Recently, in a comment regarding Rose Lerner’s A Lily Among Thorns, an MBRR reader requested Miss B’s favourite historical romances. Lists of favourites, like canons, ought to be fluid. Miss Bates doesn’t over-think a list. These titles sprang to mind, followed by the “impressionistic” detritus of the reading experience, as wispy as memory. (Except for confirming a few names, Miss Bates did not reread any title in part, or whole.) If you ask her next week, the list’ll likely be different. Continue reading
In this past winter’s darkest days, when snow hissed against Miss B’s window and she settled, with a cup of cocoa, into her bathtub-reading ritual, one of the books she read was Rose Lerner’s Regency romance, In For a Penny. She loved that it was a hybrid of cross-class and marriage-of-convenience romance tropes. She loved that heroine Penny (hence, the play on her name in the title) was as capable as she was vulnerable. She loved that the self-centred and inept hero Nev evolved into a good man. She loved that his decency was incipient from the start. When Nev’s youthful, dissipated shenanigans are interrupted by his father’s death, he throws himself into taking care of his family and rescuing the family fortune from his father’s profligacy. To do so, he marries (another play on her mercantile name) wealthy, middle-class Penny, though cultured and better educated than he. In the course of their working together to save the near-ruined family estate and falling in love, Nev acknowledges that he may be titled, but he’s not worthy of Penny. That she loves him and is beautiful in every way? Well, he is blessed. The reader knows that Nev’ll honour and love her till death do them part. If you, dear reader, haven’t read In For A Penny, it’s worth every moment spent in cooling bath water with pruny digits.
Lerner’s second novel, A Lily Among Thorns, originally published in 2011, has been re-issued, as has In For A Penny, by Samhain. Its opening scene echoes In For A Penny‘s drunk Nev and drunk friends out on the town. Miss Bates assumed she was in for more of the same. A young man, Solomon Hathaway, is celebrating his 21st birthday by getting drunk and, with some wild friends, visiting a brothel. Once there, he is struck by a beautiful and tragic prostitute. Without availing himself of her charms and to his own detriment, he gives her the one hundred and twenty-five pounds that was his birthday gift and what he had to live on at Cambridge. But the scene is different from In For A Penny, as are the characters. Solomon’s goodness and generosity are immediately evident. Our aristocratic prostitute-heroine, Serena, is beautiful and alone. They glimpse each other, but there is no marriage-of-convenience to unite them. Instead, six years elapse. Serena is a different woman when Solomon approaches her for help finding a pair of ruby earrings, a precious family heirloom without which his sister, Deborah, to his parents’ and her fiancé’s consternation, will not be married.
While In For A Penny was as perfect a romance novel as the genre produces, A Lily Among Thorns is worth reading, but flawed, a novel better in its parts than its whole. Some parts were marvelous, though. It took Miss Bates a long long time to immerse herself in it, without growing frustrated, or restless. In the last quarter, she fell in love with it. Lerner is a writer with and of ideas. She worked hard to avoid repeating herself in her second novel. She tried out new things: a different kind of hero and heroine, a broader canvas, with a London setting and tale of intrigue in the year of Napoleon’s final defeat. For these reasons alone, Miss Bates was glad to have read A Lily Among Thorns because these are things that make a romance writer’s development interesting to follow, as much into her not-so-successful efforts as her successful ones. Continue reading
Miss Bates loves trees and lives in a country with plenty! She writes and reads and ponders in company with the maple tree in her front yard and records time’s passage by its changing leaves. This is one reason she enjoyed Inez Kelley’s “Country Roads” series. Kelley has set her three romances in West Virginia’s forest and the intricacies of a traditional logging industry (something else Kelley’s setting shares with Miss B’s country) making its way in the modern world, walking a fine line between profit and conservation. Moreover, Miss Bates enjoyed the romances: they’re sexy, heroines don’t take gaff from the heroes, and the heroes are manly-men who concede. Of the three, Take Me Home, The Place I Belong, and Should’ve Been Home Yesterday, Take Me Home edges out as her favourite. The first and third in the series were un-put-downable: the prose is smooth; the setting, beautiful; the heroine and hero, lovingly conflicted. Should’ve Been Home Yesterday had the added advantage of being a convincing contemporary marriage-of-convenience narrative, one of Miss Bates’ favourite romance tropes. Furthermore, it was a second-chance-at-love story, a wonderful combination of flashback, forward action, and two people meant to be together if they would only be honest with each other. At least there are reasons in their past that make the close-mouthed agony understandable. Despite the wonderfulness, Should’ve Been Home Yesterday suffered from the same problems, to a lesser degree, that Miss Bates found in The Place I Belong. Continue reading
RAINN stands for Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network and the short story anthology, Summer Rain, conceived and organized by Audra North (wow, what a labour of love!) and edited by Sarah Frantz, was created to raise money for it. It was an act of generosity and care on the contributors’ and editor’s parts. Moreover, there are some darn good stories here: the romance reader enjoys some wonderful short stories, while contributing to a worthy organization. Win-win! The stories are an interesting variety of contemporary romance modes. Some are quite explicit while others are sweet. All are solid; some stand out as Miss Bates’ favourites.
In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Portia says, “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven … ” There is no better phrase to describe these stories and, indeed, when the romance genre succeeds in moving us. In a broken world, romance fills tiny rifts that appear in the daily grind. This humble and heartfelt anthology is, like the best of the romance genre, sprinkling a little mercy over terrible events. Many characters in these stories are in need of healing and mercy: a reaching-across of one character to another to make a connection, heal an old wound, create a new and better space for two people offering and sharing fellow-feeling and, for some, love, or at least love’s possibilities. Continue reading
Miss Bates loved Robin York’s Deeper. Highly anticipated Harder is the second part of Caroline Piasecki and West Leavitt’s story, in Ruthie Knox’s second incarnation as a writer of New Adult romance. It doesn’t feel as New Adult as the first, though. West and Caroline are grown up; they’ve made decisions and are living with the consequences. Their characters are set, though West must let go of the past to have a future with Caroline. The reader knows that, in ten or fifteen years, she would recognize them as the hero and heroine of Harder. If York wrote Caroline and West’s story twenty years down the line, Miss Bates’d be happy to read it. Caroline and West are just that likable. And why not? Knox/York was successful with Amber and Tony from How To Misbehave to ten-years-later Making It Last.
Though York tends to lean to the thematically didactic, her characters are consistently engaging and her writing inspired, skirting the edgy; in places, overwrought, but there is no doubt she is a stylist. Moreover, whether her vision is congenial to the reader or not, it’s undeniable that she writes with purpose and ideas. A character in Harder describes visual art as, ” … the purpose of art is to make you feel or think, and a lot of the time both.” York does both as well in Harder as she did in Deeper. Miss Bates read Harder with as much pleasure and interest as she did Deeper: she read through the day and she read through the night. And she loved near every moment of it. Continue reading
Miss Bates is always interested in a romance novel portraying an ill hero, or heroine (though it’s interesting that she has yet to read an ill hero). As Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, said in The Great Gatsby, ” … there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.” This has made for some great romance novels; in both cases, the heroine is ill, or recovering from a life-threatening illness: Donna Alward’s How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart and Karina Bliss’ Here Comes the Groom. Indeed, how a romance writer treats the topic (sorry for the pun) makes for compelling reading, especially the hero and heroine’s navigation of their relationship in mortality’s crosshairs. It’s the only reason Miss Bates made it through the sole J. R. Ward Blackdagger Brotherhood novel she ever read, Lover Eternal. (She quite liked it, but one was enough, thank you.) Trish Milburn’s The Texan’s Cowgirl Bride, a mouthful of a title, held that promise for Miss Bates. She really, really wanted to like the story of Savannah Baron, peach-pie-baker par excellence and store-owner, faced with a life-threatening illness, and soldier-turned-private-investigator, widowed hero, Travis Shepard. Milburn’s romance novel is set up with interesting premises: its problems lie in their execution. Continue reading
Miss Bates noted, since reading Molly O’Keefe’s first Boys of Bishop contemporary romance, Wild Child, that her second, Never Been Kissed, again builds a romance around headline news. Characters are besieged by the media, or embroiled in it, seeking, or avoiding notoriety, or manipulating it to gain their ends. This makes for an interesting vacillation between the public world of the camera’s flash and news report and the private world where characters work out their varied, complex relationships with lovers and family. It reminds us how easily, in this age of voracious media, the private becomes public, how it encroaches, and what a challenge it is to stay. This theme adds depth to O’Keefe’s story, depth that she’s always had in spades anyway, if Miss Bates’ last O’Keefe review is anything to go by. If you read one historical romance this year, it should be O’Keefe’s Western-set, post-bellum Seduced. Though years and worlds away, Never Been Kissed confronts similar questions of how to move on from the past, of self-worth and purpose, of negotiating a relationship with odds stacked against it, of the heart’s conflicts, of what it means to be American. Never Been Kissed is the story of the romance between taciturn ex-Marine-bodyguard, Brody Baxter, and rich-girl do-gooder, Ashley Montgomery, who, ten years ago, at seventeen, made a pass at him when he worked as a bodyguard for her family. He rebuffed her, quit his job, but never forgot her … nor she him. Extraordinary circumstances bring them together again, but everyday, private life, when they retreat to Brody’s hometown of Bishop, Arkansas, will make, or break their fragile love. Continue reading