Starts slow with a metric fuck ton of angst over the hero's scars, goes nuts with adjectives and flowery metaphors, but nails yearning and sexual tens...moreStarts slow with a metric fuck ton of angst over the hero's scars, goes nuts with adjectives and flowery metaphors, but nails yearning and sexual tension like a boss.(less)
I read about 50 pages in before declaring it a non-starter. The amputee heroine fighting bitterness and grief less than six months removed from her in...moreI read about 50 pages in before declaring it a non-starter. The amputee heroine fighting bitterness and grief less than six months removed from her injury I was cool with. The doctor hero bossing her around like he knew what was best for her, and the narrative treating this as if he had the right of it, set off my Get Fucked meter.
Just can't be bothered to read yet another angsty-cripple-shown-the-light-by-able-bodied-caregiver romance. Boring.(less)
If this is what Harlequin editors think is good enough to publish, the stuff they reject must be horrific.
This book was just plain bad. Not only was t...moreIf this is what Harlequin editors think is good enough to publish, the stuff they reject must be horrific.
This book was just plain bad. Not only was the dialog so disjointed and weird that I double-checked my sandwich for stray marijuana, but the sex writing was... unique.
There's the purplest of purple prose:
He caught her colorful thrills and delicate spills on his lips and delivered them to hers, let her taste her essence, which only made her crave his. They peeled each other bare and touched, tasted, breathed each other in until they blended so perfectly that her leading him to her and his going inside was inevitable.
They made their own rainbow.
The bizarre metaphors:
“Sweet cakes with foam.” He smiled against her nipple. “Which has a bite to it.” He suckled, and then chuckled as he teased with his nose. “Not the kind I was hoping for.”
And my favorite:
He gave a pained laugh as she rose over him like Nessie, pushed her hair back and settled on his lap with an added bonus.
It brings me absolutely no joy to say I hated this book. I can't think of any book I wanted to love more than this book. More than anything, I wanted...moreIt brings me absolutely no joy to say I hated this book. I can't think of any book I wanted to love more than this book. More than anything, I wanted this to be a heartfelt story with a positive portrayal of disability so I could write a glowing review to counteract the ignorant, hateful and all around offensive reviews it received from thoughtless readers.
Unfortunately, it's a horrendously poor portrayal of living with a disability and a shitty book to boot.
The author projected her own revulsion at the thought of living in a disabled woman's body to create a sad, pitiable character in Libby just to provide an opportunity for angst. Libby never gets to define her disability, or her body for that matter, for herself. Everyone else in the book decides that for her. She has no self-esteem, no dignity and no individuality. She's a receptacle for every stereotype able bodied people have about physically disabled people. This isn't a story about a woman with a below the knee prosthesis, this is an able bodied woman's fantasy of being swept off her feet by a wealthy, gorgeous man despite being less than "perfect" herself. Libby's disability is just a prop, a concept the author lazily appropriated as shorthand for vulnerability. It's offensive as hell.(less)
I was really enjoying this story of a disabled woman breaking out of her shell and demanding people see her as the fully-actualized woman she was, unt...moreI was really enjoying this story of a disabled woman breaking out of her shell and demanding people see her as the fully-actualized woman she was, until the author went and annoyed me at the end. Until then, it was a lovely story of two people who left lasting impressions on each other as children falling in love many years later as adults. Luke was patient, determined and kind as he encouraged Annie to live life on her own terms. Both laughed, loved and enjoyed life just a little bit more in each other's presence. They were an object lesson in seeing beneath the surface. She a banker's daughter, and he a mere farrier.
The story's weaknesses were a tendency to blandly tell instead of show and a frustrating hiccup at the end where Annie reverts to a weak, self-pitying creature.(less)
I should review this. I have some strong opinions on it. Especially disliked her facile treatment of the post-slavery South. The whole "slavery wasn't...moreI should review this. I have some strong opinions on it. Especially disliked her facile treatment of the post-slavery South. The whole "slavery wasn't so bad if your owner was a swell guy" and the whole "Mammy" thing with the old housekeeper made me angry. Add in a bizarre three-page-long scene involving horses mating and the brilliance of the preceding 300 pages just went up in flames. Just, no.(less)
The best I can say about this patronizing mess of romance cliches is that it had impeccable grammar and spelling. It's going to be hard to review this...moreThe best I can say about this patronizing mess of romance cliches is that it had impeccable grammar and spelling. It's going to be hard to review this without punishing it for the sins of other books, but that's just how it goes sometimes.
The book starts off well enough. Sebastian Wolsely is a banker who usually lives and works on Manhattan. He's come to London to settle his wealthy uncle's estate as well as attend an old friend's wedding. Having come directly from the funeral, he's looking somewhat less than celebratory when Matty Lang, cousin of the bride, decides to chat him up. He likes how she shamelessly flirts with him without laying on the giggles, and she's impressed at how he doesn't lose a beat once he notices she's in a wheelchair. When he attempts to ask her out to dinner, however, she turns cold. Unfortunately for her, he's not a man used to taking no for an answer.
Here's where it all goes pear-shaped for me. Now, I understand that the determined hero in pursuit of the reluctant heroines is anything but particular to books working with a disability theme. Where it infuriated me was with her reasons for trying to put off the hero. There's insecurity, which pretty much everyone falls prey to every now and again, and then there's self-loathing.
Matty's behavior did not at all strike me as that of a healthy woman with normal insecurities about her place in relation to the world and the cosmopolitan hero. They were the musings of a deeply troubled woman stuck in mourning. She dwells on everything she's lost since being paralyzed in a car accident she blames herself for. I can understand wistfulness and regrets, but not being able to look at her godson without pangs of sadness at what she'll no longer have, three years on from her accident? Lying to her fiance while she was in rehab to drive him away? Feeling that her fiance's mom was right to have said "thank you" to Matty for setting him free to marry a non-cripple? Isolating herself from clients so they won't know she's in a wheelchair? Or, most dramatically, hacking at her hair with nail scissors to discourage the hero by making herself ugly:
Painful as the subject was, at least he seemed to have forgotten all about her hair—the reason she’d attacked it with the nail scissors. At least she hoped he’d forgotten. Because it wouldn’t take him long to work out that hacking it off in the bathroom that day in the rehab centre had been a symbolic gesture. Severing herself from all that was womanly, alluring in her appearance. A denial of her very femininity.
And then he’d know why she’d done it again today.
So much for keeping him away.
This woman isn't merely insecure, she's more emo than a Smiths album playing on a rainy February day. She doesn't need a husband, she needs therapy.
This being a 45k word Harlequin, this is just completely glanced over. I don't hate this book for having a head-case heroine, I hate it for attempting to pass her off as healthy, normal or as an example of how any woman would behave in her shoes. The book lacks any sort of self-reflection concerning her behavior, leaving me with the impression that she's supposed to be a crippled everywoman, and I didn't buy it.
So, and this is where I punish this book for the sins of others, I walked away angry at yet another romance using physical disability to provide angst and high drama. Independence is not about living alone and working. It's about confidence. Accepting help isn't a sign of weakness, so I'm baffled at how the genre seems to regard a stubborn refusal of help and friendship as some sort of sign for a strong, independent heroine. Conversely, the easiest thing to do is hide, mope and avoid. So when you show me a woman who pushes new friends away, hates herself for needing help and is embarrassed of her wheelchair, I see a deeply troubled woman. I don't see someone who can commit to a marriage after a weeklong courtship. If she can't love herself, how can she love anyone else?
Also irksome is the popular "I don't want to be a burden/I know I'm a burden" theme. Matty voices this about herself clear through the book. She interprets Sebastian's advances and others' actions in terms of how they must be wary of what a handful she is or that if she showed them how she's different they'll distance themselves. Since this comes up often and is never really dealt with, I had to wonder if this is what people think of the disabled. So far as I could tell, I was supposed to admire the hero for being the one to condescend to take on a pitiably crippled woman. That he was a good man for loving her despite her otherness. Her disability seemed to exist to make him look good.
In the end, I just have to say that you're not telling a story about transcending differences if the plot hinges entirely on a character's otherness. As a Harlequin Romance, it's an uninspired three star story of an artist swept off her feet by a lordling in disguise. As a treatment of disability, however, it's a resounding, patronizing fail.(less)
So, I think I've learned my lesson: any disability-themed romance novel readers gush over as "heartwarming" or a "tear-jerker" invariably plays up a n...moreSo, I think I've learned my lesson: any disability-themed romance novel readers gush over as "heartwarming" or a "tear-jerker" invariably plays up a number of insulting stereotypes of disabled people that insult me as they generate cheap angst. This book is no exception.
The book opens with supermodel Cassandra Cameron walking out of her agent's office after declaring she's taking an impromptu sabbatical. Worn out from reconciling her public image with her private life, she takes off to housesit for her vacationing brother. Unfortunately for her, she's attracted the unwelcome attention of a creepy dude who's determined to make contact with her. Unwillingly, family friend Dar Cordell finds himself drawn into her predicament. Though he'd rather hole up and make racing wheelchairs in solitude, he eventually agrees to help Cassie out by letting her hide out in his remote home.
The story Davis wanted to tell and the book she actually wrote do not match up. She clearly wanted to tell a story of love transcending superficial appearances and overcoming differences. What she actually wrote, however, was a pitying tale of a sad cripple and the condescending woman determined to show him how he should live his life instead. It wasn't a story about a disabled man finding the love he deserves. It was a story about readers being able to imagine themselves a charitable good girl who magnanimously befriends the downtrodden. The hero's disability is merely a means to an end.
The problem lies in the stark morality of the novel. There's little nuance or grey area to the novel. The good people unquestionably accept disability as charmingly normal and the bad people callously shun and dehumanize the disabled. It takes something complex and amoral and turns it into a simplistic moral play. This makes me think of a line from Tim O'Brien's "How To Tell a True War Story." Like war, disability is never moral.
"It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things they have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie."
Being disabled doesn't make a person stronger, wiser or more heroic and befriending, accepting or loving a disabled person doesn't make the able person kinder, nobler or better than anyone else. Unfortunately, Ms. Davis didn't get the memo on this. Throughout the book, Dar's ability is trotted out to define his father's and fiancee's perfidy and Cassie and her family's goodness. No one ever puzzles through any conflicted feelings, Dar never gets to talk about what disability means to his life, acceptance and rejection are just two stark, binary options. Dar is sad, and Cassie just yells her "acceptance" at him until he adopts an outlook she approves of.
And yet, the novel perpetuates patronizing attitudes towards disability, even as it's trying to be the benevolent champion of the poor cripples of the world. The first thing to really throw me was the scene where Cassie watches Dar playing NCAA baseball before his injury. Dar walks in as she's crying at the video and they get into an argument. She goes through amazing mental gymnastics about how they aren't tears of pity then yells at him for being selfish - because he doesn't want to talk about his feelings with people. To begin with, crying at what she terms a tragedy is pity, full stop. You can't spin that. Tears equal an assumption that disability is a negative. Secondly, why does she get to lecture this guy she's known for a week about how he should live his life? Because he's not a happy, grateful, "inspirational" cripple, he's doing it wrong?
Later on, when they finally fall into bed, we get this exchange
"Dar?" She was looking at him, that hint of doubt back in her eyes, as if she sensed him withdrawing. "Dar, please, don't. I… It doesn't… I don't mind." "My fiancée thought she didn't, either," he said, unable to stop himself, "until one of my stumps touched her." "Dar, stop." She bit her lip, and shook her head as if in pain. "Oh, please, I don't know what to say. How to tell you … not that it doesn't matter, of course it does, but … Dar, I don't care! Can't you see that?"
Oh, she "doesn't mind." How gracious of her. Imagine if this was a hero saying this to an overweight heroine about her curves she's self-conscious of. Would this seem so romantic with the roles reversed?
In addition to appropriating disability to tell a story about an able bodied character, the book's just not written very well. The narrative is repetitive, rewording and restating simple concepts ad nauseam as if she didn't trust the reader to draw her own conclusions. The dialog is laughably unnatural. The story rests on a cast of characters endlessly psychoanalyzing the hell out of each other using their best daytime TV pop psychology terminology. They didn't talk to each other so much as try to outdo each other's metaphors. Dialog read more like a chain of overwrought monologues than the give and take of conversation. Way too melodramatic for my taste.
In the end, I just resented the novel. It's just another novel that defines the disabled character by what he's lost then uses the angst not to tell his story of acceptance and adjustment but to illustrate the able heroine's generosity and heroism. It does the disabled no favors with how it treats the theme. It's dripping with ableism.
I can't recommend this to anyone looking for disabled characters in romance. It perpetuates the negative attitudes it purportedly rejects.(less)
After her cousin Jennifer's fiance, Viscount Kersey, used her in a scheme that wounded her and and her cousin's feelings quite deeply, she's decided t...moreAfter her cousin Jennifer's fiance, Viscount Kersey, used her in a scheme that wounded her and and her cousin's feelings quite deeply, she's decided that the volatile nature of love is emphatically not for her. Six years after her London debut, and her disastrous run-in with Kersey, Samantha Newman is quite happily unmarried. Now visiting her cousin in the country, she decides to take a long walk to put some space between herself and the happy young family. She encounters a charming landscape artist named Hartley Wade when her walk leads her onto the property of the Marquess of Carew. Instantly she's at ease with him, falling effortlessly into easy conversation and lapsing into comfortable silences. Quickly they develop a friendship, meeting secretly in the afternoon to walk the marquess' lands and chat amiably.
Hartley is a bit more than just the well-spoken, limping gardener she presumes him to be, as he's the Marquess of Carew himself. Surprised to find the stunningly beautiful woman recognizes neither his person nor his name, he plays along with her misperception. Crippled at a young age, leaving him with a twisted arm and a lame leg, he's wary of women pursuing him for his fortune alone. When Samantha seems as taken with him as he is with her, despite believing him a mere gardener, he can hardly believe his luck. Suddenly it seems he could have what he had always assumed could never be - a woman to love who loved him for who he was.
This is a love at first sight story at its heart. Immediately upon meeting Samantha, Hartley acknowledges to himself that he's in love with her. Samantha clearly does as well, though she won't use that particular word herself. Balogh does a smashing job of showing their mutual attraction through their easy conversation, peaceful silences and shared thoughts. I immediately came away with the impression that they were old dear friends meeting one another for the first time. Having a hero be enthusiastic about finding a woman to love and comfortable to admit it to himself was a wonderful change of pace.
I liked how Balogh stretched the story out on the characters insecurities without resorting to a Big Misunderstanding. Lord Kersey's reappearance upsets and confuses them both in different ways. While they both react poorly to the stresses, they do it in a way consistent with their personalities and their dynamic as a couple and grow closer as a result of it.
Definitely a cute story about the fine line between love and friendship. I'd give it a 4, I think. It's good, but it's not amazing.(less)
Widow Althea Winsloe just wants to be left alone to raise her young son as she sees fit. Unfortunately for her, the men and women of her tight-knit vi...moreWidow Althea Winsloe just wants to be left alone to raise her young son as she sees fit. Unfortunately for her, the men and women of her tight-knit village in the Ozarks are determined to see her remarried, and soon. Determined to remain in control, she plans to sell her husband's well-respected pack of hunting hounds. No one's going to just marry her and take what's hers, she's saving everything on the farm for her son to inherit one day.
In the general store when Miss Althea discloses her plan to sell her hounds, Jesse Best chases after her to try to buy a dog from her. Nearly strangled by his umbilical cord when he was born, he's known as "Simple Jess" to the townfolk. An honest man and hard worker, he's nonetheless often taken advantage of for his lack of wit or logic. He's a simple man, and he wants three things in life - a dog, a gun and a woman.
Seeing an opportunity, Althea makes a bargain with Jess. He can earn all the dogs by working on her farm to get her set for the coming winter. Wanting to earn a living like a man, and excited to own his own hunting dogs, Jess eagerly accepts.
This is the one book I've read that's truly captured the truth of disability. Jess was a fabulous character in that he was nothing special. He was only intractably different in other people's minds. He wasn't an inspiration to others, he was just a man whose brain didn't work quite right, but went about his life doing things his own way.
When the story is told from his perspective, there's no angst or drama from him on his otherness. He regrets that other people treat him bad or take advantage of him, and wishes that he could keep up with other people's thinking, but he doesn't see that as making him less than anyone else. He just works hard to do right the things he can do. When we read the story from his perspective, it's colored with a sense of wonder and confusion. The prose changes a bit to reflect his simpler thinking but without bogging the narrative down in awkward sentence construction or excess dialect. You see less rumination on other people's motives and more of him repeating things to himself so he won't forget.
I loved Althea as well. She's a strong woman determined to spare her son the drama she went through when her widower father remarried. She's reluctant to marry again and have her new husband slight the son that isn't his own blood. The more she works with Jess, the more she begins to appreciate a man who works hard but isn't afraid to defer to someone else's judgement when he should.
Thankfully, the book avoids a common pitfall of books dealing with disability and there's not so much as a hint of charity in Althea's relationship with Jess. Loving him doesn't make her a better person, it makes her a happy person. She genuinely values what he can contribute and is happy to compensate for his weaknesses. Bit by bit throughout the novel we see the many things she has a newfound appreciation for once she sees him as a man.
And thank goodness, because pity sex is just pathetic. When these two finally get together it's anything but charitable. Their first kiss is equal parts sweet, passionate and awkward. Jess's inexperience is tempered by his blunt honesty, and having a man plainly say how much a woman drives him mad is hot, hot.
As strong as the main couple is, and as much as I love the treatment of disability, I think the secondary characters might make the novel. The town of Marrying Stone is populated with a wide variety of characters and none of them are cardboard placeholders. Even antagonists Eben Baxley and Oather Phillips have rich backgrounds and nuanced personalities, giving the marrying plot more depth and drama. Althea and Jesse are made even more vivid by the rich characters that surround them and the colorful conversations they have with them.
Simple Jess was a pleasure to read and I'd recommend it unreservedly to anyone who loves an emotional, character-focused read.(less)
While the premise was intriguing - a former child prostitute/adult call girl and head injured former vice cop rekindle an old romance - nothing made s...moreWhile the premise was intriguing - a former child prostitute/adult call girl and head injured former vice cop rekindle an old romance - nothing made sense. Nobody behaved in ways that reflected real world behavior. Their thoughts, motives, actions and reactions were all mismatched.(less)