Miss Bates loves the opposites-attract romance trope, especially when the hero’s and heroine’s surface characteristics mask their opposites. Opposites-attract “squared” describes Sabrina Jeffries’s second Sinful Suitors 1830-set romance, The Study Of Seduction. “Grumpy Edwin” Barlow, Earl of Blakeborough, pits himself against “frivolous beauty” Lady Clarissa Lindsey, his sister’s best friend. In time, Edwin reveals a wicked wit and Clarissa, a gravitas borne of pain.
Edwin is a member of the St. George’s Club, a gentleman’s circle dedicated to protecting their families’ and friends’ women from scoundrels, socalled “sinful suitors.” Edwin’s friend, Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, Clarissa’s cousin, has watched out for her and her widowed mother, Lady Margrave. Knightford is called away to the continent to help Clarissa’s brother, Niall. Edwin and Clarissa, long-acquainted, have sparred and jabbed at each other since Clarissa and Yvette, Edwin’s sister, tittered, gossiped, and shopped together. Edwin’s steadfast, stodgy, introverted propriety rubs Clarissa’s social butterfly effervescence and flirtatious energy to poke and prod at his restrained demeanor. Nevertheless, Edwin insists he take Knightford’s place, protecting Clarissa from a stalker. Count Geraud Durand, France’s chargé d’affaires, follows, goads, importunes, and forces his unwanted, oily attentions on Clarissa and infuriates Edwin.
Hmm, Miss Bates had a somewhat bizarro thought after reading Andrea Laurence’s The CEO’s Unexpected Child: can it be that a not-very-good book can’t be discussed without spoilers? Because awfulness lies in the plot dominating, in a bad plot dominating? It struck Miss Bates that she can always discuss a good rom without spoilers. Would love to hear your thoughts on this, dear readers.
Onto to Laurence’s Desire and sifting through Miss Bates’s thoughts. Laurence’s CEO-mystery-mommy-plot-moppet smorgasbord is one of those roms which could’ve been great. The premise is wild (and possibly therein lies some of Miss Bates’s sour-puss face): what happens when an Italian’s CEO’s stored sperm is mixed up and ends up impregnating an IVF-ed woman instead of her husband’s? What happens when said husband dies in a car crash and pregnant lady finds out he was NOT the man she thought him? What happens when ten months later, studly-CEO discovers the fertility clinic’s error and sues new mommy to six-month-old-daughter for shared custody? That, folks, in a nutshell, is Laurence’s premise. When it opens, Luca Moretti, mega-millions CEO of Moretti Family Kitchen, and Claire Douglas confront each other, with their lawyers, across a negotiating table, trying to work out how Luca will play a significant role in his daughter’s, Eva’s, life.
Donna Thorland’s Renegades Of the American Revolution series, of which The Dutch Girl is fourth, is unique and wonderful. Miss Bates thinks it should become one of the great rom-sagas and certainly deserving of the same status as the dubious Outlander (Miss Bates isn’t a fan). Thorland cleverly interweaves history, adventure, spy thriller, and romance. Thorland’s Renegades are as much fun to read as Willig’s Carnation series (Miss Bates is a HUGE fan).
Thorland’s heroines are intelligent, beautiful, marginalized, caught up in the politics of war and espionage, but always, at core, ethical, admirable, and independent. They may start out naïve and young, but they’re survivors. They learn to navigate turbulent waters of intrigue and political interests without ever losing themselves. At their side, though often on opposite sides of the American/British divide, are heroes, somewhat more knowing, experienced, and equally embedded in the political interests of their day. The heroines, however, tap into the heroes’ romantic, protective core, an inner self the heroes have forgotten, seemingly discarded, or tucked away as years of political and/or military expediency hardened them. The eponymous Dutch Girl is Annatje Hoppe, whose alias is Miss Anna Winters, spinster New York school teacher. Our hero is childhood sweetheart, disgraced and disinherited-landed-rich-boy-no-more highwayman, Gerrit Van Haren. Continue reading
“She was there. At the bar wearing a dress the color of a bruise’s dark heart.”
Miss Bates first read Molly O’Keefe’s short story, “The Heart Of It,” in the Summer Rain romance anthology, which she reviewed in 2014. Miss Bates reread it when it was recently self-published as a standalone and was struck again by its fineness, the delicacy with which O’Keefe recounts her story. “The Heart Of It” isn’t a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. Gabe and Elena’s baggage is contained in the lovely opening line. Their initial encounters are monetary, self-interested, and heartbreaking. They are bruised by life, hurt; like a bruise, visible, when pressed, painful. In O’Keefe’s description of Gabe’s perception of Elena’s skin lies the hope at the story’s heart:
“Her skin was the color of the harvest moon, or the inside of a shell, something white and creamy and perfect.”
Purple bruises give way to an HEA wrested from pain, like the delicate, recovering skin emerging from a fading bruise. Continue reading
“Returning were as tedious as going o’er,” says Macbeth, pondering whether to stop or continue his murdering path. Worry not, Miss Bates hasn’t turned bloodthirsty murderess, but Macbeth’s resigned despair echoed her feelings at the half-way point of reading Anne Mather’s A Forbidden Temptation. Never had an HP showed so much promise, nor had such a fall as Mather’s nutty Forbidden Temptation.
Hero Jack Connelly, of Kilpheny, Ireland, is settled in Rothburn on the Northumbrian coast. Two years have passed since his wife’s death in a car crash. Jack is an architect whose money allowed him to renovate a house on this beautiful coastline and the leisure time to enjoy it and heal from Lisa’s death. Except Lisa won’t leave him alone. Reminiscent of a rueful, less emotionally-invested Truly, Madly, Deeply, Lisa’s “pale ethereal figure” appears to Jack, chats with him, advises and provokes him. Wow, thought Miss Bates, this is unlike ANY HP ever. Always on the rom-reader look-out for new and original, MissB settled in to what she thought would be a fabulous read. Wait, where be our heroine? She arrives in the form of one sullen Grace Spencer, former London-based lawyer, now realtor and part-time bartender at her parents’ pub. Sean Nesbitt, Jack’s old university pal, arrives with Grace in his silver Mercedes. Sean is Grace’s boyfriend; while visiting her, Sean thought he’d drop in on his old pal Jack. Continue reading
Joanna Shupe’s “Tycoon,” the introductory novella to her Gilded-Age-set Knickerbocker Club series, opens with one of the funniest scenes Miss Bates has read in ages! At NYC’s Grand Central Depot, eponymous tycoon, Theodore “Ted” Harper waits for his private Pullman car. In a blink, a feisty young woman accosts him:
Ted Harper never saw it coming. Once minute, he was alone on the platform, and the next he’d acquired a wife.
“There you are, dear husband! Let’s not miss the train,” said a loud, husky feminine voice.
What in the name of Jacob? He tried to extricate his arm from her unexpectedly strong grip while glancing around for a porter. A patrolman. A crowbar … Anyone or anything to dislodge this woman from his side …
“I’m looking forward to meeting your mother,” she said and began propelling him toward the train. “I do hope she can teach me to cook that apple pie you like so much.” Mother? Ted frowned. His mother had been dead for eight years. Crazy, thy name is woman …
Ted’s staid, solitary life, dedicated to growing his New American Bank, will never be the same. Miss Clara Dobson, Hoyt’s department store perfume-seller, takes him in firm hand and makes great use of his stupefaction and bemusement to escape from the dangerous men who are following her. Continue reading
Jennifer Hayward’s Carrying the King’s Pride, first in the Kingdoms and Crowns series, opens with a break-up. ” ‘We should end it now while it’s still good. While we still like each other. So it doesn’t get drawn out and bitter. We did promise ourselves that, after all, didn’t we?’ “, says heroine Sofía Ramirez to lover and hero Prince Nikandros Constantinides. Hmmm … then, they have mind-blowing sex, “exit Sofía”. Whirl-wind sex is followed by a dizzying sequence of events: Nik’s brother dies, father suffers massive heart-attack and Nik’s spare-heir, billionaire-businessman-playboy status goes down like ebbing fireworks. Meanwhile back in Sofía-World, our heroine is working hard at her fashion-design and boutique business and eating A LOT of chocolate. Poof, add a little nausea and Sofía is preggers. Little does she know … Nik had her watched all along and knows immediately when she sees a doctor to confirm the pregnancy. He flies back to Manhattan and scoops her away to his Akathinian island-kingdom-paradise. All improbably delicious events and the premise to Hayward’s marriage-of-convenience romance: how can King Nik, though engaged to a Countess whose family’s wealth can save the island-nation, give up his heir? He can’t, of course, but fully expects Sofía to give up her life to marry him. Sofía puts up a feisty fight. Alas, she loves the arrogant ass and wants to have this baby too.
Cindy Gerard’s Taking Fire is fourth in the One-Eyed Jacks series, which sprung from her seven-volume Black Ops. Miss Bates admits to reading most of them (with the exception of the peculiar, unreadable Long Way Home). Though the elements of Gerard’s books should feel overdone, and while they’re not “fresh,” their familiarity and the genuineness she brings to them satisfy every time. Thinking about what Gerard did in Taking Fire, Miss Bates ventures to say it’s because Gerard mitigates her heroes’ alpha-ness with portraits of men who know what they’re feeling and feel it deeply. She endows her ultra-feminine heroines with steel and smarts. She skirts demonizing the Middle and Near East with a deep sympathy and positive portrayal of, in this case, Afghanistan’s people. She manages to turn Miss Bates’s reader’s distaste to page-turning sympathy. Taking Fire is of this ilk.
Miss Bates has written elsewhere of the theme of betrayal in romance. Gerard’s Taking Fire works with the same, except in Gerard’s case, heroine betrays hero. Taking Fire is tripartite: hero Bobby Traggert and heroine Talia Levine’s initial affair in Kabul; their reunification in Oman six years later; and, Oman events’ aftermath in Washington D. C.
Miss Bates read the complex, thematically-rich work of Katharine Ashe for the first time in Ashe’s Regency-set The Rogue. If a comparison is useful, she was reminded of elements in Elizabeth Hoyt’s historical romances: a double-narrative, one of which remains mysterious and elliptical, an earthy-rawness to the love scenes, a cross-class theme, an independent-minded heroine, and a protective, but not overbearing hero. Miss Bates loves Hoyt and responded to Ashe’s Rogue likewise. Though The Rogue is first in the “Devil’s Duke” series, it is connected to Ashe’s four-book “Falcon Club” one. Ashe discussses connections in character and plot in The Rogue‘s afterword. Miss Bates admits to some difficulty following the complicated narrative threads and connections “during reading,” but no trouble loving the MCs, Lady Constance Read and the eponymous Frederick Evan Chevalier de Saint-André Sterling. Constance and “Saint” (he is pretty sublime) met six years before the novel’s action proper, at a house-party. Saint thought the lurking-in-shadows beauty was a maid. They met secretly for two weeks, falling in love, before they were discovered and Constance’s aristocratic-wealthy-heiress future was evident to Saint. Their classless Eden sundered and they were thrown into classist exile. Saint was left heart-broken and betrayed, yet ignorant of Constance’s heart-break over losing him. Continue reading
Sarah M. Anderson’s hokey-titled One Rodeo Season is anything but. What starts as a fun little rodeo-meet-cute between Ian Tall Chief, bullfighter, and Lacy Evans, stock contractor, turns from a “no-strings” relationship to friendship and love, from rom-lite to considered romance novel about identity, cleaving to others, and negotiating commitment. Ian Tall Chief works as a bullfighter when he’s not working at the S. Dakota Real Pride ranch. Lacy Evans is a rodeo stock contractor when she’s not at the Wyoming Straight Arrow ranch she recently inherited from her parents. From their first meeting, Ian is Lacy’s protector and defender. She’s threatened by a powerful rancher, Slim Smalls, and hit on by a slimeball. Ian rushes in where “angels fear to tread,” his former-football muscles standing between Lacy and a world of hurt. But Lacy is a tough cookie, and comes at Ian from the get-go: “Who was she? Someone tiny and fierce and unafraid of him.” Lacy is “fierce,” gauche, a loner, but the attraction between them is undeniable. Except. There be inner turmoil for Lacy and Ian. The inner turmoils’ sources are deep and troubling. They make building a commitment-based relationship unfeasible. Ian charms and gently compels skittish Lacy to a friendship. While Lacy vehemently declares her ability to care for herself, she knows Smalls’ threat and her own precarious emotional state dictate she accept Ian’s help and protection. Ian and Lacy are one of Miss Bates’s favourite couple-combinations: Ian is charming, funny, and knight-in-shining-armor. He has a wide circle of friends, makes friends easily, fits comfortably in his huge clan, and is a looker. Lacy, on the other hand, is solitary, awkward with people, lacks social graces, and plain.