MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’ SHEIKH’S DESERT DUTY

Sheikh_Desert_DutyIn E. M. Hull’s horrific Sheikh, Ahmed kidnaps, rapes, and imprisons Lady Diana to avenge his mother’s abuse at his English father’s hands. Thank you, Wikipedia, Miss Bates didn’t have to read it to learn this. Maisey’s Yates’ Sheikh’s Desert Duty winks at Hull’s premise. Though the resemblance ends there, it is still a clever nod to one of the most controversial of the romance’s genre’s predecessors.

Yates’ Sheikh’s Desert Duty, part of the elaborate, convoluted and to Miss B uninteresting Chatsfield series, opens with Sheikh Zayn Al-Ahmar of the desert kingdom of Surhaadi and James Chatsfield. James is the nasty who has dishonoured Zayn’s sister, Leila, by abandoning her pregnant. When Zayn calls James out for his actions, James responds, ” ‘You’re positively biblical, Al-Ahmar.’ ” Zayn is all about the old-fashioned virtue of protecting his family and country. When Zayn leaves London’s Chatsfield Hotel, he discovers Sophie Parsons lurking among the garbage cans. Sophie, in turn, is there to help out a friend, Isabelle Harrington, whose family hotel business is threatened by Spenser Chatsfield. As a reporter, Sophie hopes to find some delicious Chatsfield scoop to use in aid of her loyal, loving friend. What she finds instead is a tall, dark, handsome stranger, who assumes she’s going to snoop around long enough to expose his sister’s dilemma. To protect his sister’s and country’s reputations, Zayn kidnaps Sophie. Sounds awful? In premise, yes, but Yates is a clever and tongue-in-cheek writer when she’s at her best. Evidence: James’ cool, sly “biblical” retort to Zayn’s sombre, serious need to protect his family. Zayn: the desert patriarch, the tribal leader under whose wings everyone is succoured.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Kathleen Eagle’s NEVER TRUST A COWBOY, Wherein Miss B. Is Peevish

Never_Trust_CowboyWhen Miss Bates re-started reading romance eight years ago, she combed AAR’s reviews for titles. One of those was Kathleen Eagle’s nearly-DIK-status The Last Good Man, a romance novel about a heroine living in the after-math of breast cancer treatment and a torch-carrying hero. The details about the heroine’s illness were raw and realistic and Miss Bates thought the novel honest and worthy. The romance wasn’t half as interesting, the least memorable aspect of the book. When an Eagle category became available, Miss Bates wanted to give Eagle another try to cement what she thought of her writing and the stories she tells.

In the South-Dakota-set Never Trust A Cowboy, Eagle tells the story of a signature Lakota Sioux hero, Delano Fox, and heroine, Lila Flynn, who shares a cattle ranch with her father, Frank, stepmother, and stepbrother. Her stepbrother, Brad, meets cow-hand Delano at the local watering-hole and hires him. But Delano is not an itinerant cowboy: he actually works a mysterious, Miss Bates would say vague, law enforcement job catching cattle rustlers. Brad, it appears, is running such an operation out of his step-father’s ranch. While Delano investigates the rustling, he gets to know Frank’s daughter, Lila. Lila lives by herself in the house her grandmother left her and has little to do with her father’s new family. She runs a daycare centre out of her barn, as well as what appears to be a lending library. The chemistry between Del and Lila is immediate and potent. But what of Delano’s secret mission? And why does Lila isolate herself on the ranch? Why is she withdrawn and sad? Nevertheless, the attraction between them, peppered with banter, burns strong. Continue reading

WENDY’S TBR CHALLENGE REVIEW BOOK: Series Catch-Up With Karina Bliss’s A PRIOR ENGAGEMENT

Prior_EngagementReading Karina Bliss’s A Prior Engagement was a long time coming for Miss Bates. She’s hoarded this romance novel since it came out in 2013. She read and loved the three previous titles in the Special Forces series, Here Comes the GroomStand-In Wife, and Bring Him Home. They’re about soldiers returning home from war in Afghanistan, after a horrific roadside attack, and the loved ones who waited for them. With this being the fourth title, and sensing that Bliss is thoughtful but not prolific, Miss Bates indulged in a title-hoard … you know, those romances you allow to linger in the Tottering TBR because “some day” you might have a bitch-day at work, or a fight with the BFF/partner, and YOU’LL NEED IT. Heck, Bliss’s romance novel, sublime as it is, has plenty of cringe-worthy scenes, they’re just not your cringe-worthy scenes and that makes the wait all the more worthwhile. Bliss’s New Zealand-set series is one of the best romance treatments of the effects of our recent wars that Miss Bates has read. As a Canadian, the news of Afghani roadside attacks were sadly familiar. Bliss’s series, however, describes what happens to the survivors, the soldiers, yes, but the family, friends, and lovers as well. Or, as Leonard Cohen sings in “Democracy,” “for the grace of God in the desert here and the desert far away.” Continue reading

Of Twitter and Other Things: “How Old Were You When You Read Your First Romance? Name It, Please!”

Yesterday, in a Twitter conversation about the romance community and its actual, or perceived insularity – one thing led to another, as they are wont to do on Twitter – and Miss Bates ended up posing the question: “How old were you when you read your first romance? Name it, please. She really likes lists.” Miss Bates is grateful to all respondents who shared memories of that one book, or author that/who sparked their love of the genre. What was interesting to Miss Bates wasn’t solely the titles and authors, the ages more so, the stories around them and the effect, impressions, and responses the romances elicited in their readers. These books, in the life of the reader, were threshold books, no matter how humble the category romance now dead to all except the squeal of the find at a church bazaar, books that led and guided romance readers to the genre.

What emerged, from what is only anecdotal evidence, is that these spirit-guide books are sometimes Poohs to our Christopher Robin. Many romance readers/tweeters read their first romance, though by no means all, at twelve, or thirteen, that important moment in a girl’s life when she’s tasted a bit of independence. Her body is strong; her mind, acute. But changes are on the horizon: she’s a filly nosing the spring air: something is coming, something new. A burgeoning sexual self, a budding and newer awareness of her identify. The blessings of being a reader (please read to your kids, parents, please take them to libraries and bookstores and let them explore and choose books) is that we can rehearse and muse and consider so many lives between the pages of a book.

Miss Bates cannot speak for her fellow-tweeps: why that book? What did she get out of it? We most surely bring so many things to our reading of a narrative. Miss Bates speculates that sexual curiosity may have led us to the romance novel. But it’s not the sole reason we read romance: the need to redefine how we negotiate relationships, relationships+: not family, not friendship, but the seeds of what we’d later understand as “cleaving,” to use an old-fashioned term, the physical and emotional attachment to The Other, daunting, exciting, and necessary.

For her part, Miss Bates was twelve, or thirteen. She remembers she was heavily involved and invested in the school musical, Baum’s The Wizard of Oz. She had a behind-the-scenes role as assistant director. It was thrilling to be a part of. But changes were on the horizon: she was leaving her inner-city neighbourhood and school, rich with cultural diversity and history, and moving to a new school and neighbourhood, something more staid and suburbaney. She recalls making production posters, setting up cues, pounding away at the stage set, and rehearsing actors and singers, all the while keeping her copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower in her locker and sneaking a few pages during her lunch hour. What happened when Miss Bates posed this question about when and which romance on Twitter? To follow, her list of wonderful women and their younger selves and ur-romances (links to things are provided where Miss B. can). If you were part of the Twitter convo and Miss Bates inadvertently left you off the list, please let her know in the comments, or tweet her! Continue reading

REVIEW: Sophia James’s MARRIAGE MADE IN MONEY, And Convenience Questioned

Marriage_Made_In_MoneyMiss Bates is grateful NOT to be adding Sophia James’s Marriage Made In Money to a DNF post. She was sooo glad to find a romance novel that at least kept her attention to the HEA. James’s alliteratively-titled Marriage Made In Money echoes Mary Balogh’s A Christmas Promise and Rose Lerner’s In For A Penny, favourites of Miss Bates’s. (If you haven’t read them, do it now!) Marriage-of-convenience on the basis of one of the two characters’ need for money, usually the impoverished lord, is often a difficult trope-variation for Miss Bates to stomach. It takes subtle skill to convince a reader that the marriage-deal’s mercenary nature can turn to love and devotion; after all, one of the two protagonists is morally compromised from the get-go. Balogh’s and Lerner’s romances convince. James’s tried. Amethyst Amelia Cameron, 26, and widowed, her former marriage a  sham of abuse and trauma, agrees to marry Daniel Wylde, 6th Earl of Montcliffe and Napoleonic war veteran, to make her tradesman-father, gravely ill, happy. Lord Daniel agrees to marry Amethyst to save his crumbling, debt-ridden estates, brought to this low point by his gambling brother, Nigel, whose untimely death also left him a peevish, spendthrift mother and two unmarried sisters. (Just once, Miss Bates would like to read a romance that reverses that convention … but then mercenary women are not half as attractive as men, right?) The novel follows Amethyst and Daniel as they interact, attract each other, misunderstand each other, and stumble their way to an HEA. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Fiona Harper’s MAKE MY WISH COME TRUE, Or THE HOLIDAY Meets SHIRLEY VALENTINE

Make_My-Wish_Come_TrueMiss Bates isn’t sure what’s happened to her ARC-TBR lately, but there’s a strange conglomeration of slightly-off-romance narratives, like Reay’s Lizzy and Jane, or a recent cozy mystery that failed and will appear in an “exorcising dnfs” post soon. Fiona Harper’s Make My Wish Come True follows in the same vein and is more women’s fiction (one cut above chick-lit in Miss Bates’ no-no universe) than romance. The primary relationship account in Harper’s novel is the working out of a sibling relationship and the romances, one per sister, are secondary. Nevertheless, having enjoyed Harper’s 2012 Snowbound In the Earl’s Castle, with its aristocrat hero and stained-glass restorer heroine, Miss Bates was willing to tolerate yet another sisters-working-out-an-acrimonious-relationship narrative (and so soon after Reay’s similar themed). Make My Wish Come True added delight with some greatly humorous moments, third-person narration, and significantly less ponderous content. It also helped make the women’s-fiction medicine go down when Harper’s novel echoed two of Miss Bates’ sentimental film favourites, The Holiday (as a matter of fact, younger sister, Gemma, watches this in one scene) and more brilliant fare, Shirley Valentine. (Miss Bates wishes she’d noted this Christmas-set novel; she’d have made it one of her November-to-December Christmas-themed review-posts.) Continue reading

Exorcising DNFs: #2

Writing her first DNF round-up post was cathartic for Miss Bates. She didn’t exactly enjoy discarding some TBR titles. But she didn’t want to “dismiss” them either. She just didn’t think she’d be back with another so soon. Articulating why a book left her cold, as she wrote in her previous DNF post, is as revealing, hopefully, and interesting, as why it did. Here are some more romance novels that didn’t work for Miss Bates and reasons why not. Every time Miss Bates writes one of these posts (and they are sorta fun to write), she feels like she should break out into an Adele song, setting fire to rain … Continue reading

REVIEW: Leah Ashton’s NINE-MONTH COUNTDOWN

Nine_Month_CountdownMiss Bates is a conservative romance reader, as she is in food choices and ownership of sweater sets, below-the-knee skirts, and Edwardian-style shoes. She’s wary and mistrustful of new-to-her authors; reading a tried and true author, one whose sensibility is in keeping with Miss B’s preference for themes of fidelity, commitment, decency, and a minimum of love scenes, is reassuring. It sits well, goes down easy. There’s a streak of break-out rebellion in Miss B, however, and sometimes, from the comfort of her easy chair, she takes the plunge into a new-to-her romance author. With category romance, the commitment, at least of time, is easier. Because, like all of you, Miss Bates likes to get that lift from discovering a gem. Reading Leah Ashton’s Nine-Month Countdown was such an experience for Miss B. Ashton’s Kiss-line category has a few flaws, but it led Miss B. to that wonderful discovery: a romance writer about whom she can say, “I like how your mind works. I want to follow you to see how you’ll surprise, delight, even disappoint me next.” More than anything, it’s how Ashton plays with some contemporary romance conventions that delighted Miss Bates: the unplanned pregnancy, returning soldier, helpless, “caught” heroine and still retain the “fidelity, commitment, decency, and, though hot, minimum in-keeping-with-the-development-of-the-relationship love scenes.” Continue reading

REVIEW: Donna Alward’s TREASURE ON LILAC LANE, Or Letting Your Light Shine

Treasure_On-Lilac_LaneIn her most recent Donna Alward review, Miss Bates declared Alward the “queen of domestic romance” in reference to her category novels. The first novel in her Jewell Cove series, The House On Blackberry Hill, written under a different publisher, introduced new elements to Alward’s winning category themes: a certain mysticism, a woo-woo-ness and preciousness that didn’t sit thoroughly well. Miss Bates is an Alward fan (from the moment she closed the final, sopping-Kleenex page of The Cowboy Who Loved Her, one of Miss Bates’ favourite category romances and one she’s often suggested to successfully turn readers onto the genre); she was ready to like Blackberry Hill. Treasure On Lilac Lane, however, turned out even better. Alward tempered the woo-woo with a gentle inspirational element, whisper-thin but moving nonetheless, cranked up the fleshiness, and re-introduced her signature working-class, or lower-middle-class hero and heroine, battered by life, struggling to find their way and waylaid by attraction, desire, and love. Continue reading

REVIEW: Katherine Reay’s LIZZY AND JANE, Of Sustenance and Austen

Lizzy_JaneWith a book about food, love, and family, Miss Bates launches her review by eating humble pie. “Never say never” should be Miss B’s mantra regarding romance reading. Katherine Reay’s Lizzy and Jane is mild romance; it’s … GASP … women’s fiction, a fictive genre Miss Bates purports to abhor. Indeed, there’s been scorn-heaping. It’s the type of fiction she’s most likely to DNF. She finds it precious and precious becomes boring and boring becomes the worst kind of sentimental. Reay’s novel skirts close to DNF territory: estranged sisters (sibling relationships have never interested Miss B.), acrimony remaining from their mother’s illness, CANCER, one of the two sisters ill with CANCER herself, confronting the past, each other, and salvaging, or sundering, relationships. It focuses on younger sister, Elizabeth, “Lizzy,” Hughes, 33, moving back to the Pacific Northwest (from New York City where her chef’s career was floundering) to come to terms with people she left behind: retired firefighter dad and especially older sister, Jane. Her journey tries to answer: what is home? What do we owe the people closest to us, particularly those with whom we share strained relations? What is family? From where do we derive meaning and purpose? How do we find God amidst acrimony and failure?

It is the start of the Lenten season for Miss Bates, a season of re-evaluation and reflection, and Reay’s novel was a perfect fit. While suffering from the failure of inspirational fiction to make a tangible, ritualistic participation in church life as essential to defining ourselves as Christians, Reay’s novel nevertheless took a eucharistic perspective through Lizzy’s creative food acts. And her spirit guide, and that of others as well, like her sister, Jane, was Jane Austen. Like food, which serves as healer and binder, literature stands in as such as well. Continue reading