Some time in the late 90s, Miss Bates saw a film she hasn’t forgotten, much as she’d like to. It was bleak, depressing, definitely anti-romance. In it, the heroine had opportunities to save herself, to achieve an HEA. She was so passive, so unable to accept help from the people she encountered that she perished needlessly. The film is Amos Kollek’s Sue: Lost In Manhattan (it’s available, in its entirety, on YouTube, if you’re so inclined). What does this bleak portrait, in the centre of which is an anti-heroine with a strangely compelling passivity, have to do with Molly O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal? Miss Bates couldn’t help but recall the film as she read O’Keefe’s final book in her Boys of Bishop series. Kollek’s Sue is unemployed, evicted, and meanders through Manhattan looking ethereally, cadaverously beautiful. She worked as a temp and has a degree in psychology. She’s friendless and without family. She cleans up well and is intelligent and soft-spoken. Sue carries a defeated look, her eyes say “I’ve lost even before I’ve begun.” She meets a wonderful friend (actually, she’s a bartender!) and a beautiful man: the friend wants to help her, the man to care for her. She doesn’t reject them: she’s so tired of life she doesn’t call on them.
O’Keefe’s heroine, Ryan Kaminski, could have easily been Sue: a high-school drop-out, a divorcée who survived a shiftless and violent man, a 15-minutes-of-fame teen-age model who makes ends meet by working as a bartender in a Manhattan hotel. Ryan lives in a tenement and buys used psychology books because that’s what she’d like to study if she ever goes back to school. She’s 32, too old, she feels, to call it opportunity. The connections between Sue and Ryan are compelling. Miss Bates couldn’t help but think of these disparate texts because their juxtaposition spotlights what distinguishes the romance narrative. Same girl, same narrative, same edge of hopelessness, same seediness, cheap clothes and worn-out beauty … what does the romance narrative do with the same stuff, the same material, but imbues it with hope in place of despair? (As a side-note, she loved O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal: marriage-of-convenience, a heroine who gains in strength and love, a Hubbell-hero humbled. What’s not to love?) Continue reading
Miss Bates has a weakness for heroines who rule with their chin … a chin described as defiant, stubborn, mutinous, obstinate. The thesaurus yields a world of possibilities. This perception of willfulness is the hero’s interpretation of the heroine’s personality. He knows better, thinks better, and it’s to the heroine’s benefit that she submit to his greater wisdom. BUT her usually stubborn little chin (body language is all in the romance novel, folks) goes up, or down, depending on whether her eyes spark defiance, or her brows lower with disobedience, and boom, she asserts her will … against the hero’s better judgement. No romance category is more subject to these interactions than the charged emotions, reactions, and interactions of the HP (no longer exclusive to Harlequin, of course, but most easily associated with it). In Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife, Miss Bates found the most delightfully truculent heroine she’s read since early Julie Garwood, though Miss Bates would argue that Garwood’s heroines are oblivious over truculent (that’s for another post). As for Graham’s HP masterpiece, what could be more appealing than the chin-leading truculence of a doughy heroine named Pudding? Continue reading
Molly Harper’s Snow Falling On Bluegrass didn’t bode well for Miss Bates at page one: first-person narration in her romance reading is a no-no. Reading further, the no-nos amplified: there was the distinct whiff of chick-lit-hood (an unromantic genre often lumped with romance). There’s only one other designation that sends Miss Bates’ eyes rolling and lip curling than chick lit and that’s “women’s fiction.” The no-no’s piled up: one ruefully self-deprecating heroine down on her confidence? Check. Two love interests? Check. One marriage-obsessed, self-esteem-killing mother? Check. Cutesy secondary characters? Check. One worthless ex? Check. One true BFF, with deliveries of chocolate and cocktail-sharing commiseration? Check. Thus is the story of heroine, Kelsey Wade, her caricatured ex, Darrell; her office crush, Dr. (Ph.d, not medical) Charles Bennett; and, one snowed- and iced-in staff retreat with the members of the Kentucky Commission on Tourism at isolated, winter-wonderland Lockwood Lodge. Enter one handsome, smouldering park ranger/night clerk … and you have Harper’s third novel in her Bluegrass series in a nutshell. Continue reading
Emma Barry writes Miss Bates’ favourite kind of romance novel: rich in context, with characters immersed in a definitive place and time, uniquely themselves, but also emerging out of that place and time. Barry sets her contemporary romances in the arena of contemporary American politics. It was the stew that bubbled forth the first in the Easy Part trilogy, Special Interests, and second, Private Politics. Barry’s third “politically-set” romance, Party Lines, is her most “politically dense” novel yet, but it also offers a gloriously interesting romance. It contains a delicious irony in premise and title. Party politics/lines, especially modern party politics, are constantly in the public eye in this social-media age. How to carve space for intimacy, friendship, love, for “private spaces” in the midst of an election campaign as a key organizing player? That is the story of Democratic campaign manager, Michael Picetti, and Republican assistant to the deputy campaign manager, Lydia Reales. What if the furthering of one’s career hinges on this performance? What if the object of one’s love and desire is on the opposing side? Ideology, conviction, ambition, loyalty come into play and clash with desire, friendship, love, fulfillment, when political affiliations draw the line on what lines can’t be crossed for love. Continue reading
Miss Bates will expose her uncouth romance-reading ways and admit she’s not keen on Brockway’s books. She read rav-y reviews about As You Desire, dutifully read it, and it left her cold. She read All Through the Night and liked it better, but wasn’t inspired to read more of the oeuvre. Miss Bates suspects that there was something about Brockway’s voice, a privileging of it, a bringing into the forefront of the narrative that made the reader too conscious of it. When The Songbird’s Seduction came along … well, there was a mitigating factor, the Edwardian setting. Surprise, surprise … Brockway’s latest won her over. The novel was charming and funny, and pulled at the heartstrings. The voice was captivating, droll, affectionate towards its hero and heroine’s youthful foibles. The distancing was still there, but it was gentler. Though it may be deemed a light read, frothy and fun, there were also lovely, poignant moments, moments of pain in the characters, whose effervescent mood and carryings-on, embracing of life, willingness to forgive wrong-doing, were endearing. And did Miss Bates mention the laugh-out-loud moments … Continue reading
Reading Rose Lerner’s Sweet Disorder, first in her Regency-Era-set Lively St. Lemeston series, Miss Bates recognized Lerner’s connection to Georgette Heyer and what Miss Bates calls the “nouvelle vague” of romance writers, such as Emma Barry: educated, erudite, both entrenched in the romance tradition and bringing new elements to it. Like Heyer, to whose influence Lerner admits in her author bio, she writes a combination of adventure with touches of farcical comedy, also glimmers of pathos, in an ensemble cast, with nuanced villains and – mai oui – a central couple’s romance. (Sweet Disorder feels like a departure from the sombre tone of Lerner’s previous novel, A Lily Among Thorns, and this lighter touch suits her. Miss Bates hopes she keeps it.) Like Barry’s latest series, The Easy Part, Lerner unfolds the romance couple’s relationship in a political arena. The day’s politics inform the hero and heroine’s courtship, bringing them together, setting them apart. They serve as coalescence and disruption. Sweet Disorder, set in the West Sussex riding of Lively St. Lemeston in an election year, 1812, sees hero’s, Nick Dymond’s, brother, Tony, struggle to beat the Tory candidate. The stakes are high for the Whig Dymonds, as they are, it turns out, for their loyal voters, the Knight family, one of whom, writer of sensational tales for Girl’s Companion, Phoebe, now the widow Sparks, is our heroine. (It’s safe to keep reading, Miss Bates has gone out of her way to avoid spoilers. Sweet Disorder‘s plot is vulnerable to them, so there’s not much summary either.) Continue reading
It’s been a wonderful year at Miss Bates Reads Romance, thanks to everyone who dropped by to read, comment, and make Miss Bates’ life that much brighter and happier by her presence. She takes this opportunity to wish you a hearty new year, full of joy, laughter, love, inspiration, conviviality … and great books!
Miss Bates read over eighty-five books in 2014: some forgettable, some precious rereads, some by new-to-her authors; others, familiar and beloved. She kept a running list of books that struck her at time-of-reading; in the past weeks, she pruned pruned pruned. Below you’ll find titles that resonated: the memory of whose scenes, characters, and turns of phrase provokes a smile, thought, or question. They may not be perfect, but, for sundry reasons, Miss Bates holds them close to her heart. (Miss Bates links to her original review and keeps to a few lines about each title.) Continue reading