I have an innate distrust of any romance with an excess of “baby” endearment and there’s A LOT of “babying” in Love Her or Lose Her, second in Tessa Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series. There were a few things to recommend it: the working-class ethos, that stays working-class, and the marriage-in-trouble trope, which is a rarity and yet should appear more often in contemporary romance. It’s topical and true, after all, and way more believable than ye olde fake relationship. So, my launching into Love Her or Lose Her was with the enthusiasm of the ignorant but tropically engaged. It didn’t take long for my keenness to deflate like a geriatric balloon.
But first, other than the premise, who are the protags and what are their narrative stakes? Rosie Vega works as a perfume-counter girl, then goes home to her taciturn husband, Dominic. He’s a good guy: works hard, doesn’t drink, gamble, or cheat. They share a powerful attraction, which they indulge once a week, on Tuesdays. We don’t really know why they’ve stopped their amorous pursuits beyond Tuesdays, given how hot and bothered they get around each other, but suffice to say, it’s a “symptom” of what’s wrong with their marriage.
I never start a first-person-narrated romance with any confidence that I will enjoy it. I’m old-ish and old-fashioned and with the exception of Jane Eyre want my romances to be thirdly-centred. While I didn’t love Clayborn’s mannered “Chance of a Lifetime” series, I did enjoy it and thought her a thoughtful romance writer, trying too-hard to bring a self-conscious emotional complexity to the romance novel (while not sacrificing the HEA). Like the third-person, I prefer a more definitive HEA, but I wasn’t dissatisfied with Love Lettering‘s ending, thanks to its nod to Austen’s Persuasion.
As a non-fan of planners and pens and gel-vs-ink aficionados, I wasn’t keen on Love Lettering‘s premise: calligraphic heroine Meg Mackworth, with some kind of vague woo-woo sense, weaves the word M-I-S-T-A-K-E into hero Reid Sutherland’s wedding program. One year and a broken engagement later, Reid appears at Meg’s sometimes-paperie-employer, Cecelia’s, with an accusatory tone and the said wedding program. As a genius-IQ, Wall Street quantitative analyst, Reid sure can read a pattern where others might not and he wants to know how Meg knew his engagement would end.
Now that I’ve arrived at the end of Roni Loren’s conclusion to her four-book series based on the adult survivors of a Texas high school shooting, I can confidently say that, with Molly O’Keefe’s Crooked Creek Ranch series, Loren has written one of the best contemporary romance series of the past ten years. Though #4 wasn’t my favourite (my heart remains with The One You Fight For) it was a most satisfying conclusion. The One For You tells the romance of two of Long Acre High’s shooting’s survivors, prom queen beauty Kincaid Breslin and her best friend, Ashton Isaacs. Cue sixteen years. Ash returns to Long Acre from NYC (after having left soon after the tragedy, abandoning Kincaid) to stay with his deceased friend’s parents, Grace and Charlie Lowell (his ex-fiancée left him homeless). Ash is a globe-trotting successful writer and the opportunity for some down time to let the Muse have her way with him is welcome, even in the town he’d hoped to never see again … and the friend he can’t forget. Meanwhile, wrong-side-of-the-tracks Kincaid is now a successful realtor and in the midst of clinching a sweet deal on a charmingly dilapidated farm house … except, like most things, Kincaid can’t resist the call of the broken, so she buys it instead, hoping to juggle job and renos and start her own B’n’B. Like estranged friend Ash, Kincaid is still close to the Lowells; their son, one of the shooting’s victims, was her high school sweetheart. The Lowells own Long Acre’s sole bookstore, but decide it’s time to sell and retire. They ask Ash, who’s staying in the bookstore’s upstairs apartment, and Kincaid, to spruce it up and put it on the market for them. Continue reading
Honestly, after the wring-my-heart-and-hang-it-out-to-dry of Grey’s The Glittering Hour, I needed a good quick HEA-fix and where better to find it than between the HP’s covers. A Crews too, who better than her ability to write intense drama plus banter and characters who capture you with their humanity. Alas, it was not to be. Secrets Of His Forbidden Cinderella was better in concept than execution.
I’m not terribly proud that I’m a sucker for the accidental pregnancy romance narrative, but I am. It’s not so much the pregnancy part I like, but the protagonists working things out for something more important, more precious, and way more vulnerable than their sorry selves. Inevitably, in the HP’s tropish-constraints, the heroine is seemingly the weaker of the two. Often of humble means, she tiptoes through the tulips of her new-found state with the altruistic idea to do what’s best and what’s fair. The hero, on the other hand, treats the pregnancy revelation with mistrust in regards to the heroine’s motivations, but with a medieval possessiveness for his “heir”.
Iona Grey’s The Glittering Hour wrenched my heart, squeezed it, and wrung it out to dry. This is a very sad book, a hopeful one, but nevertheless, sad. At the same time, despite work deadlines, it kept me in its grip and I stayed up to finish it into the early morning, something I do rarely these days. If you love Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White, and our very own Canuck, Clarissa Harwood, you’re going to love Grey’s novel, as long as you’re willing to forego their more-often-than-not HEAs.
The novel opens, as the best novels do, with a naked sleeping couple in 1926. We don’t know who they are, yet we sense love and desperation. Selina Lennox, aristocratic bright young thing, darling of the then-tabloids, lover of cocktails, jazz, and wild, nocturnal shenanigans. And Lawrence Weston, dark, handsome, talented, an artist and photographer, of humble means, lowly origins, cultured, urbane, working-class. Lovers. Tragic lovers, we sense. Fast forward to 1936 and the narrative shifts to Alice Carew, eleven-year-old daughter to Selina née Lennox and Rupert Carew, presently living with her maternal grandmama and grandpapa in the Lennox family estate, Blackwood Park, of former grandeur and still the site of much of the Lennoxes’ cool snobbery. Continue reading
After Not the Girl You Marry‘s cynicism, it was refreshing to discover a cozy, well-written historical mystery with an engaging, likeable heroine, her “downstairs” sidekick, A CAT NAMED JACK (who saves the day), a Yorkshire setting (one of my favourite places in the world), and a Christie-esque closed-manor murder. Our heroine is nineteen-year-old Lady Cecilia Bates of Danby Hall; her mother, the Duchess, determined to save the crumbling manor and family’s waning finances by arranging a lucrative marriage for her son; the Duke, urbane and warm, sells off the family treasures, piece by piece, to keep staff, grounds, tenants, and family; the heir, Patrick, handsome, but distracted and solely focussed on his botanical experiments. When the novel opens, Danby Hall awaits the arrival of Miss Annabel Clarke, the swimming-in-money American bride-to-be, whose fortune will save Danby Hall in exchange for a Duchess’s title. Lady Avebury has rallied the staff and her family to welcome Annabel with balls, masquerades, garden parties, and picnics. To that end, she has invited neighbouring aristos, as well as interesting London-based guests, one of whom, Richard Hayes, famous explorer, expires of strychnine poisoning at the first grand dinner. The spoiled, mercurial heiress believes the poison was meant for her, but Lady Cecilia Bates and the heiress’s New-Jersey-born lady’s maid, Jane, with Jack’s help, are on the case.
Andie J. Christopher is a new-to-me author, so zero expectations going in. After shutting the last Kindle page on Not the Girl You Marry, I’m still not sure what I thought of it. It was definitely not a DNF, because “duh” here I am writing about it. So, a page-turner, not in a thriller I want to know what comes next way, but well-paced and engaging. There were many scenes I enjoyed and I think Christopher has a cool way with words. But … there were things about it that turned me off. These may be more about my taste and sensibility than flaws in Christopher’s book, which means it will find many a loyal reader, irrespective of my moues of disapproval/dislike. I know, for one, I didn’t like the premise. Hero Jack Nolan is handsome, charming, and fancies himself “the perfect boyfriend”. He wears the “not a dick” button proudly, as compared to his moronic dickish friends. When the novel opens, he’s drinking with said friends – reluctantly – because he’s sworn off the dating scene; too many of his girlfriends, though he did all he could to keep them happy, have dumped him. He’s sacrificed too much of his career to them, so his career (more of that later) is what he’s focussed on.
I thought Ruby Lang’s Uptown series first, novella Playing House, pleasant, but slight. Nevertheless, I love Lang’s elegantly irreverent voice and looked forward to a more substantial treatment in Uptown #2, Open House, and got exactly what I was looking for: a layered, sophisticated romance, with likeable, realistic, engaging characters, and depths of feelings like a sinker going at the end of a fishing line. You never know where this light, humourous ethos will take you, but it’ll plump interesting depths along the way. Open House is the story of debt-ridden real-estate associate Magda Ferrer and accountant Tyson Yang. Magda and Tyson find themselves on opposites sides of the garden-fence when he becomes the defender of a geriatrically-occupied, spontaneous (ahem, not exactly legally-sanctioned) Harlem-set community garden as Magda is the agent set to sell it to the highest bidder, or as she puts it “She was going to have to kick a bunch of aunties out of their fucking fairy-tale meadow.”
I was curious about Rosie Curtis’s We Met In December in what I assumed would be a romance-cum-chicklit à la Bridget Jones (whom I LOVE) way. The words “rom-com” don’t always strike delight in my heart, but in this case, I was in the mood. Hmmmm … what I discovered was almost nothing of the former and a smidgen of the latter. I enjoyed Curtis’s novel, but it didn’t quite fit its touting bill.
We Met In December is structured in alternating heroine-hero-first-person POV. I was certainly engaged by its opening and female voice. Newly-arrived in London from Bournemouth, Jess is thrilled to be embarking on her dream: to live in one of the world’s great cities and work in publishing. She’s especially lucky to have found ideal lodgings with her friend, Becky, whose grandparents have left her a Notting Hill house, NOT something Jess could afford otherwise, not in a million years. Same with the other lodgers, one of whom is Alex, nurse-in-training and the novel’s male POV. Continue reading
I have droned on and on, to your great boredom, about how I love romance and how my second love is the mystery-romance-historical combo, like Deanna Raybourn, or Susanna Kearsley, C. S. Harris, Jennifer Ashley … *sobs* and the no-longer-writing-new-Renegades-of-the-Revolution Donna Thorland. Let’s face it, I love the hybrids as much as I love romance, so let’s let that second love thing die. Now, with Tessa Arlen’s first in A Woman of WWII series, I’m adding another much-anticipated series to the beloved list. Given the stay-at-home state of things, Arlen’s Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders made for the perfect comfort read: with a Christie-Foyle’s-War-inspired English village + eccentrics setting and intrepid, engaging, loveable heroine, the eponymous Poppy, a too-charming-for-his-and-Poppy’s-own-good American Army Air Force hero … and no less than a Midsommer Murders corps of village-body-count! While I toiled away at WFH and dabbed lipstick for Zoom meetings, I enjoyed, in the time-interstices, my reading of Poppy, her American hero, and their joint sleuthing. Continue reading