Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Willaful

Willaful fell in love with romance novels at an early age, but ruthlessly suppressed the passion for years, while grabbing onto any crumbs of romance to be found in other genres. She finally gave in and started reading romance again in 2006, and has been trying to catch up with the entire genre ever since. Look for her on twitter or at her blog at

Posts by Willaful :

REVIEW:  Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan

REVIEW: Talk Sweetly to Me by Courtney Milan


Dear Ms. Milan:

I’ve had an odd pattern with the “Brothers Sinister” series — I’ve loved every other book. Which means three books I loved in one series — not a bad record at all. This novella falls in the “like” zone. Parts of it are delightful, but it never fully jelled for me.

It’s quite common for heroes of romance novels to declare that they like women, but Women’s Free Press columnist and Victorian feminist Stephen Shaugnessy — know for his “Ask a Man” column — means it more literally than most; he likes women for their minds and souls as well as their bodies. And he’s found a woman he likes very, very much indeed — his neighbor, Miss Rose Sweetly, who works as a computer. (Literally, someone who does computations.) Enchanted by her enthusiasm for mathematics and astronomy, Stephen arranges for Rose to tutor him as a means of spending private time with her. His motives aren’t fully formed, but they’re certainly not evil:

He wasn’t planning to seduce her, not really. It would be a terrible thing for a man like him to do to a woman in Miss Sweetly’s position, and he had a very firm rule that he did not do terrible things to people in general, and to women in particular. Liking a woman–even liking her very well–was more reason to adhere to the rule, not less.

Rose may be young and a genius, but she’s no fool. She knows Stephen’s reputation as a rake, and she knows the likely outcome for a black woman and shopkeeper’s daughter if she falls for his charm. And so she resists all of Stephen’s honest efforts to tell her how he feels.

‘If I ever have you in my bed, I want you to remember yourself. I like you. There’s no point having your body if you’re not included.’

‘This–talking to you, just like this–is already the point. I like you. I like talking to you. If you don’t like me, send me off.’

That is, she tries to resist it. But it’s hard to feel nothing for a very attractive man whose interest is so genuine.

He liked people. He liked her. She suspected he’d told her the simple truth: He wasn’t trying to seduce her.

He was just succeeding at it.

The novella is short, about 90 pages in epub, but there’s room for an important subplot about Rose’s sister, who’s close to giving birth and is being treated very badly by the racist white doctor attending her. This experience is pivotal for both Rose and Stephen.

Spoiler (spoiler): Show

It shows her how dependable he is, and shows him the validity of her fears. I’m a little dubious about the end of this episode; Rose reacts to the doctor with violence, which seems both out of character and dangerous. It failed for me as an empowering moment, because I thought she only get away with it because Stephen was there to back her up, and it made me frightened for her.

I enjoyed this story most at its serious points: when Stephen feels hurt and rejected — but never fails to be eloquent — and when Rose is struggling to help her sister, and to decide what’s right for her future. The parts that failed for me were the more light-hearted courtship scenes: for example, one in which Rose has Stephen calculate the odds that he would be able to seduce her, using factors like the probability that she would be hit on the head with an anvil. It’s clever and it’s cute, and I’m damming with faint praise there…. cute rarely works for me, especially in historicals, and the cleverness feels unnatural.

I also didn’t feel the love quite as much as I wanted to, perhaps because I’m not as enamored by discussions of math and astronomy as Stephen is. Or rather, the idea is that Stephen is generally entranced by Rose’s enthusiasm and brilliance, which is certainly believable… but I didn’t connect with his feelings. This is the same issue I had with The Countess Conspiracy: I’m supposed to love the hero for loving the heroine’s brains, but somehow I just didn’t.

But though it wasn’t a perfect book for me, there was much to enjoy. Both characters have interesting backgrounds, which leads to some powerful conversations as they really get to know each other. And there is definitely a sweetness to them. C+



AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

REVIEW:  Dark Skye by Kresley Cole

REVIEW: Dark Skye by Kresley Cole


Dear Ms. Cole:

Back in 2008, Jane wrote about the romance trope subversion found in the “Immortals After Dark” series, in which the conventional male/female roles are often flipped. That continues in this story, which features a completely inexperienced hero and a heroine who’s been around the block quite a few times in an immortal lifespan. Unfortunately, it doesn’t save the book from being kind of meh.

Most Lore immortals have to wait centuries for their fated mates to turn up, but the Vrekener prince Thronos is just a boy when he recognizes his in 9 year old Melanthe (Lanthe), one of the Sorceri. Their people are enemies — the righteous Vrekeners make it their business to steal powers from the supposedly evil Sorceri — but none of that matters… then.

‘To me, you smell like no one else in the world ever has, or ever will.’ His gray irises glowed silver with emotion. A breeze ruffled his sandy brown hair. ‘It means you and I are going to be best friends. When we grow up, we’ll be… more.’

They do indeed become best friends, for a short time. But though Melanthe is Thronos’s fated mate, he is not necessarily hers. ‘Sorceri don’t have mates’ and ‘Sorceri don’t believe in fate,’ she asserts. In any event, while the adult Thronos desperately searches for Melanthe for centuries, literally unable to have sex with any other woman, she feels no such restriction. Instead she suffers a non-specific loneliness and longing for love that has made her something of a Lore joke, since the immortals she sleeps with often take advantage of her and steal her powers. Nonetheless, she refuses to be shamed by Thronos, who is not only a virgin but from an extremely repressed society. (Even kissing before marriage is considered an “offendment” — you can guess how they feel about masturbation.)

If you’ve read Kiss of a Demon King, you’ll know that this is only a small part of Thronos and Lanthe’s complicated history: there’s betrayal and hurt and bitterness up the wazoo for these two. But as it turns out — rather disappointingly — those issues are more like Big Misunderstandings: once they learn the truths behind their past, the real conflicts between the fated lovers are Lanthe’s sexual history, and Thronos’s incredibly uptight and controlling plans for her.

The story is an Odyssey, an almost Yellow-Submarine-esque series of adventures in strange dimensions. The pair begins traveling together (initially as prisoner and captive) after the destruction of the Order prison they were both in. (The beginning is pretty abrupt: for backstory on their escape, see Dreams of a Dark Warrior and Demon from the Dark.  Chronologically, this is set during the events of the previous five books in the series.) The trip is not only highly dangerous but full of portents and allegorical elements. I didn’t find the adventures or world-building here very enthralling. Much of what happens is highly convenient in terms of their relationship growth — It’s almost as if someone deliberately created a bizarre world just to get these two together! — and there are what seems like dozens of random, cryptic portents and prophecies to be interpreted.

What happens in their relationship is somewhat more compelling. The rigid Thronos begins to loosen up, particularly as he becomes inadvertently exposed to his demonic roots. (His winged, sky-living people claim angelic status, ignoring all signs of their demonic origins.) And Lanthe once again begins to trust him and to believe in his feelings for her. There’s some well-imagined, gut-punching angst, and interesting themes: Thronos learning to see shades of gray, Lanthe reclaiming her power as a sorcerer, both of them learning to forgive, accept the past, and deliberately choose each other.

But I kept being tripped up by the actual prose. I don’t recall ever having this problem with the series before, but the writing uses many short, declaratory sentences, tends towards telling rather than showing, and is riddled with exclamation points. Consequently, even some of the most dramatic moments of the book felt flat. There was much less snark and sparkle than I expect from this series, and both characters feel like paler versions of previous ones.

It sadly added up to no more than readable and intermittently emotional for me. Very sadly, since like many other readers, I was just dying for this couple’s story. There is movement towards the overall Accession plot, but I’ve never been as interested in that as I’ve been in the romance and couple dynamics.

This is a long series, but considerable backstory is given, so you could probably enter here if you wanted to. (And perhaps it would seem less disappointing if you did?) I haven’t read the two books immediately preceding this one yet, but was able to follow the threads well enough. C



AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle