Welcome to 2016, dear readers, and another year of romance reviewing and book discussion chez Miss Bates Reads Romance! Thank you for reading and commenting. Miss B. takes this opportunity to wish you and your families happiness, robust health, serenity, and love in the coming year.
Miss Bates offers her best of 2015 to you, her readers. This year, she’s taken a slightly different tack. Oh yes, she still names her favourite reads and links to reviews (if you’d like to read a lengthier treatment). But her round-up comment is her response to the writing and what brought her to the work: if the author’s new-to-Miss-Bates, what spark will she look forward to; if an old favourite, what keeps her reading.
Donna Alward’s The Cowboy’s Valentine and Treasure on Lilac Lane A rom reading year isn’t complete without Alward. Miss Bates couldn’t make up her mind between two 2015 releases, so she included both. What they share is what attracts her to Alward: a wonderful ability to write about ordinary lives and imbue them with complexity and nuance. Alward has that rare talent allowing for a slowly-built “layering” to her characters, adding depth, understanding, empathy, and compassion till the reader encounters three-dimensional beings. This “layering” is a combination of heroes and heroines who are wounded, psychically, maybe physically, and carry their past and present, their responsibilities and duties heavily, and their slow, joyful transformation by love and companionship.
Karina Bliss’s A Prior Engagement Miss Bates discovered Bliss when she read What the Librarian Did, which she highly recommends. What brought her back and brings her back still to Bliss’s roms is an ability to combine humour, pathos, and an outlandish psychic unraveling of her characters, especially her heroes. Miss Bates speculates: thematically, Bliss’s traditional-male-world hero, in this case and others, members of the military, are besieged by revelations of love, desires for intimacy, and connection. They batter themselves against them like trapped birds in a house. There’s rest, calm, descending when they finally win the heroine.
Victoria Dahl’s Flirting With Disaster This is Miss Bates’s first Dahl romance, but she’ll be drawn to any others like a moth to flame. Dahl’s writing exhibits a glorious irreverence. Her love scenes are crude and explicit; her characters, seasoned and punchy. Dahl’s prose speaks a loose, wild freedom. Like the best of romance writers, she fearlessly stretches the genre’s conventions; she doesn’t play pretty and she’s writing some of the best contemporary romance you’re likely to read.
Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife and The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain Miss Bates will be forever indebted to Shallowreader for introducing her to Graham. Graham is rom’s trope-queen. She can work a trope like a rambunctious kitten with a ball of wool, or she can tease and then hold it down like a big ole mouser-cat and she does it all with wry, tongue-in-cheek humour. Graham is a thematically sympathetic writer: she shows us how inner strength in weak, poor, and obscure heroines holds ethical sway over billionaire heroes whose sangfroid melts under the heroine’s defiant lift of her chin.
Jennifer Hayward’s The Italian’s Deal For I Do Hayward is a new-to-Miss-Bates author. Miss Bates reads HPs for the tried, true, and familiar. Many readers assume the HP’s attraction to be glamour, exotic setting, and stunning hero and heroine. Au contraire, it’s the singular focus on the central couple and their romance. Of all the categories in category romance, this one is the least likely to deviate from convention. What raises any HP above the norm are two possibilities: a playing on its conventions, or fine writing. In Hayward’s case, her ability to sustain a lovely metaphor to cement her hero and heroine’s romance won MissB over and will ensure her return.
Janice Kay Johnson’s To Love A Cop Johnson’s roms are unique in the genre for the way she lifts her stories, as she admits, from the headlines. She bravely takes on unlikely premises (you must read her early Whose Baby? and Snowbound) and focuses on how ordinary people are affected by extraordinary events. She stands with her characters, neither idealizing, nor denigrating them, while their lower middle-class lives face ethical dilemmas. That is the gist of what brings Miss Bates to Johnson’s romance again and again: a romance writer who writes about the ethical decisions everyday people face in their work and within their families and still find love.
Kat Latham’s Three Nights Before Christmas When Miss Bates reread her two 2015 Latham reviews, of which Three Nights is the second, she noted one significant word she used again and again to describe Latham’s characters: honest. Latham writes well, writes funny, meanders a tad in her plots, but what makes her stand out are original premises and her protagonists’ clear, difficult honesty. There’s ne’er a Big Mis to be read, nor a plot-manipulating withholding of feelings, quandaries, or thoughts. They lay it all out there and do so from page one to the end.
Sarah Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules Miss Bates has been a Morgan fan since she read Dare She Date the Dreamy Doc? Who can resist the alliteration?! In a nutshell, that is what brings MissB. back to Morgan’s roms. No, not the alliteration, but the wonderful combination of wit and humanity, the sense that goodness, humour, hope, and optimism are better choices. More often than not, those qualities reside in Morgan’s heroines and make her one of the most heroine-centric of rom writers … which doesn’t mean that her heroes are any less attractive and lovable, only they have a lot more to learn.
Liz Talley’s Sweet Talking Man Talley is a new-to-Miss-Bates author. She knew from the opening scene of Sweet Talking Man she’d discovered a winner. Talley’s touch is light and droll; she likes to poke gentle fun at her small-town characters. Her creed is family and understanding, letting go of past hurts and forging purpose within a couple. Like many of the writers Miss Bates has named, Talley is another who braves upending romance’s conventions and tropes. Her heroes always have to do some growing up; her heroines’ sense of responsibility goes deep. The way Talley brings these figures together is unique and fun without ever losing sight of life’s gravitas.
Maisey Yates’s Brokedown Cowboy Miss Bates has read a lot of Yates and Yates is a prolific writer … suggesting not every single Yates rom will be a blow-me-away reading experience. What does blow Miss Bates away when Yates gets it right (and she does more often than not) is her ability to write such intense emotion into her heroes and heroines’ relationships. How does she manage to write angst and still make so much of her novel funny?
Bliss Bennet’s A Rebel Without A Rogue A glance at the number of contemporary to historical romances and it’s obvious finding a a new histrom writer to love means hope for the sub-genre. ‘Tis a superficial desultory histrom world more often than not, but the writers named here give Miss Bates hope. Bennet’s novel is a perfect, balanced combination of what makes histrom great. It’s rich in historical detail and context without being pedantic. Her hero and heroine are flawed, but sympathetic and manage to act within, as well as transcend, their historical context. The prose is elegant. Above all, Bennett promises to fulfill a neglected aspect of the histrom, what Pamela Regis identifies as a corrupt society’s reformation as the promise held by the hero and heroine’s union.
Marguerite Kaye’s The Soldier’s Rebel Lover With Bennet, Kaye too is a new-to-Miss-B author who holds out the promise of exemplary histrom. Like the two old favourites who follow, Lerner and O’Keefe, Kaye’s ability to make historical context organic to her romance narrative is uppermost why Miss Bates will continue to read her. Moreover, Kaye possesses the gift of giving her hero and heroine a beautiful equality. They are each their own person, honourable and brave in their own way. Neither has to be diminished or elevated to find the other. Kaye writes about wonderful three-dimensional people who find love.
Rose Lerner’s True Pretenses Miss Bates’ comment about Lerner may be the silliest one she makes, but no less true and heartfelt. Miss Bates is, well, grateful to Lerner’s work. Firstly, other than Lerner’s new release coming out in January, Miss Bates has read all her books and loved them. Miss B. is grateful for their sophistication, sensibility, and humanity. When a reader first encounters them, there’s a certain distancing, a kind of under-the-microscope feeling to characterization. But, in time, with patience, as the best literature exacts, there’s no one like Lerner to open to her characters’ revelatory psyches.
Molly O’Keefe’s Tempted Visceral describes O’Keefe’s work, from her earliest categories to lengthier contemporaries to these wonderful gritty Westerns. If Lerner dissects her characters, O’Keefe cracks them open. They are broken and, more than any other romance writer’s characters, often afraid. Fear is our secret shame and O’Keefe exposes “the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. Her characters are mature and often have been knocked about like Yorick’s skull, to continue the Shakespearean allusion. Because what she does next is glorious: breathe new hope and life in them by love’s healing touch.
Historical Mystery With A Strong Romance:
Deanna Raybourn’s A Curious Beginning Curiously, though Miss Bates read all of Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series, she’s going to treat Raybourn as a new-to-her author. Raybourn surprised MissB. in this her début Veronica Speedwell mystery. In the past, Raybourn’s work has been elegantly written, sophisticated, and left Miss Bates a tad cold. What changed? Plenty of what Miss Bates loves about the romance genre: Raybourn created characters who are more heart than intellect, whose interactions are banter and tease, but don’t debate, spar, and compete. They are gorgeous, and softly loveable. They’re vulnerable – and Miss Bates likes Raybourn vulnerable so much more.
Simone St. James’s The Haunting Of Maddy Clare St. James’ work is in the great Mary Stewart’s vein, especially in her heroines’ characterization. Miss Bates loves Stewart, that alone would lead her again and again to St. James’ work. But this isn’t the sole reason. In St. James’s, like Stewart’s, brave heroines is an account of a young woman setting the world aright. Stewart’s world was ominous, but beautiful. Miss Bates’ loves St. James’ near-tragic one. It’s darker, always haunted by the devastating human and ethical losses of the Great War. It’s more frightening: the adverse forces confronting heroine and hero are malevolent and leave the protagonists scarred. This is what makes her central couple’s choice to love and commit all the more powerful, all the more hopeful.
Miss Bates purchased Bliss’s A Prior Engagement and St. James’s The Haunting of Maddy Clare, and received The Greek’s Chosen Wife as a gift from Shallowreader. Otherwise, she received e-ARCs, via Netgalley, or Edelweiss. She’s grateful to the following publishers: Harlequin, St. Martin’s, HQN, Tule, Samhain, and NAL/Penguin. She received e-ARCs from the authors of A Rebel Without A Rogue, True Pretenses, and Tempted.