Mini-Review: Jenny Holiday’s PARADISE COVE

Paradise_CoveParadise Cove is Holiday’s second Matchmaker Bay romance, after Mermaid Inn, and, on some level, it may be even better, its theme more complex, though its romance, weaker. As far as tropish goodness is concerned, Holiday moves from reunited-high-school-sweethearts to friends-with-benefits and what makes for Paradise Cove‘s strength, the “friendship” component, weakens the romance. Even the protagonists agree, early on, and maintain the agreement that romance doesn’t enter their relationship. This, for me, skirts women’s fic territory and that’s one country I don’t enjoy visiting. Nevertheless, there is much to love about Paradise Cove. The synopsis-blurb doesn’t give much of the novel’s essence, but it’s a good starting point to learn about Jake Ramsey and Dr. Nora Walsh:

Dr. Nora Walsh has just been dumped in spectacular fashion, making it the perfect time for a major life change. She figures taking over the medical practice in tiny Matchmaker Bay for a couple of years will help her get over her broken heart, and then she can head back to the big city. But when the first man she sees looks like a superhero god, she wonders if maybe there’s something to small-town living after all.

Jake Ramsey also has a broken heart — one he never expects to heal. He doesn’t need people anyway and is content hiding out in his secluded cottage on the beach. But after helping Nora with a medical emergency, he finds himself opening up to the witty, warmhearted doctor. Soon the local matchmakers are working overtime to pair them off, and Jake begins to wonder if his campaign to get Nora to stay is for the town or because he can’t bear the thought of her leaving.

This romance novel’s uniqueness lies in the source of Jake’s “broken heart”; while Nora’s is your standard a-hole, cheating, selfish BF, fellow-doctor, Rufus (I wonder if this is a nod to Rufus Sewell’s a-hole character in The Holiday?), Jake’s is viscerally difficult to read about, his baby son’s death, of the flu, at nine months. (Let this also serve as a CW.) Continue reading

Mini-Review: Marion Lennox’s PREGNANT MIDWIFE ON HIS DOORSTEP

Pregnant_Midwife_on_His_DoorstepMarion Lennox’s Pregnant Midwife on His Doorstep should have, could have, and on some level, probably was a fine romance. It contains many love-worthy elements: forced-proximity, one-bed, puppies, a super-nice hero, and likeable heroine. And yet.

Here is, verbatim, Pregnant Midwife‘s blurb-summary:

Neurosurgeon Josh O’Connor’s isolated island hideaway is on lockdown, but nothing will stop him entering a raging cyclone to rescue mom-to-be midwife Hannah Byrne. Hannah hasn’t found happiness since leaving her beloved Irish village. Yet stepping into Josh’s warm house, she starts to feel she might finally have found a home—for her and her unborn baby. Might Josh’s rescuing Hannah from the storm change both their lives for the better?

It doesn’t do justice to Lennox’s fine writing, her ability to capture landscape and stormy weather, to draw the reader in with a knight-in-shining-armor, breath-holding rescue scene, one of Lennox’s favourite openings. Put the heroine in danger, match her with a knight-hero, have her be rescued and then, have her, in turn, emotionally rescue the hero. It’s a lovely theme and it should have appealed more than it did. Together, Josh and Hannah are lovely. They’re not given to sentimental dialogue, nor do they snap and banter their way to a reluctant liking and truce. They’re gently humourous, no-nonsense, and good at their work. They make a great team when they have to rescue another family stranded in the storm on the other side of the island. So, what made this a desultory read? Continue reading

Mini-Review: Mimi Matthews’s “Fair As A Star”

Fair_as_a_StarThough I don’t read as much historical romance as I used to, Mimi Matthews is one histrom author whose books I’d never miss. They’re elegantly written, with finely-drawn characters, and thoughtful themes; her protagonists’ journey to the HEA is sigh-worthingly romantic. Her heroes and heroines are beautifully compatible, showcasing Matthews’s ability to match characterization to plausible future happiness. Her ethos agrees with mine and mine with hers.

Matthews’s novella, “Fair as a Star,” (“A Victorian Romance”) is a wonderful introduction to her work if you’ve yet to read her and thoroughly satisfying an addition if you have and are a fan. Matthews’s Victorian Era is neither idealized, nor villified; if the HEA is an argument for the idyllic over the realistic/pragmatic, this is why I read romance. To follow, verbatim, the blurb-ish summary of “Fair as a Star”:

After a mysterious sojourn in Paris, Beryl Burnham has returned home to the village of Shepton Worthy ready to resume the life she left behind. Betrothed to the wealthy Sir Henry Rivenhall, she has no reason to be unhappy–or so people keep reminding her. But Beryl’s life isn’t as perfect as everyone believes. As village curate, Mark Rivenhall is known for his compassionate understanding. When his older brother’s intended needs a shoulder to lean on, Mark’s more than willing to provide one. There’s no danger of losing his heart. He already lost that to Beryl a long time ago. During an idyllic Victorian summer, friends and family gather in anticipation of Beryl and Sir Henry’s wedding. But in her darkest moment, it’s Mark who comes to Beryl’s aid. Can he help her without revealing his feelings–or betraying his brother? Continue reading

Mini-Review: Megan Crane’s DELTA FORCE DEFENDER

Delta_Force_DefenderThere is much to abhor in the former-military, “band of special ops” brothers romance, but I also cannot take away how compellingly satisfying Crane’s fourth Alaska Force romantic suspense novel, Delta Force Defender, was, the long-awaited story of the Force’s leader, Isaac Gentry, and the curmudgeonly owner of Grizzly Harbor’s restaurant, the shadows-in-her-eyes-and-scowl-on-her-face Caradine Scott. My reading experience alternated between eye-rolling annoyance and page-tapping eagerness, I’m embarrassed to say, but there you have it. There is absolutely nothing terribly original about the premise and, if it were not for Crane’s writing chops, this nears the Kristen-Ashley-badness territory.

Caradine Scott’s past catches up with her one night in her Alaskan-anonymity town, peopled by your run-of-the-mill small town “characters” and the ice-men that make up Alaska Force, a security service solving the world’s ills from their isolated state-of-the-art compound. Her restaurant is bombed and ne-er may be found of her except footprints leading to the water. What can I say, there are monitors. (Given the zip-tie horror of the America Capitol attack, no zip-tie carrying hero can ever be that heroic again. The former-military hero romance, with a protective, San-Andreas-fault-sized man-handling protective streak of said hero incites shivers of anxiety rather than frissons of excitement.) Leader of the he-man pack, Isaac Gentry, who does carry zip-ties, former marine, occasional-Caradine lover, is, atypically, emotionally affected by Caradine’s disappearance, terrified, though he’d never show it to his ribbing mates. Has she been kidnapped, or left for dead, or will soon be? Isaac follows her trail as Caradine takes a round-about driving route from Seattle to Maine, throwing off her pursuers but never losing Isaac, though she doesn’t know it … because he’s that good, better than anybody in the world. 
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Cara Bastone’s JUST A HEARTBEAT AWAY

Just_Heartbeat_AwayI didn’t think a romance writer could pull off a romance narrative without a betrayal. I’ve thought, until now, the romance narrative needed a tearing-asunder moment to work (executed with varied degrees of success depending on the author’s control of craft). Cara Bastone proved me wrong and her début romance, Just A Heartbeat Away, tossed my assumptions about the romance narrative out the window and bade me reevaluate its elements. Oh, there’s plenty of conflict (without a betrayal, or tearing-apart moment). Bastone replaces betrayal with doubt and misunderstanding with insecurity. She has her hero and heroine indulge much inner-lusting, my preferred form of lusting, and smooshes several love scenes, usually peppered throughout the narrative, into one extended scene as close to the end without making it The End. As a result, a fresh, engaging romance narrative, as original as true to the genre and a new auto-buy author for yours truly. It’s a romance novel like Just a Heartbeat Away that renews my faith in the genre and reminds me why I fell in love with it to begin with.
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Angelina M. Lopez’s HATE CRUSH

Hate_CrushI have a bone to pick with Ms Lopez: Hate Crush kept me up two work nights in a row. Harrumph. And I need my sleep, so kudos and curse you, Lopez, for writing this unputdownable thing. I loved Lopez’s Filthy Rich début, Lush Money, but I loved Hate Crush even more. The two carry my favourite romance tropes: marriage-of-convenience in the former and second-chance, in the latter. In Ms Lopez’s hands, the tropes dance and sing and come alive. Her characters are MESSY, visceral, intense, their conflict and emotions over-the-top; she carries the reader on a wave of energetic prose, unselfconscious, moving steadily in service to the HEA and her characters’ needs, transformations, and realizations.

Lopez’s premise is outlandish and improbable, but this is what makes romance, romance. I’m never taken aback by the genre’s propensity for “outlandish and improbable,” heck, literature is built on it. (Have you read A Midsummer Night’s Dream?) When an author has the genre’s integrity in sight and writes the outlandish and improbable in service to an arc of love’s redemptive power, I’m cool with an eye-rolling premise. 

Hate Crush sees bad-boy, disgraced (rumours of song plagiarism; band-mate’s/best friend’s suicide) rocker-hero, Aish Salinger, answer the call to a fake relationship, in his first and only great love’s fictional Spanish kingdom, Monte del Vino Real, with her, Princess Sofia. Sofia hates his guts, what’s in it for her? A rock of notoriety and publicity lobbed at the nay-sayers of her years-long struggle to bring new wine-making methods to her kingdom. Affair with an old flame? Check. But she lays down the law: keep your tattoos covered and your butt far far away from me. Kissy and moon-eyed for the cameras only. On the other hand, for Aish, this is a chance to clean off his in-the-gutter reputation; truer to his heart, to make amends, ask forgiveness of Sofia. And so, with his hollow-eyed, hungover arrival, we’re off …   Continue reading

Susie Steiner’s MISSING, PRESUMED

Missing_PresumedSusie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed (DS Manon Bradshaw #1) was recommended by Twitter friends whose word is auto-click/buy. A nice “old-fashioned” mass market came in the mail and made for spine-cracking pleasure. After the romance novel disaster (see my review of Kristen Ashley’s Dream Maker), I wanted away from caricatured alpha-heroes and self-sacrificing heroines to something cleanly realistic, devoid of HEA, a police procedural where the pursuit of the truth came in neat, defined lines and the female detective heroine made her way with smarts. What I got was something different, but more complex, compelling, and messy. I loved it, so you know, if you don’t want to read on … get yourself this book. At the centre of Steiner’s mystery is Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire Police. The novel opens with Manon on her nth Internet date, bored, restless, and barely tolerating the company of her desultory, cheapskate date … (when they divvy up the bill, it’s outtathere for me, but Manon stays, even sleeps with Mr. Forgettable.) After he leaves, she turns to the soothing sounds of her police radio to settle into sleep and Steiner’s lines give you a good sense of her fine writing and Manon’s character: ” … it is the sound of vigilance, this rapid response to hurt and misdeed. It is human kindness in action, protecting the good against the bad.” Idealized? Yes. Nevertheless, Manon is this very thing: curmudgeonly, sarcastic, but doggedly kind, relentless in her gruff decency and commitment to solving crime, bringing justice, righting wrong. She’s chaotic and mistaken and not warm, cuddly, or fuzzy, but she is acerbic, least likeable when strident, and I loved her. Continue reading

Betty Neels #35: A GEM OF A GIRL

Gem_Of_A_GirlWhile always happy to add another Betty to my Great Betty Read endeavour, reading A Gem Of A Girl didn’t come easily and I dragged it over weeks and weeks. Unlike most Betties, this had the Other Man in place of the Other Woman, which I thought would be a refreshing reversal on one of romance’s, and Betty’s, most tired conventions. And yet, I didn’t love it: I recognized Gem‘s virtues, but didn’t relish reading it. It started out great with the nurse-heroine, long-suffering from taking care of something like ten younger siblings, loses her job when the long-term care home where she works burns to the ground. There’s a great heroic scene where Gemma practically runs into the flames and is pulled back by the hero, Ross, a visiting Dutch doctor:

“It’s my ward,” she cried, “the wind’s blowing that way. Oh, my dear old ladies!” She leapt forward and was brought up short by a large hand catching at the back of her sweater.

“Before you rush in and get yourself fried to a crisp, tell me where the fire escape is?” Gemma wriggled in a fury of impatience, but he merely gathered more sweater into his hand.

Now, isn’t that marvellous? Only in England to consult with Gemma’s doctor neighbour, after rescuing old ladies from immolation, Ross invites Gemma to Holland where he needs someone to care for his ill sister. Gemma is soon caught up in the life of his wonderful, loving, caring family. She feels centred and happy in Ross’s home, but there’s a snake in the grass named Leo, a “modern” young man who pursues Gemma plain and plump, a double-whammy of unmarriagability in the Bettyverse. Continue reading

Kristen Ashley’s DREAM MAKER

Dream_MakerI honestly don’t know where to begin with Ashley’s Dream Maker. About a quarter of the way through, I was looking forward to a snarky review, but having slogged through it (not an easy feat), I’m too tired for snark. This romance has much good to say about tossing off the bad and embracing the good (I can get behind the themes), but it says it so badly. If romance had manga, Ashley’s would be it: caricatured characters, thoroughly one-dimensional. Her characters remind me of those Hallowe’en suits, like a Superman one, you “blow up” and get puffy muscles. There’s a kind of breezy, down-to-earth, working-class tone to the novel and characters I found entertaining maybe for ten pages and then, the repetition, the language (woman are “bitches”, “shit” is always going down) and everyone speaks like wound-up comic-book characters. Maybe this novel turns some readers’ crank, but it is NOT a romance aesthetic I enjoyed. To start, plot-non-existent: hundreds of characters, all interchangeable, all men with their chicks, or bitches … and one of them, Lottie, I think, sets up our heroine, Evan “Evie” Gardiner with one of her “boys”, Danny Magnusson. These “boys” seem to run some kind of security firm, not sure what it was, but the room they worked in had a lot of monitors, so what else could it be? It’s insta-lust and like and love for Danny and Evan, so poof, that’s taken care of. Sadly, Evan has a TERRIBLE family and she sacrifices and sacrifices and sacrifices for them: her deadbeat brother in jail, her shrew of a mother, and it goes on. Thanks to the family’s nefarious activities, Evie is embroiled in a drug heist and some gun-running, all for the sake of saving her brother’s sorry behind. Bingo, this means Danny can go totally he-man protective on Evie and have her move in with him. Continue reading

Noelle Adams’s THE RETURN

The_ReturnIt was nice to start the reading year with a quiet book, with flawed, believable characters, and still get a satisfying HEA. That’s Noelle Adams’s The Return. In a way, it reminded me of another recent read, Lacy Williams’s Small-Town Girl. Adams and Williams manage to convey a certain grit to their heroes and heroines and yet still imbue them with vulnerability and kindness. It’s nice to read, refreshing. My reading world didn’t rock, but it had a nice gentle swing, leisurely and hopeful, for the few days I spent in The Return‘s company. It helped that The Return is a second-chance romance for two good people: florist Ria Phillips and the boy who loved her and left her just when they were new lovers at eighteen, Jacob Worth. The novel opens with more humour and light-heartedness than it ends, despite its HEA. At its opening, Ria is trying to convince her town that, after eight years, she’s NOT holding a torch aloft for Jacob Worth. Until he “returns” to Azalea, Virginia, as his grandfather lies dying (turns out grandfather had a lot to do with why Jacob abandoned Ria and none of it good on gramps’s part). It’s obvious from their first reunited meeting that these two love each other and belong together, but there’s plenty of hurt and years and change to integrate into a new relationship. No matter how difficult and valid Jacob’s reasons were for leaving, he still left without explanation and never again contacted Ria. He was young, proud, hurt, and stupid. But he’s an awfully nice guy and gets softer and more vulnerable as the novel progresses. Continue reading