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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!


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


  1. Willaful
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 12:20:29

    BTW, I found a bug at Open library, reported it, and it was solved lickety-split!

  2. Janine
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 12:32:26

    I haven’t read any of these but I really enjoyed your post. It’s fun to look back on the past. Do you have a theory on why pre-1995 books are drawing you more than the current crop of romances?

  3. autonomous
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 12:37:15

    I love Open Library, too. I started using them a month ago and am very happy with all the OOP books I’ve found there.

  4. cleo
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 12:44:33

    Thanks for this post. Someone mentioned Open Library on DA recently and I was wondering about it. This sounds great.

  5. Willaful
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 12:57:52

    @Janine: I think I’m exhausted from reading critically, and have just needed to wallow in pleasurable drama to recover. I feel less obligation towards older books, and they’re more likely to be unabashedly angsty and OTT.

  6. Sunita
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 13:28:27

    Willaful, I owe you a huge thank you for introducing me to Open Library. I’ve found a number of old books that they’ve digitized. My TBR is bigger than ever, but for once I’m not complaining about it. And I know what you mean about reading older books; the ones I’ve been reading aren’t angsty and OTT, but they’re comfortable like a Linus blanket. And sometimes that’s exactly what I’m looking for.

  7. Sirius
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 13:46:10

    I have never heard about Open Library, thanks so much Willaful, will check it out.

  8. Janine
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 13:47:18

    @Willaful & @Sunita: I think the older books have this freshness to them, too. The genre was younger, and authors were excited to try new things. At least, that’s how those books sometimes feel to me, for all their occasional OTT-ness and angst. I’ll have to check out Open Library.

  9. Lisa J
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 14:02:24

    I LOVED Glenna Finley. I have all of her books. They are in a box in the basement and whenever someone mentions getting rid of them I run and hide. They were awesome at the time. I may have to dig them out and reread a few.

  10. Willaful
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 14:07:25

    @Lisa J: I know I read others, but none really stuck with me. (Probably because I didn’t own copies.)

  11. Lisa J
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 14:15:16

    You made my day. I also see they have several books by Joyce Verrette and Laurie McBain. My house will never be clean, the dog will go hungry, and I’m going to run out of clean clothes. Oh well, I’m happy!! Thank you for the link.

  12. Willaful
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 14:27:13

    @Lisa J: I’m so glad, and deeply apologetic to the dog. ;-)

  13. Lisa J
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 14:39:36

    @Willaful: The dog will survive it. There are plenty of bunnies in my yard and I can’t get him to leave them alone. He’ll even eat frogs and turtles if they wander inside the fence. Dumb dog. Good thing I love all 85 pounds of him.

  14. Tanya
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 14:49:43

    The first thing I thought when I read this was “Laurie McBains?” And now I see it is so. Heading over to get my sweet dose of crack.

  15. Jolie Jacq
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 15:59:49

    This is fantastic! I’ve already found a couple of books I’d put on my wishlist (recommended by you, if I’m not mistaken) but really had no expectation of ever being able to read. I’m now on the waiting list for two books, and I’ve just downloaded Maybe This Time by Kathleen Gilles Seidel. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  16. Jennie
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 16:35:50

    @Willaful: I love the angsty/OTT element of older romances, but in addition I think I’m just less critical of them. At least some unsavory aspects can be sort of forgiven as reflective of the era they were written in. Even irritating prose quirks bother me a bit less. Maybe unconsciously I’m holding newer books to a higher standard because I know that more people are actually shelling out good money to read these books at this very moment? I don’t know.

  17. Darlynne
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 16:52:33

    Willaful, it was enough to read about the older books you found and enjoyed, but then: Open Library! OMG, they have Pat Wallace’s HOUSE OF SCORPIO, so completely over the top with astrological houses, six sisters separated at birth, dark/brooding heroes, forbidden love. Squee! And it’s digitized, double squee! I’m already on the waiting list, probably multiple times in my enthusiasm and excitement.

    Thank you for this. Now to find Elizabeth Cadell’s CANARY YELLOW and others.

  18. Willaful
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 18:01:27

    Okay, no longer worried that this was old news. I’m glad everyone’s finding their treasures!

  19. Melisse Aires
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 20:37:59

    I loved Glenna Finley as a teen and managed to gather most of them. Also Elizabeth Caudill (sp?) romances set in England. Mary Stewart, Barbara Michaels… I’ll bet those are still in the library. Those would be fun to reread, too.

  20. Melisse Aires
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 20:41:05

    Wait–Elizabeth Cadell is the correct author.

  21. K.L.
    Jun 23, 2014 @ 23:40:33

    Yay! I love Open Library and it always makes me happy when other people blog about it! It’s also great for posting links to the ebooks on Internet Archive, in all their formats. I also love the ability to search just for the ebooks they have.

    Huge chunk of old mystery books in there too!

  22. Kaetrin
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 01:19:54

    I recently discovered the Open Library too and I can attest that there are no restrictions to membership except an internet connection. It’s a great way to access some of those old out of print books which haven’t been released digitally yet.

  23. Willaful
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 11:44:23

    @Jennie: I think it can be easier to relax into an older book and not be as upset by disturbing elements. Though I just tried to read Landis’ Come Spring and never really got over the hero holding a knife to the heroine’s throat to kidnap her… :-\

  24. Des Livres
    Jun 24, 2014 @ 21:30:55

    There are 12 Mary Burchells in open library (have just joined up) including some from the Warrender saga. Maybe I can upload mine once I get my scanner working? If that’s how it works? There have been a few mentions of Burchell in the comments on earlier posts as possibly being a romance classic if enough people have read her. Hint Hint. Which they should as she is just fabulous!

  25. Erin Burns
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 17:34:25

    I’ve been adoring openlibrary and can’t sing it’s praises enough (to the point I tracked down people I saw had books on wish lists that were available there) it is so enjoyable to just be able to dig up things you can’t necessarily find in print, and get them for free too. A Man Like Mac was my first foray there.

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