Category: Impressions

REVIEW: Karen Kirst’s “Conveniently” MARRIED BY CHRISTMAS, “Inconveniently” In Love

Married_By_Christmas
Lovely cover art!

Married By Christmas … hmm, thought Miss Bates, inspie historical: low angst, a lot of baking, a little marriage-of-convenience … she liked that “by” in the title, build-up to Christmas! Hurrah! … Click went the Netgalley button back in the day. There’s nothing like Miss B. hoisted on her own petard: Kirst’s novel turned out to be more interesting, more riddled with pain and sexier, yes, sexier!, than most inspies. Miss B. is disappointed she missed out on the previous four books in the late 19th-century, Tennessee-set Smokey Mountain Matches series. Her heart dipped to see that Married By Christmas was fifth in the series: series, after the first three volumes, pretty much fizzle out and die, wane-in-quality has been Miss B.’s usual experience. She was surprised and delighted that she enjoyed Kirst’s effort as much as she did. It didn’t break any molds. You may certainly lob inspie-problematics at it any day; to Miss Bates, however, in the season’s glow and with a generous heart, she thought it was a lovely romance about redemption and second chances. Continue reading

Miss Bates’ Favourite Christmas Romances

Christmas_IvyMiss Bates loves Christmas: stars, trees, lights, baking, candle-lit church services. Carols! She decorates; she cuts out gingerbread people. She even mails Christmas cards. And, with Mrs. Bates, they haul a beautiful sapin de Noël up the narrow staircase to her apartment and spend happy hours with tinsel, glitter, garland, and ornament. Early December finds her ribbon-cutting the season by bringing out her Christmas tea mugs. Every year, on November 25th, the feast day of St. Catherine, patron saint of spinsters (also lace-makers) Miss Bates embarks on a month-long reading of Christmas-themed, Christmas-set romances. The genre presents her with a plethora of choices and the covers are sentimental favourites. She’s read some duds and she’s read some wonders. Here are her wonders; if you’re a Christmas-romance fan, you might have read them, or you might consider reading one, or two 😉 this year. Continue reading

Romance Panacea Part I: “Taking the Waters,” Searching for Paradise …

DontBeAfraidAbout a month ago, Miss Bates, stuck in afternoon traffic, listened to a favourite CBC Radio podcast, Tapestry, a show that self-describes as offering “the more subtle news of life – a thoughtful consideration of what it means to be human.” Their motto is Kant’s “The human heart refuses to believe in a universe without purpose” (which is also a darn good motto for the romance genre). One segment of that particular podcast was “The Novel Cure,” an interview with Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin who run Bibliotherapy at The School of Life in London, England, and have published a book called The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies. What a great idea, thought Miss Bates, a book recommendation for what ails you: feeling blue, out of sorts, plain pissed off, or having the “mean reds” as Holly Golightly said. Have you been dumped, are about to embark on a voyage, be married, divorced, change jobs, or cities? Berthoud and Elderkin’s prescribed book eases the transition, comforts, and diverts. Books as “prescription” medicine for the under-the-weather soul, mind, and heart.

She listened, rapt, as Berthoud and Elderkin suggested titles for a variety of moods and circumstances: H. E. Bates’s The Darling Buds Of May for cynicism; Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity for a recent break-up; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight for fear of flying; and, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for a new father. Miss Bates considered their choices lugubrious. Blatty’s The Exorcist for a loss of faith!? She’s read de Saint-Exupéry’s Vol de nuit and there’s nothing in it to comfort someone who’s afraid to fly (especially in light of de Saint-Exupéry’s night flight disappearance during WWII). What cheer is there for a new dad in the post-apocalyptic world of The Road? Great books all, but do they comfort and divert? They are intelligent, well-written, and challenging; they offer answers and considerations. They are great choices, BUT! Miss Bates protested WHERE ARE THE ROMANCE NOVELS? Do they not offer comfort, diversion, and thought to feeling blue, turning green, and seeing red? To despair, uncertainty, ennui, malaise? On the occasion of birth, death, and everything in between? Don’t they have a place in the prescriptive canon?

Anecdotal or not, Miss Bates has encountered many women who find respite in reading a romance novel (which is not to say men don’t, she simply hasn’t met any). For many, including Miss Bates, who can’t “take the waters” at Baden-Baden, cracking open a romance novel and being lost in it, laughing, crying, mourning, and celebrating with heroine and hero, thinking about its thematic implications, enjoying its wit and wisdom, serves as panacea to a day gone terribly wrong. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Ruthie Knox’s ROMAN HOLIDAY: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURE With HEA and Epilogue, Or The Book Is Too Much With Us

Roman_HolidayMiss Bates embarked on her reading of Ruthie Knox’s “two-book bundle” of a previously serialized novel with trepidation. Though there was much she liked about hero Roman Díaz and heroine Ashley Bowman’s story, because there is much she’s always liked about Knox’s narratives, her fears, which lay in the words “two-book” and “serialized,” were realized. Don’t misunderstand, since Knox’s début, Ride With Me, her stories have consistently been worth reading and thinking about. It is no different for Roman Holiday: the same focus on  characterization, considered psychology, snappy dialogue, and good, good writing overall. Moreover, what Knox has been trying to accomplish with the Camelot series and now its offshoot, Roman Holiday, is most interesting. It is, when done well, something that the romance genre excels at: the creation of a roman-fleuve, a novel “stream, or cycle,” literally translated “river,” that harkens to the 19th century and, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica definition, is “a series of novels, each one complete in itself, that deals with one central character, an era of national life, or successive generations of a family.” The romance series never sounded so good! 😉 In Roman Holiday, Knox serialized a novel, as well as creating one more volume in her Camelot world, albeit a further afield one. She linked it to a country, a history of both race relations and the American thorn, Cuba, a community of friends and family, a quest-journey, and a coming-of-age narrative. Biting off more than she can chew? Definitely, but she had the scope and temerity to attempt and more power to her: the level of her success, however, is up to the individual reader. Be warned that here Miss Bates writes only a loose response to Roman Holiday; if you’re looking for a full-fledged summary and review … sorry. The length of the novel served as anti-dote to the length of the review, by Miss Bates’ standards anyway. Continue reading, if you’re so inclined

2013 In Reading and Reviewing: The State of MBRR and The Year’s Favourite Romance Reads

Miss Bates started MBRR with the idea that she’d blog for herself, as a way of keeping track of what she read and how she felt and thought about romance fiction.  She assumed she’d sporadically pick up readers researching a title, stumbling on Miss Bates’s musings via a search engine.  She’d entrenched the endeavour with a blog-name that served as an amusing persona; the loquacious spinster fit perfectly. 😉

What ensued took her completely by surprise.  Pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless.  Within weeks of writing her first posts, she did not accumulate hundreds of followers, or have publishers and authors clamoring for her reviews.  What she felt was championed by the spirit of generosity extended to MBRR by these wonderful writers/bloggers/thinkers and lovers of romance fiction:

Pamela at Badass Romance

Liz at Something More

Jessica at Read React Review

Emma at Emma Barry

Gen at Gen Turner

Natalie at The Radish

and Janine at Dear Author

Being championed beats all.  Miss Bates thanks you for encouraging, commenting, and supporting.  She is privileged and humbled to be in your company.  And your company is a lot of fun!

Many thanks to everyone who dropped by, read, mused, followed, commented, and returned time and again.  Miss Bates hopes you’ve been entertained, amused, and found the reviews/readings interesting, thought-provoking, and considered.  It’s been a wonderful year and the state of Miss Bates Reads Romance is happy, healthy, and looking forward to another year of reading and reviewing.  In the spirit of the genre that we love and love to debate, as every hero/heroine avows, “You [dear readers] are perfect for me.”

To follow are Miss Bates’s favourite romances  and posts of 2013.  Some are new, some old, some historicals, some contemporaries, some you’ve read, some might spark your interest.  Miss Bates briefly comments on each and links to the original review.

Released in 2013

Historical Romance: is Miss Bates’s first romance reading amour and it scored some coups this year.  Grant’s A Woman Entangled followed upon Miss Bates’s love for A Lady Awakened and A Gentleman Undone.  Her other two favourites were by new-to-her authors: Emma Barry’s Brave In Heart and Tracey Devlyn’s Nexus Series. Continue reading

READING/REVIEW: Kristen Ashley’s LAW MAN, Contemporary Cross-Class Romance

Time and again, romance readers contend with harsh verdicts aimed at the genre from non-romance readers.  It is interesting, however, that within the romance-reading community, gradations of snootiness exist as well.  Those judgements are aimed at sub-genres, or category romance, or individual authors, or books, or whatever chip a reader/reviewer carries on her shoulder.  Miss Bates herself has a certain distaste for the silliness factor of paranormal romance, indulging in a sweeping generalization and dismissal of hundreds of beloved and worthy stories.  Kristen Ashley’s novels, Miss Bates suspects, have received their share of disdain.

Law ManWhen Miss Bates read Kristen Ashley’s opening page for Law Man, she understood why Ashley’s novels come under scornful fire: sloppy writing, bizarro switches in point of view, a certain sentimentality, the hero’s machismo, heroine’s naïveté, and rugrats’ cuteness … all at the mercy of a reader’s sneering lip curls and exasperated eye-rolls.  Miss Bates too, at first note, slipped into derision mode.  However, by the end of chapter one, she was eating humble pie.  Ashley’s devil-may-care prose and not-politically-correct characterization and narrative won her.  Miss Bates discovered that Ashley wrote, in her breezy style, a contemporary cross-class romance, a perceptive portrait of class and status, a debate between nature/upbringing and individual will, between determinism and free will.

Detective Mitch Lawson is a middle-class, college-educated, no-working-beat cop.  Mara Hanover is “pink collar,” a successful retail salesperson, but nevertheless one of the vast number of women who occupy precarious service-industry positions, working mainly on commission.  Suffice to say, hero and heroine are people, as originally defined (thank you, Oxford American Dictionary) by the word “proletarian,” “having no wealth in property.”  (They certainly do not own the “means of production!”)  Fear not, Miss Bates is not doing a Marxist reading (she wouldn’t even know how), merely sharing some fascinating, to her at least, observations regarding class and status that permeate Ashley’s romance.  Her reading may be erroneous, but she’s going to plunge into it anyway. Read on, at your peril

Looks Like A Review: Sarah Morgan’s THE SULTAN’S VIRGIN BRIDE, Or Lysistrata In the Desert

When “the world is too much” with Miss Bates, when she’s “in disgrace with fortune” and has had the work month from hell, when Friday rolls around and fatigue comes cheap … she reads an HP.  HPs are Miss Bates’s preferred escapist reading: the caricatured masculinity of the uber-hero, the moral goodness and myriad virtues of the often-misunderstood heroine (even heiress-party-girls are good and secretly self-sacrificing).  Setting is set at minimum and the over-wrought physicality of the hero and heroine’s attraction is strung so tight Miss Bates hears zinging as she reads. 

The Sultan's Virgin BrideThus was Sarah Morgan’s The Sultan’s Virgin Bride.  Smooth, coconut-flavored chocolate, an espresso as dark as our hero’s eyes and Morgan’s PC-not tale and Miss Bates rejuvenated on a weary Friday night.

When Saturday’s grey-fogged incipient dawn crept into her room, however, she woke with thoughts whirling.  She’d enjoyed every moment of her HP; however, niggling and annoying considerations sidled into her consciousness.  She’s going to impose them on you, dear reader.  Bear with her.  This be reader response.

To the HP reader, there are no spoilers.  One of the HP’s virtues is its predictability.  But if you don’t read them and you’re reading this, there might be mild ones.  HPs require the suspension of your suffragette and post-suffragette sensibilities.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Julia London’s THE BRIDESMAID, or “Fickle Fortune … Thou Wilt Not Keep Him Long”

The BridesmaidAn assumption accompanies a reader cracking open a romance novel: fate brings our hero and heroine together; caprice, human and/or otherwise, pulls them apart … will steers them back to each other.  Now Miss Bates is a strictly free-will kind of gal and, even though she hails from an indolently fate-believing culture, she likes to cling to free will as the determinant of human lives.  Certainly the romance novel takes this fate into account to our, its faithful readers, satisfaction: think of all the meet-cutes you’ve read, the tumblings into a room, the snow/rain/ice storms that strand strangers, sojourners, lovers or enemies, the circumstances that bring about marriages-of-convenience, the random doors that open onto the rest of a life (Miss Bates’s favourite being the opening scene of Sarah Morgan’s The Twelve Nights of Christmas) that bring our hero and heroine together.  We swallow it hook-link-and-sinker, this benevolent force ensuring that kindred spirits (think “carrots” and a boy named Gilbert) meet and mate.  However, for an HEA to be complete and satisfactory, the spirits must recognize the kindred in each other and, in an act or acts of transformation and will actively seek and request of the other to join them on life’s journey. 

For a bitty novella, Julia London’s The Bridesmaid serves up questions of fate and will and their role in the romance novel and does so with humour and delightful characters in an engaging plot that echoes what we love about romantic comedy.  In this modest, in length not scope, novella, London writes a romance and reflects on the genre; it’s not pedantic or self-conscious, but sheer fun.  Truth be told, however, there are things that may grate on some readers’ nerves/sensibilities, but Miss Bates is forgiving when a writer tickles both her funny and intellectual bones.           Continue reading for Miss Bates’s further ruminations

REVIEW and READING: Cracking Open Ruthie Knox’s FLIRTING WITH DISASTER

Walnut“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” is from Leonard Cohen’s sublime song, “Anthem.” These words echo for Miss Bates every time she reads a Ruthie Knox romance. It was the case for her favourites, Ride With Me and About Last Night, as well as her most recent read, Flirting With Disaster.

Knox is good at cracking open her characters to expose vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and secret, deep shame. She especially likes to do this to her heroes, though her heroines are put through the wringer too. She builds them back up, bolsters them with a credible HEA. The “light” part, that’s the HEA; boy, does she ever love the cracking open, though: sometimes Miss Bates is so embarrassed for them, she squirms in Her Reading Chair. Knox splits them like a walnut, exposing the whirls and whorls of their personalities. The aftermath to this laying bare differs for hero and heroine: the heroine has to reach self-acceptance; the hero has to change. It was so in “Making It Last” (see Miss Bates’s review here), and it is so in Flirting With Disaster.  Miss Bates has more to say, if you’d like to continue reading

GASP: Patricia Gaffney’s TO HAVE AND TO HOLD

When Miss Bates turned the last page of To Love and To Cherish, she sighed with relief. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared. Nothing’d shocked her; nothing’d disturbed her all that much. On the contrary, in the end, her sensibilities were at ease; she thought Christy endearing and a great study of the meaning of Christian faith. Anne was a good, decent heroine, with integrity and had blossomed in the most wonderful way. All was well in Miss Bates’s romance universe. Gaffney’s first Wyckerley novel had inspired associations with many 19th century novels Miss Bates’d loved, still loved. It was all good and what need was there for any fuss? To Love and To Cherish was what its title claimed: loving and cherishing the other, making the other precious in one’s eyes. Christy comes to this state naturally; Anne has to learn it. There is a darkness to her understanding; there is a price, but it is one that she makes of her own free will. Then, Miss Bates read To Have and To Hold and is reeling. She doesn’t have much to say, hopes to reach some equanimity by the time a much-anticipated discussion takes place at Something More. For now, however, there are only half-formed thoughts.  Read on at your peril; Miss Bates is too riled to say that much and the little she does say would be of mild interest only to those who’ve read the novel