MINI-REVIEW: Genevieve Turner’s AUTUMN SAGE and the Hero’s Agon

Autumn_SageMiss Bates’ latest read is Genevieve Turner’s second “Las Morenas” late-nineteenth-century romance, Autumn Sage. Miss Bates has enjoyed this series’ sweep: California-set, intertwined Anglo and old stock Spanish families, tales tragic and comedic, characters sympathetic and antipathetic, violent pasts, present trials, and in their midst, love, forgiveness, and forging a new family and better way of being in the world. She reviewed the first book, Summer Chaparral; the eldest Moreno sister and family beauty, Catarina, is the heroine. She enters into a shotgun marriage with newly-arrived rancher, Jace Merrill. Autumn Sage is second-sister Isabel Moreno’s story; in Summer Chaparral, we learn Isabel was attacked while riding with her fiancé, Sheriff Joaquin Obregon. When Autumn Sage opens, her engagement is over; Joaquin is an invalid in the sanatorium; and, she suffers from PTSD. Isabel and Joaquin were ambushed by villain outlaw and rich-daddy’s-bad-boy-son, Cole McCade. Enter hero U. S. Marshal Sebastian Spencer, summoned from LA to Cabrillo by Jace, whose estranged father, Judge Bannister, is Sebastian’s superior. Big, black-clad, and austere Sebastian, appropriately named after the tree-bound, arrow-tormented early Christian saint, protects Isabel and captures McCade. Isabel travels to Los Angeles to testify at McCade’s trial. The silent, controlled, still-waters-run-deep Sebastian is reunited with schoolmarm and temperance-society advocate, broken-but-not-down, Isabel. McCade’s guilty conviction proves elusive. While they work to bring him to justice, Sebastian and Isabel fight their own and families’ demons, while their need, desire, and fierce love for each other are as lovely and wild as autumn sage. Continue reading

Another One of Those Sort-Of REVIEWS: Victoria Dahl’s FLIRTING WITH DISASTER and Betrayal in Romance

Flirting_With_DisasterIf you’re literal-minded, or a prig, or easily titillated, the stand-out elements of Victoria Dahl’s Flirting With the Disaster are explicit love scenes and the hero and heroine’s foul mouths. These may be good reasons to read Dahl’s contemporary romance, or reject it in outrage. Which is why Miss Bates wants to get the review part over with pronto. Because she has other things to say. The first quarter or so, the set-up, left Miss Bates dubious: like taking that first bite of a new dish. The uncertainty: “Do I like this? What’s that strange flavour?” By the time the heroine’s combination of vulnerability and independent spirit were established, she was a fan. The hero had to work harder to win her. By the time things were heart-wrenching, she was a goner. If you don’t want to read how Dahl’s romance about U. S. marshal hero, Tom Duncan, and hermit-artist heroine, Isabelle West, got Miss Bates thinking about genre conventions, don’t read on. Read the novel (consider yourself warned about its rawness; she’ll let its tenderness take you by surprise). Then come back, tell her what you think about what follows. Or not. As long as you read it. Continue reading

Sort-Of A Review: Courtney Milan’s TRADE ME

Trade_MeMiss Bates doesn’t know how to write about a good book she disliked, not hated, not DNF-headed, not snark-inspiring, but a desultory slog, like eating a flavourless oatmeal biscuit. Partly, she attributes her response to the unappealing conventions of the New Adult romance sub-genre: the college scene, protagonists’ callowness, first-person narration, and HFN. New adult romance elements Miss Bates’ reader-self dislikes. Nay, avoids. She wasn’t well disposed to Milan’s Trade Me from the first solipsistic notes of “I” and “my”, but the issues were engaging, questions of wealth and privilege, the pressures on immigrants’ children versus good ole wealthy established American families. 

Trade Me is, at least initially, a romance of economic realities. Californian heroine Tina Chen, computer science and chemistry college student, second-generation Chinese-American, struggles to get through school, pay rent, groceries, and help her parents out financially. Her mom succours persecuted Falun Gong members seeking asylum in the US, her dad’s on work disability and sister, with ADHD, requires pricey medication. Tina is poor: she can’t afford to do anything but survive on a shoe-string budget, working part-time and studying the rest. Hero Blake Reynolds is the only child of one of the wealthiest, most influential men in the US, owner of an innovative tech company, Cyclone. Unlike Tina, who has eleven dollars to her name, Blake is worth billions. During economics class, Blake makes privileged, ignorant remarks about people on food stamps. Tina retorts with hard truths about poverty that point to Blake’s cluelessness and presumptions. Blake is chastened and apologetic. He’s also nicer and more down-to-earth than Tina expected. He has the hots for her and she for him. He proposes a “trade,” to learn something about each other: swap lives. He lives in her unheated converted-garage apartment on her budget and she gets his Tesla, condo, and a hefty allowance. For Blake, he gets to be close to Tina while anonymity helps him figure out a “problem” plaguing him. Tina reciprocates the attraction, but also sees an opportunity to help her family. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sarah Morgan’s PLAYING BY THE GREEK’S RULES and Winning the Heart’s Desire

Playing_By_Greek's_RulesMiss Bates’ introduction to Sarah Morgan was the lovely but unfortunately-titled medical category Dare She Date the Dreamy Doc? She read HP Twelve Nights of Christmas fast on its heels. The latter stayed with her: maybe because of its fairytale quality, a quality Morgan knows how to play, poking a little tongue-in-cheek fun at the HP Cinderella-trope, but affectionately, lovingly. Twelve Nights‘ opening prefigures Playing By the Greek’s Rules‘ elements: the making-ends-meet, Cinderella heroine moonlighting as a cleaner, billionaire hero sexy as heck but not alpha-holish, arrogant, or bossy; the funniest, most delightful dialogue, the heroine with-the-heart-of-gold who melts the icy hero. In Morgan’s two HP-category romances, the hero has everything, money, power, looks, status, but cannot match the heroine for irrepressible optimism, loving-kindness, and an unabashed élan of wearing her heart on her sleeve. The boundless felicity heroine Lily Rose takes in everything and everyone she encounters breaks down every wall of Jericho around hero, Nik Zervakis’s stony heart. Miss Bates cheered, laughed, and cried along with Lily and admired, once more, Morgan’s ability to create a heroine the reader adores as much as the hero is exasperated with – until blinded by the light of her exuberant sunniness and inexhaustible empathy.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Laura Florand’s ALL FOR YOU And Heaven Too …

All_For_YouMiss Bates loves chocolate: she likes it with sea salt; she likes it dark; she likes it Lindt; and, she likes it with almonds too. Laura Florand’s novels are an original bar in contemporary romance: Paris-set in the world of the chocolatiers, hot romance, soft-heart-hard-abs alpha heroes, and heroines who hold their own, asserting their identity and independence before the hero’s uber-protectiveness. With the help of one of the most beautiful cities in the world and best cultivated national palates, Florand builds a unique world in contemporary romance. Her latest, the first in the Paris Hearts series, All For You is a title – in light of the hero’s sacrifices – most fitting. A character’s chocolate palate (in this case, the hero’s) serves as a means of identifying and communicating with him – because he is one hard-headed fella. His love’s honey-hibiscus chocolate creation is her way of saying this-is-me “if anyone knew how to properly taste her.” ;-) The chocolatière, heroine Célie Clément, is chief chocolate-creator for Dominique Richard, hero of The Chocolate Touch; the hero, Josselin “Joss” Castel, five-year veteran of the French Foreign Legion. It was lovely to see Dom with his girlfriend, Jaime, soon to be wife if only he were worthy of being her husband. With this notion enters a major theme in this latest novel: to be worthy of the other, deserving of love and trust, to overcome fears of inferiority and abandonment. So much angst and so much sexy in one succinct chocolate-filled soupçon of a delightful novel. Continue reading

REVIEW: Grace Burrowes’ A SINGLE KISS And the Comforts of Hot Chocolate

Single_KissIt isn’t revolutionary to say that a writer has a quirk, or propensity that threads throughout her work: a recurring image, character, theme, trope, etc. It identifies her and can be both bane and strength. In Grace Burrowes’ work, it’s the officiously kind hero. When Burrowes’ first two histroms were published, The Heir and The Soldier, Miss Bates, early in her romance reading journey, read them with relish. By the time she read Burrowes‘ seventh Lonely Lord, Andrew, the officiously kind hero was at saturation point, as Miss B. scathingly wrote about in her review. That quirk/trope/image/style that identifies can also stultify, or stall a writer, or turn to caricature – unless she brings new life to it. Grace Burrowes’ foray into contemporary romance takes a steady writerly predisposition and puts it in a new world, the contemporary world of the courtroom drama of family law and practice. Continue reading

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