Author: Miss Bates

I Read Mary Balogh’s SILENT MELODY

Silent_MelodyI had mixed reactions to Balogh’s Silent Melody: puzzled, enthralled at what she could do with the genre, dismayed at what she did with the genre, and always aware there was something fearless about what she did in Silent Melody. If we consider the romance from the perspective of today’s romance cognoscenti, it would be in its “representation” of its deaf heroine. On this level, I’m sure Balogh’s representation invites the damning “problematic”. I didn’t find it “problematic”, but I did dislike it for reasons having nothing to do with the heroine’s sensory challenge.

I think Balogh’s purpose was, not realism, but an exploration of a sensory deprivation and how, from it, she could build a character of strength, will, determination, and independence. There are, I believe, two things that stymied her: Balogh equated Emily’s deafness with an ability to commune with nature and she could not avoid, in the telling, that most pernicious romance pitfall, the lapse into plot-centred melodrama.

To start, a little background, since I haven’t said a thing about the hero. Lady Emily Marlowe lives with her sister’s family, Anna and Luke, the Duke of Harndon, and brother to the hero, Lord Ashley Kendrick. She is beloved, privileged, wealthy, and roams the vast estate, dishevelled and barefoot, at her will. She is beautiful, kind, highly intelligent, and a talented artist. The love her of life, Ashley, left seven years ago, to make his fortune with the East India Company. He returns a wealthy, broken man, guilt-ridden and tormented because he was away the night of a fire that killed his wife and infant son. Reunited with his family and Emily, merely fifteen when he left and his then-companion of forest and dell, he feels unworthy of forgiveness and love. Nevertheless, his family loves him and Emily was and is still in love with him. (more…)

I Read Bliss Bennet’s NOT QUITE A MARRIAGE

Bliss Bennet’s Not Quite A Marriage, in her new series, The Audacious Ladies of Audley, was everything I would expect from Bennet: carefully researched, with nuanced characters, and a romance that builds slowly but surely towards a satisfying conclusion. I was gleeful with enjoyment for the novel’s first half, with shades of “worthy of Balogh” phrases dancing in my head as I considered what I would write for this post. Unfortunately, the second half wasn’t as marvellous and the reason was that Bennet left her romance to wander in and out of the narrative like a weakly-conceived secondary character, while exposition dominated the room. It was frustrating reading because I thought she did not focus on the novel’s strongest aspect, the relationship between hero Spencer Stiles and heroine, with the unlikely and unfortunate name of Philadelphia, thankfully shortened to Delphie. (more…)

I Read Lucy Parker’s BATTLE ROYAL

I have, of late, like Hamlet, lost all my mirth and romance seems stale and, dare I say it, puerile. I read one of my favourite contemporary romance authors, Lucy Parker, to get my romance-mojo back, her latest and first in a new series, Battle Royal. While there were aspects I loved, and it sustained my interest throughout, by the end, I was left with “meh, it was all right.” I loved the baking-rivals-turned-lovers, Dominic De Vere and Sylvie Fairchild, and it satisfied my great love for the The Great British Bake-Off, but it was 100 pages too long and unravelled in a disappointing way. (more…)

The Great Betty Read #40: Neels’s THE LITTLE DRAGON

Little_DragonI did so enjoy my latest Betty read, The Little Dragon. I especially appreciated the non-OW conflict. Instead, we have a heroine (who skips!) with an unreasonable hatred of wealth. Utterly unconvincing because she reaps its benefits when the hero throws delicious dinners and beautiful clothes her way. But I don’t want to make Constantia sound like a hypocrite. She’s just not terribly smart and can’t recognize either the irony of her position, or the evidence of her husband’s wealth! (That it’s a marriage-of-convenience-troped romance made it all the better for me.) It’s a bit silly, but I loved the dynamic between Constantia and Jeroen and its accompanying Betty accoutrements: food, flowers, clothes, treats, cuddle-able animals, adorable children, extended warm family, a beautiful, graceful home (where hot drinks are served in Meissen cups), and a gargantuan, handsome doctor-hero who is described with my favourite Betty adjective, “placid,” and whose actions are accompanied by the adverb, “lazily”. He even smiles “lazily”! He is the ideal of Betty safety and security, comfort and strength; when Constantia gazes at him, she sees someone who is “solid and safe and very handsome”. I loved how Betty conveyed the hero’s kindness, through acts and second-hand. The children tell Constantia about the new doggie addition to the household, magnificently named “Prince,” given his humble beginnings: “Oom Jeroen found him in a ditch and brought him home to live with us.”

The Little Dragon is standard Neels fare. The blurb summary: 

She swore she would never marry a rich man! As a private nurse to wealthy spoiled people, Constantia had seen the misery too much money could bring. Jeroen van der Giessen, though, was only a poor overworked G. P., so when she found herself stranded in Delft without money or passport, and Jeroen offered marriage, Constantia accepted. At first she was quite happy with her loveless marriage, though she thought Jeroen was being recklessly extravagant–until she began to discover things, about herself and him, that took away all her new-found happiness… (more…)

REVIEW: Susanna Kearsley’s THE VANISHED DAYS

The_Vanished_DaysReading my umpteenth Kearsley novel, I noticed something in her narrative I hadn’t beforehand: a common emotional trajectory that may be characterized as melancholy mood to joyful conclusion. Because they are the most historical of historical romances, their melancholy comes from Kearsley’s initial presentation of her characters as trapped by history. But she builds their strength, intelligence, and virtue and proves to us how these qualities can sometimes defeat history’s choke-hold. She writes about ordinary people (when considered through the lens of big-name, big-battle, big-power sweep) but extraordinary in how they wrest happiness out of what appear to be insurmountable obstacles determined by history and its cruel, expedient masters, men of power over honour. At their centre are women and child characters who are victimized but not victims, exercise agency within constricting circumstances and yet are often trapped by forces beyond their capacity to fight back. In the end, characters escape to a happy life by circumventing evil using wiles without losing their essential goodness. The Vanished Days‘ Lily Aitcheson and her helpers are such. Her story is told in a dual-timeline alternating between childhood/youth and the novel’s “present-day”, the early 1700’s. Her story is narrated by one Adam Williamson, who is tasked to investigate Lily’s claim for compensation as the widow of a man who perished in Scotland’s 1698-Darien-colony-bound fleet. The blurb fills in historical detail further: 

There are many who believe they know what happened, but they do not know the whole of it. The rumours spread, and grow, and take their hold, and so to end them I have been persuaded now to take my pen in hand and tell the story as it should be told… Autumn, 1707. Old enemies from the Highlands to the Borders are finding common ground as they join to protest the new Union with England, the French are preparing to launch an invasion to carry the young exiled Jacobite king back to Scotland to reclaim his throne, and in Edinburgh the streets are filled with discontent and danger. When a young widow, Lily Aitcheson, comes forward to collect her lost husband’s wages, former soldier Adam Williamson is assigned to investigate her petition. As Lily tells her story, Adam has only days to discover if she’s being honest, or if his own feelings are making him blind to the truth. But sinister figures lurk in the background – is Adam being used as a pawn in an increasingly treacherous game?

(more…)

REVIEW: Jenny Holiday’s SANDCASTLE BEACH (Matchmaker Bay #3)

Sandcastle_BeachI’ve enjoyed every one of Holiday’s Matchmaker Bay novels. Looking back at the three titles (hoping for more), I admire how she set a different tone to each couple, balancing the familiar and whimsical with the fresh and heart-tugging. Of the three, Paradise Cove chewed my heart to bits. Sandcastle Beach made for a nice contrast: low-stakes romance, likeable hero and heroine with supportive family, friends, and town rooting for them and, my favourite bit, a nod to one of Shakespeare’s great comedies, Much Ado About Nothing. If Mermaid Inn brought us reunited high school sweethearts and Paradise Cove saw a tragedy healed in its love story, Sandcastle Beach had the frothy fun and banter of Shakespeare’s delightful paen to love’s headiness, but also to how we resist it and fight against it.

We watched Ben Lawson and Maya Mehta snark at each other through the first two series books. Like to their friends and family, that they were in love was obvious. This does not make their romance journey any less engaging for being so apparent. (I also enjoyed Holiday dialing down the sexy times and going for slow burn with this one: she nailed it.)

The blurb offers further detail:

Maya Mehta will do anything to save her tiny, beloved community theater. Put on musicals she hates? Check. Hire an arrogant former-pop-star-turned-actor? Done. But what Maya really needs to save her theater is Matchmaker Bay’s new business grant. She’s got some serious competition, though: Benjamin “Law” Lawson, local bar owner, Jerk Extraordinaire, and Maya’s annoyingly hot arch nemesis. Let the games begin.

Law loves nothing more than getting under Maya’s skin, and making those gorgeous eyes dance with irritation. But when he discovers the ex-pop star has a thing for Maya, too, Law decides he’s done waiting in the wings-starting with a scorching-hot kiss. Turns out there’s a thin line between hate and irresistible desire, and Maya and Law are really good at crossing it. But when things heat up, will they allow their long-standing feud to get in the way of their growing feelings?  (more…)

MINI-REVIEW: Julia Justiss’s THE BLUESTOCKING DUCHESS (Heirs in Waiting #1)

Bluestocking_DuchessThis isn’t my first foray into reading Justiss, but it will be my last. What a slog of a read The Bluestocking Duchess was. But the promise of a premise can deceive, true of Justiss’s late-Georgian? early Victorian? 1834-set romance. The blurb will show how potentially attractive The Bluestocking Duchess appeared:

Her good friend…
Is suddenly a duke’s heir!
Miss Jocelyn Sudderfeld is working at Edge Hall, indulging her love of translating ancient texts with her librarian father—and evading the need to marry! She’s always enjoyed a teasing friendship with estate manager Mr. Alex Cheverton. Until he unexpectedly becomes the duke’s heir. Now his first duty is to marry a suitable debutante, not consort with an earnest bluestocking like her… So where does that leave their friendship?

I do enjoy a friends-to-lovers romance and a translating heroine sounded fresh and compelling. With the exception of a few scenes in the British Museum, this romance never came alive, the hero and heroine moving across the narrative board like wooden chess pieces. (more…)

MINI-REVIEW: Elly Griffiths’s THE POSTSCRIPT MURDERS (Harbinder Kaur #2)

Postscript_MurdersElly Griffiths’s second Harbinder Kaur mystery tells us more about her love of Golden Age mystery writers, Murder She Wrote, and Georgette Heyer than it stands as exemplary crime fiction. I did not give an owl’s hoot about this, but to the tightly-plotted-is-best mystery reader, Postscript Murders is a sprawling mess, an octopus of great characters going nowhere in a plot meandering towards the improbable. Still, I liked it. I’m a fan of character-driven mystery, especially when the characters, amateur and professional, work together to solve the crime.

The blurb will lead us by setting things up:

The death of a ninety-year-old woman with a heart condition should not be suspicious. Detective Sergeant Harbinder Kaur certainly sees nothing out of the ordinary when Peggy’s caretaker, Natalka, begins to recount Peggy Smith’s passing. But Natalka had a reason to be at the police station: while clearing out Peggy’s flat, she noticed an unusual number of crime novels, all dedicated to Peggy. And each psychological thriller included a mysterious postscript: PS: for PS. When a gunman breaks into the flat to steal a book and its author is found dead shortly thereafter—Detective Kaur begins to think that perhaps there is no such thing as an unsuspicious death after all. And then things escalate: from an Aberdeen literary festival to the streets of Edinburgh, writers are being targeted. DS Kaur embarks on a road trip across Europe and reckons with how exactly authors can think up such realistic crimes . . .

Um, there’s actually no road trip “across Europe”, unless you count the characters’ miles-long foray from Shoreham-by-Sea to Aberdeen? Truth be told, Griffiths’s plethora of characters, plenty of them “found dead” like Peggy Smith, and convoluted plotting left me confused and indifferent to the goings-on. What did I enjoy? Her detecting crew, made up of adorable eccentrics. (more…)

Review: Kate Clayborn’s LOVE AT FIRST

Love_At_FirstIn Love At First, Kate Clayborn penned a perfect romance. How did she manage to keep me engrossed in a novel where nothing happens? Tension and conflict dissipate (the heroine’s feud is silly and it is to her credit she sees it as such). Instead, Clayborn lets her romance stand on characterization, setting, scene, and mood. There has also been an authorial decision on Clayborn’s part that I think has made for her best book yet: she abandoned her previous books’ first-person narration for third. This adds depth and maturity to the writing and removes her reliance on her characters’ first-person voices to provide it, which they don’t. And can’t, given the first-person dependence on personality. As I said, not much happens; here’s the blurb to start us off on the glorious details:

Sixteen years ago, a teenaged Will Sterling saw—or rather, heard—the girl of his dreams. Standing beneath an apartment building balcony, he shared a perfect moment with a lovely, warm-voiced stranger. It’s a memory that’s never faded, though he’s put so much of his past behind him. Now an unexpected inheritance has brought Will back to that same address, where he plans to offload his new property and get back to his regular life as an overworked doctor. Instead, he encounters a woman, two balconies above, who’s uncannily familiar . . . No matter how surprised Nora Clarke is by her reaction to handsome, curious Will, or the whispered pre-dawn conversations they share, she won’t let his plans ruin her quirky, close-knit building. Bound by her loyalty to her adored grandmother, she sets out to foil his efforts with a little light sabotage. But beneath the surface of their feud is an undeniable connection. A balcony, a star-crossed couple, a fateful meeting—maybe it’s the kind of story that can’t work out in the end. Or maybe, it’s the perfect second chance . . . (more…)

Audiobook Review: Helen Hoang’s THE HEART PRINCIPLE (Kiss Quotient #3)

The_Heart_PrincipleThere was much to love about Hoang’s The Heart Principle and not. The blurb has a rom-com vibe and not. Neither com nor angst fit the novel, solid romance for two-thirds and then a long-winded “something else”.

For what it’s worth, here’s the blurb and let’s see where it takes us:

When violinist Anna Sun accidentally achieves career success with a viral YouTube video, she finds herself incapacitated and burned out from her attempts to replicate that moment. And when her longtime boyfriend announces he wants an open relationship before making a final commitment, a hurt and angry Anna decides that if he wants an open relationship, then she does, too. Translation: She’s going to embark on a string of one-night stands. The more unacceptable the men, the better.

That’s where tattooed, motorcycle-riding Quan Diep comes in. Their first attempt at a one-night stand fails, as does their second, and their third, because being with Quan is more than sex—he accepts Anna on an unconditional level that she has just started to understand herself. However, when tragedy strikes Anna’s family she takes on a role that she is ill-suited for, until the burden of expectations threatens to destroy her. Anna and Quan have to fight for their chance at love, but to do that, they also have to fight for themselves. (more…)