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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!

Reading List by Jennie for March, April and May

Reading List by Jennie for March, April and May

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackaryvanity fair

I’m toying with reviewing this. I didn’t know that much about this classic 19th century novel before starting it; I vaguely remember watching part of a British adaptation of it years ago, on A&E, I think. All I knew was that Becky Sharp was sort of an anti-heroine and that the novel took place at least partly around Waterloo (I remembered the scene set at the ball the night before the battle, a ball that has been depicted in countless romances over the years). Anyway, I’m not quite done with the book yet, but I’ve enjoyed it thus far. The focus is not on Becky alone and her machinations, but on the family she marries into and her erstwhile friend Amelia (who is honestly a drip personified, but whatever) who is loved from afar by the hapless Dobbin. I prefer the Becky bits though her story turns kind of dark towards the end. I shouldn’t grade a book I haven’t finished but so far it’s a solid B.

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Improper Relations by Juliana RossImproper Relations by Juliana Ross

I got this free through the Daily Deals; the novella pairs a plain, even mousy widow who is dependent on relatives with a bad boy (of course) hero who happens to be her late husband’s cousin. She witnesses him seducing a maid in the family library, and subsequently he offers to tutor in the carnal arts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this unlikely, porno-esque scenario over the years; I pretty much roll my eyes automatically the minute it’s presented in a romance. That said, even though I don’t remember much about the rest of the story (though I only read it a month or so ago), I did give it a B, so I guess that the trite set-up aside, it wasn’t a bad story.

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Shield-of-WinterShield of Winter by Nalini Singh

Joint review with Janine here.

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hunger strikeHunger Strike: Margaret Thatcher’s Battle with the IRA, 1980-1981 by Thomas Hennessey

I vividly remember the H Block hunger strikes of 1981. I think it’s a combination of being at an age for which I have especially strong memories – between 11 and 12 – and the fact that my mother was a supporter (albeit from America) of Sinn Fein and, to a degree, the IRA. I have much more ambivalent feelings today, especially about the latter organization, but that era in Northern Ireland is still very much of interest to me. Anyway, this book didn’t end up working for me, in small part because it’s strongly slanted in favor of the British government and against the prisoners. I may not be pro-IRA, but I’m definitely not pro-Thatcher, and Hennessey is, rather unabashedly. The larger problem was that I was hoping for a more human, personal story and this was a very dry, academic work, focused on recently released government reports rather than on-the-ground first person accounts from the time. I gave it a D.

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He's Come Undone by Theresa WeirHe’s Come Undone by Theresa Weir

Also got from the Daily Deals, I think? I would say I should stay away from those but actually I’ve had decent success with the books I’ve snagged there. This book was a little uneven but still very compelling. There were things I didn’t like about the h/h characterizations – the depiction of his mental illness felt superficial, as did the treatment of her past as a child star and betrayal by her mother. But they came alive as characters nonetheless, and that counts for a lot with me. He’s Come Undone was reviewed by Jayne here - my grade was an A-.

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Fool Me Twice by Meredith DuranFool Me Twice by Meredith Duran


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devil_Between the Devil and Ian Eversea by Julie Ann Long

Also reviewed.

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unbrokenUnbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

I was out of non-fiction to read (at least any non-fiction I wanted to read, since an 800-page biography of William Randolph Hearst that was actually in hardcover form rather than electronic wasn’t exactly calling my name). I hadn’t read this author’s previous celebrated book, Seabiscuit, but this one sounded interesting and the reviews were great. It’s a true story (more on that in a moment) about Louis Zamperini, who grew up in Southern California, became an Olympic runner almost out of nowhere, went to World War II, was shot down and marooned on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean for over a month, and then spent years in a Japanese prison camp, enduring almost unimaginable torture. It’s very compellingly written – I was drawn into the story immediately. But after a while I started to question the veracity of some of the details. The larger facts are indisputable – Zamperini WAS an Olympian, was shot down in the Pacific, did endure brutal treatment as a POW. All of these facts are remarkable enough. But the little details pile up and begin to feel outlandish – just about everything, every moment of Zamperini’s life was apparently remarkable. It just became too much for me and affected my enjoyment of the book. It didn’t help that the middle third was pretty unpleasant to read, dealing as it did with pretty much unending suffering and degradation in the prison camp in Japan. I’m not sure how to grade this because I did find it really readable and involving in parts; I’d probably give it a C+.

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Three Weeks With Lady X by Eloisa JamesThree Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James

Also Reviewed

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silver liningsThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

I saw and really liked the movie when it came out, even though I had some reservations about the portrayal of the protagonist’s mental illness, which seemed a little superficial (weird that this is the second book in this roundup that I had that specific problem with). It’s even clearer in the book that Pat is pretty profoundly mentally ill – for one thing, he’s been in a mental hospital for four years (a detail I don’t recall being addressed in the movie), and is apparently unaware of that fact. When asked how long he thinks it’s been since he’s seen his estranged wife, he guesses a few months, when in fact he apparently hasn’t seen her in all the years he’s been away at what he calls “the bad place.” The way that Pat’s mind seems to work is strangely childlike (in addition to calling the the psychiatric hospital “the bad place” he refers to his estrangement from his wife as “apart time” and believes that it is temporary and sure to end soon). All of it adds up to a story and a romance that are kind of unsettling. Again, I felt this was all hinted at in the movie – Pat is delusional and given to bouts of rage and at times refuses to take his medication, but he’s somehow healed (at least enough for a happy ending) by love, dancing and Jennifer Lawrence. Since I kind of adore Jennifer Lawrence and like Bradley Cooper and the rest of the cast as well, it worked for me in spite of my hesitancy. It’s a lot harder to make it an HEA in the book. I still have about a 1/3 to go and I’m not sure how closely the book will follow the movie – the stories are largely the same but the emphasis is different. Different events happen at different times and we’re just now getting to the part where Tiffany makes the deal with Pat to do the dance competition. I can’t say I’m loving it but I’m keeping an open mind; if it weren’t for the fact that I’d seen the movie I think I’d be a lot more concerned about how the story might end (I mean, it might end differently from the movie but I doubt it will be horribly depressing or negative; I hope not, at least).

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