(Lately, Miss Bates has been thinking about how reading interweaves with our everyday lives. Maybe it’s because she’s having onerous days at work, maybe because she’s nursing a wicked head cold, but she was very much aware of what it meant to come home quite late, after a long and difficult day, and find a book waiting for her. A romance novel, even as this one, Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass, without much romancy romance, without sexy times, and with a meandering cast of characters, often NOT the hero and heroine. And yet, it was viscerally satisfying to know that good will triumph, brokenness healed, loneliness assuaged, and families melded.)
Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass is romance #3 in the Ransom Canyon series. No one book stands out as memorable, but the series itself stays with Miss Bates as a place of refuge. After reading the third book, Miss Bates realized that each novel’s romantic central couple fades and the characters who remain are the ones who appear to us book in, book out: the lonely, stalwart Sheriff Brigman, his ethereal daughter Lauren, her love for the elusive Lucas Reyes, and the retired teachers of the Evening Shadows Retirement Home. Most of all, Miss Bates carries with her Thomas’s fictional town as a “crossroads,” also the town’s literal name (place names in Thomas’s series are allegorical) where hero and heroine leave the broken past behind (often covered in family enmity and strife) and build a new world of love and family; black sheep are taken in; and community is healed. Continue reading
(Dear Readers, Miss Bates continues to toil at the day-job above and beyond the call of duty. But when Friday night rolled around, she needed to put the feet up, brew the green tea, add the honey, and read the romance. It was a good one and there was late-night-in-bed reading. And this is why today, she offers her 300th review, compact as heroine Sierra West in Maisey Yates’s One Night Charmer.)
A Maisey Yates review is apropos for Miss Bates’s 300th. Yates is one of her favourite contemporary romance authors, balancing a visceral contemporary voice with traditional-values rom-HEA (marriage and babies). Her characters fall in love, work things out, and commit, but also go on a journey that transcends their weighed-down-with-negativity past. This is no less true for One Night Charmer than all the fabulous Copper Ridge novels and novellas. Moreover, One Night Charmer‘s elements are missbatesian rom-nip: an older, surly hero, wounded and jaded, a “bouncy”, smart ingenue heroine, drunken sex, the wages of sin, marriage-of-convenience, and a baby-filled epilogue. Continue reading
(With this Miss Bates’s 299th review, she confesses to a slight and temporary change of direction. Miss Bates has taken new professional responsibilities at the day-job and must curtail her reading and blogging activities. The plan is to post a mini-review once-a-week. Gone, for the present, Miss Bates’s deliciously loquacious review-posts. In their place, what Miss Bates hopes will be shorter reviews, still helpful and interesting to her readers.)
Through the Storm is Rula Sinara’s third From Kenya, With Love romance. Miss Bates loved and reviewed the first, The Promise Of Rain. Heroine Tessa is married to Brice Henning and bringing up her nephew, her sister’s son, Nick. Maria and husband Allan were killed in an airplane crash. Brice offers Tessa what she’s craved since a child, stability, safety, security. Growing up with environmentalist-sailing parents, Tessa lived a childhood of fear, always apprehensive her parents would never return from their dangerous missions. With the loss of her sister, Tessa’s fear are re-awakened. When she suspects her husband of taking part in the unethical ivory trade, she must expose him. But first, she must ensure Nick’s safety. Continue reading
Manda Collins’s (a new-to-Miss-B-romance-writer) Good Dukes Wear Black is third in her Lords of Anarchy series. Though Miss Bates hasn’t read the first two, she can safely say there’s nothing anarchic about Good Dukes Wear Black‘s hero, Piers Hamilton, Duke of Trent, from hereon referred to as Trent (Miss B., and thankfully, Collins, dislikes the name Piers). Au contraire, Trent is a sublime hero: generous, understanding, with just the right amount of protective bluster to endear him to reader and heroine. Our heroine is Miss Ophelia Dauntry, journalist on all things needlecraft at the Ladies Gazette. Collins ensures Trent and Ophelia’s acquaintance by making them friends to the heroes and heroines of the first two Lords of Anarchy novels. Though long acquainted, Trent and Ophelia are only aware of each other as attractive, available young people when circumstance bring them even closer. Ophelia’s fellow journalist, Maggie Grayson, is taken by two thugs (Maggie trying to fend off the brutes and getting a good boink to the head in the process) ostensibly on her husband’s orders because Maggie’s gone mad. Maggie’s husband, George Grayson, was one of Trent’s soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars. When George disappears and Ophelia discovers that Maggie may have be taken because of her investigative work into the mental institution’s unethical practices, Trent and Ophelia set out, as friends, to find Maggie and George and bring the culprits who took them to justice.
Miss Bates has never NOT had a book on the go; once she finishes one, she has the next lined up. Sometimes, new-book-starting is a desultory affair: tepid, reluctant, maybe even a tad depressing. “Will this satisfy my reading-pleasure-principle?” “I have limited reading time, will this be worth the precious half hour I have nightly?” MissB started reading Maisey Yates’s Take Me, Cowboy in this mode: half-heartedly, maybe even sullenly. But she’d loved so many Yates-romances and went into that good-reading-night anyway. Yates’s Oregon-set Copper Ridge series has had one winner after another, would Take Me, Cowboy exhibit series-exhaustion?
Certainly the romance’s opening had Miss B. scowling: wait a minute, this sounds awfully like the last Yates Miss B. read: Bad News Cowboy, with its plain-Jane, best-bud heroine and looker-womanizer hero who find themselves on friendship’s wrong side, as lovers, prey to powerful desires and frightening feelings.
Lauren Layne is a new-to-Miss-Bates romance writer. Miss Bates read the third in her New York’s Finest series, Cuff Me, without reading the first two. Miss B. makes two conclusions: one, Layne is a rom-writer she wants to read again; and, two, part of the reason is, though third-in-series, Cuff Me didn’t have that tired-formulaic feel that too many “series” books do. It helped that Cuff Me has one of Miss Bates’s favourite rom-tropes, opposites-attract, especially when the opposites are a grumpy hero and effervescent heroine. Layne’s contemporary romance reminded Miss Bates of Maisey Yates’s Part Time Cowboy, which Miss B. adored. So if you love Yates’s Copper Ridge series, you’re sure to love Cuff Me.
Our curmudgeon-hero is Vincent Moretti, one of the NYPD’s finest homicide detectives, his perfect-solution record testifying to his abilities. His bubbly, tiny, blonde partner is Jill Henley. Together, playing on their bad-cop-good-cop personas, they’ve been getting their man for six years. When the novel opens, Vin is anticipating Jill’s return from Florida, where she’s been taking care of her injured mum. Vin’s restless desire to see Jill again perturbs him. He adorably grunts through a haircut, a further sprucing up at his apartment, and several rides around town trying to find the perfect welcome-home gift. He finally settles on her favourite donut, which he brings in a crumpled paper bag to his family’s celebratory dinner on Jill’s behalf. Vin’s close-mouthed happiness at seeing Jill again is dashed when his brothers and sister Elena, Jill’s BFF, corral him at the door to tell him about Jill’s engagement.
This summer, Miss Bates listened to a Brene Brown series of lectures called “The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage.” (It’s a wonderful series, especially if you’re given to self-protection and perfectionism, as Miss Bates is. Austen’s Miss Bates is beautifully vulnerable, which leads Emma to take that nasty shot at her at the picnic.) One interesting point Brown made was that vulnerability does not mean oversharing, or as Miss Bates less elegantly puts it, TMI. In reference to the same, Brown said you have to really think about who deserves your story. Reading Judith Arnold’s seminal romance about breast-cancer survivor Beth Pendleton and Ryan Walker, the builder-rogue who falls in love with her, Miss Bates thought about Brown’s words a lot. Too often, in romance, the heroine keeps secrets, secrets that result in an annoying Big Mis (I’m looking at you, secret babies) and a sure-fire way to being dumped onto the DNF pile. Barefoot In the Grass, on the other hand, is about a private woman, not a secretive one, whose story earned its privacy. Beth is a charming, intelligent, sympathetic heroine who confronted physical and psychic pain and fought a hard battle to embrace life, as echoed by the novel’s title and Beth’s oft-declared promise-to-self to find joy in “walking barefoot in the grass.” Continue reading
Jennifer Hayward’s Claiming the Royal Innocent starts in run-of-the-mill HP romance fashion. Miss Bates was clipping along, enjoying the ride, when something happened a third of the way in: run-of-the-mill turned extraordinary, pleasant -enough became keeper-shelf-worthy. Miss Bates loved Hayward’s The Italian’s Deal For I Do, but she’s persnickety because Claiming gains on it. Following the fine but not-rocking-world Carrying the King’s Pride, Claiming tells the story of that royal hero’s illegitimate, recently-revealed sister Aleksandra Dimitriou and Aristos Nicolades, the casino-owning billionaire whom the king puts in charge of her safety when Akathinia is threatened by war with neighbouring Carnelia.
The novel falls into two thematic parts: the first half is very much about Aleksandra coming to grips with her new-found identity and second, which moves geographically away from the palace and onto Aristos’s private casino island, with Aristos’s struggle to come to terms with his past, a past which leaves him emotionally closed off and jaded. In Miss Bates’s review notes, she found the following scribble: “the first half deals with Alex’s mess and the second with Aristos’s.” In the romance novel’s course, Hayward plays all the delicious notes the HP reader expects: glamor, money, exotic locale, and sexy times. And, in this case, her own quippy, witty brand of It Happened One Night banter. These are but the trappings of any superlative HP, however: the rest is made of the hero and heroine’s believable struggle to relinquish psychic patterns preventing them from achieving connection, commitment, and love. Continue reading
Theresa Romain writes despondent romances. Her characters are noble and good; her prose is elegant. Her hero and heroine are in a bad place when we meet them. Miss Bates likes that Romain doesn’t lay the angst on thick, however. Her characters’ sadness is perniciously persistent, like a low-grade fever. Things are wrong somewhere, but the appearance of things seems all right. Every time Miss Bates reads one of Romain’s romances, she frequently doubts she’ll finish it. And yet, each time, she does and is quite satisfied and rewarded by Romain’s HEA.
Romain’s latest, Fortune Favors the Wicked is typical of the author. In 1817, retired, blind Royal Navy Lieutenant Benedict Frost arrives in London, from on board “The Argent,” to sell his sailing memoir to publisher George Pitman. His minimal pension means he can’t offer Georgette, his sister, anything but a pittance. He hopes his soon-to-be-best-selling memoir will save the day when Georgette leaves their cousins’ home upon reaching her majority. He also learns that 50 000 pounds-worth of the king’s gold was stolen. When his manuscript is rejected, Benedict realizes the reward money may serve to help Georgette. He sets off for Derbyshire to recover the gold and win the reward money. Meanwhile in Strawfield, Derbyshire, we meet heroine Miss Charlotte Perry, vicar’s daughter. She too aims to ensure a young relation’s welfare: her ten-year-old niece, Maggie, named after Charlotte’s deceased sister, Margaret. Charlotte is also in search of the gold. Benedict and Charlotte’s meet-cute is inevitable.
After finishing Jo Beverley’s sublime Emily and the Dark Angel, Miss Bates was in a reading funk. Much like a fussy baby, “grizzling” (as Hart describes adorable Freya in Juggling Briefcase and Baby) from book to book, unable to settle. Miss Bates read the opening pages to at least 15 e-ARCs; none of them took: the writing was stilted, info-dumps galore, and even romance writers she usually loves were giving her the meh-blues. She tried out a few non-roms; that experiment fell flat as well, too many writers too conscious of the prose and ignorant of the pacing, plot, and characterization. She stood in her spinster’s lair, foot a-tapping, index finger beating a dissatisfied refrain on her chin: nothing stood out from the groaning paper TBR shelves. “What to read? What to read?” … always turn to a title from a favourite author! Hence, Jessica Hart’s Juggling Briefcase and Baby, a one-click buy from years ago when Miss Bates read Wendy’s review. Dear readers, Wendy was right: this is a great great rom. There be reasons. There be one reason above all that makes for great rom. The genre runs with a pretty straight forward narrative: encounter, new or reunited; development with obstacles; HEA. That’s all there is to it; characterization, pretty standard, flawed but basically likeable, on occasion, admirable. What distinguishes the romance genre from others is the emotional wisdom, the deep deep astuteness about the bond of falling in love and making the scary leap to commitment. Hart, alas no longer practicing the romance art, is/was one of its most sensitive practitioners.