MINI-REVIEW: Dani Collins’s INNOCENT’S NINE-MONTH SCANDAL

Innocent's_9-Month_ScandalMy dear friend “Shallow Reader,” loves Dani Collins and that’s rec enough for me. After the intensity of Griffiths’s Stranger Diaries and especially its Victorian-gothic length, I was happy to read a snappy category romance. Snap it did, Ms Collins’s Innocent’s Nine-Month Scandal, with my favourite kind of HP heroine, kind, generous, plain-Jane, funny, and a deliciously broody hero, not too annoyingly domineering, but definitely in the strong, caretaker arena. 

Collins’s plot was HP-fare ludicrous. Rozalia Toth is in Budapest looking to find the mate to her grandmother’s earring, given to grammy, in troth, by her true-love during what may be (Collins doesn’t make this explicit) the uprising of ’56? Sadly, gram’s true-love succumbed in the riots and she travelled to America, pregnant and destitute, where she made a marriage-of-convenience with one Benedick Barsi. As grammy is now getting on, Rozalia wants to give her the chance to see the earrings as a pair. Many convoluted family connections are discussed between hero and heroine, but I admit I didn’t give them much attention. Plot isn’t why one reads an HP. Continue reading

REVIEW: Elly Griffiths’s THE STRANGER DIARIES

Stranger_DiariesReaders may be familiar with Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway and Stephens/Mephisto mysteries. I listened to the first Galloway, The Crossing Places, and enjoyed it. I have the next two queued, but you know, too many books, so little time: a reader’s lament. I did make time, on the other hand, for Griffiths’s latest, a stand-alone murder mystery and homage to gothic lit. There’s a sly nod to Georgette Heyer: all the wins. The darn thing kept me reading in waiting rooms (nose stuffed while Kindle pressed to it), through half-hearted lunch-time sandwich-eating, and curled up in my reading chair till late. The Stranger Diaries is a heck of a engrossing read; even when the mystery faltered, Griffiths’s love of gothic lit, uncanny knowledge of teacherly ways, especially English teacherly ways, and insight into love-gone-mad-and-bad obsession saw me hitting those Kindle pages furiously. 

Giving you a sense of what The Stranger Diaries is about makes for convoluted retelling, but spoilers will be avoided. Divorcée Clare Cassidy lives in West Sussex with her 15-year-old daughter Georgia. She teaches English at Talgarth High and works on her book about Talgarth High’s founder, the fictional Victorian writer, R. H. Holland, whose short story, “The Stranger,” frames Griffiths’s narrative. Continue reading

REVIEW: Benjamin Dreyer’s ENGLISH

Dreyer's_EnglishI’ve never read a writing style guide in my life. I once tried to read Strunk and White: ho-hum. ‘Sides, I thought S&T advocated a spare style and I happen to think that, except for tires in real life and heirs in romance, spares should be avoided at all costs. Instead, what I found in Dreyer’s was a fount of delight and—pah to erudition—pragmatic advice. His lessons stick: before writing this, I made sure I knew the difference between “font” and “fount”; between “practical” and “pragmatic” (not much), and how to type an em dash on Mac. I’d never done any of this before. Dreyer’s approach is quintessentially American: he doesn’t hold to rules, but he likes to be correct in a practical, educated way. If there’s a “rule,” and there aren’t many, know it, follow, or better yet, because English doesn’t go by hard and fast (that would be what happens in a romance novel), look it up:

“I have nothing against rules. They’re indispensable when playing Monopoly or gin rummy, and their observance can go a long way toward improving a ride on the subway. The rule of law? Big fan. The English language, though, is not so easily ruled and regulated.”

What I got from Dreyer? Educate yourself and don’t be redundant. His copyediting mantra is “Convention. Consensus. Clarity. Comprehension.” Reading him, I was chuffed: I laughed, I nodded in schoolmarmish agreement, snickered, and rolled my eyes at Dreyer’s sly contempt for the stuffily Puritanical “grammar police,” yes, but equally for the neologistically idiotic. 
Continue reading

REVIEW: Theresa Romain’s LADY NOTORIOUS

Lady_NotoriousTheresa Romain has the wonderful capacity to sustain a delightfully funny, rompish feel to her romances while underlying them with seriousness. Her latest, Lady Notorious, 4th in the Royal Rewards series and one of her strongest novels yet, exhibits this balance. It’s heartfelt romance, adorable hero, loveable heroine, compelling suspense plot, thematically underlined with the idea that love coupled with purpose make for contented lives. Romain brings together her cross-class heir-to-a-dukedom hero, George Godwin, Lord Northbrook, and Bow-Street-Runner heroine, Cassandra Benton, via the mystery surrounding George’s father’s, Lord Armore’s, involvement in a “tontine”, a monetary agreement whereby a set amount increases on interest and is “won” by the last person left living. But many of the tontine’s members are dying under mysterious circumstances. George fears for his father’s and godfather’s lives and sets Cassandra Benton the task of helping him both protect and discover who’s threatening them. Cassandra joins the Ardmore household disguised as a notorious cousin, hence, how the “notorious” made it to the eponymous “lady”. Continue reading

REVIEW: Alyssa Cole’s AN UNCONDITIONAL FREEDOM

An_Unconditional_FreedomI requested an ARC of Alyssa Cole’s An Unconditional Freedom for the most superficial of reasons: I couldn’t resist the hunk on the cover. I’m a sucker for an open-necked shirt, soulful brown eyes, and the man is holding a scroll and lantern … can it get any better? As for the contents, I was open to them, but didn’t go in with any great expectations. What I found was, finally, FINALLY, someone who can put the history back in historical romance. You can’t historically “wallpaper” a history so unjust and ugly: how Cole managed to make me hold my breath with excitement, stop my heart with fear for her characters, and root for a slow-burn romance is testament to her mad writing skills.

At the end of the novel, a seasoned revolutionary in the war against slavery advising the heroine on when to hold’em and when to show’em in this righteous war says: ” ‘First thing you learn about being a Daughter — sometimes you gotta be subtle, and sometimes you gotta burn it all down.’ ” As a Daughter of Romance, Cole sure knows how to be subtle and how to burn it all down, navigating American Civil War history with sureness and skill, steering her characters’ inner worlds with insight and sensitivity and though there are moments when she burns it all down with action, she brings the ship to moor with a light touch of love, commitment, hope, and joy. Her narrative is serious, historically fascinating, and in places, even horrific, but it is never sombre, dark, or hopeless. Its movement is ever towards the light of possibility, even though the journey darkens and the way wavers. Continue reading

Ros Chez Miss B! Ros Clarke’s Review of Kelly Hunter’s UNTOUCHED QUEEN BY ROYAL COMMAND

Untouched_Queen_By_Royal_CommandUntouched Queen by Royal Command is the latest in Kelly Hunter’s “Claimed by a King” series for Mills and Boon Modern/Harlequin Presents. All the books feature royalty in various made-up countries which appear to be located more or less in the Balkans, as far as I can work out. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books: Shock Heir for the Crown Prince and Convenient Bride for the King, so I had pre-ordered Untouched Queen by Royal Command.

I was not entirely prepared for what I got.

In Untouched Queen, Hunter goes all out for high fantasy in this old-school category romance. There are hints of this in some of the back story in Shock Heir, but the central romances in both the previous books of the series are standard category tropes: secret baby and marriage of convenience. The royal settings are effectively evoked, with no more than the usual number of skeletons in closets. Continue reading

REVIEW: Kara Isaac’s ONE THING I KNOW

One_Thing_I_KnowWhen a romance author is recced by Ros Clarke, I seek her out. That’s how I came to new-to-me-inspirational-romance-author Kara Isaac’s One Thing I Know. It was like no inspirational romance I’d read. Hero and heroine, Lucas Grant and Rachel Somers, come with heavy baggage; how their paths cross and they fall in love is a fraught journey. Looking back, they’ve got things to work out, looking forward sometimes seems impossible. That’s the genre’s beauty: all things are possible even when they seem highly improbable.

Rachel has a most unusual profession. She ghostwrites her aunt’s, Dr. Donna Summerville’s, advice-to-the-lovelorn books. Together, they make a lot of money, money that was once most necessary to Donna (when her husband left her to bring up their sons) and now is necessary to Rachel because she pays for her father’s care in a chronic-care facility. Though to all appearances Rachel and Donna are deceiving their vulnerable audience, their actions are understandable, even sympathetic, to the reader. Continue reading

REVIEW: Felicia Grossman’s APPETITES AND VICES

Appetites_VicesI kept Felicia Grossman’s Appetites and Vices close to my reader heart for weeks, patiently awaiting release day. I was excited about a new romance writer with an unusual premise. Sadly, work kept me at a panting pace and my reading was sporadic at best, a chapter here, a nodding over a page in bed there. My interest, maybe because of the pace at which I read, was equally uneven, enthralled at times, sluggish at others. More of that later.

For now, to the plot and premise! Which proved convoluted. In 1841 Delaware, 21-year-old Ursula Nunes, adored daughter of Judah, smart, eccentric, and Jewish, is insider and outsider to society. Outsider thanks to her religion, insider thanks to her family’s wealth. Whatever makes her an outsider to society by virtue of her birth is compounded by her eccentricities: beautiful, blonde, curvaceous, and blunt, blurting painful truths and creating awkward silences, gaps in sociable chitchat, and painful stretches without dancing partners, female friends stand at nil. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Elizabeth Camden’s A DESPERATE HOPE

Desperate_HopeIt’s been a while since I read a Camden sort-of historical romance. I’ve also drifted away from inspirational romance, thanks to the end Harlequin’s Love Inspired Historical line, where many a favourite author resided. With A Desperate Hope, Camden has moved away from the inspirational (which was fairly “light” to begin with) and towards “Americana” à la Deeanne Gist. (I loved Gist’s Tiffany Girl, but haven’t seen anything from her since. This makes me sad.) But Camden is a solid stand-in and I enjoyed the 1908 upper-state-NY-set historical fiction with a mild romance running through it. Unlike standard inspirational fare, the hero and heroine, while they’ve believers, also have a youthful affair, the heroine had lost her virginity to the hero, and there’s a fair amount of ale-drinking. Hurrah for Americana: this felt more believable than the inspirational romance’s leached ethos. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jenny Holiday’s THREE LITTLE WORDS

Three_Little_WordsHonestly, folks, I’m scared to take a reading-breath, I’ve had SUCH a run of great books since New Year’s and Holiday’s Three Little Words gets on that list too. Not that I’m complaining, but as an introvert and pessimist, I do wonder: when will the reading ball drop?

So, Holiday’s #3 of Bridesmaids Behaving Badly: I wasn’t super-keen going in because, while I enjoyed #2, it didn’t rock my world. I liked it well enough and I especially liked Holiday’s smooth, easy-as-pie prose. There were also intriguing little moments with Gia Gallo, one of the quarto of girlfriends that make up Holiday’s series and this is Gia’s story and the intriguing Cajun chef in whose restaurant heroine Wendy and hero Noah dine in It Takes Two. Gia is gorgeous, a model, and a mess when it comes to food. She’s got a problem with it. In Three Little Words, we learn that, at days-away from 30, her body isn’t doing the skinny-model thing it used to and Gia’s having trouble coming to terms. Groomed from girlhood to compete in the pageant circuit, Gia doesn’t know what else she can be, what else she can do. She puts her existential crisis on hiatus at the novel’s start, however, because she‘s on her way to deliver her friend’s, Wendy’s, wedding dress to her Pink Palace Florida wedding. With a fitting scheduled, Gia has to get there ASAP. Continue reading