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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

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What Willaful’s Been Reading: Open Library Edition

What Willaful’s Been Reading: Open Library Edition

I recently discovered an astonishing online resource: Open Library, which is part of The Internet Archive. Open Library is “an open, editable library catalog, building towards a web page for every book ever published,” which is cool enough in itself — as a sad GoodReads librarian on strike, I’ve enjoyed working on their database — but it also offers access to scanned ebooks, in partnership with thousands of libraries around the world. Some are “talking books” for readers with limited vision, some are only available to read online, and some can be downloaded in either scanned PDF or epub format — via Adobe Digital Editions — for a two week loan period. The book pages are also connected to WorldCat, and show you the closest libraries that own physical copies.

I couldn’t have found this at a better time. I’ve been burnt out on reviewing, and unable to focus on any book written after about 1995.  A bountiful library of older romances, including many on my wish list of classic “fabulous wallbangers,” was just what I needed. I literally read 61 books in 30 days, not counting several rereads I skimmed for the good parts; the scans have some errors, but they do the job. These are a few of the books I was especially happy to find.


A Man Like Mac - Fay RobinsonA Man Like Mac by Fay Robinson. I’ve wanted to read this Rita winner since Ridley wrote about it, but it hasn’t been digitized. I don’t have much to add to her comments, other than that I really appreciated such an honest look at disability and romance, including its far-from-glamorous aspects. There are no magic fixes here (though the end does get a bit into wish fulfillment.) Although it has its fair share of angst — thankfully, not all revolving around disability — it also made me laugh out loud several times.








romantic_spiritThe Romantic Spirit by Glenna Finley. My very first genre romance from my adolescence! I hadn’t wanted to actually give it house room, which is why I never got it from Paperback Swap, but I couldn’t resist the no-strings chance to reread it. Its dated qualities are positively charming, with its depiction of phony New Agers in the 70s, and its prim heroine who is utterly aghast that the hero thinks she’s “that kind of girl.” I was intrigued by what stuck in my memory and what didn’t; my taste for angst clearly goes way back.

My first historical romance was Bewitched by Barbara Cartland and I’m working up to rereading that. I suspect it won’t go over as well as this one did.





the-flowering-thorn-margery-sharp-001The Flowering Thorn by Margery Sharp. This isn’t a romance, but it’s one of the few Sharp books I was never able to find at a library. Best known now for her “Miss Bianca” series of children’s books (the basis for the movie “The Rescuers,”) Sharp also wrote clever and funny adult novels. This story from the 1930s is about a bored socialite who adopts an orphaned child, basically on a whim. (He’s the son of a deceased servant, and it’s an unofficial adoption.) She’s shocked to discover that her entire life then has to change.

The most fascinating aspect of this story is that the adoption isn’t based on love or sentiment, though Lesley does grow to be very fond of Patrick. She takes care of his needs and basically lets him be, while she discovers the joys of a settled life and genuinely intimate relationships with other adults. Children needing freedom from adults is something of a theme in Sharp’s books, and people who follow the “free-range kids” philosophy might also be interested in The Eye of Love, which is about a dedicated child artist. (As well as a very offbeat love story.) The theme is taken to a powerful extreme in The Innocents, in which a severely developmentally delayed child is threatened by her biological mother’s refusal to acknowledge her needs and let her be.

If you would like to try some romantic Sharp, Open Library carries The Nutmeg Tree, Cluny Brown, and Something Light, all very funny books with happy endings (although the routes to them are unusual.)


price1The Asking Price by Amanda Browning. A very, very old skool Harlequin requiring a strong stomach: the best I can say for it is that there’s no actual rape and no miscarriages. Also, it’s awesome. Well, partially. The cruelty and controlling nature of the vengeful hero came a little too close to reality for me, especially when he pressures the heroine to reconcile with her very cruel and controlling father; the disturbing parallels are hard to miss. And the ending is not only one of those that punishes the heroine more than the hero, but lacks sufficient redemption or payoff. Still, there is a big, juicy betrayal, and there is almost nothing I love more in my romance than a big, juicy betrayal.







I haven’t been able to find any limitations on Open Library membership; as far as I can tell — please comment if I’m wrong — it’s available to anyone with internet, and you can be pseudonymous. And of course there are books available in every conceivable subject, not just romance or general fiction. Check it out!

REVIEW:  The Undoing of Daisy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

REVIEW: The Undoing of Daisy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye


Dear Ms. Kaye:

I might not have started this if I’d realized it was part of the Harlequin Historical Undone line, and that would have been my loss. I think of Undones as short, sexy, frivolous stories; this is short and sexy, but far from frivolous.

Five years after the end of World War I, Dominick Harrington is living a half life. His older brother is dead, his mother remarried and moved to America, his younger sister Grace is running wild, and he just struggles to get through each day. When Grace puts him in charge of a beautiful woman who’s stoned out of her mind, Dominick is moved for the first time in years. “There was something — broken, fragile, lost? — in the woman’s face that I recognized.”

Actress Daisy Edwards hoped that a shot of cocaine would make the world brighter on her 30th birthday — a birth date she had shared with her dead husband. Instead she just blacked out, to wake up in a strange bed with a strange man. Her first dreamy sensation of safety turns to terror about what might have happened, until she realizes she’s still fully dressed.

So he hadn’t even tried. I felt curiously insulted, which was strange, because that was the last thing I wanted. Though as I leaned over just the tiniest fraction to take a look at him, I was taken aback to discover my body and my mind didn’t quite agree.

It doesn’t take long for them to act on their newly awakened feelings:

There was a split-second, as her lips touched mine, when I thought This is a mistake, and I almost drew back. And then I didn’t. Her lips were soft, her skin cold. Her hands were icy through my shirt-sleeves, I remember. She kissed as if she wasn’t used to kissing, and I probably did the same, because I wasn’t.

Then something shifted. I don’t know if it was just me. It felt like both of us. We–we found it. Our mouths matched.

There’s very little plot to this short story. It’s all about the setting and the voice — or perhaps I should say voices, since both Dominick and Daisy narrate. Despite how depressed they are, their voices are vivid and alive: both are interesting, mature narrators, who are introspective without seeming like naval gazers. (The short length probably helps.) There are descriptions of clothes and objects that put us in the 1920s, but the setting mostly comes to life though their feelings and conversations, rather than via mention of fads or incongruous jolts of slang; the upheaval and trauma of the war has affected every part of their world and ever fiber of their being, in an almost tangible way. (I was reminded of visiting New York, and seeing the emotional impact of 9/11 everywhere.)

In this atmosphere of loss and upheaval and guilt, it’s hard for Dominick and Daisy to accept feeling emotions around anything else; as if to deny them, both compare their intense longings to addiction:


She was too much, but I hadn’t had enough. In the trenches, there were boys who were addicted to the morphine we were supposed to save for emergencies. In the trenches, it got to be impossible to tell to the difference between what was normal and what was an emergency.


He was my drug, that was all. I’d found my drug, and I was going to keep taking it until I didn’t need it any longer… Dominic was my drug, and I was Dominick’s drug, and we’d use each other, and then when we’d had enough of each other, we’d be–better? I didn’t think that far ahead. Looking back, my capacity for self-delusion astonishes me.

Nonetheless, their passion evolves into an actual relationship, and Dominick begins to realize that life is too short to wish away.

I’m sick and tired of not raising my eyes beyond the horizon of the next twenty-four hours, of not expecting or planing or anticipating. Of not hoping. Of never taking more than a tiny piece of life at a time. Of not allowing myself to want more. I want more, Daisy. I want you.

The book ends with a tentative Happy-For-Now, which seems absolutely right for the characters and the type of story. B

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