Mini-Review: Jennifer McKenzie’s TEMPTING DONOVAN FORD, Cooking For the CEO

Tempting_Donovan_FordJennifer McKenzie and the second volume of her Family Business series, Tempting Donovan Ford, is new-to-Miss-B. She’s sometimes keen to try a new author, especially in one of her favourite category lines, the meatier Super-Romance. Also on the look-out for that romance rarity, an HEA-journey set in her “home and native land,” Canada, in this case, Vancouver. McKenzie’s romance had sufficient narrative enticements to forego Miss Bates’ dislike for a chef heroine (really? another chef) and businessman hero (one-CEO-too-many in romance these days). Its tropish ways familiar and beloved, antagonists-to-lovers and opposites-attract, Jennifer McKenzie’s Tempting Donovan Ford tells the story of the eponymous hero, head of his father’s wine-bar business, and Julia Laurent, executive chef of established, if a tad dated, French resto, La Petite Bouchée. They are thrown together when Donovan’s father buys La Petite Bouchée, a surprise to Julia, to whom Jean-Paul, the previous owner, had promised to sell. La Petite Bouchée is Julia’s professional and personal grail: her mother, recently deceased, still terribly missed and mourned, was its original executive chef. Donovan’s tall-dark-handsome presence, though an immediate physical lodestar to Julia, is, nevertheless, her dream’s usurper … unless she can convince him to sell her the restaurant. Donovan was against his father’s purchase of the demodé establishment. His aim is to modernize, redesign, and re-sell. He knows Juliet’s cooking is a selling point. Their plans align: renovate the restaurant and give Julia first dibs on its purchase. Until Donovan’s father, now recovered from a recent heart attack, informs Donovan he won’t sell.  Continue reading

Theresa Romain’s SECRETS OF A SCANDALOUS HEIRESS, Or Honeysuckle and Sandalwood

Secrets_Of-A_Scandalous_HeiressIn Secrets Of A Scandalous Heiress,” the final volume in her Regency-set Matchmakers trilogy, Theresa Romain offers a romance as much about identity as finding and keeping love. Miss Bates read and loved the second in the trilogy, To Charm A Naughty Countess. The former follows the latter in theme and concern, though reading Scandalous Heiress as a stand-alone doesn’t require any previous knowledge. Romain loves to create characters who are on the fringe of a rigid and judgemental ton: they may have a whiff of scandal, or peculiarity about them. Their romance narratives see the working-out of how they accept, relish, and come to enjoy happiness despite their marginalized positions. Romain’s romances are not cross-class, but are concerned with class no less.

The eponymous scandalous, secretive heiress is Augusta Meredith. She and hero Josiah “Joss” Everett meet in Bath’s Pump Room. They share a previous, vague acquaintance and have been aware of each other as living on the fringes of the ton: Josiah, by virtue of his blood (his mother was half-Indian); Augusta, by virtue of class (her parents made oodles of money with a built-from-humble-origins cosmetics company). Their arrival in Bath comes from dissatisfaction and dilemma. Augusta recently lost her parents and was lied to and abandoned by a worthless lover. She poses as the widowed Mrs. Flowers to find a lover, hoping that an affair will assuage her grief and heart-ache. Josiah, who works as his cousin’s, Baron Sutcliffe’s, man of business is trying to uncover the baron’s blackmailer. They encounter, recognize, and agree to help each other achieve their goals. The opening chapter is filled with wit and banter, note Josiah’s consideration of Augusta’s figure, “a young woman with more curves than subtlety.” Augusta, on her part, notes Joss’ sandalwood scent, hinting of his heritage and, as she later observes, “a man of kind hands and unexpected honour.” They are attracted to each other; while class doesn’t separate them, money does. Augusta is “heiress to a cosmetics fortune” and Joss wants to scrape together a hundred pounds to leave his dissipated, immoral cousin’s employ. When she proposes that he become her lover, he refuses, citing his integrity and self-possession. He wants her, though. Continue reading

Simone St. James’ THE OTHER SIDE OF MIDNIGHT, Or The “Undiscovered Country …

Other_Side_Of_Midnightfrom whose bourn no traveler returns,” says Hamlet – except in a Simone St. James novel says Miss Bates. St. James’ latest, The Other Side of Midnight, is dedicated to Mary Stewart, one of the mothers of gothic romance. Stewart’s spirit permeates St. James’ novels. Stewart’s spirit lives in the diffident, ethical cores to her heroines, in the mysterious atmosphere, foreboding mood, impending danger, and unknown territories heroines enter. Stewart peeks through in heroes who are ominous, frightening, ambivalent, but prove caring, loving, and protective. Stewart’s influence hints in the strength to St. James’ rendering of time and place. Stewart is present in the heroine’s venture into uncharted places, her crossing into extraordinary places, meeting, conversing with, and discovering the secrets of the dead. Stewart is present in the young, coming-into-her-own voice of the first-person narrator. In Stewart and St. James, a seemingly insignificant young woman destroys the powers of evil; she is the one who brings justice to a world disjoint. The Other Side of Midnight may not be homage to Stewart in content, but St. James places herself within a beloved literary tradition. She belongs there: after four wonderfully atmospheric novels, she’s proven her mettle and Miss Bates hopes she’ll reign long. Miss B. loved St. James previous novel, Silence For the Dead. In The Other Side of Midnight, St. James offers another hybrid mystery-ghost-story-suspense-romance novel and weaves her narrative threads for our reader delectation. Continue reading

Exorcising DNFs: #3

Well, dear readers, here we are again: with Miss Bates’ accumulated DNFs. Her tolerance is low as she chases the sigh-worthy romance read. Sometimes, as evident in this latest DNF post, she ventures outre-genre; it’s much much harder to please her when her preferred narrative arc is missing. The rest, romances that didn’t work for her. She’s also tapped into a few “it-was-okay” reads lately: she’s a tad disheartened, but will persist. The next winner is around the corner … Continue reading

REVIEW: Marin Thomas’s A COWBOY OF HER OWN, Or Girl Gets to Have It All

Cowboy_of_Her_OwnMarin Thomas’s A Cowboy Of Her Own is the final volume in her Cash Brothers series and it shows. There are plenty of brothers, wives, and babies peopling the narrative, though the first half focuses near-exclusively on the hero, baby brother Porter, and heroine, Wendy Chin. Thomas is a new-to-Miss-Bates category author and she was loathe to read this romance: she’s not keen on entering a series at the end and, frankly, she’s tired of cowboys. Cowboys seem to have taken over from the military, or ex-military heroes that were de rigueur in contemporary romance. (Now that our countries are once again embroiled in various Middle East conflicts, they should reappear.) Nevertheless, there were other deviations from the norm in Thomas’s romance that proved most interesting.

Though it’s a frequently-used trope, opposites-attract is one of Miss B.’s favourites for its potential banter-conflict. In Thomas’s hero and heroine, we have a bad-boy/good-girl pairing; with a Chinese-American heroine, the appeal turned out more original than your generic white-middle-class female protagonist. Thomas manages a nice set-up in the first chapter: “He was more interested in partying and working only when he needed money to fill the gas tank or treat a buckle bunny to a night on the town. Wendy was Porter’s polar opposite. She was a go-getter and a staylater at the job” and “As an only child and a daughter, she felt the weight of her parents’ high expectations of her. The constant pressure to climb the proverbial career ladder was overwhelming.” Add a romance-unusual profession for heroine, insurance adjuster, and a hero who transports cattle from rodeo to rodeo; add a mystery plot involving disappearing valuable cattle and you have a nice combination of narrative threads. When Wendy’s boss asks her to ride-along with Porter to unmask the cattle-rustling culprit, we have, in turn, a road romance. Continue reading

REVIEW: Susanna Fraser’s FREEDOM TO LOVE, Freedom To Be Yourself

Freedom_To_LoveMiss Bates appreciates a good author’s note, especially at the end of a historical romance. A sense of where the author is coming from, her interests and motivations, and a tad about research are enlightening. One senses, Susanna Fraser, from her author’s note at the end of her latest, is thoughtful, respectful of historical mood, and details of time and place. She’s considered in her characterization, drawing her characters from historical context. Certainly, Miss Bates greatly enjoyed Fraser’s début, The Sergeant’s Lady, with its unique titled lady and ordinary soldier-hero, a nice reversal of the usual duke-and-commoner-focussed histrom.

In Freedom To Love, Fraser tackled a cross-class and mixed-race identity to her romantic couple and placed them in Louisiana at the end of the War of 1812. Though only spare to his brother’s, Charles, heir-status, Henry Farlow, officer in his majesty’s army, is still aristocratic. Part of General Pakenham’s retreating British forces at the 1815 Battle for New Orleans, wounded and disoriented, Henry wanders onto the Chalmette Plantation where he meets Thérèse Bondurant and her half-sister, Jeannette. Thérèse and Jeannette sneaked onto the plantation, now their father is dead, to find treasure he left behind for them. They must seize the jewels before the rightful plantation owners, their cousins, Bertrand and Jean-Baptiste, discover them. In addition to the treasure, they find and care for the wounded Henry. Thus, the three of them, Thérèse, free woman of mixed race, with a grandmother of African and Choctaw origins, Jeannette, the enslaved sister she wants to free, and a defeated, wounded British officer take refuge on an abandoned plantation hoping to flee before the Bondurant cousins claim the treasure and hand the delirious Henry over to American forces as a POW. Continue reading

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