MINI-REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s CUPCAKES FOR CHRISTMAS

Cupcakes_For_ChristmasA Kate Hewitt romance is a welcome thing. Hewitt writes her characters with insightful psychology. Their dilemmas are believable and well-developped. She writes with a light touch, making the reader chuckle with affection even as she sheds a tear or two. Her latest Willoughby Close, Christmas-romance incarnation is Cupcakes For Christmas, a trite title for a romance that tackles some difficult issues.

Olivia James, at near-40, is a spinster, having never committed herself to husband or family, even though she lived in London and dated for years before returning to Wychwood-on-Lea to run her now-retired mother’s bake-shop, Tea On the Lea. Hero Simon Blacklock is newly arrived in Wychwood, living with his sister, teaching music part-time at the local elementary school and playing his cello at church concerts. Simon walks into Olivia’s shop to buy a cupcake, answering the call of Olivia’s Christmas bakes promotion, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Olivia has been working hard to raise the shop’s profile and drum up business. The cupcake promotion is one of several events that run throughout the novel with a scrumptious Christmas-baked-goods theme. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Marnie Blue’s MISTLETOE KISSES

Mistletoe_KissesAs winter sleet, ice, snow, and ice loom, and the day-job continues its relentlessly demanding pace, I can at least celebrate the coming holidays. And the hols bring the Christmas romance and Hallmark Christmas movies in double-time! What does this have to do with Marnie Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses? Everything, as it’s a slip of a romance that sounds like category rom and smells like Hallmark. If you like one or t’other or both, you’re going to be a happy camper.

Blue is a new-to-me author and the first of my newly-resolved reviewing decision to try new romance authors every few months. My introvert’s heart can’t really take much more change than that. I started Blue’s romance with trepidation, experienced delight, eye-rolled several bits, and ended up replete with reader satisfaction. Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses doesn’t break any romance molds and its Hallmark-Christmas-movie ethos will be familiar to those of us who revel in the joys of tinsel, garland, frosted gingerbread men, and tree-lighting ceremonies, of which there is a hilarious one in Mistletoe Kisses. When the novel opens, Grinch-like cop-hero Justin Weaver is sneezing his way through his Santa-beard as he grumbles at his commanding officer’s “request” to make nice with the public by playing Santa to collect toys for underprivileged children. It’s a good cause and Justin is a good egg, he just hates Christmas, his tight Santa costume, and public appearances … especially speeches. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: J. R. Ward’s CONSUMED

ConsumedWhen I first started to read romance again, after a thirty-year hiatus (ah, the “lost years”), one of the first romances I read was J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal (2006), a romance novel I thought at once execrable and utterly compelling. Really, I couldn’t put it down, even though I was embarrassed for enjoying it and yet thinking how laughably bad it was. I can’t say I experienced the same reader self-hatred reading the first of Ward’s new non-vampiric “Firefighters” series, Consumed. Maybe it was the first flush of allowing myself to read romance again, but I’d gained some distance from Consumed in a way I hadn’t with Lover Eternal, though I read it with the same enthusiasm and rueful self-doubt. I can now recognize what makes Ward compelling: there’s a hyperbolic physicality to her characters, a gritty underbelly feel to her setting, and a rawness to it all that makes for a powerful formula. There’s NOTHING small-town cutsie or gentle about Ward’s world and she’s pretty fearless about writing her characters’ edginess. I liked that about her and I liked Consumed, though, at times, it bugged the heck out of me. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Mira Lynn Kelly’s JUST THIS ONCE

Just_This_OnceI loved reading Thomas’s The Hollow Of Fear, but I was more-than-happy to sink into a thorough romance-romance, emotional, sexy, with a clear line to the HEA, littered with dark little moments. Though the day-job continues to be an albatross, I took a lot of time in my evenings to finish Kelly’s Just This Once, book three in The Wedding Date series. Like the others, Just This Once opens with the hero at the previous book’s hero and heroine’s wedding; it concludes with his own. A premise that’s a tad twee, but I forgive because the novels often win me over. In Just This Once, hotel-owning-rich-boy hero, Sean Wyse of the Chicago Hotel Wyse chain, is best-manning his guy best friend’s wedding, Max Brandt’s. His side-kick and ever wedding date is the friend of his heart and youth, Max’s younger sister, Molly. Sean and Molly’s friendship is immature, but kind of fun. He teases, she torments; they pretty much behave like two teens who secretly harbor crushes and take them out in silly pranks. Everyone in their friendship circle, the past and future heroes and heroines of Kelly’s series, look upon their shenanigans with affection and amusement. The silliness being given a critical nod, I liked how Kelly also built in true camaraderie, compatibility, and affection into the group’s relationships and a lovely tenderness between Sean and Molly, despite the occasional sophomoric behaviour.
Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Sherry Thomas’s THE HOLLOW OF FEAR

Hollow_Of_FearI came to this lauded series late. Have the first two on audio and once again, I’ve had to relearn that my ability to listen to audiobooks is severely limited. It took me days and days to read Hollow, buffeted as I was by day-job issues. It never offered that romance punch of happiness and rightness, but it was a worthy read nonetheless.

For those unfamiliar with Thomas’s series, she sets up her Victorian female detective as a sly critique of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Thomas imagines Sherlock Holmes as Charlotte, a cross-dressing, fallen woman amidst the puritanical strictures of Victorian England, who uses her troubling powers of detection and frighteningly incisive intellect to solve convoluted mysteries full of dastardly nemeses and plots within plots. In this third book in the series, Charlotte solves the murder of dear friend and eventual lover’s, Lord Ashburton  Ingram’s, estranged wife, Lady Ingram. An ice queen if there ever was one, found murdered in the Ash’s estate’s ice house. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s A TALL, DARK COWBOY CHRISTMAS

Tall_Dark_Cowboy_XmasMaisey Yates opens Gold Valley romance #4 with the line “Grant Dodge was alone. And that was how he liked it”, ensuring the reader that Grant Dodge is about to NOT be alone and that his hold on his solitude is to be shaken by the heroine. Said heroine, McKenna Tate, is blithely slumbering in an abandoned cabin on the ranch Grant shares with his brother Wyatt, sister-in-law Lindy, and sometimes-around veterinarian brother Bennett and sister-in-law, Kaylee. A “full house” of family and connections, but Grant prefers his solitude: what’s up with that and how will it be “shook up”? My tone may be flippant as I introduce Yates’s romance, but the romance is anything but: it’s angsty, heart-wrenching stuff with two very broken, very vulnerable, pain-filled protagonists. One is broken by his first marriage and the other broken by a life as a foster child, unloved, unwanted, uncared for. Reading their story, I thought Yates penned her most painful story yet, unredeemed by humour, or playful sex, banter (okay, there are soupçons of banter, but hardly) tenderness or joy. Grant and McKenna are two suffering characters, with burdens making Aeneas’s look like fluff, and the romance suffers under their weight as much as they do.
Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Kelly Bowen’s LAST NIGHT WITH THE EARL

Last_Night_W_the_EarlI’ve been thinking a lot lately about where romance fiction “fits” in the scheme of things literary. I’m tired of arguments either defending the genre or condemning it, discussing its relevance or irrelevance … blah blah blah. Not that these discussions aren’t relevant, they are to those who partake and more power to them. I do enjoy listening “in” to the Twitter debates, etc. But I have been asking why I persist in reading romance when the world around me makes the romance’s domestic world focus feel irrelevant. I think we read romance of any ilk, paranormal, historical, contemporary, conservative to radical in its perspective, because it’s utopian (minus the satire; there is nothing Thomas More would recognize in the genre). End of thought bubble. 

The latest “utopian” romance I read was Kelly Bowen’s Last Night With the Earl, depicting the love and closeness of Napoleonic War veteran, Eli Dawes, the eponymous “Earl” of Rivers, and artist Rose Hayward. Like many romance couples, Eli and Rose are “broken” and their relationship, as it plays out, works towards achieving their healing and wholeness. As a narrative, it succeeded and failed in depicting their story. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s WYOMING COWBOY JUSTICE

Wyoming_Cowboy_JusticeSo Nicole Helm takes her place with Maisey Yates in the I-read-all-their-books category of my romance reading. And even though I was feeling surfeited? satiated? on Yates-Helm, I can’t resist those Harq romantic suspense covers. It’s too bad that lanky, near-clean-shaven, moderately-good-looking dude on the cover has nothing to do with one of the most marvelous romance heroes I’ve read in ages. Grady Carson is HUGE, broad, bearded, rough, a saloon-owner with dubious liquor-selling practices, who gets mixed up with the straight-and-narrow town deputy, Lauren Delaney. As it turns out the Carsons and Delaneys have been harboring a feud in Bent, Wyoming, that makes Capulets and Montagues, Hatfields and McCoys, look like spats. Enter one dead cousin, Jason Delaney and a half-brother suspect, Clint Danvers, and Deputy Delaney and saloon, “Rightful Claim”, proprietor, work together and argue and fight their attraction to find the culprit in Laurel’s case and exonerate baby bro in Grady’s case. All pretty standard RS stuff and ho-hum, so what makes this great?
Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Michelle Smart’s BILLIONAIRE’S BABY OF REDEMPTION

Billionaire's_Baby_Of_RedemptionMy recovery from Harari’s 21 Lessons continues in the form of romance-wallowing. What better than a dose of the HP’s uber-heightened-romance? Michelle Smart being a favourite author and with “baby” in the title (I like’em, what can I say?), I knew this would be a “Calgon-take-me-away” reading experience. And it was. I swallowed it in two evening sittings and it would’ve been one were it not for one drooly-sleep on night #1. As far as HPs go, it’s standard fare. Billionaire hero Javier Casillas is cold-hearted, ruthless, and angry, angry at his father who murdered his mother, angry at his brother for abandoning their business partnership to marry his enemy’s sister. He’s still raging at said enemy, his former best friend, whom Javier’d cheated in a business deal and who now sought his revenge by kidnapping and then marrying Javier’s fiancée, the prima ballerina of one of his and his brother’s many assets, a Madrid-based ballet company. Heroine Sophie Johnson walked into his life one night, on a mission to return certain important items to him from her best friend, Javier’s former fiancée. Sweet, innocent, tiny Sophie had been in love with her friend’s fiancé forever. Continue reading

REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s COWBOY SEAL CHRISTMAS

Cowboy_SEAL_ChristmasAfter nearly a month of reading Harari’s 21 Lessons, I sure needed a heavy romance dose. Who better than Nicole Helm to provide an antidote to Harari’s intellectual harshness? Why Helm? There are romance writers who love romance and that comes through in their writing, say Mary Balogh, the romance classicist, or the contemporary Lucy Parker. Then, there are romance writers who believe in romance and one of those is Helm. Another is her sister-in-writing, Maisey Yates. There’s a genuine belief in their stories as being tangible, possible, and attainable outside the pages of a book, no matter how idealized their characters. Though I’d recently read and reviewed a Helm romance, I knew she was going to cleanse the reading palate: Harari was nice, like having an exotic meal once in a while, or eating on vacay what you wouldn’t at home. But I was ready for my usual fare and enjoyed every but five minutes of it (more of that later).

I don’t know that you can really trust my review: maybe it’s too coloured by my relief and happiness at reading a hopeful book? I wanted the whole deal, a romance, yes, and one set during Christmas, with a Christmas “deal” of friends-with-benefits between what have been two antagonists through the first two books in Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series – WOW, bring it on. Continue reading