It’s been a wonderful year at Miss Bates Reads Romance, thanks to everyone who dropped by to read, comment, and make Miss Bates’ life that much brighter and happier by her presence. She takes this opportunity to wish you a hearty new year, full of joy, laughter, love, inspiration, conviviality … and great books!
Miss Bates read over eighty-five books in 2014: some forgettable, some precious rereads, some by new-to-her authors; others, familiar and beloved. She kept a running list of books that struck her at time-of-reading; in the past weeks, she pruned pruned pruned. Below you’ll find titles that resonated: the memory of whose scenes, characters, and turns of phrase provokes a smile, thought, or question. They may not be perfect, but, for sundry reasons, Miss Bates holds them close to her heart. (Miss Bates links to her original review and keeps to a few lines about each title.)
Her Rancher Rescuer, Donna Alward: a romance that turns the idea of the powerful, morally superior knight on its head. Alward shows how great-guy Jack Shepard hides behind his shining emotional “armor.” Heroine Amy Wilson, who at first appears flighty and frivolously flirty, reveals an iron will without rescinding a soft heart, and leads the way to unfreezing her emotionally-blocked rescuer.
Special Interests and Private Politics, Emma Barry: a unique series for its setting in the fraught political atmosphere of Washington D. C. Young, educated, funny, and politically committed, Barry’s heroes and heroines, Parker and Millie, Liam and Alyse, respectively, flawed as they are, much as they compromise, enact quirky, at times adorably awkward, but always sublime, romance. Also, they’re really sexy!
An Unsuitable Husband, Ros Clarke: a modern marriage-of-convenience that convinces (NOT an easy feat), Clarke’s slow-growth-to-love tale of an ambitious heroine, Theresa, and soccer-royalty, French! hero, Emile, moved Miss Bates deeply. Miss B. loved that the heroine struggled, not with feelings of relationship inadequacy, or doubt, but the attractions of spinsterhood!
Mr. Family, Margot Early: like Clarke’s above, a convincing modern marriage-of-convenience of two broken, grieving people, Kal and Erika, the heat and wonder of Hawaii, and how they’re healed of grief and loss by taking emotional chances on intimacy and love. (Mr. Family is the first Early Miss Bates read, but she’ll be looking at that back-list big-time!)
Under the Boss’s Mistletoe, Jessica Hart: Hart’s tale of what happens when you meet the bad-boy you kissed ten years ago and he’s as stiff and closed off as a Christmas cracker is one of the best Christmas-set romances Miss Bates has read. No one equals Hart in portraying vulnerability and poignancy with such a light, humorous, and elegant touch. (Miss Bates is so happy Hart has a lengthy back-list to dip into and enjoy!)
Never Been Kissed and Between the Sheets, Molly O’Keefe: there’s A LOT of O’Keefe on Miss Bates’ year-end list. Because for contemporary romance that is deeply aware of everyday issues we contend with and deep needs we hide, O’Keefe does it best hands down. And, joy of joys, she’s ventured into historical romance! See below. 😉
The Promise of Rain, Rula Sinara: Sinara’s “promise” is for a renewed life for hero and heroine, Jackson and Anna, just as the earth receives rain when it’s parched. This is one secret-baby plot everyone can love: thoughtful and poignant. Also, loving and irresistibly loveable elephants and a unique-for-category-romance African setting.
Pretender To the Throne, Maisey Yates: Yates’ HP is everything the category should be: angsty, sexy, over-the-top; beneath the surface: exhibiting real humanity, vulnerability, and depth of relationship. It’s all encapsulated in dialogue by two of the sharpest-tongued protagonists you’ll ever meet in romance, Xander and Layna. It’ll blow you away.
Historical Romance and Romance-ish
Fool Me Twice, Meredith Duran: Duran writes some of the best in the romance sub-genre that suffers most from the word generic. The cross-class trope is her strength and, as in Miss Bates’ favourite A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal, she makes the socially unequal emotional equals, with a listing, in this case, in favour of the punchy, beautiful heroine, Olivia Holladay. Hero, aristocratic Alastair de Grey, Duke of Marwick, agoraphobic, sharp-tongued, and autocratic, and Olivia, not messed up at all, calls him on everything. It’s everything good in historical romance.
Married By Christmas, Karen Kirst: Kirst wrote an inspirational marriage-of-convenience and a second-chance-at-love that is heartfelt and sensuous, with details of tree and snow and Montana mountain range and desire with the merest touch and glance. Hero Caleb O’Malley and heroine Rebecca Thurston fall in love despite all their preconceptions and barriers … even the villain is nuanced and interesting. (Married By Christmas is Miss Bates’ first Kirst, but she’ll be going back to the earlier titles in this series!)
The Jade Temptress, Jeannie Lin: a stunning hybrid of Tang-Dynasty-set historical romance and murder mystery with a ninth-century hard-boiled detective, Constable Wu Kaifeng, and lady of the night, Mingyu: choices meld with resolutions and answers are difficult. Loss is only a breath away, but Lin leads her protagonists to a new and better life, believable, striking, original. (Sadly, Lin isn’t writing in this vein any longer, but Miss Bates may break her anti-steampunk rule to look at her latest.)
The Game and the Governess, Kate Noble: Noble tackles the cross-class romance in what may, at first, appear a gimmicky way, but there’s nothing trite about what the hero, “Lucky” Ned Ashby, learns on his way to loving a most unusual, stoic, yet joyful governess-heroine, Miss Phoebe Baker, Miss Bates’ favourite kind.
Seduced, Molly O’Keefe: Miss Bates hardly has words to describe how good this O’Keefe novella-ish is; O’Keefe transitions from contemporary to Western, post-bellum, historical romance with all the beauty of language and sentiment that she’s known for in the former. A story about all the ways that war, domestic, national, and internal, breaks heroine, Melody Hurst, and hero, Cole Baywood, and the seeds that love, understanding, and respect, even a modicum of them, can plant to create new life. If you read one historical romance this year, let it be this one.
Silence For the Dead, Simone St. James: St. James’ hybrid of historical-ghost-story-gothic-romance fiction, set in the Great War’s aftermath, isn’t all woo-woo and illicit, stolen kisses, though there’s delicious bits of that too, it’s about healing the wounds of war by making peace with the past and taking a chance on a love-filled future. Jack Yates, broken veteran, stalwart, beautiful, young, and Kitty Weekes, inexperienced nurse, escapee from a domestic war, stronger together than apart, uncover the secrets of a house haunted by injustice and fall in love.
A Cowboy For Christmas, Lacy Williams: Miss Bates’ last romance read and post/review of 2014 is a moving, thoughtful novel about healing the soul through acts of love. Daisy Richards is angry and devastatingly sad after she loses an arm in an accident involving her Christmas cowboy, Ricky White. Ricky lives his new-found faith in giving Daisy her strength and confidence back. Simple acts like choosing a Christmas tree and throwing snowballs show how shared laughter and opening oneself up in heartfelt exchange, and some nicely zingy physical attraction, bring love and friendship together.
Devil’s Cub and The Convenient Marriage, Georgette Heyer (1932 & 1934): this was the year Miss Bates cemented the Heyer-love and these two titles are the reasons why. Read Devil for the sensible, strong, admirable heroine, Mary Challoner, who takes on bad-boy Dominic Alistair till he’s putty; and read Marriage for the hero, Marcus Drelincourt, Earl of Rule: all-knowing, wise, gentle, kind, and rawr-sexy as he wins the too-young, stammering spendthrift, dark-browed Horatia.
Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, Carla Kelly (1989): Kelly takes a hero, Matthew Bering, who’s no hero material: weak and defeated and afraid, throws in his old love, the eponymous Miss Omega Chartley, and lovely moppets and tells the story of two people who haven’t any room for spontaneity, or love. Their innate decency, nay, their goodness, leaves no room but to let love back in, take a chance, and thus win it all.
Damsel In Green and Fate Is Remarkable, Betty Neels (1970 & 1971): the Neels-love has been long established for Miss Bates; these two titles only made it richer and deeper. No one imbues the world with more beauty and purpose than Betty Neels and these novels and their couples, Georgina and Julius, Sarah and Hugo, respectively, exemplify what makes Neels great: pristine, clear prose, a sense of decorum and tradition, an aesthetic for old and tried and true objects, and romance, nay, courtships, like a still lake, with knowing, deeply affected heroes and delightful “good-girl,” hard-working, but given to a little vanity and pique, heroines.
Madam, Will You Talk?, Mary Stewart (1953): Miss Bates’ first Stewart and most definitely not her last. La Grande Dame of gothic romance, in whose footsteps writers like St. James (mentioned above) and Susanna Kearsley follow, wrote her first novel, Madam, Will You Talk? to beguile us ever with sophisticated prose and characterization … except for a delightful penchant for the sensational plot. Widow Charity Selborne, her byronic hero, Richard Byron, and his son, David, confront a cast of post-WWII villains, villains carrying the ghosts of that war with them. Charity and Richard’s interactions are fraught with sensuality and acrimony, but Charity’s good sense and loving sensibility heal Richard of the mess his life’s fallen into … oh, and Stewart can match car chase scenes with Ian Fleming any day.
What are your favourite 2014 reads? Miss Bates invites you to join her for another year of reading and discussing good and bad, high and low, sublime and prosaic …