV, which is a positive aspect:  he’s by turns bewildered by his attraction to this woman, and frustrated by her intransigence when it comes to any sort of commitment, and yet also just completely gobsmacked by her.  Liberty is a pretty sympathetic heroine, too:  she’s got mommy issues but recognizes them, appears to be good at her job, self-sufficient and with a life that suits her…until Carter comes along.

Would I recommend this book to the average reader?  Maybe not, because it does contain some standard HP tropes (billionaire, virgin, etc.).  But I would recommend it to other HP readers.


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