2013 In Reading and Reviewing: The State of MBRR and The Year’s Favourite Romance Reads

Miss Bates started MBRR with the idea that she’d blog for herself, as a way of keeping track of what she read and how she felt and thought about romance fiction.  She assumed she’d sporadically pick up readers researching a title, stumbling on Miss Bates’s musings via a search engine.  She’d entrenched the endeavour with a blog-name that served as an amusing persona; the loquacious spinster fit perfectly. 😉

What ensued took her completely by surprise.  Pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless.  Within weeks of writing her first posts, she did not accumulate hundreds of followers, or have publishers and authors clamoring for her reviews.  What she felt was championed by the spirit of generosity extended to MBRR by these wonderful writers/bloggers/thinkers and lovers of romance fiction:

Pamela at Badass Romance

Liz at Something More

Jessica at Read React Review

Emma at Emma Barry

Gen at Gen Turner

Natalie at The Radish

and Janine at Dear Author

Being championed beats all.  Miss Bates thanks you for encouraging, commenting, and supporting.  She is privileged and humbled to be in your company.  And your company is a lot of fun!

Many thanks to everyone who dropped by, read, mused, followed, commented, and returned time and again.  Miss Bates hopes you’ve been entertained, amused, and found the reviews/readings interesting, thought-provoking, and considered.  It’s been a wonderful year and the state of Miss Bates Reads Romance is happy, healthy, and looking forward to another year of reading and reviewing.  In the spirit of the genre that we love and love to debate, as every hero/heroine avows, “You [dear readers] are perfect for me.”

To follow are Miss Bates’s favourite romances  and posts of 2013.  Some are new, some old, some historicals, some contemporaries, some you’ve read, some might spark your interest.  Miss Bates briefly comments on each and links to the original review.

Released in 2013

Historical Romance: is Miss Bates’s first romance reading amour and it scored some coups this year.  Grant’s A Woman Entangled followed upon Miss Bates’s love for A Lady Awakened and A Gentleman Undone.  Her other two favourites were by new-to-her authors: Emma Barry’s Brave In Heart and Tracey Devlyn’s Nexus Series.

A Woman EntangledCecilia Grant’s A Woman Entangled (Blackshear #3)  Grant’s romance novel exacts tolerance and love from the reader, as hero and heroine have to mature before achieving an HEA.  Steeped in Austen allusions, homage and nod, Grant’s romance initially subverts notions of romantic love, only to lead us cleverly and adroitly to its affirmation.  Miss Bates urges you to read the entire Blackshear series: Grant is writing the best in romance fiction.

roses2Emma Barry’s Brave In Heart (Dauntless Love #1)  Barry’s American-Civil-War-set, second-chance-at-love couple, Margaret and Theo, are beautifully fragile in their rigidity.  Margaret so protective of her heart.  Theo so protective of his duty.  Neither willing to move towards love and vulnerability.  But war and passion, those Dionysian forces, bring them together and break them apart as the first glimmers of love and tenderness conquer their marriage-of-necessity.  Miss Bates loved this story for these reasons and because Barry wrote her favourite line (actually, Barry wrote many wonderful lines; Miss Bates could go on about the writing, but she’ll desist and urge you to read the book to find out for yourself) about the sole reason one must seize love in its imperfections, “Instead of moving forward together, they had stood still apart.”

The Ruin Of A RogueMiranda Neville’s The Ruin Of A Rogue  (Wild Quartet #2)  Miss Bates loved the story of Marcus and Anne, rogue and heiress.  Neville’s prose has a light touch, a humorous touch, but it is no less serious in intent.  Marcus’s moral expediency and Anne’s oblivion to how the bills are paid, the exploiter of fortunes and she who takes her comforts and wealth and choices for granted, play out an astute story of desire and revenge.  Ah, but love and friendship, brought about by fortuitous circumstance, foil them.  A romance novel, Miss Bates would say, which didn’t receive the love and attention it well deserved.

A Lady's Secret WeaponTracey Devlyn’s A Lady’s Secret Weapon (Nexus Series #3)   Though Miss Bates loved Devlyn’s Nexus #2, Checkmate, My Lord, even more, A Lady’s Secret Weapon has resonated.  Devlyn’s cross-class couple, Ethan deBeau and Sydney Hunt, are all that is loveable, honourable, and broken.  The romance is lovely; the writing is humorous and moving.  Reasons enough to urge you to read this romance novel, but what Miss Bates would rather argue here is to encourage you to read the series.  Devlyn’s Nexus series is unique, at least in Miss Bates’s experience, in creating a mystery, spy thriller, set of characters, historical context, and romance that are compelling, utterly reader-hookable, and never never feel like sequel-bait.  Herein the mystery/intrigue are as good as the romance, as good as the historical atmosphere, as good as the writing.  Individual books may succeed, or weaken these elements in various ways, but as a whole, this is delightful!

Contemporary Romance: has more misses than wins for Miss Bates.  The titles she lists are ones that resonated.

Cara McKenna’s After Hours  Miss Bates didn’t review McKenna’s romance, but she read it and loved it.  She includes it because it reaches the heights of goodness that Grant and Barry did in historical.  What lifts it a cut above most contemporary romance, especially of the cutesy small-town variety, is its dark and depressed, economically and atmospherically, urban setting.  What better city than the abandoned, ash-grey Detroit to set your gritty romance?  And what better immediate setting than an asylum of the mentally ill?  And what better protagonists than a psychiatric nurse and her blunt, buff orderly-lover?  Miss Bates would argue that McKenna has written a post-modern Jane Eyre.  The gothic atmosphere of the asylum, the urban blight, the hero and heroine’s survival and their circumscribed sexual, emotional, and professional triumphs are lovingly-told bruises in the face of all that is quietist in the genre.

Homecoming RanchJulia London’s Homecoming Ranch (#1) London’s Homecoming Ranch is conventional in plot and echoes numerous small-town romances; yet, it’s utterly charming and moving.  Hero and heroine, Madeline and Luke, are caught up in questions of ownership, obligation, family, and duty.  They fall in love amidst the push-toward-pull-away-from struggle of fulfilling your dreams and ambitions and also seeing to your familial obligations.  They are adult enough to admit they are selfish and discontented about the ties that bind.  Miss Bates liked that best about the novel.  Equally interesting was London’s attempt to play with voice, alternating between first- and third-person narration.  Stylistic attempts and women’s-fiction themes aside, this is one sexy romance.        

The Christmas He Loved HerJuliana Stone’s The Christmas He Loved Her  (Bad Boys of Crystal Lake #2)  Stone’s romance could have been maudlin and tasteless, but it wasn’t.  A deceased veteran twin, a returning, surviving veteran-brother, the deceased brother’s widow, the shadows of Afghanistan and grief and family and guilt: this novel could have, should have, been a mess.  Stone’s wonderful writing, penchant for figurative language and terrific characterization instead created a beautifully romantic narrative about redemption, family love, and the releasing of guilt.

Been Around A Few Years

Historical Romance:

Checkmate, My LordTracey Devlyn’s Checkmate, My Lord  (Nexus #2)  Echoing Miss Bates’s commentary regarding A Lady’s Secret Weapon, Devlyn’s Nexus series is awesome.  Of the two titles mentioned here, this is Miss Bates’s favourite: she loved the second-chance-at-love theme for the widow Catherine Ashcroft, and the man-who-gave-all-to-his-country-but-nought-for-himself spymaster hero, Sebastian Danvers.  The intrigue is gripping; the romance, moving and sexy.  Sebastian is a great, troubled hero: unsettled by what he’s had to do to keep his country safe, what it’s cost his agents, and what it’s exacted of him: he drinks too much & is deprimé when we first meet him.  But Catherine and her lovely rugrat daughter, Sophie, renew him, fulfill him, and save him.

Homefront HeroAllie Pleiter’s Homefront Hero  Miss Bates has struggled to find inspirational romance that she can love and admire.  Pleiter’s modest category effort may be one of the few she can vouch for.  Set during the Great War (Miss Bates is fascinated by the era) on an army camp in South Carolina, the love story of our knitting campaign heroine, Leanne Sample, and our embittered wounded war hero, John Gallows, is movingly and beautifully written.  Weaving the central metaphor of knitting into what Pleiter tells us about faith, love, forgiveness, and sacrifice makes for a memorable and original romance.

Contemporary Romance:

Law ManKristen Ashley’s Law Man  (Dream Man #3)  How does Miss Bates describe how surprisingly good she found Ashley’s novel?  ‘Tis true that Miss B. plunged into this novel with the lowest of expectations.  She was hoisted on her own snooty petard when she discovered a thoughtful, sexy, breezy take on desire, attraction, love, responsibility, and the self-perceptions that prevent us from reaching for what we most want. Ashley’s novel provoked interesting questions of class and status, of nature and nurture … and had Miss Bates eating humble-reader pie.

Romance Classics

The Raven PrinceThe Leopard PrinceElizabeth Hoyt’s The Raven Prince and The Leopard Prince  (Prince #1 & 2)  Miss Bates feels complete and unabashed love for these two classic romance novels that she read for the first time this year.  They don’t need much introduction from her.  Suffice to say that Raven stands as a wonderful homage to Miss Bates’s beloved Jane Eyre.  Leopard, on the other hand, has one of Miss Bates’s now favourite romance couples, the charming, loveable, smart-as-a-whip George and the nonpareil of heroes, the man of earth and love and diffident humor, the sinewy, green-eyed Harry Pye.    

Tulips For AugustaTulips For Augusta2Betty Neels’ Tulips For Augusta  What can Miss Bates add to the discussion of Neels’s wonderfulness that hasn’t already been eloquently and wittily stated at The Uncrushable Jersey Dress?  La Neels elements remain as always in Tulips: older, cypher-doctor hero and peevish, lower middle-class heroine, Augusta.  Miss Bates was delighted that Augusta, though suffering from low self-esteem regarding her appearance and worth, really socked it to Constantijn.  Sometimes, she was downright mean and/or rude and it was fun to read.  Constantinijn, on his part, was annoyingly un-forthcoming and deserved the set-downs.  However, Neels cleverly and beautifully redeemed him by making the giving of flowers to Augusta a thread running throughout the novel.  Miss Bates loved tracing the significance of his offerings.

Favourite Posts

One of Miss Bates’s revelations in starting MBRR was discovering how incredibly hard and frustrating writing can be: how the words won’t come, or they’re jumbled … how incomplete every post feels even after she can’t revise anymore for fear she’ll toss her laptop across the room!  She thinks, she hopes, that her writing improved with each post, that she was better able to express her ideas … but only you, dear readers, can judge that.  Notwithstanding that Miss Bates sees “through a glass darkly,” there were some posts that she loved, even though she struggled with expressing her thoughts in them.  They are listed here; some have been linked in the above comments, but three are reviews of novellas that inspired much loquaciousness!  (And therein too, you’ll find romance goodness, so take them as recommendations.)

Courtney Milan’s “Unlocked”

Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Raven Prince

Ruthie Knox’s “Making It Last”

Kristen Ashley’s Law Man

Emma Barry’s Brave In Heart

Julia London’s “The Bridesmaid”

Miss Bates wishes you and yours a happy, healthy, love- and success-filled new year … with many reading pleasures in the interstices of your lives.  What are your favourite reads of 2013?  She’d love to hear all about them in the comments!

13 thoughts on “2013 In Reading and Reviewing: The State of MBRR and The Year’s Favourite Romance Reads

  1. I blush to be included with such witty, erudite ladies in the Romancelandia sphere!

    I have found myself a bit…disheartened at times this year by some of the discussions around romance this year, but your reviews, Miss Bates, without fail, have been witty, thoughtful, delightful, and always well-intentioned–even when you disliked the book!

    So thank you for writing the best review blog out there–the discussion would be infintely poorer without your voice. And your reviews will only get better in 2014! (And perhaps we’ll see more proletarian heroes as well in the new year. 😉 )

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    • Thank you for those kind and thoughtful words! Miss Bates does good snip, but she does backspace quite a lot. The best part of my humble endeavours are all the wonderful people I’ve cyber-met, like you!

      Miss Bates would love to read a scientific romance one of these days! 😉

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  2. Oh, I must read the Miranda Neville series. The 1st book in her previous series was one of the best historical romance reads I’ve had in the last few years, and I have fallen behind. Or, more likely, I’m saving them all subconsciously for those times I really need a well-written, satisfying HR that works for me.

    Tulips for Augusta is one of my favorite Neels novels and one of my most reread. I hope you’ll read more and keep us posted!

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    • Miss Bates wasn’t as enamoured of the first one in that series, The Importance of Being Wicked, but she loved Marcus and Anne, whom you meet in the first book. On the other hand, Neville’s books are consistently well-written, nay even elegantly written, so they’re worth reading. And The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton is in her TBR pile … really looking forward to that one!

      Ah, La Neels, I do love her so. And Augusta was wonderful. Miss Bates shall most definitely keep reading and posting on La Neels; she has Plans to read at least the 40 in the TBR pile! 😉

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  3. A very happy new year, to you, dear Miss Bates! I recall a similar feeling of welcome and joy when I started my sporadic blogging efforts last spring. This became even more gleeful when I discovered here @ MBRR not only a fellow Jane Eyre lover, but a fellow reader who, like me, was moved to start blogging about romance in her 50th year… just a lovely coincidence and I am so glad you gave yourself — and all of us — this wonderful birthday gift. Here’s to lots more thoughtful and fun books, blogging, and conversation in 2014!

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    • Thank you very much for your good wishes! Miss Bates, of course, extends the same to you and yours! It’s been a wonderful year and thank you very much for being Miss Bates’s first champion. Hoping to see and enjoy the same from the always-thoughtful, always-interesting, always-elegantly-written posts at Badass Romance!

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