In these days of coronavirus isolation (I’m blessed to be healthy for the time being and hope you, Miss Bates’s readers, are well), a diverting, witty book is the best of companions, offering respite, amusement, and the hope that we will, once more, “embrace one another joyously” (as we chant in my church on Pascha). Such is Kate Bateman’s first in her new series, “Bow Street Bachelors,” This Earl of Mine. It’s light, fresh, engaging, and written with ease and a lovely flow. It is premised on my favourite histrom trope, marriage-of-convenience, which, in truth, if it’s well done, should turn into a marriage-of-inconvenience when those pesky feels come into play for hero and heroine. This Earl of Mine captivated me from the opening scene: wealthy cit-heiress, Georgianna “Georgie” Caversteed, has arranged to marry a Newgate condemned convict to put an end, once and for all, to her cousin Josiah’s, among others, constant, persistent, and unwelcome forays into acquiring her fortune for himself, or as Georgie thinks, “Better a temporary marriage to a murderous, unwashed criminal than a lifetime of misery with Josiah.” A convenient marriage and subsequent widowhood, while Georgie hightails it to her Lincolnshire estate, will ensure her independence of person and fortune. Instead, she marries undercover Bow Street runner and impoverished second son, Bendict “Ben” William Henry Wylde, Etonian and formerly of the “Rifles” during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a most engaging opening scene when Georgie notes, despite the grime and overlong hair, how handsome, strong, and confident her husband is, he of the teasing, twinkling eyes and “broad shoulders, wide chest, and long legs.” Continue reading
Three romance novels saw me DNF them because of their opening scene: Mary Balogh’s The Secret Pearl; Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Nobody’s Baby But Mine; and, Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened. In time, I returned to all three and loved them. We can add a fourth, Lopez’s début, Lush Money. All four open with a scene where one or both of the protagonists are morally comprised; we see the them at their worst. All four involve a scene where the body is exchanged for money, or services, where the “other” is objectified and exploited. It is most interesting that in three of the four, including Lopez’s, the hero is objectified. What Lopez brings to the table is a flip to the classic HP ethos: the billionaire, in this case, the heroine, Roxanne Medina, “buys” Prince Mateo Esperanza’s, the hero’s, services to make her dream baby and cement her business empire. They marry, business-like, and “meet” once a month over a three-day period when Roxanne ovulates. So, what’s in it for Mateo? Continue reading
I anticipated Lucy Gilmore’s second Forever Home romance, Puppy Christmas, from the moment I turned the last page on the first, Puppy Love. I’m sorry it took me this long to read the former. Equally laugh-out-loud funny, heart-wrenching, and rawr-sexy, it would have made a hellacious work month so much better. Lesson learned: I’ve settled into my romance reading (thirteen years since I picked up a copy of Garwood’s Shadow Music at the local Costco and reignited my love for the genre) with the knowledge that romance is the best respite from daily stress, an oasis of happy in a desert of demands. Gilmore’s series, including this latest (as I anticipate the third, Puppy Kisses!), deserves a spot in the happy-reader Hall of Fame. Continuing with her initial premise, three sisters running a service-dog non-profit, “Puppy Promise,” Puppy Christmas focusses on the eldest, 31-year-old Lila Vasquez, as she works to build the confidence of six-year-old, hearing-impaired Emily Ford with the help of cockapoo Jeeves, while falling in love with Emily’s father, ridiculously-named Ford Ford. Gilmore’s second Forever Home romance is plot-light, but character-deep and chock full of lovely anecdotes, including a funny meet-cute, first date set in a snow maze, Elsa-allusions, cocked-puppy-head adorableness, and hot phone sex.
Deanna Raybourn’s Victorian-set Veronica Speedwell mysteries are my second favourite historical mystery series with a delicious dose of tantalizing romance, the first being C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr Regency-set ones. I’ve extolled the virtues and joys of the latter on numerous occasions and you might well be sick of reading me doing so. I will here fan-squee for Raybourn’s.
A lepidopterist by trade, Veronica is a marriage-eschewing, proto-feminist, sharp-tongued beauty (I like to imagine her as a A-Place-In-the-Sun Elizabeth Taylor) who works with her piratically-handsome, former navy-surgeon, taxidermist sidekick, Stoker, aka “Revelstoke” (more True Blood Joe Manganiello than Pirates Orlando Bloom). Veronica and Stoker work together, from their home base, their friend’s Lord Rosemorran’s London estate, where their scientific expertise works to establish his museum; most of the time, they spar, banter, and smoulder at each other, all the while denying their slow-burn romance, undeniable attraction, and deep love for one another. Also, they unearth murderers. It’s a formula made to win me over. It did, from book one, A Curious Beginning, and does, with this, the fourth installment (#5 waits in the wings, thank you, Berkley!!!).
I’m way too old to have read Cabot’s Princess Diary books, but glad I’m old enough to enjoy her contemporary romance. Despite its rom-com cover, No Judgments, though often droll, tackles sombre issues for its protagonist and narrator, Sabrina “Bree” Beckham. Bree has divided her life between when-she-was-Sabrina and lived in Manhattan as a law student with a famous mom and a trust fund and, at present, Bree, living humbly in Florida’s fictional Little Bridge Island, waitress, art-dabbler, and cat owner. (Indeed, Bree’s imperious former-shelter-cat Gary is one of the most charming of the island’s denizens, feline, canine, or human.) But darker events than law-school-dropping-out brought Bree to Florida: her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, oh, not with another woman, but by excusing his best friend’s execrable behaviour, behaviour that left Bree with uncertainty, fear, and mistrust. But there’s one man who breaks through her wariness, sexy Drew Hartwell, her bosses’ nephew and resident renovation-king-and-heartthrob. When Hurricane Marilyn bears down on Little Bridge Island, Drew and Bree, despite their initial banterish dislike (which we always know masks healthy-lust-like), work together to ensure evacuees’ left-behind animals are cared for, while falling into love and between Drew’s bed-sheets.
I was greatly looking forward to Linden’s When the Marquess Was Mine because I loved the previous Wagers of Sin romance, An Earl Like You. The Marquess didn’t capture me as deeply as the Earl did, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Certainly, the premise intrigued me because AMNESIAC hero narrative!
When the romance opens, our privileged, wealthy, heir-to-a-dukedom hero, Robert Churchill-Gray, Marquess of Westmorland, is celebrating his 29th birthday, with his equally rogue-ish friends, by drinking and gambling at the Vega Club. Foolishly, one of the players, Sir Charles Winston, loses his Derbyshire home, Osbourne House, to Rob. When Rob’s father, the Duke of Rowland, catches wind of the shenanigans, he sends Rob to Winston’s seat to return the deed to his wife, Kitty, there rusticating with her six-month-old, Annabel. Her companion is her bosom friend, Lady Georgianna Lucas, enjoying the country air away from London and the now summer-dwindled season. As Rob nears Osbourne House, he is beset by nasties, beaten about the head, and left for dead. Georgianna, out riding with a groom, finds him injured and unconscious and realizes he is the marquess Charles wrote to Kitty about, out to oust them from their home, and generally make everyone miserable with his arrogant self.
I was pleasantly surprised at the complexity and page-turning élan of Sarah M. Eden’s The Lady and the Highwayman. Eden is a new-to-me author and I’m glad I’ve discovered her romances; this first read won’t be my last, thanks to her robust backlist.
Victorian-set among the humble and working-class, Eden’s thriller-melodrama-romance boasts a former-“guttersnipe” hero, now successful penny dreadful author, and girls-school headmistress heroine. Fletcher Walker struts the streets of 1865-London with the swagger of a man who brought himself out of the gutter and into success. But Fletcher is not an advocate of the every-man-is-an-economic-island making his own way in the world. He is the defender, rescuer, and fighter for the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of London’s invisible people, the widowed, fatherless, and orphaned; the sweep’s agony, the harlot’s cry come under Fletcher’s protection and his penned stories tell of their pathos, endurance, and spunky survival, the importance of helping one another, and defending those who cannot defend themselves. His author’s income isn’t for himself alone, but largely given to the poorest of the poor. Continue reading
I side-eyed Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key because it nods at James’s “The Turn of the Screw,” one classic I’ve abhorred since I had the misfortune to read it in a 19th century lit class. I hate James’s twisted, labyrinthine sentences, his dunce of a narrator, and the creepy setting. I like my gothic with a good streak of romance, like Jane Eyre, and female protagonists with a brain in their head, like Jane, like Stewart’s, Kearsley’s, and St. James’s. But I’d heard and read reviewers and Twitter friends praise Ware’s The Woman In Cabin 10 and The Death of Mrs. Westaway that I wanted to try one of her books. In The Turn of the Key, I got a fairly satisfying hybrid between atmospheric James and contemporary feminist gothic. Had the first-person narrator/voice been anything like James’s governess, I would’ve DNF-ed. As it stands, narrator Rowan Caine is what you’d get if Bridget Jones was trapped in a horror-gothic-thriller, which made her a heck of a lot more likeable than the anonymous prig James created. Continue reading
It’s too bad I started reading Allison Montclair’s The Right Sort of Man when I returned to work after the holidays because I wanted the luxury of inhaling it in hours instead of days. First, it came recommended by MissB’s reader, Barb, always spot-on; second, it held much tropish goodness: historical, check; mystery, check; women forging paths in post-war-England, check; engaging voice, check; witty, rapid-sharp dialogue, check; glimmers of love interests, check. And, I cannot say this enough: it’s moving without being lugubrious and the characters grow in believable, positive ways. (More than anything, my ugh with litfic is the latter. If you have any recs about this, they’d be welcome.)
Montclair creates a pair of female amateur sleuths who start a marriage bureau agency in post-WWII London. They’re an unlikely, contrapuntal pair whose professional relationship grows into a friendship. If you’re keen on romance tropes, they’re an opposites-attract version of female friendship. Montclair opens her novel, cleverly-like, with the victim, one Tillie LaSalle, seeking a match from Gwen Bainbridge and Iris Sparks’s Mayfair matchmaking establishment, The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. We soon realize Iris and Gwen are as unlike in personality as they are in height. Gwen is the willowy, still-grieving widow of would-have-inherited-a-title Ronald Bainbridge and mother to six-year-old Ronnie. Iris, on the other hand, a former ton-ish wild girl about town, did some secret service work during the war and has derring-do recklessness to Gwen’s methodical care. Continue reading
Another reading year gone and it was a strange one: an intense reading summer, testament to the plethora of reviews I managed to write, and a dry autumn with barely any reading done. Nevertheless, I read some good romance among others genres and I’m going to herein name the ones I think might withstand the test of time and taste. With this first post of 2020, I wish you all the health, happiness, prosperity, and love the world can bring. Without further ado, here are the titles that resonate with me still. I’ve written about all of them, so you’re welcome to check out my reviews to see why I liked them. With apologies that I can’t manage more commentary than that, but 2019 was the year I was tired. I’m hoping to have more blogging energy for 2020! Continue reading