The Great Betty Read: Esmeralda, #33

EsmeraldaWhen you’re in a pandemic, what can you do but pick up your GREAT BETTY NEELS READ from where you left off, victim of neglect and ennui? Sigh. So glad I’m back on my epic quest to read all 134 of her oeuvre. It was a comfort to return to a world where the tea is good, the sandwiches are better, there’s always a pudding, the hero is enormous and ethical, as is the heroine, and everyone receives rewards commensurate with their qualities. A warning to readers: our eponymous heroine had a childhood accident, which left her disabled in one foot. The novel’s first half is dedicated to her encounter with the hero, Dr. Thimo Bamstra, a renowned Dutch surgeon, who will “fix” her foot. This may be offensive to some, that Esmeralda needs “fixing” in any way and, indeed, I don’t think the hero feels compelled to “fix” her. It’s Esmeralda herself who has crawled into a hole of shame, aided and abetted by a society that sees disabled people as less than (pub. date is 1976). I can’t say I embraced Esmeralda when I started reading because of this. But I can’t help but say how much I ended up enjoying it. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s CHASING CASSANDRA

Chasing_CassandraLisa Kleypas’s romances were some of the first I ever read upon returning to the genre after 30 years away. Derek Craven remains one of my favourite heroes and Devil In Winter, one of my favourite romances. (On the other hand, there were those Kleypas woo-woo books I’d rather forget.) Kleypas went the way of contemporary romance, I started reading a variety of new, interesting romance writers and somehow, our paths never again converged until the pandemic saw a certain publisher largesse and I scored an e-galley of Chasing Cassandra. I thought I’d encounter the usual Kleypas fare, overprotective hero, heroine in peril, intense love scenes … and, Chasing Cassandra has some of that, but they’re not what stands out. Instead, I found a deeper, funnier, more relaxed Kleypas, a narrative richer in humour and characterization and less inclined to melodrama.   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Carly Bloom’s COWBOY COME HOME

Cowboy_Come_HomeCarly Bloom’s Big Bad Cowboy was one of my top 2018 reads, so my expectations for Cowboy Come Home were sky-high. The result? Big Bad Cowboy remains perfection from start to finish; Cowboy Come Home is better in parts than sum.

It held tropish-goodness-potential because reunited lovers, second-chance-at-love romance! Heroine Claire Kowalski loves stilettos, marketing, and her parents’ ranch, Rancho Canada Verde. Two years ago, she also loved ranch manager, Ford Jarvis, who loved and left her. Ford’s back, at her father’s behest, and the town of Big Verde has yet to witness a confrontation such as Claire and Ford’s. Claire is rightly in a rage and Ford is humbly contrite. Bloom’s ethos, however, is comic and her writing penchant is for nice people. Claire fumes and glares, but she’s a good-hearted soul who is still in love with Ford. Ford still loves Claire, but possesses internal obstacles to being with her, then and now. Add oodles of funny friends, neighbours, siblings, and parents who recognize how Claire and Ford “really” feel about each other and their reunion and eventual commitment is head-on, like a bull following the cape.    Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s A MURDEROUS RELATION

Murderous_RelationAnother volume in a beloved series, read in two days, and now I have to wait till next March for the next one … (be warned, if you haven’t read the series, and you ought, there be spoilers ahead).

Lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her partner-in-adventure and love-of-her life, Stoker Templeton-Vane, are caught up in another intrigue involving her half-brother, Prince Eddy, a diamond, a brothel, its procuress, and ever more threats to the British royal family. At its opening, comfortably ensconced at their friend’s, Lord Rosemorran’s estate, Bishop’s Folly, in charge of curating his vast collection, Veronica and Stoker enjoy a respite from their adventures in the best way they know, bantering, bickering, and anticipating love-making. Raybourn has introduced a new tenderness in their exchanges, especially on Veronica’s part, the more hard-assed of the two. A new-found peace and rightness are between them. Raybourn doesn’t disappoint us in this volume: Veronica and Stoker, after kidnappings, extortion, villains on their tail, save the day once again and FINALLY, FINALLY achieve their HEA. (The novel is also set against the backdrop of the Whitechapel murders and Raybourn includes one vibrant, creepy, masterful scene with the Ripper.)
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MINI-REVIEW: Ruby Lang’s HOUSE RULES

House_RulesI’ve enjoyed Ruby Lang’s Uptown series and this, the last and third, may be my favourite. The hero and heroine, in keeping with Lang’s urban setting (another kudo for the series), have been around the block. They’re in their forties, were married over fifteen years ago; it ended badly. Now, reunited after a chance meeting, they’re cohabiting thanks to the New Yorker’s ever-present search for a great apartment and reasonable rent. They’re roommates in the Harlem-set building featured in the first two series novellas. Lang has cleverly made setting constant and introduced a new couple into each narrative. By novella three, you’re loving the place, feeling cozy and comfortable with its familiarity, and intrigued by the new couple who becomes its denizen. At 44, Simon Mizrahi has settled into life as a music teacher and choral conductor. He’s achieved professional success. At 42, after travelling the world to learn a unique craft, Lana Kuo returns to NYC as noodle-maker at a Pan-Asian restaurant, hoping, finally, to have a job with health insurance and benefits. She’s content with where she’s brought herself, having learned to ask for what she needs and made her peace with her past: leaving Simon, quitting school.      Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Mia Sosa’s THE WORST BEST MAN

Worst_Best_ManBecause I’m not a great fan of rom-coms, I couldn’t believe how much I liked Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. Though I’m not a fan of first-person romance-narration, especially when it alternates H/H POV, there was so much to like about Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. The humour. The ethos. The secondary characters. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the romance. I can’t say I loved the premise either, but Sosa made it work for me. Carolina “Lina” Santos is left at the altar by Andrew Hartley, thanks to a heart-to-heart the night before the wedding with his younger brother, Max. Cue three years later. Lina is up for a wedding planner job with the luxury-hotel-chain CEO Rebecca Cartright. Whose firm is assigned to work with her on her pitch? Double-nemeses Max and Andrew. To sweeten the competition, Rebecca assigns Max to work with Lina and Andrew with her competition. In a Top-Wedding-Planner showdown, Max and Lina have five weeks to prep their presentation and score the account. There is much at stake for both, financially, also professional pride and family approval.
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MINI-REVIEW: Dani Collins’s CINDERELLA’S ROYAL SEDUCTION

Cinderella's_Royal_SeductionDani Collins’s Cinderella’s Royal Seduction is a fairy-tale retelling with a heroine replete with temper and a prince who exhibits alpha-diminishing humility. I loved it. It’s funny, heartfelt, and possessed of baroque love scenes. The HP’s connection to fairy tale is well recorded; so much so that I was afraid, on first opening Cinderella’s Royal Seduction, it would be trite, tired, formulaic. What I found was anything but. It was delightful, fun, fresh. Much of this may be attributed to Collins’s heroine and hero characterization and how it allows the narrative to subsume the fairy tale, instead of being ruled by it.

Cassiopeia “Sopi” (the worst thing about the novel is the poor heroine’s diminutive) Brodeur is at the housekeeping beck and call of her evil stepmother and sisters at Lonely Lake Spa in the Canadian Rockies, once her beloved mother’s business-child. Though run-down and in constant need of repair, it’s beautifully situated and lovingly cared for by Sopi. Her evil stepmother machinates a visit from Rhys Charlemaine, Prince of Verina, second-in-line to the throne and, unbeknownst to nasty stepmom, horrid daughters, and Sopi herself, due to his brother’s, the king’s, cancer diagnosis, in need of a wife to provide the stability of an heir to their kingdom.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lucy Parker’s HEADLINERS (London Celebrities #5)

HeadlinersLucy Parker’s Headliners flows out of the events of London Celebrities #4, The Austen Playbook, and the goodness of the former flows like honey out of the latter’s wonderfulness. (Did I maybe love it because it cleansed the reading palate with joy after my dour Jean Brodie read? I don’t think so.)

Parker cleverly situates the great betrayal, in this case committed by the hero, in Playbook‘s events. Journalist Nick Davenport exposed Sabrina Carlton’s father and grandmother’s deception in a news “scoop”, showing the artistic London world that Sabrina’s grandmother was the plagiarist of a famous play, The Velvet Room, a fact her father kept secret and benefitted from. It’s hard to fault someone for doing their job well, but the innocent hurt parties, journalist Sabrina and her actor-sister, Freddy, were the media circus’s reputation-destroying skills’ sacrifices. Nick isn’t proud and he is apologetic. He too lost something: his best friend, theatre critic “Griff” Ford-Griffin, in love with Freddy and now her fiancé. When Headliners opens, however, it isn’t only Sabrina’s career that has nose-dived; Nick’s night-time serious news program is gone. Sabrina and Nick are given an opportunity for career redemption when they’re asked to co-host a flagging morning show. If they can keep their tempers in check, not hiss and snap at each other, they can revive their careers and return to prime-time fame out of the morass of media notoriety. Two long-time rivals have to cooperate for the sake of their formerly successful careers. Can they do it, can they keep volatility in check?  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White’s ALL THE WAYS WE SAID GOODBYE

All_Ways_We_Said_GoodbyeI love these three authors and looked forward to reading their joint effort, All the Ways We Said Goodbye. While I enjoyed the multi-narrative-threaded novel, I prefer the Co. of Williams, Willig, & White seule over ensemble. There was so much here and not quite enough; the novel’s last quarter was stronger than its first half. Overall, a mixed-bag with a mixed response from me: bits I loved, characters I adored, and, in the best lingo from The Great British Bake-Off, a soggy middle (okay, “bottom” for them, but you get my drift).

All the Ways We Said Goodbye is ambitious, I’ll give it that. Three women, three stories, intertwined by war, betrayal, passion, love, and honour, the male protagonists following likewise in their wake. One narrative follows WWI-set Aurélie de Courcelles, the Demoiselle, whose family heirloom/talisman is a cloth seeped in the blood of Ste. Jeanne d’Arc. Aurélie leaves her mother ensconced at the Paris Ritz and makes her way to the ancestral home, now behind enemy lines. She carries the talisman with her, legendary because as long the Demoiselle holds it, France cannot fall. Given that most of the Great War was fought on French soil, a symbol of French hope and pride. Aurélie finds her home occupied by some nasty German officers. She machinates to protect her people and finds herself embroiled with one kind, handsome German officer …
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Mini-Review: Tessa Bailey’s LOVE HER OR LOSE HER

Love_Her_or_Lose_HerI have an innate distrust of any romance with an excess of “baby” endearment and there’s A LOT of “babying” in Love Her or Lose Her, second in Tessa Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series. There were a few things to recommend it: the working-class ethos, that stays working-class, and the marriage-in-trouble trope, which is a rarity and yet should appear more often in contemporary romance. It’s topical and true, after all, and way more believable than ye olde fake relationship. So, my launching into Love Her or Lose Her was with the enthusiasm of the ignorant but tropically engaged. It didn’t take long for my keenness to deflate like a geriatric balloon.

But first, other than the premise, who are the protags and what are their narrative stakes? Rosie Vega works as a perfume-counter girl, then goes home to her taciturn husband, Dominic. He’s a good guy: works hard, doesn’t drink, gamble, or cheat. They share a powerful attraction, which they indulge once a week, on Tuesdays. We don’t really know why they’ve stopped their amorous pursuits beyond Tuesdays, given how hot and bothered they get around each other, but suffice to say, it’s a “symptom” of what’s wrong with their marriage.
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