MINI-REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s PRINCESS’S NINE-MONTH SECRET

Princess's_Nine_Month_SecretWith the end of my precious holidays and a week of getting back into early-morning-commute mode, I knew my fried brain couldn’t handle reading anything more than an HP. However derided the category, it’s a survivor and, in the hands of its greatest practitioners (ahem, Sarah Morgan), it can be original, fun, and range from witty to angsty all in the same book. I consider Hewitt one of its best. Princess’s Nine-Month Secret is HP-typical, less than what I’ve seen Hewitt deliver. Nevertheless, it “hit the spot” during a can’t-work-too-hard to read week. Its trappings will be familiar to the die-hard HP reader. Sheltered, cloistered Princess Halina Amari sneaks away from the Roman hotel suite she shares with her mother and into a party. Halina wants a taste of freedom and adventure before she returns home to wed Prince Zayed al bin Nur, a marriage arranged by her politically expedient father, using his daughter to advance the kingdom. At the party, Halina spends her night of rebellion with Rico Falcone. Two months later, Halina is pregnant and exiled to a desert fortress. Her engagement to the Prince has been called off (see book 1) and the parents she thought loved her have brushed her aside as an embarrassment to the family. When Rico discovers Halina’s pregnancy, he kidnaps her from the desert “palace” and returns to Rome, where they will marry pronto. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Fiona Davis’s THE MASTERPIECE

MasterpieceI’m not certain what possessed me to want to read Fiona Davis’s The Masterpiece, other than a yen to leave the familiar reader-world of genre fiction for a while. Romance and mystery fiction are like comfortable only-at-home pants and sweatshirt. I ease into them and enjoy their sense of familiarity; on occasion, they also stifle. I need “something else,” so I venture into other reading territory. As a result I’ve read some remarkable non-fiction, Philippe Sands’s East West Street, the overhyped Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, or left-me-agog Yuval Harari’s Sapiens. This time around, I went for historical fiction, that in retrospect, has a great dose of women’s fiction to it (cue moue of disappointment) Fiona Davis’s The Masterpiece. I love all things art and museums and thought this might be the thing to refresh my romance-murder-mystery-reading malaise. Written in third-person POV, The Masterpiece tells the story of two women, very much of their time and circumstance, 1920s-30s illustrator Clara Darden and 1970s breast cancer survivor, newly divorced Virginia Clay. The main character, however, is NYC’s Grand Central Terminal, its fortunes and misfortunes, its acme and nadir, its glory, dereliction, and resurrection. Of all the novel’s elements, I liked the building and Virginia the best.
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MINI-REVIEW: HelenKay Dimon’s THE PROTECTOR

ProtectorWhen I started to read romance in 2007, after more than thirty years away, much of what I read was romantic suspense. Probably because I was coming to romance from reading mystery novels. One of the first romantic suspense authors I read was HelenKay Dimon. I was new to the genre and she was too: so, we’ve kind of romance grown up together (please note I have no personal acquaintance with Ms Dimon, I meant this solely in a metaphoric way). I read the Men of Hawaii series and enjoyed them (not as much as my favourites, Lucy Munroe’s Mercenary Trilogy or Shannon K. Butcher’s Delta Force) well enough. I remembered how I loved her heroes’ wit and humour, how they were alphas without the hole. And I liked her heroines, determined, smart, but soft and compassionate too, without ever losing their sense of self and identity in loving the hero. Returning to Dimon’s romantic suspense after ten years plus, I can see how the formula worked for her then and works for her now. I’m not sure it’s still what I want the lion’s share of my romance reading to be, but I did enjoy the travel down romance-reader’s memory lane. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s COWBOY SEAL REDEMPTION

Cowboy_SEAL_RedemptionNicole Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series builds a world of hope and love for broken people. It is no wonder that its geographic setting, fictional “Blue Valley” Montana, is a land of sky, mountain, and range, a world the noise of urban life, or the bombs of deserts far away haven’t touched. Except they have. By war and those who’ve returned from it, broken in spirit and body. Helm’s heroes are men who served in Afghanistan and were injured externally and internally, when one of the them, the ghost who stands sentry to their worst memories and their best (because they cared so much for one another), Geiger. But they are now in Montana, Alex Maguire, Jack Armstrong, and Gabe Cortez, to bring renewed life and hope to broken vets at their aptly-named Revival Ranch. Helm’s heroines are often survivors of domestic wars, now grown women who knew a childhood of abuse, fear, and neglect. Helm brings the broken man and woman together so they can build a new life. Sex doesn’t have the answers (though there’s that too and it’s good), romance doesn’t (though candles are lit and flowers are bought), but healing comes through therapy, talking to each other, striving for understanding, and being honest with, and true to, oneself. Like her obvious professional buddy Maisey Yates, Helm writes to her own tune of redemptive love, through confession (secular and personal), connection, and creating bonds with others, rather than breaking or avoiding them. To reach this point, however, hero and heroine must go through an agon of being broken open and exposed.  
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MINI-REVIEW: Stacy Henrie’s A COWBOY OF CONVENIENCE

Cowboy_Of_ConvenienceThough I read less and less inspirational romance these days, I chose to read Henrie’s A Cowboy Of Convenience because Harlequin is shutting down its Love Inspired Historical line and I was feeling nostalgic. Like Superromance, I’ve found some authors I’ve loved in it: Lacy Williams, Sherri Shackelford, Karen Kirst, and Alie Pleiter. I hope they’ve found writing pastures and are busy and happy sowing their talents.

Henrie’s Cowboy Of Convenience contains much of what we’ve come to expect of the subgenre and, most importantly, what I appreciate of it: a certain humility in its world-building and characterization. Nothing in Henrie’s romance rocked my romance-reading world, but I appreciated what it had to say nonetheless. Its story is typical: a cowboy, Westin McCall, who yearns to start his own dude ranch asks the ranch (where they both work) cook, widowed single-mother Vienna Howe, to pool their resources, marry as a “business arrangement” and start their own enterprise. Vienna, with her daughter Hattie, recently inherited her abusive, deceased husband’s near-by ranch, in Wyoming. Until West’s proposal, Vienna was uncertain as to what she would do with her windfall. The idea of creating a country home and business that her daughter could inherit was too good to pass up and Vienna agrees to marry, in name only, with West. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Julie Anne Long’s THE FIRST TIME AT FIRELIGHT FALLS

First_Time_At_Firelight_FallsEons ago, I read Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed An Earl and liked it well enough, but not with the passion of anticipating the next book in the series or eye-balling the newly-arriveds for her author’s name. I was surprised to see her turn to contemporary romance as she seemed quite ensconced in the former. But, hey, what do I know about author inspirations or the changing face of romance publishing? Bupkis. I was curious, however, and since contemporary is my sub-genre of choice, happy to give her a try with book four of the Hellcat Canyon series, The First Time At Firelight Falls, and even happier to eat reader humble-pie when I was *forced* to reassess my initial ho-hum judgement of it. It is seemingly run-of-the-mill contemporary small-town romance: Hellcat’s denizens are eccentric and supportive, there’s a good dose of wholesome humour and a modicum of conventionally-positioned, hot sex between the leads, and, at least initially, a whole lot of not-much-ness.
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MINI-REVIEW: Kate Clayborn’s LUCK OF THE DRAW

Luck_Of-the_DrawI am a stubborn cuss and resisted the lure of Clayborn’s much-lauded first romance, Beginner’s Luck. As my Twitter handle says, “always late to the game”! I confess I’m here to sing praises. I won’t even do it very well because I was up till the wee hours polishing off Luck Of the Draw, despite having a full work day with several important, need-to-be-alert meetings slotted in it. But here I am and here we are and I’m tethered to the cheering bandwagon.

There’s another reason I wasn’t keen on Clayborn’s first, or second for that matter, other than the romance cheering section; more pernicious to me was the alternating first-person narration: heroine/hero, heroine/hero, like that. When one of my favourite romance writers, Ruthie Knox, went first-person-rogue on me, I was annoyed, but I followed. (I’ve only ever fully forgiven first-person narration in my favourite novel of all time, Jane Eyre.) So, between the squee and the self-conscious “I’s“, Clayborn had to work hard to thwart my side-eye. But foil it she did, by keeping the action on its toes; the characters, compelling and lovable; and by a perfect balance of humour and angst (my favourite narrative tone/mood). What I couldn’t fault her for? The premise was all kinds of tropish catnip.
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MINI-REVIEW: Cathy Maxwell’s A MATCH MADE IN BED

A_Match_Made_in_BedI’d never read a Maxwell romance and embarked on A Match Made In Bed with curiosity and enthusiasm. Because I’m a naïve, gullible reader who’s too easily pleased, I lauded Maxwell to a Twitter friend and smiled smugly to myself on having “discovered” a great, new-to-me historical romance author. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up where I began. A Match Made In Bed showed initial promise. The hero and heroine intrigued me and the narrative promised compelling themes about money, women’s place in society, class, and family dynamics.

Soren York, Lord Dewsberry, and Miss Cassandra Holwell meet at a house party held outside of London. It’s not their first encounter. They share an interesting history: their Cornish-origined families have long feuded over past deception. Soren, aware of Cassandra’s dislike, yet woos her … because he needs an heiress’s money to bolster his soon-to-be-lost estate, Pentreath Castle. The novel opens with great banter and a wonderful antagonistic attraction between Cassandra and Soren. Even though Soren is mercenary, Maxwell manages to show us how he’s also kind and honourable. Cassandra is bookish and intelligent and has a lot of our sympathy, nursing a childhood hurt inflicted, unknowingly mind you, by Soren.  
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MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s BRIDE FOR KEEPS

Bride_For_KeepsI never knew I was a fan of the tropish goodness of a marriage-in-trouble romance until I read Nicole Helm’s Bride For Keeps. It’s not that I avoided the trope, it’s just not one that’s done often, or at least favoured by the authors I tend to read. One of my earliest reviews was of Ruthie Knox’s marriage-in-trouble novella, “Making It Last.” There was an edge to Knox, an anger, that made the marriage compromise, no matter how cheerfully I tried to review it at the time, about diminishing the hero and heroine. This is not the case for Helm’s category-length romance.

Bride For Keeps opens with a family bombshell for the hero: the diagnosis of his father’s MS accompanied by the revelation that he is the product of his mother’s affair. Dr. Carter McArthur is floored: he has striven to be the perfect son, to stand in his father’s medical and community footsteps, giant, important, arrogant footsteps. His one rebellion, his one out-of-perfection decision was to marry wild-child Sierra Shuller. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Susan Cliff’s NAVY SEAL RESCUE

Navy_SEAL_RescueA couple of nights ago, I had an unfortunate encounter with an espresso. The espresso was delicious; its consumption, way too close to bed-time. Oh, happy sleepless night, however, I had a great encounter with a romance novel. A heck of a book hangover the next day, but delicious in being able to read Susan Cliff’s Navy SEAL Rescue in its entirety. I cut my romance-reading teeth on romantic suspense and this year I’ve had the privilege of reading two great practitioners: Anne Calhoun and now, Cliff. Like Calhoun, the suspense was tense and interesting; the background didn’t pander to chest-thumping American patriotism; the main characters shared a hot, tender relationship; as individuals, they were neither idealized, nor caricatured. Hero and heroine managed to be flawed and yet sympathetic. Cliff’s novel opens when the heroine, Layah Anwar Al-Farah, rescues Da-esh (Islamic Front) captured SEAL, Petty Officer William Hudson. While saving the American SEAL from beatings, starvation, and eventual death is an act of mercy, Layah, in fact, has other plans for him. She will ensure that he heal and regain strength in order to help her and a group of refugees cross the Zagros Mountains into American-allied Turkey, and eventually, at least for Layah and her orphaned nephew, Ashur, into Armenia and her parents’ safe arms. Well, the best laid plans of mice, men, and beautiful Assyrian doctors often go astray … Continue reading