Joan Kilby’s novella, Win Me, is one-third of an interesting rom-concept. Its events occur concurrently with those in Karina Bliss’s Woo Me and Sarah Mayberry’s Wait For Me. Together, the three novellas respectively recount the story of three friends attending a traditional Bachelor and Spinster Ball in the Australian outback. Ellie, Jen, and Beth forged their friendship in boarding school. They saw each other through farce and tragedy. Now, at 28, they’re in various stages of heartbreak. They congregate at Ellie’s father’s cattle farm and resolve to heal their broken, neglected hearts by romping through the bacchanalian shenanigans at the local Bachelor and Spinster Ball. These traditional “balls” are debauched and rowdy; ratafia is nowhere in sight and participants trip the light fantastic only between the flaps of a sleeping bag.
Miss Bates isn’t keen on films, or novels set in the early 1960s. She doesn’t like the bouffant dos, or sprawling skirts. For some – ahem, white males – Americans, however, it was an exciting, vibrant time and remains an unexplored setting for romance. It’s fitting that Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s collaboration, Star Dust (first in the “Fly Me To the Moon” series) is set during America’s “space race” with the Soviet Union. Uncharted territory then, and uncharted setting in romance. Barry and Turner’s Texas-set romance features Lieutenant Commander Christoper “Kit” Campbell, a blond, blue-eyed giant of an astronaut and Anne-Marie Smith, a diminutive divorcée and mother of two adorable children. They meet as bickering neighbours when Anne-Marie, Lisa, and Freddie move next door to Kit. Anne-Marie and Kit become friends over back-porch star-gazing, add benefits to friendship, fall in love, and achieve an HEA.
Miss Bates is familiar with Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series. She read the first few, And Only To Deceive, A Poisoned Season, maybe A Fatal Waltz. The Adventuress is tenth (!) in the series and Alexander’s tried-and-true formula is evident. Reminiscent of Raybourn’s Lady Julia series, Alexander’s series introduces a widowed, precocious Victorian lady-sleuth who finds love and romance and displays her sharp sleuthing skills with each novel. Miss Bates abandoned both Victorian “Ladies” because of romance dearth, despite dashing heroes. This tenth novel finds Emily at the French Riviera with beloved agent-for-the-Crown husband and sleuthing partner, Colin Hargreaves, celebrating the engagement of best friend Jeremy Sheffield, Duke of Bainbridge, to American heiress, the eponymous “adventuress,” Amity Wells. Jeremy, Emily, and Colin are part of quite a party: Amity’s crass parents; peevish, unsavory brother Augustus; Margaret and Cécile, Emily’s friends; Jack, Jeremy’s brother; Cristabel, Amity’s friend; and, Misters Neville and Fairchild, Jeremy’s bosom pals. Amidst luxury hotels stays, celebratory dinners, and site-seeing, murder mystery arrives when Mr. Neville is found, an apparent suicide, in Jeremy’s room. Emily soon suspects more nefarious reasons for Mr. Neville’s death. Was Chauncey Neville the murderer’s target, or was the poisoned whiskey meant for Jeremy? Continue reading
Named Of The Dragon is another manifestation of Susanna Kearsley’s magic, a writerly witch’s pot of goodness, a virtuoso mix of gothic romance, amateur-sleuth mystery, and historical fiction mixed with legend and chronicle. On entertainment level alone, Named Of The Dragon will please – but, oh, there is so much more to think about and enjoy. Kearsley’s novel is signature and, with Simone St. James and Deanna Raybourn, the best in this hybrid genre the Ritas identified as novels “with strong romantic elements”. Atypical of the romance genre but typical of the hybrid, Kearsley’s novel has a first person narrator. Lynnette “Lyn” Ravenshaw is a London-based literary agent accompanying one of her writers, Bridget Cooper, to Christmas hols in rural Wales. This is no “child’s Christmas in Wales,” but children figure prominently in a narrative that alternates between Lyn’s vivid, anxiety-ridden, prophetic dreams of evil in a sterile wasteland where a lady in blue and blond, blue-eyed boy call for help and the waking world of temperamental authors amid village Christmas preparations. Lyn’s own loss of her newborn son five years ago fools the reader into thinking she is mourning and her dreams an expression of unresolved grief. But when she arrives in the Welsh town of Angle, with its rich history in Tudor England and connections to Merlin and Arthur, when she meets a fey young mother, Elen, who recognizes Lyn as her baby son’s, Stevie’s, savior and protector, when she meets the brooding playwright Gareth Morgan who figures in Elen’s life, and when she settles (Bridget’s friends) chez two brothers, James and Christopher Swift, who are also mysteriously involved with Elen and Stevie, her dreams take on dangerous, waking-world proportions.
“If it had not rained on a certain May morning, Valancy Stirling’s whole life would have been different.”
Thus opens Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Blue Castle, a novel that should be as beloved to Montgomery readers as Anne of Green Gables. Its opening line encompasses what happens to a life at the crossroads of arbitrariness and opportunity, circumstance and freedom. Valancy is a 29-year-old mousy spinster, a Miss Bates without the supportive community or tolerant mother, living in her contemptuous family’s shadow and reminded daily she is her supercilious mother’s cross to bear. Valancy is simultaneously cowed, dismissed, pitied, and exploited. Continue reading
Sometimes a romance writer’s vision lies in wait. Miss Bates started reading Blythe Gifford’s Secrets At Court two years ago and, to her shame, dropped it. The heroine is clubfooted: Miss Bates was uncertain how well the author would handle her disability. The opening left her doubtful. Wendy’s TBR Challenge, however, led her back to neglected titles, buried TBR shames and uncertainties. Miss Bates doesn’t know why a novel whose opening left her cold captured her on second reading (but there’s a lesson there for us all), but it grabbed her like the hero’s firm and gentle touch on the heroine and didn’t let go until she tapped the final glorious page. As poor Guildenstern and Rosencrantz say to the mad Prince, they are neither atop Fortune, nor underfoot, but abide amidst her “private parts.” Thus with our heroine Anne of Stamford, lady-in-waiting, companion, and confidante to Joan, Countess of Kent and Prince Edward’s secret wife, and hero Sir Nicholas Lovayne, emissary and right-hand-man to both Edwards, king and prince. Our protagonists aren’t nameless servants. They attend to the highest in the land and navigate the dangerous waters of royal whims and strategems; as our hero says, ” … the privilege of royalty. To be rewarded for behaviour that would damn any other mortal.”
Miss Bates side-eyed Sarah M. Anderson’s Falling For Her Fake Fiancé: 5th in the Beaumont Heirs series … how tired can that get? She wasn’t keen on #3, A Beaumont Christmas Wedding (didn’t read #4). Miss Bates is a lover of pie, particularly humble pie, and especially when she has to eat her words. ;-) She had to read Falling For Her Fake Fiancé because alliteration and near-marriage-of-convenience, two elements irresistible to Miss B. She went in doubtful and emerged glowing with reader satisfaction. Hero Ethan Logan is CEO of Beaumont Brewery, dealing with redundancy, raising the “bottom line.” He takes sick companies and makes them well; then, on to the next corporate patient. Nothing’s working for him at Beaumont and his fixer pride smarts: employees wage a calling-in-sick campaign and production is down, thanks to their loyalty for former owners, the Beaumont clan. Enter stunner Beaumont sister, Frances, with cleavage and charm, sharp-tongued, armed with donuts. In a heartbeat, the employees are eating donuts and out of her hand. Ethan’s savvy businessman’s pragmatism, not his raging attraction to Frances, no, not that, finds him verbally sparring, lusting, and proposing a marriage-of-convenience. With this connection to the Beaumonts, employees will co-operate, Ethan does the job, and gets the hell out of Dodge, well, Denver. What’s in it for Frances? She is used to men’s adulation and attention, but her professional life, an online art gallery, went bust. At 30, she lives at home, feels like a failure, and wants her family’s place in the sun back. If not that, then, a little coy revenge would go a long way to assuage hurt pride. What she doesn’t count on? How nice Ethan is and how he makes her want things she never considered.
Janice Kay Johnson’s In Hope’s Shadow is second in the “Two Daughters” series. As its title suggests, the second is a “shadow” of the first. Yesterday’s Gone is dramatically visceral: after twenty-some years, a family recovers Hope, their abducted biological daughter, with the help of Seth Chandler, a dedicated police detective. In Hope’s Shadow tells of the romance between Eve Lawson, the family’s adopted daughter, and Ben Kemper, the detective’s partner. Yesterday’s Gone is as a stone thrown in clear water to Hope’s Shadow, its rippling effects bearing on the secondary characters’ lives. Those who merely witnessed the events of the first story are the focus of the second. Eve’s, the adopted daughter’s, insecurities come to the foreground and colour her relationships with Hope, her “new” sister, parents, and evolving relationship with hero Ben. In Hope’s Shadow is a romance novel about the emotional aftermath of a seismic event in the characters’ lives. Eve, her family, Hope and her now-fiancé, Seth, are still adjusting their lives to each others, trying to find an equilibrium in the family dynamic. Ben too is adjusting to new life circumstances. He still smarts from his divorce from Nicole, his high school sweetheart and love of his life, and new role as an every-second-weekend single dad to Rachel, his six-year-old daughter.
Miss Bates starts her fourth reviewing year (woo hoo!) with a new-to-her author, Sonali Dev, and the second novel in her “Bollywood” series, The Bollywood Bride. Ria Parkar is the eponymous bride, a Bollywood star with a past to hide and secrets to protect. When the novel opens, Ria struggles with painful memories of a childhood gone awry because of her mother’s mental illness and father’s grief. She struggles with the memory of betraying and abandoning Vikram Jathar, the great love of her life. She struggles with the sexual exploitation she endured to “make it” in Bollywood. Ria is a tormented figure; she’s on edge, unraveling, losing control. When a paparazzo takes a picture of her attempting suicide (she didn’t, she was reaching for a dropped cell phone), she flees to Nikhil’s, her cousin’s, Chicago wedding to avoid the publicity. As we soon learn, Ria doesn’t care what India’s papers say about her; her fears are deeper and more personal. In Chicago, amidst elaborate Indian-wedding traditions (the Bride‘s fun part), she encounters the young love she cast aside. Vikram is bigger, meaner, and angrier (at her) than his loving, optimistic twenty-one year old self ever suggested he’d be and it’s Ria’s fault. Keeping a cool distance, though as vulnerable to him as she was ten years ago at eighteen, Ria wants to ensure she won’t hurt “Viky” as she did then. Continue reading
Welcome to 2016, dear readers, and another year of romance reviewing and book discussion chez Miss Bates Reads Romance! Thank you for reading and commenting. Miss B. takes this opportunity to wish you and your families happiness, robust health, serenity, and love in the coming year.
Miss Bates offers her best of 2015 to you, her readers. This year, she’s taken a slightly different tack. Oh yes, she still names her favourite reads and links to reviews (if you’d like to read a lengthier treatment). But her round-up comment is her response to the writing and what brought her to the work: if the author’s new-to-Miss-Bates, what spark will she look forward to; if an old favourite, what keeps her reading. Continue reading