REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s A CURIOUS BEGINNING, Or Curmudgeon Meets His Match

Curious_BeginningAs Miss Bates discussed elsewhere, she was a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries. She enjoyed Lady J.’s cool, independent demeanor and was in love with Nicholas Brisbane, Julia’s sometime-partner, occasional-antagonist, at-long-last husband, enigma-in-an-alpha-hero. Her quibble remains: long on long-winded mystery, short on romance. And then … this … Raybourn’s new historical mystery series, with a delightful dose of romance, the début Veronica Speedwell mystery, A Curious BeginningSet in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, Raybourn’s murder mystery leaves behind the distancing characterization of Lady Julia and Brisbane to revel in an endearing heroine and hero, poignant back stories, humour and, dare Miss Bates say it, sentiment.

Miss Veronica Speedwell, 25, buries her Aunt Nell Harbottle in Little Byfield, England. Veronica is irrepressible and intrepid: a world-adventuring lepidopterist, sexually uninhibited, no-nonsense, and fiercely independent. She is nonplussed when Aunt Nell’s Wren Cottage is ransacked and finds herself in the protective hands of the kindly, mysterious Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach.The Baron travels with her to London and leaves her in the protective custody of his friend Stoker, a taxidermist with a workshop on London’s docks, whose robust musculature, piratical eye-patch, blue eyes, and wild Beethovenian black hair stir Veronica’s womanly desires. But Veronica lives by the rule never to take an English lover. Once Stoker growls and snarls, only a tad friendlier than Huxley, his bull dog, sparks fly and, to Raybourn’s credit, flicker, sparkle, and burn bright, depending on the poignancy, or comedy of Veronica and Stoker’s scenes. Continue reading


Ransom_CanyonMiss Bates loves pie, apple, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, but nothing beats humble pie. She happily munches on it after sneering, snarling, and dramatically slapping her forehead with “What was I thinking?” reading Jodi Thomas’s Ransom Canyon – it’s women’s fiction. More fool Miss Bates because Thomas’s novel has as much going for it as it does going on. 

Ransom Canyon is braided with three narrative strands: the romance between dour, tragic Staten Kirkland, rancher, and Quinn O’Grady, lavender farmer, reclusive pianist, and his dead wife’s best friend; the burgeoning feelings between Lucas Reyes, ambitious teen-ager and hand at Staten’s ranch, and Lauren Brigman, dreamy girl and sheriff’s daughter; and, Yancy Grey, ex-con and handyman to the adorable old coots, all former teachers, at the local retirement home. Add the blue-cape-swirling, curvaceous, sharp-tongued Miss Ellie, nurse-in-training, and frequent visitor to the retirement home and Yancy Grey, at 25, newly released from the big house, has himself a serious case of desire. Ransom Canyon is set in Texas ranching country, in the allegorically-named town of Crossroads, not far from Lubbock. Thomas weaves the three story-lines beautifully, offering redemption, renewal, and love to the broken and troubled – and leaving pending romance threads in the stories of the young ones, Yancy and Ellie, Lucas and Lauren. Continue reading


Heat_ExchangeMiss Bates  spent many a happy childhood summer in Boston, visiting family, a few days at the Cape now and then. Shannon Stacey’s new romance series, Boston Fire, of which Heat Exchange is the first, was irresistible, thanks to its Bostonian setting. Like most rom of this ilk and length, however, setting didn’t figure prominently, but there was a definite Bostonian working-class urban feel. Stacey specializes in the family saga romance without ever losing sight of the rom. This series is signature Stacey: a large clan, the Kincaids, with a retired firefighter dad, and firefighter baby brother to two older sisters, one of whom, Ashley, is married to a firefighter, and another, Lydia, divorced a firefighter. The men of the family are several-generation firefighters and the ethos makes for the background and conflict to the romance.

Ashley and husband Danny are estranged: Danny’s the strong, silent type and Ashley’s tired of his close-mouthed love. She wants him to communicate, dammit. With good reason, Danny can’t; Ashley kicks him out and calls sister Lydia to help out by taking over her bar-tending duties at dad’s, Tommy Kincaid’s, pub. After a cheating heartbreaking break-up and divorce, Lydia moved to New Hampshire to work in an upscale restaurant and leave behind the firefighting scene and long-suffering women who care for and agonize over the men who fight fires. But when Ashley calls, sobbing and distraught, family bonds are stronger than any desire to start anew. To Boston Lydia returns, to everything that hurt her, and runs smack up against her brother’s best friend, Aidan Hunt. Continue reading

Opening-Line Mini-Review: Charlotte Lamb’s LOVE IS A FRENZY

Love_Is_FrenzyIf you scroll down this page, you’ll see that Miss Bates took part in a “Quote Challenge,” thanks to Willaful’s Three-Day Quote Challenge. Miss Bates opted to write mini-reviews based on her impressions of a romance novel’s opening line. If you follow Miss Bates on Twitter, you’ll also know she indulges in spinsterish bubble-bath romance reading every night (you can follow her musings under the hashtag #bathtubromreading). She loved the quote format and opportunity to be succinct (not too often, mind you) ;-) . Hashtag and quote review married and are ready to have babies. Thus, she’ll occasionally abandon herself to an opening-line mini-review of her bathtubromread. Her latest was Charlotte Lamb’s 1979 Love Is A Frenzy. Like most great romance novels, its opening line is simple and sublime:

She recognized him at once.

Beautiful. And mysterious. Who is she? What previous knowledge does she have of him allowing her to recognize him “at once”? And how clever of Lamb to use personal pronouns instead of the heroine and hero’s first name? Adding to the mystique. Working the reader’s curiosity, drawing her in without being coy, silly, or manipulative. Continue reading


Falling_For_SheriffTanya Michaels is a new-to-Miss-Bates author, with titles in the TBR, including A Mother’s Homecoming, an interesting riff on romance’s “bad mom” as heroine. Falling For the Sheriff is first in Michaels’ small-town-USA series, Cupid’s Bow, Texas. Miss Bates had her trepidations with a cutesy town-name like that, screaming love-cupid-arrow, all the obvious. But Michaels’ novel proved to be more than cutesy, with its lower-middle-class protagonists, whose lives as single parents, though comfortable, require cheque-book balancing and caution spending. Kate Sullivan, widowed elementary school piano teacher, and Cole Trent, town sheriff, are parenting a thirteen-year-old son, Luke, and five-year-old twin girls, Alyssa and Mandy, respectively.

Kate’s widowhood is two years old and Luke, sadly, is acting out at school out of grief and loss. Leaving Houston and returning to her paternal grandmother’s farm in Cupid’s Bow seems like the best Kate can do for Luke and her harried self. Kate arrives knowing she’ll find warmth, support, and a loving home with her beloved “Gram.” “Gram” throws Kate a big ole party and invites, with the conspiring of her friend Gayle, Cole’s mother, Cole and his twin cutie-pies. Kate and Cole share instant attraction, mitigated by single-parent status and protectiveness towards their children, as well as Kate’s yet sore heart over Damon’s, her husband’s, loss, a policemen killed in the line of duty. Cole’s law enforcement career serves as another deterrent to Kate, who quails at the idea of ever being with another cop. But Kate and Cole, other than sharing an attraction, strike a friendship, share similar dilemmas and questions as single parents, and unite in avoiding their families’ matchmaking efforts. They strike a bargain to feign an interest in each other to evade their families’ machinations. Except a joint-family trip to the pool and a few dates and Kate and Cole’s attraction and growing affection see them consider, approach, and finally admit a relationship. Continue reading


Frontier_EngagementRegina Scott is a new-to-Miss-B author. Miss B’s relentless pursuit of good inspie fiction is running down like an wound-up toy. Scott’s Frontier Engagement is inspie-light (some heartfelt praying and one lovely forest-set singing of “Amazing Grace”), but not inspired to offer anything new or original in the subgenre. If you’re looking no further than the pleasantness that the subgenre has on offer with none of the offense that it occasionally exhibits, Scott’s 1866-Washington-frontier romance will be for you. Logger James Wallin travels to Seattle to bring a school teacher to Wallin Landing, his family’s fledgling town, and finds Alexandrina Eugenia Fosgrave, newly arrived with the Mercer expedition. Like all good inspie heroines, she’s suspicious and mistrustful, but James’ charm and persistence pay off: “So, like it or not, that schoolmarm had an engagement with the frontier.” James convinces Alexandrina, re-christening her with the diminutive “Rina,” as they set off for Wallin Landing, where Rina hopes to “make something good out of the tatters of her life, where she could make a difference.” Readers soon realize that James’ charm and humour, as well as Rina’s regal bearing, conceal psychic wounds. But Rina is barely established in Wallin Landing when the challenges of teaching leave her tear-eyed and on her way to an easier teaching post. To ensure her safety and, frankly, because he’s sweet on her, James accompanies her in the guise of her fiancé and the narrative makes an about-face, becoming an inspie road romance. The “road” provides much fodder for both humorous and dangerous incidents, as well as James and Rina opportunity to know each other better and grow closer in love and friendship. Continue reading

Three-Day Quote Challenge: Day Three

Miss Bates is going to miss this quote challenge, so much she might keep doing the occasional opening line review. And for this, she has to thank Willaful who nominated her!

Cinderella_DealTonight Miss Bates indulges in rom-reader nostalgia. A chance purchase at the local Costco, Julie Garwood’s 2007 Shadow Music, and Miss Bates was thrown down a vista of years, over thirty, to her early adolescence reading of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower. She’s never looked back. She scoured AAR lists for rom titles. One of the first she read after Garwood was Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, consumed, an apt metaphor, in one long languorous summer afternoon into early evening. It sent her to Crusie’s back-list; though Bet Me and Welcome to Temptation remain among Miss Bates’ favourite cerebral contemporary romances, it’s an early Crusie that serves as sentimental favourite. Miss Bates uses the term “sentimental” in the best way possible, as a book replete with sentiment, open and unabashed in celebrating the heart, wallowing in emotion. As Crusie herself wrote in the preface to a new edition, ” … if there was one thing I’d learned in my creative writing classes it was to avoid melodrama, to never be sentimental, to go for irony and detachment whenever possible, because otherwise I’d get killed in the critiques. But I think I knew all along I was wimping out, that if I’d had any backbone, I’d have gone first for the hearts of my readers, so I decided that for my first book for Bantam, I’d try something new, something different. Hearts would be touched, tears would be shed. By God, I was going to be emotional.” That book was The Cinderella Deal and its opening line is as good as any Crusie wrote: 

The storm raged dark outside, the light in the hallway flickered, and Lincoln Blaise cast a broad shadow over the mailboxes, but it didn’t matter.

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Three-Day Quote Challenge: Day Two

With a nod of thanks for Willaful who nominated Miss Bates for this challenge. Miss B’s having a blast!

The category romance is the humblest and most succinct manifestation of the romance narrative: the encounter, the attraction/detraction, the separation and dark night of the couple soul, and the grovel and HEA. Category romance distills the romance narrative to its essentials: two people working out, in their relationship, a beloved romance trope. Take, for example, the wondrous Molly O’Keefe contemporary category, His Wife For One Night, a contemporary marriage-of-convenience, so difficult to pull off. And yet, O’Keefe convinces, moves, and engages her reader in Jack and Mia’s story. 

Promoted_To_Wife_&_MotherMarriage of convenience is a beloved trope for Miss B.: it satisfies her old-fashioned sensibilities for sex within the sanctity of marriage and makes for courtship-within-marriage an interesting narrative twist. And yet, her favourite category romance is built on a hated trope: the office romance. Yuck. Boards and profit margins and pencil skirts just ain’t her thing. Besides, everything that could possibly go wrong with the trope is inherent in it, like power differentials, usually to the detriment of the heroine. But here she is LOVING today’s opening line romance, Jessica Hart’s execrably titled, Promoted to Wife and Mother:

Perdita drummed her fingers on the sleeves of her jacket and tried not to look as if she were sulking.

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Three-Day Quote Challenge: Day One

Willaful from A Willful Woman nominated Miss Bates for this challenge and Miss Bates sends her heartfelt thanks. The idea is to post favourite quotations over three days and nominate three more bloggers to the challenge. Miss Bates is going to take her cue from LizMc2 from Something More and echo that she’s not sure she knows nine bloggers either.

Notorious_RakeMiss Bates will use the three-day quote challenge to write about, what else, her favourite genre, romance! And one of her literary obsessions, the opening line to a novel, especially a romance novel. Opening lines can make or break a novel for Miss Bates. The author has to grab her from the start. She’s giving a nod to the opening lines of some of her favourite romances. The first is from a much beloved romance author, Mary Balogh and her Notorious Rake:

The thunderstorm was entirely to blame.

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REVIEW: Liz Talley’s SWEET SOUTHERN NIGHTS, Or When the Heart Plays “Patty-Cake”

Sweet_Southern_NightsFinding a new auto-read author is great comfort because Miss Bates knows that even if this romance isn’t her best romance, it’ll still be pretty darn good. The reader’s stakes are low; the central couple’s, high. Which is how Miss Bates likes’em. The first romance she read in Talley’s Magnolia Bend, Louisiana, series, Sweet Talking Man, made its way into her heart, head, and running list of 2015 Best Of (to come soon; how time has flown, dear readers). A favourite author’s romance isn’t read because the romance will be good, that’s a given, but to, once again, re-experience the author’s sensibility and world view. In Liz Talley we have an earthier, funnier Janice Kay Johnson. JKJ is one of MissB’s faves, a little more gravitas, a little grimmer, but equally perceptive about the psychology of families, small towns, nuanced child characters (no adorable plot moppets to be found) and love’s challenging transformations. Moreover, Talley does something that Miss Bates looks and hopes for in contemporary romance (maybe there’s a touch in JKJ too, on occasion): a nod to the role religion plays in ordinary people’s daily lives, without the inspirational proselytizing and priggish attitudes to sex and the occasional beer. Bring it on and bring more of it, please! Liz Talley’s third Magnolia Bend romance novel and without the blandness that comes with sweet, or “heartwarming” romance.  Sweet Southern Nights, is the friends-to-lovers tale of two firefighting best friends: Eva Monroe, the former new girl in town who’s found a place to belong, and hometown bad boy, Jake Beauchamp, “hardworking firefighter, hard-playing Romeo.” Continue reading