Miss Bates’s Stand-Out Books: 2018 Edition

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

MINI-REVIEW: Donna Alward’s BEST MAN FOR THE WEDDING PLANNER

Best_Man_for_the_Wedding_PlannerDonna 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

MINI-REVIEW: Mira Lyn Kelly’s DECOY DATE

Decoy_DateWhenever 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. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Susan Cliff’s WITNESS ON THE RUN

Witness_On_the_RunI’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. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Jennifer Hayward’s MARRIED FOR HIS ONE-NIGHT HEIR

Married_For_His_OneNight_HeirJennifer 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.
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MINI-REVIEW: Therese Beharrie’s HER FESTIVE FLIRTATION

Her_Festive_FlirtationTherese 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.
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MINI-REVIEW: Jasmine Guillory’s THE PROPOSAL

ProposalNew-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.
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MINI-REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s CUPCAKES FOR CHRISTMAS

Cupcakes_For_ChristmasA Kate Hewitt romance is a welcome thing. Hewitt writes her characters with insightful psychology. Their dilemmas are believable and well-developped. She writes with a light touch, making the reader chuckle with affection even as she sheds a tear or two. Her latest Willoughby Close, Christmas-romance incarnation is Cupcakes For Christmas, a trite title for a romance that tackles some difficult issues.

Olivia James, at near-40, is a spinster, having never committed herself to husband or family, even though she lived in London and dated for years before returning to Wychwood-on-Lea to run her now-retired mother’s bake-shop, Tea On the Lea. Hero Simon Blacklock is newly arrived in Wychwood, living with his sister, teaching music part-time at the local elementary school and playing his cello at church concerts. Simon walks into Olivia’s shop to buy a cupcake, answering the call of Olivia’s Christmas bakes promotion, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Olivia has been working hard to raise the shop’s profile and drum up business. The cupcake promotion is one of several events that run throughout the novel with a scrumptious Christmas-baked-goods theme. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Marnie Blue’s MISTLETOE KISSES

Mistletoe_KissesAs winter sleet, ice, snow, and ice loom, and the day-job continues its relentlessly demanding pace, I can at least celebrate the coming holidays. And the hols bring the Christmas romance and Hallmark Christmas movies in double-time! What does this have to do with Marnie Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses? Everything, as it’s a slip of a romance that sounds like category rom and smells like Hallmark. If you like one or t’other or both, you’re going to be a happy camper.

Blue is a new-to-me author and the first of my newly-resolved reviewing decision to try new romance authors every few months. My introvert’s heart can’t really take much more change than that. I started Blue’s romance with trepidation, experienced delight, eye-rolled several bits, and ended up replete with reader satisfaction. Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses doesn’t break any romance molds and its Hallmark-Christmas-movie ethos will be familiar to those of us who revel in the joys of tinsel, garland, frosted gingerbread men, and tree-lighting ceremonies, of which there is a hilarious one in Mistletoe Kisses. When the novel opens, Grinch-like cop-hero Justin Weaver is sneezing his way through his Santa-beard as he grumbles at his commanding officer’s “request” to make nice with the public by playing Santa to collect toys for underprivileged children. It’s a good cause and Justin is a good egg, he just hates Christmas, his tight Santa costume, and public appearances … especially speeches. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: J. R. Ward’s CONSUMED

ConsumedWhen I first started to read romance again, after a thirty-year hiatus (ah, the “lost years”), one of the first romances I read was J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal (2006), a romance novel I thought at once execrable and utterly compelling. Really, I couldn’t put it down, even though I was embarrassed for enjoying it and yet thinking how laughably bad it was. I can’t say I experienced the same reader self-hatred reading the first of Ward’s new non-vampiric “Firefighters” series, Consumed. Maybe it was the first flush of allowing myself to read romance again, but I’d gained some distance from Consumed in a way I hadn’t with Lover Eternal, though I read it with the same enthusiasm and rueful self-doubt. I can now recognize what makes Ward compelling: there’s a hyperbolic physicality to her characters, a gritty underbelly feel to her setting, and a rawness to it all that makes for a powerful formula. There’s NOTHING small-town cutsie or gentle about Ward’s world and she’s pretty fearless about writing her characters’ edginess. I liked that about her and I liked Consumed, though, at times, it bugged the heck out of me. Continue reading