Last year, Miss Bates was introduced to Marguerite Kaye’s work when she read the Comrades In Arms series, The Soldier’s Dark Secret and The Soldier’s Rebel Lover. She loved them and found they brought something new to the tired old Regency: truly independent heroines, with will, will power, conviction, and a strong impetus to forge their own destiny and heroes who let them be themselves. In the Hot Arabian Nights series, Kaye brings the same feminist ethos to her Arabian-bound and constrained heroines and the same consideration to her heroes. In the second book, Sheikh’s Mail-Order Bride, this heroine-centric disposition comes in the form of Lady Constance Montgomery, on her way to India to fulfill her parents’ arranged marriage for her to an English merchant. We learn that “mama” and “papa” sent her to India in exchange for Mr. Edgbaston’s hefty payment to deal with debts incurred by her father’s hare-brained money-making schemes. On the way, however, Constance is shipwrecked on the Kingdom of Murimon’s shores. Murimon’s soon-to-be crowned king, Kadar, is native and would be to the manner born had he not spent the past seven years travelling the world and putting his cultural-know-how and sharp judgement to kings’ and nobles’ disposal. With his brother’s Butrus’s death, Kadar, though he’d vowed never to return because of the “sad thing” that happened to him (ah, cherchez la femme, chère lectrice) must take the reigns of power and devote himself to his people’s well-being and country’s prosperity.
Miss Bates positively reviewed the first volume of Alissa Johnson’s Thief-Takers series, A Talent For Trickery. However, it was glimpses of the hero and heroine of the present volume, A Gift For Guile, that she anticipated. Guile‘s premise remains the same: three Victorian PIs’ lives are interwoven with the thief-turned-police-informant Will Walker’s family. Walker was killed when he and the three PIs rescued a kidnapped duchess and retrieved her jewels. To Walker’s family, however, two daughters and a son, his death was blessing and curse. Walker manipulated and used them, especially the girls, and yet, for all intents and purposes, with a mother who abandoned them, he WAS their family. A Gift For Guile is the story of the daughter who, Miss Bates suspects, suffered the most damage from Will Walker’s machinations and dishonesty, Esther Bales-Walker. Will used Esther to thieve and trick. When the present novel opens, Esther, known to police and therefore in danger of being identified and caught, is in a London train station, awaiting a meeting with a mysterious young man who claims to have information about her family. The young man has revelations about Esther’s parentage and Esther is compelled, despite the ever-present danger of discovery, to find out what they are. Until, into the station and her life, again walks private investigator (and nemesis), Sir Samuel Brass and said mysterious young man runs away. Samuel and Esther embark on a quest to find him and the truth behind Esther, her mother, father Will Walker, and her origins.
Cathy Pegau’s second Charlotte Brody historical murder mystery, Borrowing Death, is set between two colossal mistakes: the Great War and the enacting and enforcing of American Prohibition. While the Great War remains a definitive Canadian event, Prohibition figures prominently in the social rifts and conflicts of Pegau’s early-twentieth-century-Alaska-set novel. But Pegau’s journalist-amateur-sleuth heroine, Charlotte Brody, embodies an equally important historical moment. As Charlotte says, she’s not as interested in the 18th Amendment as she is in the 19th.
Charlotte is an independent, idealistic young woman, working as a journalist, deeply committed to causes near and dear to her, women’s suffrage and rights. Though only in her early twenties, Charlotte has done some living. She travelled from afar to the frontier town of Cordova. In the series’s first book, we learn Charlotte survived a fraught love affair. Her relationship with former lover Richard left her with a sour view of men and relationships and a diminished sense of her ability to understand and judge people. When she refused to follow her lover’s demand for a conventional end to their romance, that is, marriage, children, and Charlotte as home-maker, wife, mother, he turned on her. As a result, Charlotte made painful, irrevocable decisions, one that haunts her still. Moving to Cordova, reuniting with her brother Michael, is how Charlotte will lay the past to rest. Her writing and sleuthing, curiosity and intelligence, restore Charlotte’s faith in herself. If she can only find some way to restore her faith in romantic love. Continue reading
It seems appropriate that Miss Bates open her reviewing year with one of her favourite contemporary romance writers. Maisey Yates’s Tough Luck Hero is part of that sprawling fictional Oregon town that Yates has created around the Garretts and Wests, as well as various inter-connected denizens. Yates’s Copper Ridge tales have yet to grow stale or pale. Some are stronger than others, but each one is a necessary part of Yates’s compellingly woven whole. (Brokedown Cowboy remains Miss Bates’s unwavering favourite.) Copper Ridge is a place of mountainous and sea-set beauty, complicated family dynamics, and the small-town warp and weft of stricture and support. With every book, Copper Ridge grows, as the lonely and disparate find someone special. The road to love, commitment, and many babies, however, is fraught with Yates’s particular vision of what falling in love and committing entail: a crap-load of resistance and torment. Tough Luck Hero‘s hero, town Golden-Boy Colton West, really has had a run of terrible luck. Mayoral candidate Lydia Carpenter is sitting pretty … until Colton and sympathy shots at Ace’s bar see her luck run out too.
As 2016 draws to an end, Miss Bates offers new-year wishes to her readers: may 2017 bring good cheer, good friends, hearty constitutions, and every book be a keeper! Every year is marked by a particular reading mood and this year was harried for Miss Bates. A new job and responsibilities made reading and reviewing more infrequent than she would’ve liked. Maybe because of this, however, Miss Bates was reminded, as she winds down her reviewing year with a final “best of” post, what a soul-sustainer a life-long love of reading is. No matter how busy the week, how laden with tasks the week-end, even a half hour in another place or time, with characters working their way to an HEA, buoyed her spirits and gave her renewed strength for entering “once more unto the breach”. Romance itself had a lacklustre year. As you’ll note from her “best of” choices below, there are as many older roms as recently published ones. Romancelandia lost its unified magic and its controversies paled in light of world events. Review blogging felt quaint, which might be in keeping with Miss Bates’s own persona, but the loss of waning, or shut-down blogs saddens her. And yet, the genre’s message remains true and good: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the promise of plenitude, of body and spirit, is a candle in the darkening room that seems to be our world. Reading, thinking about reading, and engaging in dialogue about what we read with others, which is what MBRR always wants to be about, still feels right to Miss B. Continue reading
For her final 2016 review, Miss Bates writes about a romance novel that held her in thrall though the night and into the morning, Kerrigan Byrne’s The Hunter, second in Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series. New to Miss Bates, Byrne’s Hunter reminded her of the Monica McCarty Highlander romances that were some of the first she ever read and loved. Byrne’s romance is violent; her protagonists, larger-than-life; and her writing, unabashedly melodramatic and yet elegant. At times, Miss Bates thought this feels “Old-Skoolish” but the heroine’s intelligence and sang-froid and hero’s humility and respect for her make it anti-old-skool. What Miss Bates can affirm is that she loved it. To establish sympathy for a hero who is an assassin hired to kill the heroine in the novel’s first scene, Byrne portrays Christopher Argent’s Newgate-Prison childhood. She paints a scene so horrific for his 11-year-old self that our sympathy is maintained even when, without that introduction, we’d have found his actions unacceptable. Christopher is not as nuanced and interesting as Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin, but Byrne’s romance builds our sympathy for him as Hoyt did for Val Napier: by using the pathos of a difficult, abused childhood … and then sustaining it by showing our out-of-type hero with animals, or children.
One of Miss Bates’s favourite films is Frank Capra’s 1934 It Happened One Night. Barbara Wallace’s gently romantic Christmas Baby For the Princess echoes it. Wallace’s hero, Manhattan night club owner Max Brown, is a film noir buff. References to Miss Bates’s beloved black-and-white films abound, enriching Wallace’s romance narrative. Capra’s film is not noir, but its themes of class, sex, love, and HEA are certainly of the romance variety. Like One Night‘s Ellie, Wallace’s heroine, Princess Arianna Santoro, has run away from her father, King Carlos IV of the mythical kingdom of Corinthia. Arianna was near-affiancéd to Manolo Tutuola, a Corinthian businessman her father had urged her to date with the hope they would marry. Always conscious of duty, and wanting to make her still-grieving father (after her mother’s loss) happy, she did her darndest to work out a relationship with Manolo. But Manolo turned out to be a cheating rat-bastard and now, Arianna is in Manhattan for the time and space to figure out what to do next. She’s pregnant with rat-bastard’s baby and her flea-bitten hotel doesn’t afford her protection, or comfort. Out and about for some air, she finds that “her wallet was missing”. “Out of all the gin-joints in all the world,” she walks into Max Brown’s for help (Miss Bates knows, wrong film, but since we’re making vintage film references … ) where the charming maître d’, Darius, Max’s friend and right-hand man, mistakenly thinks she’s answering their help-wanted ad for a waitress. Continue reading
In a romance-reader’s life, nothing is more gripping than a good HP. The HP is the essence of romance, the genre in its barest, most elemental manifestation. If done well, the HP offers the romance reader the genre’s immersive emotional engagement in two hours of reading time.
Miss Bates loved her first Michelle Smart HP, Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed, and says no less for her Christmas HP, Claiming His Christmas Consequence. His, that is, hero Nathaniel Giroud’s “consequence” is the baby he makes with heroine Princess Catalina Fernandez, during one unforgettable night of love-making. Smart cleverly (pun totally intended) ensures we are never privy to the baby-making night, thus ratcheting up Nathaniel and Catalina’s relationship-mystique and making the post-night-of-love agon of working out their relationship the novel’s crux. When the novel opens, Catalina is patiently attending the wedding of the man her father had chosen for her to marry, Prince Helios of neighbouring kingdom Agon. Nathaniel Giroud, her brother’s school-days enemy and Helios’s good friend, is also in attendance. Catalina, in a rare instance of self-indulgence and defiance of her family and royal role, takes something for herself in one night of love with Nathaniel, the self-made French playboy billionaire. She closes the bedroom door behind him the next morning, knowing she can keep this wonderful memory through all her duty-bound nights and days. Nathaniel is moved by his night with Catalina, but eschews commitment.
A Family For the Holidays is the third Sherri Shackelford romance Miss Bates has read and she can say with confidence that Shackelford gets better and better. Miss Bates liked the first one, with misgivings; loved the second; and the third is a charm for auto-buy territory. One of the reasons Shackelford’s romances are getting better is because they’re funnier, without losing the pathos and sentiment romance readers enjoy. A Family For the Holidays reminded Miss Bates of her favourite HPs, Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife and Sarah Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules. You’ll rightly think, dear reader, what a strange pairing: the contemporary HP with the historical inspie. And yet … like the HPs, Shackelford’s romance has an orphaned, irrepressible, blithely-plunging-into-danger, child-loving heroine and broody, alpha-male hero who turns to putty in the heroine’s small, vulnerable hands, a heroine who grows in bravery and élan and hero who learns how to tap into the pleasures of the heart. Like Graham’s and Morgan’s HPs, Shackelford’s romance is a hoot! The characters aren’t drippy the way inspie characters can be, the plot moppets neither pathetic nor corny. They and Lily beset the hero’s space and heart with their energy and humour until they dissolve his good-bad-and-ugly, cheroot-chewing persona. Continue reading
Terri Reed’s Identity Unknown was an unknown entity for Miss Bates: a new-to-her author and series and tropes that are a hard sell. The combination of inspie and suspense is squirm-inducing: Miss Bates reads with a gimlet eye, waiting to reader-pounce on any glorification of gun- or uniform-adoration. Reed’s romance novel, however, was surprisingly humble. Its humility emanated from her hero and heroine, Canadian Border Services agent Nathaniel Longhorn and Calico Bay, Maine, Deputy Sheriff Audrey Martin. The novel’s opening was its strongest part. Sniper Longhorn is ambushed by the gun- and drug-running Russian gang he and his American counterparts are trying to arrest. Hours or mere days later, he washes up on Deputy Martin’s Maine coast. Audrey’s “John Doe” is groggy from a head wound and doesn’t remember who he is, or why he washed up on this Maine beach. Audrey too wonders if he’s one of the bad guys, or one of the good. While Audrey doesn’t dispute the possibility her “unknown” may be a criminal, she trusts the instincts that tell her this helpless man is ethical. Her impression is confirmed by his request for her prayers. Continue reading