Dear friends and readers, another year with Miss Bates in the waning light of blogs everywhere. Romance review blogging has given way to Twitter, #bookstagram, etc. and you can find me there, as well as Goodreads and Netgalley, if that’s where you get your reviews. The new and shiny is always a temptation, but I happen to think that the best engagement for reading books is writing about them. So I shall continue to do so. Thank you for reading, commenting, and plain old sticking by me and whatever idiosyncratic reading thoughts and opinions I throw your way. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, prosperous, inspired and inspiring 2019 and oodles of wonderful books.
I had a great reading year, exceeding my Goodreads goal of a hundred books. I enjoyed many romance novels this year and expanded my non-fiction reading to balance out the HEAs. Below are the best books I read in 2018. I started this post on the first of 2018 and it blossomed with many-a-title till December 31st. It originally had over 30 “favourite” titles. My criteria for the final twelve that follow was simple: if I could vividly remember scenes, ideas, characters, or atmosphere, then it merited inclusion. If the book was “great” at the time of reading but faded over time, well then, it was excised. I hope to articulate, with a few lines for each, what stayed, lingered, and impressed me … strictly from memory, so these will be, at best, impressionistic “reviews”. Continue reading
Donna Alward wrote some of my favourite category romances and seeing her back in “category-form” was most welcome. Alward writes romance for adults and it was disappointing to see her venture into imaginery-royal-kingdom territory in her past few books. While previous books have consistently been bedroom-tame, I think the classic Harlequin romance line results in a good fit.
Best Man for the Wedding Planner is book one of a two-book series, linked by the eponymous wedding planner, Adele “Delly” Hawthorne and her photographer best friend, Harper McBride. I was also delighted to see Alward set Wedding Planner in some of the most beautiful places in western Canada, heck, setting it in Canada alone is unusual and it made me so happy! Moreover, Wedding Planner sees Alward return to some familiar themes and draw her signature adult, mature, responsible characters, who nevertheless still manage to surprise the reader with their honesty and vulnerability. Ne’er is there a stupid misunderstanding or the shackles of bad parenting as explaining EVERYTHING there is to understand about a character’s obstacles to loving and being loved. There’s also the angst that Alward loves to write so well and there’s plenty of it in Wedding Planner, as Adele confronts the “best man” to her latest wedding venture, Dan Brimicombe, the man she loved and rejected eight years ago. Continue reading
Whenever I start a Mira Lyn Kelly contemporary romance, I always think how silly her premise and then end up loving it … despite the implausible, low-angst, near-non plot, the characters out of run-of-the-mill rom-com, and the Friends-like atmosphere of the secondary characters (I’m probably one of the few who found that show puerile and boring). Decoy Date checked all the above boxes.
Bar-owner Brody O’Donnel (okay, I have been waiting for his romantic comeuppance) is annoyed with his friend Gwen Danes. She carries a torch for childhood boy-next-door friend, Ted Normandy. Brody wants her to move on, to go for other guys instead of mooning over Ted and because Brody, with his easy-going charm, beautiful green eyes, and bruiser-bod always gets what he wants, he convinces Gwen to fake a relationship with him. He hopes that Ted will be jealous and come after Gwen, Gwen will realize that her “crush” is an adolescent vestige and move on to a better guy. Gwen, in turn, hopes that Ted will finally notice her and they’ll live happily ever after. So, the fake relationship is ON not far into the first few chapters.
I’d been looking forward to the next Susan Cliff romantic suspense thanks to enjoying her previous one, Navy SEAL Rescue. The locales were fascinating; characters, complex; and the politics, respectful of time and place. I expected and found no less in Witness On the Run. (And who can resist that marvelous cover? Which, BTW, reflects the characters exactly as they should be, a rarity in romance, sadly.) Witness opened with the same acute danger and desperate circumstances as Rescue, with Alaskan cold and ice in place of Afghani heat and dust; a grief-stricken widower and First Nations spousal abuse survivor heroine in place of a disillusioned SEAL and determined Assyrian-Christian heroine. In both cases, the heroines have reasons to run and the heroes are entangled in their brave flights from danger and evil. Cliff renders the settings with sensitivity to their politics and captures the climate and conditions with realistic, compelling detail.
Like Clayborn’s hero, Alex Averin, I don’t like “luck” … well, the idea of it, anyway. I don’t like its randomness and I don’t like its hidden possibility in what might NOT happen. It played a much larger role in Clayborn’s third “Chance Of A Lifetime” romance than in the previous one I’d read. In Luck Of the Draw, luck was the set-up: three friends win the lottery and how they use the money puts them in certain circumstances, ones they wouldn’t’ve been in had they not won. It didn’t seem all that important to Luck Of the Draw, but in Best of Luck, it becomes an ongoing debate between hero and heroine. Heroine Greer Hawthorne has reason to believe she’s lucky, not only because of the money she won, but what fate dealt her: an illness that marked her childhood and adolescence and continues to be a daily reminder of both how lucky she is and how unlucky. What are the odds of being diagnosed with a life-altering birth-defect? As good as the odds that the surgery Greer had would help her lead a more active, engaged life. “Luck” for hero Alex is a bane and reminder of a childhood of want and neglect, thanks to his “luck-dependent”, gambling-addicted father. Continue reading
Jennifer Hayward’s Married For His One-Night Heir started out very conventionally HP-ish, but that’s not how it developped, or where it ended up, though I assure you the HEA is front and centre. I like to pepper my reading with the occasional HP, especially when it’s written by a writer as adept as Hayward (gosh, I do miss Morgan’s HPs). And this appeared, at first, to give me the same-same. Warning to those who don’t like’em: heroine Giovanna “Gia” Castiglione, aka De Luca, has been hiding out in the Bahamas with her three-year-old son Leo after her mobster husband Franco was killed in Las Vegas. Leo, however, is not Franco’s son, but the hero’s, Santo Di Fiore’s. When Santo and Gia reunite at a party given by Gia’s boss, Delilah Rothschild, it isn’t long before Santo figures out that Leo is his son, the result of one passionate night with Gia. The morning after that night, despite Santo’s pleas to defy her mobster father and stay with him, Gia left, scared for Santo, scared for herself, and in thrall to her dangerous, powerful father.
When I started reading Yates’s upteenth Copper Ridge novel, Want Me, Cowboy, I thought of abandoning it because it was too much like Helm’s A True Cowboy Christmas. In both cases, hero and heroine have known each other for years and SUDDENLY the hero decides he wants to be married and SUDDENLY notices the heroine’s appropriateness for the starring role of wife and mother in his soon-to-be neatly arranged life. The heroes think everything will be emotionally tidy, calm, organized: he and the heroine will cohabit, get along like affectionate roommates with sex and segue into being calm, adult, responsible parents. Bwahahahaha … “famous last words.” A great premise, a great trope, but did I really want to read another one? Turns out I did and I would recommend you do too. Review over. They’re both good and worth reading.
After my initial eye-roll of exasperation over the sameness of Yates’ and Helm’s novels, Want Me, Cowboy had me thinking about the Romantic in romance. If the Romantic (yup, those guys, early 19th century, etc.) ethos, and I’m simplifying here, posits the primacy of emotion over reason and nature over intellect then, quite often, the romance genre is about the same: the “irrationality” of reason when it denies the primacy of not just “feelings”, but emotional connection with the other. No one does this better than Yates. In Want Me, Cowboy, uber-rational billionaire Isaiah Grayson advertises for a wife and asks his PA, Poppy Sinclair, to interview the candidates. Continue reading
Therese Beharrie’s Her Festive Flirtation is neither festive, nor big on flirtation. It’s a serious romance about two people dealing with past hurt and avoiding their feelings for each other. Heroine Ava Keller was left at the altar by her fiancé a mere year ago. When the novel opens, Ava is in a bad way in various ways: though she still hurts from Milo’s abandonment, she agrees to be in her brother’s wedding party, also a Christmas-set one. The associations with her humiliation are painfully difficult. To add further injury to injury in the opening scene, Ava’s estate home is threatened by wild fire. While she seems to take the loss of her home with equanimity, she’s desperate, above all, to rescue her cat, Zorro. The volunteer fireman who comes to Zorro’s rescue is none other than Noah Giles, her brother’s best friend and the man she was in love with in her youth. Her brother was furious and Noah left town, cutting all ties with her, though he maintained his friendship with Jaden, Ava’s bro, and his own father. Seven years later, Noah is back to stay and both he and Ava have to deal with those pesky feelings for each other.
New-to-me-author Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal certainly starts off with a bang. I was quite taken by the premise. Heroine Nik (Nikole) Paterson meets hero Dr. Carlos Ibarra at an LA Dodgers game when he rescues her from the Jumbotron-drama of having her man-bunned boyfriend proposing to her before thousands of people … not counting the ones watching on TV. This is a “proposal”, hence the title, that Nik neither wants nor anticipates. Her boyfriend Fisher, an actor with more ego than talent, is a sleep-with boyfriend and no more than that. As Carlos, at the game with his sister Angela, watches Nik’s horror-stricken face on the Jumbotron, he and Angela, only a few seats away, ward off the cameras coming at Nik when she refuses Fisher. Angela, Carlos, and Nik join Nik’s besties, Dana and Courtney, for drinks after the game and Nik and Carlos strike a friendship with some incipient attraction. They text, call, and meet for drinks, go to dinner, enjoy each other’s company, cook together, watch baseball games, and generally have a great ole time. Not soon after a few get-togethers, they become lovers.
Carly Bloom is a new-to-me author and Big Bad Cowboy, her début romance. If she sustains this level of humour and pathos, then she has a good chance of becoming many romance readers’ autobuy. Big Bad Cowboy is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of many romance conceits and in its combining of them, uniquely itself. Be warned, however, Big Bad Cowboy is busy with conceits and stories within stories. To start, the hero, Travis Blake, newly-returned Afghan vet to his dilapidated, tax-debt-ridden Texas ranch and uncle to his incarcerated brother’s and dead sister-in-law’s five-year-old, Henry. Henry is precocious, hilariously sharp-tongued, and Travis knows it from the get-go: “Henry struck him as being smarter than the average five-year-old, which was probably the very worst kind of five-year-old.” Henry provides so much of the novel’s humour; he’s not twee, but acts very much like a Shakespearean sprite: mischievous, temperamental, smart … with moments of heart-breaking pathos. Travis cares for him, indulges him, and knows exactly the right touch to let him know he’s safe, cared-for, loved, cherished. So, for Bloom, there’s one relationship that makes the heart glow and lips grin, what of the rest?