Another year of reading and reviewing for Miss Bates, a strange, difficult one, the reading sparse and hesitant at times. Personal and world affairs often took precedence over quiet evenings of reading and certainly less blog writing, reading, and commenting. Those books that took Miss Bates out of the daily eddies were all the more precious. She reminds herself and readers that the act of reading books that posit human love and justice are bright lights in times of darkness. As MBRR enters its fifth year, Miss Bates thanks her readers for visiting Miss Bates Reads Romance so faithfully. She also thanks the writers who pen their books and offer us respite, pleasure, and food for thought. She wishes fellow readers and writers a new year filled with possibility, inspiration, peace, hope, and love.
Kathy Altman’s Tempting the Sheriff (2016) Atlman weaves a terrific gender-stereotype role reversal in her tough-as-nails, reckless sheriff-heroine and softie, by-the-book, city-cop hero. The older-woman-younger-man trope is tackled with tenderness and humour. (*MissB sobs* … the Superromance’s demise is a thing mourned.)
Donna Alward’s Somebody’s Baby (2017) Alward writes a tender, funny romance about two callow young people working out careers, family, and commitment, with a beautifully ironic riff on the genre’s plot-moppet convention, a delightful twist on “Nobody puts Baby in the corner!”
Karina Bliss’s Fall (2016) Bliss has consistently subverted romance convention while, paradoxically, writing great romance. Fall‘s alpha-heroine and beta-hero respectively tough as nails and soft as baby’s breath, vulnerable and strong. One of the year’s more original, interesting romances.
Caitlin Crews’s Bride By Royal Decree (2017) Crews has penned as perfect a category romance as one gets. She orchestrated fairy-tale-troping, subverted the Cinderella-heroine, redeemed an emotional beast of a hero, and inspired Miss Bates’s favourite 2016 review.
Liz Fielding’s The Sheikh’s Convenient Princess (2017) Fielding’s strength is to write romance without the smarminess that marks so many closed-bedroom-door romance. Repentant sheikh Bram and cool-ly efficient PA, Ruby, don’t burn up the sheets, but they make up for it in deepening feeling and connection. Such is Fielding’s power!
Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Christmas Bride (2016) What can Miss Bates say about Graham at the top of her game? A billionaire named Apollo, a Cinderella-heroine named Pixie, and dog named Hector!? An alpha whose best-kept-secret kindness cares for heroine and dog; a heroine who forges where angels fear to tread: a romance that posits human goodness.
Kate Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure (2016) The strength of Hewitt’s gothic-inspired HP is wonderful characters who crave love and acceptance. The brooding hero, who yearns for a woman to need him; the fragile heroine who brings a little girl out of her shell, and two people falling in love with humour and understanding.
Mira Lyn Kelly’s May the Best Man Win (2016) Kelly’s romance contains some of the zingiest dialogue Miss Bates read this year. Jase and Emily are nastily funny, clever and antagonistic. But their attraction is more powerful than their antipathy. But it is also in their tenderness and vulnerability that Kelly pulls off a great romance.
Ruby Lang’s Clean Breaks (2017) Along with Lucy Parker, Lang is MissB’s great new 2017 discovery, an author whose next book she anticipates. Lang’s Clean Breaks was as great a romance, between list-making doctor Sarah Soon and do-gooder social worker Jake Li, as a novel about family dynamics and forgiveness.
Marion Lennox’s Stepping Into the Prince’s World (2016) The more MissB reads Lennox, the more she realizes a year cannot go by without one of her romances making the so-called “best of” list. Stepping has magical fairy tale trappings and a down-to-earth HEA. Claire and Raoul are made of love and goodness, as are all of Lennox’s protagonists. Lennox always convinces MissB. that love is possible and good people can be happy.
Michelle Smart’s Once A Moretti Wife (2017) Miss Bates adores a romance between a level-headed heroine and outlandish, temperamental hero. Smart delivers this and more. Anna awakens to her worst nightmare: concussed amnesia and marriage to her sexy, handsome, provocatively funny, domineering boss, Stephano. Smart mixes many vegetables into her HP salad: amnesia, revenge plot, banter, pathos, and laugh-out-loud moments.
Lucy Parker’s Pretty Face (2017) Parker’s romance may be vying for MissB’s favourite romance of the year, its only contender … Parker’s Act Like It! Pretty Face hit every romance note perfectly: original, compelling setting, May-to-December romance that turned alpha-director and starlet on its head, humorous, vulnerable protagonists, swoony romance … and, dammit, isn’t there anything Parker can’t do? One of the best Christmas rom-scenes Miss Bates has ever read.
Maisey Yates’s Seduce Me, Cowboy (2017) Every romance-reading year has several Yateses in it and this year was typical. Miss Bates read Tough Luck Hero, Last Chance Rebel, The Spaniard’s Pregnant Bride, Hold Me, Cowboy, The Last Di Sione Claims His Prize, Christmastime Cowboy, and the volume named here, which emerged as MissB’s possible favourite, followed closely, VERY closely, by Christmastime Cowboy. Was it better than the others? Not really, as Miss B. has never been quiet about her love of Yates’s roms. This one hit some of her favourite tropes: May-to-December, minister’s daughter to town-bad-boy and romance steeped in unearthing the protagonists deepest fears and vulnerabilities, love scenes organic to emotional maelstrom, banter that prefigures necessary revelations to a life of love and commitment.
Alissa Johnson’s A Gift For Guile (2016) Johnson wrote two wonderful protagonists, Esther and Samuel. Why did Miss Bates love them? Because they’re adorable emotional bumblers, getting love and friendship plain wrong in such endearing ways. They say and do the wrong thing (especially Samuel, heck, he keeps buying Esther the wrong gift). Their decency, humour, and willingness to bend and give to make the other happy make for marvelous romance.
Mary Burchell’s A Song Begins (1965) Miss Bates’s first, but not last Burchell. What magnificent writing and a formula that never stops giving: an enigmatic hero and, no matter how humble and inexperienced, a heroine equal to his intelligence and talent. Conductor Oscar Warrender brings out the best in Anthea Dawson. They play out one of the genre’s greatest scenes: a Desdemona-Othello riff to their relationship’s HEA.
Diane Farr’s Once Upon A Christmas (2000) A Christmas romance that lingered too long in MissB’s TBR. Farr’s Regency-set story of charming man-about-town Jack, Marquess of Lyndon, and grief-and-poverty-stricken Celia is funny and tender. Jack takes Celia’s simple declaration “I’m in mourning for my family” and makes of Christmas a time of healing and love. Farr uses the Christmas setting to redeem everyone, antagonists, nay-sayers, and prickly, haughty sisters; the reader even aches for the Catherine-de-Burgh-esque, match-making Duchess.
Eva Ibbotson’s A Company Of Swans (1985) The most sublime and thoughtful romance Miss Bates read this year. Meek, mild Harriet is actually a girl made of steel in standing up to her family’s tyranny and choosing love with Rom, the English exile who created a paradise of love and equality in the Amazonian forest.
Karen Templeton’s Swept Away (2005) A marvelous romance about a widowed farmer, father to six, and a ballerina wounded in body and spirit. Templeton tackles some difficult subjects and also writes a touching, funny, second-chance-at-love romance. Not to be missed and so deserving of rediscovery by romance readers.
Other Than Romance
Though Miss Bates didn’t read too, too much out of the romance genre, she still read some noteworthy books, which she highly recommends to readers. Totally outside-the-genre, she read two unlikely pair of books that affected her deeply: classic travel writer’s Patrick Leigh Fermor’s meditation on a layperson’s experience of monasticism, A Time To Keep Silence; and Roxane Gay’s viscerally honest consideration of the metaphor of her body, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body.
(MissB’s truncated GR review: Raw, honest, devastating, and affirmative, Gay is unsparing of herself and her controlled and articulate anger is mesmerizing. It’s not a manifesto about body image, but a deeply philosophical consideration of the human body’s limits and the yearning for love and meaning that manifests as “hunger”. It made me think about bodies’ limitations: not just large bodies, but frail and elderly ones, starved ones, physically challenged ones, of the imperfect, forked and vulnerable creature that is the human self. Gay’s memoir left me hopeful: if we live the “examined life”, we may come to an understanding and peace with human limitations and brokenness and live with the hope of understanding and healing.)
Miss Bates also read three wonderful mysteries: Juliana Gray’s witty A Most Extraordinary Pursuit; C. S. Harris’s darkest St. Cyr yet, 11th in Miss Bates’s favourite historical mystery series, Where the Dead Lie; and, with thanks to the publisher which revived and reissued Francis Duncan’s post-World-War-II Mordecai Tremaine mystery novels, of which Miss Bates read A Murder For Christmas.
What were your favourite books this year?