REVIEW: Jeannie Lin’s A DANCE WITH DANGER, Or An “Irrational Act For Love

Dance_With_DangerDevoted romance readers are super-readers: reading, when LIFE permits, several books a week and in possession of TBRs stretching “to the crack of doom”. This makes the rom reader knowledgeable about romance archetypes (more familiarly known as tropes) and, as a result, possessing a vocabulary with which to talk about the genre. Rom readers are pretty awesome in the ways they understand the genre. Moreover, they are knowledgeable about their favourite rom authors’ oeuvre. They compare favourite romance narratives and an author’s books to others she’s written. All of Miss Bates’ rigmarole to say that, when she read Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress, the rom reader’s “hallelujah chorus” played at peak volume. When Miss B. saw Lin’s latest (and celebrated her return to category print), A Dance With Danger, she did the Snoopy happy dance. Reading The Jade Temptress, Miss Bates felt herself in the hands of someone who was doing wonderful things with the genre: interesting, original things, things that would linger and influence, set new bars and revive histrom’s flagging presence. Having read A Dance With Danger, Miss Bates can still say, with conviction, that Lin writes some of the best histrom on offer. Comparing A Dance With Danger to The Jade Temptress, however, leaves the former a tad in the dust. Continue reading

REVIEW: Janice Kay Johnson’s TO LOVE A COP, What It Means …

To_Love-CopMiss Bates almost DNF-ed Janice Kay Johnson’s To Love A Cop (cheesy cover and title should be ignored; this is thoughtful romance). It opens at a gun show, as cop hero, Ethan Winter, admires a gun; to give Johnson credit, he’s there to look out for potentially dangerous gun buyers. He spots a boy, one who seems fascinated by what’s on show. Ethan chats with him, realizes he’s younger than he appears and has skipped school. Ethan takes the boy, Jake, home to his single-mom, Laura Vennetti, to realize yet again that, five years ago, Jake was the boy who shot and killed his cousin when his father, Officer Matt Vennetti, left his service weapon carelessly lying on the kitchen counter. Not long after, with an extended family in shambles and ravaged by guilt, Matt committed suicide.

Heavy subject matter in romance doesn’t drive Miss Bates to DNF; but guns … man, she, like our heroine, doesn’t like them, doesn’t think they belong anywhere, should be strictly controlled and, if it was up to Miss B., banned. Living in Canada, gun control doesn’t have the divisiveness it does for her southern neighbours. But living in a city where a man with a gun killed fourteen women because they were being educated, she doesn’t buy the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” as a viable argument against their strict control. Miss B. doesn’t like wearing a seat belt either, but it does make for accident prevention. She’s digressed to this point to reinforce she didn’t really want to read Johnson’s romance, didn’t see much romance to be had in it … but she’s awfully glad she squelched her distaste, her visceral judgement against all things “gun” to take the story in. Because Johnson is a long-standing, serious, balanced, considered writer and this is one of the best stories she’s written. Continue reading

REVIEW: Jessica Gilmore’s EXPECTING THE EARL’S BABY … And A Whole Lot More

Expecting-Earl's_BabyJessica Gilmore’s latest category romance, Expecting the Earl’s Baby, holds out the promise of a marriage-of-convenience between opposites. Gilmore is a good hand at tropish writing, aware of the genre’s conventions in a witty, loving way; the last Gilmore category Miss Bates reviewed was a wonderfully written reunited husband-wife story. Though marriage-of-convenience is difficult to pull off in contemporary romance, Gilmore made a great start with a magical castle setting to add a touch of old-world fantasy and top it off with cheeky regency allusions. It reminded Miss Bates of one of her favourite castle-set romances (which also has the advantage of being Christmas-set!) Fiona Harper’s Snowbound In the Earl’s Castle. Gilmore’s heroine, like Harper’s, is an artistic working gal. Daisy Huntingdon-Cross, a wedding photographer, is doing a shoot at Hawksley Castle when her dedication to be last of the party to leave lands her, her stilettos, and flimsy car tires in a foot of snow. Her about-face to the castle to ask for help has her: ” … skid[ding] straight into a fleececlad chest. It was firm, warm, broad. Not a ghost. Probably not a werewolf. Or a vampire. Supernatural creatures didn’t wear fleece as far as she knew.” Said chest belongs to one pragmatic earl who offers chains for her tires because ” ‘… wouldn’t want you to freeze to death on the premises. Think of the paperwork.’ ” Humming “Good King Wenceslas” as she tiptoes in his steps’ wake, Daisy is attracted to The Chest. As is the guy in possession of The Chest, Sebastian Beresford, Earl of Holgate … and, well, one thing leads to another … six weeks later, Daisy returns to Hawksley Castle to tell Sebastian he’s going to be a daddy. Continue reading

REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s TEMPTED To “Be What You Want”

TemptedMiss Bates is peeved by the claim, and many readers make it sheepishly eyes downcast, that romance fiction is “a comfort read.” It may very well be, and she’s happy if enjoyed as such, but it’s often used to diminish the genre. She applauds rom writers, like Molly O’Keefe, who make reading romance anything but, who make the reader work to earn that HEA (and why O’Keefe runs the risk of making it meh-anti-climactic). It’s great that romance can be visceral and uncomfortable and we have O’Keefe, and others in her company (Cecilia Grant, Victoria Dahl are two who come to mind) who offer this reader experience couched in the “pretty and titillating” many readers who don’t read romance accuse the genre of being. Convincing them otherwise? That ship sailed with the Pinta and Santa Maria for Miss Bates. Second in the Into the Wild historical romance series, Tempted, like its predecessor, Seduced, proves a fine punch to the reader-gut, tackling how the horrors of war inflict psychic wounds on men and women, obstructing and obscuring intimacy and love. Continue reading

REVIEW: Linda Goodnight’s THE MEMORY HOUSE, Healing With Peach Tea and Cookies …

Memory_HouseLinda Goodnight is probably best known for writing inspirational category romance fiction. The Memory House, first in the Honey Ridge, Tennessee series, isn’t inspirational, though it contains similar elements and themes, such as how the past bears on the present, memory and its hold on the psyche, prodigality and redemption, grief, loss, joy, and love. It’s also a deviation from Goodnight’s category norm in carrying two narrative threads, one contemporary and the other, historical. Goodnight orchestrates these various components with relative success, making the “memory house,” a restored antebellum mansion now a present-day B&B and its peach orchard the focus of the dual narratives/romances.

Eli Donovan, 36, ex-con, prodigal son and black sheep, hies to Honey Ridge, at the behest of his parole officer, to take custody of a six-year-old son he didn’t known about. With a dead mother and ailing, failing great-aunt as Alex’s guardian, the down-on-his-luck and broken Eli must find a job and learn to be a father overnight. He makes his plea to Peach Orchard Inn owner, Julia Presley, who needs her orchard cared for and carriage-house renovated to ensure the solvency of her business with more paying customers than what she sustains presently. The gentle, sad divorcée Julia carries as great grief and regret as Eli: her son, Mikey, would’ve been fourteen on the day Eli shows up at the inn, were it not that he’d disappeared/been abducted six years ago. Eli and Julia are kindred spirits: broken and saddened by life’s circumstances. But they find, in each other and the magical Peach Orchard Inn, serenity and comfort, friendship and a sense of belonging. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’ PART TIME COWBOY, Full-Time Sheriff, Brother, Friend, and Shining Knight …

Part_Time_CowboyIf you asked Miss Bates her favourite romance trope, she’d tell you “marriage-of-convenience.” Truth be told though, she gets more pleasure out of opposites-attract than she’s realized. This means that a “marriage of convenience” between “opposites attract” would be her favourite rom reading cocktail. ;-) Alas, Maisey Yates first novel in the Copper Ridge Oregon series, Part Time Cowboy, is not a marriage of convenience narrative, but it sure as heck contains two spitting-fighting protagonists in Deputy Sheriff Eli Garrett and crisis-counselor-turned-B-&-B-owner Sadie Miller – and you all know Miss Bates is a fan of fighting in romance. Also close to her heart is a narrative that sees a character, in this case, Sadie, return home years later with unfinished business (wild teen years of drinking, smoking, and trouble-making) to work through. (The theme also features in the returning hero of Yates’ introductory novella, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.”) The opposites attract trope is obvious in a wonderful opening scene between Sadie, her car out of gas, and a certain Deputy Sheriff who rescues her, but had once arrested her for shenanigans ten years ago. Sadie’s barely entered town limits before she has a re-meet cute with her nemesis, “Officer Hottie,” Eli Garrett – if he’s filling her tank now, ten years ago, he cuffed her. It doesn’t take him long to become “Officer Stick-Up-His-Ass.”  Continue reading

Wendy’s TBR Challenge: Simone St. James’ THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE, Or The Great Yea

Haunting_Of_Maddy_ClareFinding a TBR challenge title for July’s theme, a RITA Award winner, was easy for Miss Bates. She loved Simone St. James’ Silence For the Dead and The Other Side Of Midnight; it was natural to choose St. James’ first hybrid gothic-romance-ghost-story-mystery novel to read, The Haunting Of Maddy Clare, which won Best First Book and Novel With Strong Romantic Elements in RITA’s 2013 competition. Again Miss Bates had to read with the light on, again she read non-stop to reach the HEA, and again St. James delivered gothic romance’s promise: eerie atmosphere, a naïve, intelligent, diffident heroine, mysterious, dark hero, haunted places and unsettled spirits, and the heroine’s voice, growing in strength and understanding as she sets the world aright. The Haunting Of Maddy Clare opens in London in June 1922. Alistair Gellis, ghost hunter, seeks an assistant to help him investigate the ghostly presence of Maddy Clare in the village of Waringstoke. His request to a temp agency brings him solitary, lonely, poverty-stricken, sad Sarah Piper. While he already has an assistant in volatile Matthew Ryder, Maddy Clare’s ghost is particular in her hatred and violence towards men. With Sarah’s help in approaching and recording Maddy’s ghostly presence, Alistair and Matthew hope to rid Mrs. Clare, Maddy’s foster parent and employer, of the malevolent spirit residing and wreaking havoc in her barn. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Nalini Singh’s ROCK HARD, Or “T-Rex and The Mouse”

Rock_HardMiss Bates knows Nalini Singh as a popular PNR author. Miss Bates doesn’t read PNR – not since she was traumatized by one Blackdagger Brotherhood title she picked up “impulsively” – but Singh’s Slave To Sensation was on AAR’s Top 100 Romance Reads and that left her curious. When it was cheaply available on audio, Miss Bates listened to it in fits and starts – because it bored her silly. The overwrought growly hero and tough-as-nails-but-really-vulnerable heroine – why must PNR heroines sound so pugnacious? – and keeping track of the various groups/packs and other growly males was tedious; she got through it, but doesn’t care to repeat the experience. As a result, she was wary of Singh contemporary romance “Rock Kiss” series, but wanted to give Singh one last try.

Singh’s Rock Hard is light on plot and primarily focussed on the relationship between Gabriel Bishop, former NZ rugby star, and office clerk, though soon promoted to PA, Charlotte Baird. Gabriel is brought in as CEO to save the luxury good store chain Charlotte works for. Gabriel’s specialty is to swoop in and ruthlessly but fairly, bolster failing companies and render them competitive and profitable. He recognizes Charlotte’s superior abilities under her diffident, bespectacled, mousy appearance and ensures she has the company position she fulfilled all along – doing others’ work. As he cuts a swathe through the company, rewarding loyalty, work ethic, and smarts, Charlotte guides and assists him. His attraction to her and hers to him is, of course, immediate and powerful. He recognizes her qualities, but also her “bitable” lips and soft blonde curls. her “pocket Venus” of a bod and beautiful smile. She’s smitten with him as well: his steel-grey eyes, broad shoulders, and sheer hugeness draw her. But something is very wrong in the city of Aukland (which, BTW, sounds magnificent): it’s obvious Charlotte was once hurt and is still traumatized, inspiring Gabriel’s protective instincts. He wants her to open up to him because he’s ready to ensure her safety and love her body and soul. Continue reading

Jennifer Hayward’s THE ITALIAN’S DEAL FOR I DO, Or “How to Slay Your Dragons”

Italian's_Deal_For_I_DoOstensibly, the HP category romance is all about the glamour: heroes are nothing less than billionaires, their looks, physical and intellectual strengths, and sexual prowess are super-human; heroines may occasionally be a little less than, but more often than not are virginal, breathtakingly beautiful, possibly secretively super-accomplished, and loveable. Moreover, the attraction between the hero and heroine is of fireworks calibre.  Jennifer Hayward’s The Italian’s Deal For I Do has all the trappings an HP reader could wish for in the glamor department: wealthy, good-looking hero running his family’s Milan fashion house and a super-model heroine. But, in the HP, while glamour reigns, its true success lies in the writer’s ability to convey the hero and heroine’s humanity: all that fantasy building up has to be brought down, vulnerabilities and fears and feelings have to crack open the glamour to expose the hero and heroine’s less-than-super-human soft “just-like-us ordinary mortals” cores. Continue reading

Grace Burrowes’ KISS ME HELLO, Don’t Wish Me Farewell

Kiss_Me_HelloKiss Me Hello is third in Grace Burrowes’ Sweetest Kisses contemporary romance series. Miss Bates isn’t sure how, or why she missed the second, The First Kiss, but she enjoyed the first, A Single Kiss, and you may read about why here. Miss Bates is certain the second was pretty much like the first, and the third is much like the first two. Because Burrowes has her signature and Kiss Me Hello runs true to form: characters are painted in black and white, men are gentle, if brusque, care-givers, and women are nurturing, tough cookies, but a bit of a mess. If her formula works for you, then her books will deliver consistently. Like most romance readers, however, while the genre remains the reading material of choice, the formulas can delight, or grate. Miss Bates has written about how Burrowes can grate here. She would still maintain, after reading Kiss Me Hello, she prefers contemporary to historical Burrowes. The Sweetest Kisses series is built around three brothers who run a successful law firm in small-town Virginia. Kiss Me Hello is the story of the eldest Knightley (and the name is telling, yes) brother, Mackenzie, and newly-arrived-in-Damson-County foster mom, Sidonie Linstrom. What Sidonie doesn’t know is that she inherited the Knightley brothers ancestral home … as well as their two massive childhood horses, Daisy and Buttercup, bringing defence lawyer Mackenzie, in his farrier incarnation, to her door. Continue reading