Miss Bates reiterates that she’s not a fan of romance novellas. They’re often used as a means of “hooking” a reader into a series. Miss Bates dislikes that publishing ploy. However, the two novellas she read amidst merry-making and writing her year-end post were enjoyable, not heart-stoppingly memorable, but a pleasant way to wile away an hour. She didn’t feel manipulated by them; they were genuine. The authors wanted to tell these stories, enjoyed telling them. Weir’s “Geek With the Cat Tattoo” was initially alienating, with its first-person Sam-the-Cat narrator and immature protagonists, but she warmed to it. Denise Hunter’s inspirational, “A December Bride,” caught Miss Bates unawares. She expects inspirational romances to be preachy and smarmy, but it wasn’t. Though truncated and possessed of caricaturish secondary characters, it was kinda sexy. Who’d have thunk it!
As unlike as they are, and as unlikely to be bedfellows, these novellas have one lovely thing in common: their heroes do a great woo. It’s really nice, refreshing. Miss B. liked it.
Weir’s “Geek With the Cat Tattoo” is the first “new adult” narrative that Miss Bates has read. She found the concept of the novella great, the writing delicate and engaging, but didn’t particularly enjoy the callow protagonists. It could be that NA may not be for Miss B, but Weir could still work beautifully otherwise.
Initially, Miss B. found the feline narrator puerile, but the more she acclimatized to him, the more she was charmed. She loved Sam the Cat’s thoughts about his new owner and hero of the novel, the “geeky,” painfully shy, Emerson. Sam possesses the wisdom of the age; he takes one look at Emerson and thinks, “I’m a nurturer. I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but it’s true. And this guy needs some major nurturing.” Does he ever! He’s infatuated with Lola Brown, who comes into his employer’s guitar shop, to collect her father’s, the famous musician’s, guitars since forever. Crippled by “his social anxiety,” he appears stand-offish, even rude. Lola, on her part, likes him just fine, but is convinced that he dislikes, no, “loathes” her. This is with good reason; his behaviour is Neanderthal-ish. Emerson is aware of how he comes across, but cannot overcome his debilitating shyness, “He’d thought about … all of the times he’d waited on her while trying to keep his shaking to a minimum, grunting out a word here and there, keeping his head down … [to] watch her leave, and wish he’d said something. Anything.” That is a terrific description; this modest in length, not in thought, novella is rife with them.
Lola’s borne her share of life’s lemons. A worthless and unworthy-of-her boyfriend left her doubtful about herself and suspicious of men and relationships. But she’s still in a healthier place than Emerson. She invites Emerson to a party. With Sam’s psychically-encouraging ego-boosting and hilarious powers, Emerson makes it to the party, has a great time, and begins The Wooing. The wooing is lovely, romantic, tender, thoughtful, gentle. Lola is a violinist. When Emerson hears her play, he resolves to make her a violin under the tutelage of a foremost instrument maker, who declares Emerson’s gesture the “most idiotically romantic thing I’ve ever heard.” When Lola busks in a local park, Emerson secretly drops love letters into her case, letters that are touching, engaging, and “vintage,” like something someone might have “mailed,” thinks Lola. Oh, the days of letter-writing; the vintage Miss B. remembers them well. 😉 Here’s a sampling, “Dear Lola, You’re the best song I’ve ever heard.” Now, could you resist that? When all seems lost: Sam, their relationship, a song brings them back together. The song is Miss Bates’s favourite, “Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.” But even before that, Sam/Weir already had MissB. purring!
Hallelujah for this lovely novella. The narration is fresh. The characters, especially Lola whom we don’t get to know as well as we do Emerson, are a tad blurry. Lola’s presence is not as sympathetic as Emerson’s, but Miss B. may be short-changing her because this is really Emerson and Sam’s story. Lola functions as the Eternal Female. Nevertheless, there are some appealing Lola scenes, like Lola in her blue princess dress and Emerson in his vintage tie bouncing in an inflatable castle … you’ll have to read it to find out, my friend.
Denise Hunter’s “December Bride” is too much storyline for one bitty novella. As a result, much is sacrificed to plot. If there’s one thing that doesn’t interfere with the novella, it’s the inspirational component. Miss B.’s peevish about the whole inspirational scene: on the one hand, as Ros rightly and much betterly said in her post, the exclusively evangelical bent of inspirational romance ensures a readership, but doesn’t allow the subgenre to attract readers outside of it, or not with any consistency. And it often makes for one narrow worldview! Suffice to say that Hunter’s novella falls into frothy evangelical and theology-lite. God’s sole role in the narrative seems to function as a kind of Hal to Hunter’s eHarmony concerns. What ought our heroine do? Should she, or shouldn’t she date the fella? Or as Layla, says, “Come on, God, a little help here.”
Some notion of “December Bride’s” goings-on is necessary. Layla has to attend her ex-fiancé’s, Jack’s, wedding to her cutting and nasty cousin, Jessica. Her pride demands a date. When a friend comes down with strep throat, circumstances conspire to have her accept the hated Seth Murphy’s escort. Seth is Jack’s best friend and the cause of his abandonment of Layla. The reasoning behind this is unreasonable on Layla’s part and serves as one of the weaker aspects of the novella. Seth is cute, funny, handsome, successful, and guilt-ridden over his role in Jack and Layla’s break-up. He is protective of Layla, especially when Jack et. al. throw her wrong-side-of-the-tracks background in her face, another somewhat ludicrous aspect to the novella (she’s a bad girl because her daddy was an alcoholic and the family was poor!?). To save Layla, save face, and endow their presence at the wedding with dignity, Seth blurts that they’re engaged to be married on Christmas Eve. Once Layla is connected to the well-to-do Seth, the possibility of clients for her fledgling house-staging business appears. The engagement charade continues. When Seth realizes he’s promised to take part in a house Christmas decorating contest, he needs her help. They strike a deal to support each other, spend a lot of time together, and fall in love.
Seth realizes quite early that he’s in love with Layla and sets out to woo and win her before the engagement has to be “broken.” When Seth and Layla are interacting, the novella is fun. Their physical chemistry is tender and hot for inspirational romance, which often reads like Archie Bunker’s description of angels’ genitalia: “they’re smooth.” Note Seth’s response to Layla when they are seated together at the wedding reception, “A curly wisp of her hair had come loose … Seth longed to brush it behind her ear, to feel the silky smoothness of her skin under … his thumb” and Layla’s response to Seth in the same scene, “His jean-clad thigh pressed against hers, making her too warm.”
Layla and Seth also give good banter; Miss B. especially liked the following exchange when Layla confronts Seth about how frustrating their public charade is, ” ‘How can you stand this? How can you field questions and look all … swoony, and do it with a straight face?’ … ‘It’s easy,’ he said softly,” intimating that he’s not pretending. See, Seth really is a love. And Layla’s response to Seth’s physical presence is cutely engaging here, “Murphy emerged from the kitchen … Her eyes took stock. Pajama bottoms, dark skin, rippling muscle. There was a mug of coffee involved somewhere.” Finally, as a winter wonderland lover, Miss B. liked Hunter’s description of Layla’s burgeoning feelings for Seth, “Her heart flittered around her chest like flurries in a snowstorm.”
Two engaging, prettily written novellas, with caveats, is Miss Bates’s final verdict. Weir’s more original effort bespeaks “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma, and Hunter’s surprisingly amorous one is “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.
“Geek With the Cat Tattoo,” published by Belfry Press, has been available for download from the usual places since Dec. 20th. “A December Bride,” published by Zonderfan Fiction, has been available from the usual places since September 17th.
Miss Bates is grateful to the publishers for e-ARCs, via Netgalley, in exchange for these honest reviews.
Amidst the sundry preparations and events of the season, Miss B. was grateful to have two pleasant and compacted reads. What did you read over this holiday and/or vacation time?