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Search tags: here-there-be-triggers-rape-nonconsent-issues
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review 2016-03-08 15:38
"The Hostage" by Susan Wiggs
The Hostage - Susan Wiggs

I picked this up on sale a month or so ago because of the series premise: a quartet of finishing school girls get caught up in the swarm of humanity fleeing the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. This first book in the series focuses on Deborah, the only daughter of one of the city's most wealthy men. During the fire, she is kidnapped and held for ransom by Tom Silver, a fisherman from Isle Royale who blames Deborah's father for the death of a loved one killed in an explosion at a mine her father owns.


Susan Wiggs is very, very good at setting a scene. The descriptions of the fire are masterful. The journey by water from Chicago, up through the locks at Sault Sainte Marie, and finally to the pine wilderness of Isle Royale is beautiful. The months of isolation during the winter on Isle Royale are simultaneously cozy and compelling, and desolate and lonely. I'm happy to have read the book just for the unique settings.


The romance fell flat for me. Deborah was too sheltered and too timid for my tastes. Tom was too much a stereotypical villain with a heart of gold. Their relationship was believable, albeit predictable (yet another kidnap victim falls in love with her captor), but it didn't connect with me emotionally.

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review 2015-11-23 19:56
An Uncomfortable Read
The Fifteenth Minute (The Ivy Years Book 5) - Sarina Bowen

I enjoyed this book (as I've enjoyed almost everything by Sarina Bowen), but I was uncomfortable with the premise. The hero, DJ, has been accused of sexual assault by another student at his school, and he's in limbo while the college figures out how to respond. He's not allowed in the residential halls or anywhere near his alleged victim, and he's going to classes knowing that at any time the school may expel him, but there's no criminal case pending and he knows very little about the allegations, except that as he remembers the encounter, it was very much consensual.


I'm a domestic and sexual violence prosecutor, and I was squicked out by the premise of this book because I know that, though in our rape-culture warped society, people think false allegations of rape are commonplace, but in reality, such claims are very, very rare. In fact, people are much, much more likely to be raped and NOT report than they are to report an assault that didn't happen.


Setting that major squick aside (which I was only able to do because I have a lot of faith in Sarina Bowen), I was interested in the story of DJ meeting a new girl and the difficulties of falling in love when he's got this major cloud (which he doesn't want to tell her about) hanging over his head. I also recognize that this book seeks to make a larger point about the flaws of allowing college administrations to handle sex assault investigations rather than law enforcement -- the results are inconsistent and unfair both to the accuser and the accused -- and that's a point worth making. When the truth came out about the incident that led to DJ's being accused, I was relieved that the accuser's "excuse" was sympathetic and that she was not just a crazy, lying bitch, but I still found this a very uncomfortable read.

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text 2015-05-12 20:31
Reading progress update: I've read 134 out of 439 pages.
The Duke's Disaster - Grace Burrowes

I'm really enjoying this so far, which is such a relief because my last several reads have been stinkers! I like that this is not so much about romance leading up to marriage (as most Regency-era-To-Catch-a-Duke stories seem to be), but rather about developing emotional and physical intimacy after marriage, in order to make a success of a marriage that didn't get off to the best start. The scenes between the hero and heroine are refreshingly cozy, without the hustle and bustle of balls and teas and see-and-be-seen rides in the park. 


The conflict stems from a couple of miscommunications, which is usually a trope that doesn't work for me. (Why have an honest conversation when we can wring 100 pages of melodramatic plot out of wrong assumptions and blatant mistakes?) Here, while I still think it's boneheaded of the hero a) to leap to mistaken conclusions about his wife's premarital sexual experience and b) not correct her mistaken assumption about the paternity of two plot moppets in his care, I'm enjoying the sweetly intimate (not necessarily sexual) and sharply entertaining process of their learning how to rub along together in marital harmony enough to overlook the Big Miscommunications.


I hope the sweetness keeps up. I hate when I'm loving a book and then the ending goes south on me.

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review 2015-02-09 21:12
Hmm, How Many Tropes Can We Fit in One Crazy-Sauce Romp?
I Married the Duke - Katharine Ashe

I really need to get better about writing reviews as soon as I finish a book, but I've been crazy busy lately. If I wait, I'm left with only vague impressions, no matter how many quotes I highlight or notes I make as I read.


I Married the Duke was my first book by Katherine Ashe, and I will read on in the series because I liked this fairly well even though I've been kind of "meh" on the whole historical romance subgenre lately. I also liked it despite the fact that the hero was actively misrepresenting his identity to the heroine for the first half of the book, and since dishonesty is a major turn off for me, the fact that I like this as well as I did speaks well of Ms. Ashe's skill as a writer.


The funniest thing about this book is that it hits so many of the tropes of historical romance, it's almost as if someone dared Katharine Ashe to write a book with as many stereotypical tropes as she could manage. Gypsy fortuneteller? Check. Penniless orphans? Check. Scarred hero? Check. Love affair between a lord and a governess? Yup. Mistaken identity? Marriage of Convenience? Big Misunderstanding? Sudden Blindness? Check, check, check, and check.


The plot was very, very complicated. I was able to follow it, but I think a lot of the layers and plot twists were only necessary to continue the hero's deception about his identity, which (as I've said) I could have done without.


Anabella is the middle child in a trio of sisters orphaned as children. They know very little of their past, except that it involved a shipwreck, and they have a very expensive ruby ring which a gypsy told them holds the key to learning their roots. That same gypsy foretold that one of the sisters would marry a prince, so Anabella has made that her life's ambition.


Fast forward a few decades; the girls have grown up and are in service. Anabella is on her way to France to be a finishing governess for a princess; she hopes to meet and marry the princess's brother, the prince, to fulfill the prophecy. Unfortunately, through a series of unfortunate events, she misses the ship that is supposed to take her to France and ends up hitching a ride with the hero, Luc, instead. Luc is a former naval captain with a Tortured Past who retired because he's in line to become a Duke when his uncle passes on, and he can't risk being killed in action (though he's still sailing, obviously).


During the story, Luc's uncle dies, but Luc's ascendency to the title is uncertain because the uncle's wife is preggers, and if she has a boy, the child will inherit. The wife is the sister of the story's bad guy, a priest who molested Luc and his brother when they were kids.


When Luc takes Anabella to France, he doesn't tell her who he is, even though her destination is (through one of the crazy coincidences that would never work outside of Romancelandia) a castle he owns, and the home of his brother.


During their journey, Luc finds himself in Mortal Peril and marries Anabella because he might be a Duke and she might be carrying his heir... and, oh, yeah, also because he might possibly be in love with her just a little bit. Then he dies, but not really, and Anabella is heartbroken, but maybe she'll get to marry the prince after all, so there's always a bright side. 


Yeah, this is the sort of crazy sauce plot you can't really explain... but I liked it anyway. I Married a Duke hits enough familiar tropes that most readers of historical romance will find something about it appealing -- catnippy, if you will -- but it can come across as chaotic and crazy, which isn't to everyone's taste.

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review 2014-10-03 02:47
Mildly Entertaining Western Historical Romance, Right Up Until the Spousal Rape Scene
The Bad Man's Bride - Susan Kay Law

This was recommended to me by a Goodreads friend, for reasons I can't remember and which were not apparent from the story itself. It employs two different "Outsider" tropes: the heroine, Anthea, is a fish out of water as the new schoolteacher on the Kansas frontier, freshly arrived from a more civilized life in Philadelphia, while the hero, Gabriel, has been the town outcast since his birth out-of-wedlock. Gabriel's reputation is further tarnished when he takes the orphaned daughter of the town's whore under his wing, and everyone assumes that he is her father. 


I liked the story well enough, though it wasn't especially original. Parts of it reminded me, fondly, of the Little House on the Prairie books I read (and reread and reread) as a girl. I found the main characters likable and relatable. However, much of the story was predictable, and none of the plot twists were especially shocking... though I'm not sure the author was aiming for shocking. 


What really troubled me about this book, though, and brought it from a three-star "Meh" rating to a two-star "Nah" rating, is the story's weird, backwards, and kind of convoluted messages about sex. I checked the publication date of this book, thinking it might have been written right on the cusp of the Old Skool (rapey, alpha heroes) romances written in the 1980s and prior, and the more enlightened New School romances of more recent decades, but The Bad Man's Bride came out in 2001, which was later than I'd have guessed. 


Anyway, the first thing that bothered me is that Gabriel held off sleeping with Anthea until all of a sudden he learned she was not a virgin, since she'd anticipated her wedding vows with a fiancé who threw her over when her father's death left her and her sisters destitute (which is why she's in Kansas teaching). Upon learning this, Gabriel throws all his good intentions out the window, and immediately sees Anthea as fair game, sexually speaking, though at that point he has no intention of marrying her. I didn't mind that Anthea wasn't a virgin, and I liked that she had her own sexual needs and wasn't afraid to go after what she wanted, but Gabriel could have been more honorable. This is a squick of mine: I really hate historical romances where the lovers become intimate without any intention or ability to marry, and it's not because I'm a prude--it's because in that historical context, a woman took such an enormous risk in giving up her purity and risking pregnancy, that it just isn't honorable for a man to accept that risk without intending marriage. And Gabriel, who has spent his whole life shunned and despised by the townsfolk for his bastardy, should have known that better than anyone. 


The second thing that bothered me was a subplot involving the town banker, Philip, and his wife Cleo. Way back years before she and Philip married, Cleo had an affair with Gabriel, and she's been hung up on him ever since, to the detriment of her marriage. Toward the end of the book, there is a confrontation in which Cleo realizes that Gabriel doesn't return her regard. While she is still emotionally distraught over this, Philip hunts her down, finds her sobbing in a stable, and essentially rapes her. The way the scene is written, I had the sense that we readers were supposed to be uplifted by it, as if Philip is finally proving his manliness/worthiness by taking what is his (even though Cleo resists, says no, turns her face away from his kisses, tries to pull away, etc.), and when she ultimately responds with physiological arousal, we readers are supposed to rejoice as if this is a turning point in their troubled marriage, because Cleo's always been a cold fish up to that point. I was deeply troubled by the apparent acceptance of the rape culture myth that a woman can't/won't respond if she isn't secretly into sex, no matter how she may have otherwise expressed her lack of consent. 


Obviously, that kind of soured the Happy Ever After for me. 



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