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

Comfort Reads and the End of an Era: With a Mini-Review of Janice Kay Johnson’s IN A HEARTBEAT

In_A_HeartbeatWith much sadness, I read Janice Kay Johnson’s note on her Superromance, In A Heartbeat. It is her last, alas, and the category is no more. I’ve loved so many of JKJ’s Superromances, especially the early ones. I read In A Heartbeat with enjoyment, for it is JKJ signature good. I didn’t always love the category’s authors and found some tedious, but I loved the idea of what it represented: a fantasy-based genre coming as close to realism as it could.

I read Betty Neels’s Tabitha In Moonlight at the same time as I read Johnson’s In A Heartbeat and, given Neels’s comfort-read status, I expected some dissonance. In the end, I wasn’t surprised to find none from two authors whose moral impetus is writing about decent people doing good and falling in love. I guess the only difference, given Johnson’s preference for realism, is that her characters do the best they can, in often difficult circumstances. Betty Neels’s characters are about being the best they can.   Continue reading

Reading Revivified and A Review of Lenora Bell’s WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DUKE MAKES

What_A_Difference_A_Duke_MakesThings are looking up reading-wise since my last post. I had a few quiet days at home to catch up on work and find some leisure reading time. DNF-ing a few turgid titles helped too: there’s no greater reading downer than that awful reviewer’s ARC-obligation. You can kill it with snark, or you can kill it by shutting down the Kindle before crossing the reading Rubicon. You know, that point where you’ve bloody read 68% of The Thing and you might as well finish it. Enough, though, of reading despondency.

I made a few decisions about reading and things are looking up. When I’m in a romance-reading slump, there’s only one author who can coax me back from the reading blues: Betty Neels. I put the ARC list away and started Betty Neels’s Tabitha In Moonlight (you can follow along with my nightly #bathtubromreading hashtag on Twitter). I put Frankopan’s The Silk Roads away for a less fraught working time. Then, I plunged back into the ARC pile with the express purpose of divesting myself of a few more dreary, meh titles. What I found instead was a funny, charming, flawed little romance in new-to-me Lenora Bell’s What A Difference A Duke Makes. It has all the eyebrow-raising qualities of wallpaperhood, but it delighted me. It’s first in a new series and I liked the characters so much that I’m looking forward to reading the second, about the hero’s Egyptologist sister and her archaeological rival and nemesis. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Caitlin Crews’s IMPRISONED BY THE GREEK’S RING

Imprisoned_By-the_Greek's_RingCaitlin Crews’s Imprisoned By the Greek’s Ring is a cautionary tale about revenge, a redemptive story of two broken people learning to love, and a sly meta-romance. It is outlandish, exaggerated, high strung, and over-the-top. Its premise is unlikely; its romance, hyperbolic; its hero and heroine, made of clichés and uberness. In a nutshell, it’s an HP romance and delivered exactly what I sought: an immersive id-reading experience. It is apropos that it kept me up till the wee hours and I crawled into work (looking quite deceptively crisp and business-like, with a string of meetings to plan for and endure) with major bleary-eyed book hangover. (And to whomever left espressos and stickie buns in the common room, you have my eternal gratitude.) Crews is one of the masters of the genre and she drew me in (it took some work) and left me on the bank and shoal of time, happy to have spent a few hours with her visceral characters and plot.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jessica Gilmore’s BABY SURPRISE FOR THE SPANISH BILLIONAIRE

Baby_Surprise_Spanish_BillionaireI read Jessica Gilmore’s first romance novel, The Return Of Mrs. Jones, and hailed her a romance-writer of great promise. I was disappointed in her second book and she dropped off my reviewing radar. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Some reviewing-Tinkerbell pushed me towards her latest, Baby Surprise For the Spanish Billionaire and the Gilmore magic was reinstated! Baby Surprise is conventional and uses some annoying conventions, BUT the writing is elegant and smooth, the dialogue clever, witty, funny, and moving, and the romance, well, so romantic, that I was reconverted to Gilmore.

Dr. Anna Gray, not medical, but an Oxford-trained historian, with a successful book in the world, arrives at her feckless mother’s Spanish island, La Isla Marina. Sancia has sent out “help” signals to her daughters: the resort Sancia inherited from her parents, one of Spain’s most beautiful tourist destinations, has gone to ruin, thanks to Sancia’s dreamy, negligent ways. But there is now a chance to restore its past splendor because one of the year’s great society weddings has booked the island as its venue. Practical, efficient, list-making daughter Anna (prodigal Rosa eventually also shows up) comes to the rescue, with begrudging resentment well in control, and one month to bring the resort up to Instagram-Twitter-hashtag-photo-snapping elegance. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Marguerite Kaye’s FROM GOVERNESS TO COUNTESS

From_Governess_To_CountessWhether it was my mood, or a super-busy two weeks, I slogged through the first in Kaye’s new series, From Governess to Countess. If I had to give you a baseline of my narrative immersion, it’d be: perked up to the premise, dragged my way through two-thirds and zipped through the last. Kaye’s novel is well-researched, with a fascinating and nicely developped setting, a lovely heroine and engaging secondary characters. The hero, on the other hand, is concocted out of bleached-out niceness and a copious dose of cluelessness.

I loved the premise: a mysterious “Procurer,” a woman, in 1815 London, seeks out disgraced women to offer them a task that may reestablish their finances and reputation. She is a “procurer” of second chances and her first mission is Miss Allison Galbraith, a Scottish herbalist, whose work has been derided by London’s medical establishment. The Procurer offers Allison a job, in St. Petersburg, as governess to the three orphaned children of Duke and Duchess Derevenko, presently in the care of their military-officer Uncle Aleksei, recently returned from defeating Napoleon.       Continue reading