Mary Burchell’s A SONG BEGINS: Romance Doesn’t Get Better Than This …

A_Song_BeginsUntil reading Mary Burchell’s A Song Begins, Miss Bates found it hard to believe that anyone could rival her beloved Betty Neels. And yet, here she is, enthralled with Mary Burchell. And all she can say is, MOAR! A Song Begins is the first of Burchell’s Warrender Saga, a series of thirteen romances she wrote for Mills and Boon stretching from 1965 to 1985. They are set in the opera world and feature harsh, closed-off heroes and heroines who can hold their own against them. Burchell and Neels share the exclusive heroine POV and the mystery, which Miss Bates loves, of knowing the heroes only by their actions. Their kindness and love for the heroine are hinted at with only very occasional near-tender gestures. Otherwise, they’re cyphers of raised eyebrows, mysterious smiles, flashing, angry eyes, suppressed frustration, and an exacting work ethic, to which our heroine’s inexperience is subject, in Neels’ case in the surgery and Burchell’s on the stage. A Song Begins opens with Anthea Benton, aspiring singer from Cromerdale, trying to win a TV singing spot to help her pay her way to London and voice training. Anthea’s family is financially humble; while loving and supportive of her aspirations, they cannot afford to help her. This TV spot is her only chance and it is foiled by one of the judges, the famous conductor, Oscar Warrender. Anthea’s disappointment is short-lived, however, because she receives word, through her voice teacher, Miss Sharp, that a mysterious benefactor is funding her move to London to study with none other than the maestro himself, Oscar Warrender!   Continue reading

Lauren Layne’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH

To_Love_and_To-CherishMiss Bates was ignorant of Lauren Layne’s Wedding Belles series and ended up reading book three, To Love and To Cherish, without reading one and two. S’allright though, because Wedding Belles #3 fills in the romances of the first two heroines as they weave in and out of the heroine’s story. Alexis Morgan is the Wedding Belles’s head honcho, the guru of wedding planners, with Brooke and Heather close behind. The company was her baby, her vision and sole focus. But there’s someone behind the scenes too. While Alexis is the Wedding Belles’s face, heart, and soul, she is not its only purse. Her silent partner is hero Logan Harris, friend, accountant, and bankroll from the moment they met in a Harlem bar eight years ago. For Logan, it was love at first sight; for Alexis, it was a niggling feeling of “something,” but her focus was so strongly on her business that her awareness of Logan has been akin to a cold cup of coffee you leave on the counter. As the years roll by, she takes their bi-weekly financial meetings for granted. She takes him for granted. Her emotional and physical skittishness and Logan’s British gentleman manners have long put the kibosh on seduction. Now, with Logan and Alexis in their early thirties, things coalesce. Logan’s Alexis-torch is more-than-smouldering, especially when his father is ready to retire and hand the London-based family company to him. Logan must let Alexis know how he feels, find out if she cares for him as he does her – or, he returns to London.   
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Karina Bliss’s FALL

FallMiss Bates was uncertain about Karina Bliss’s “rock star” series. Miss B. was more madrigal-girl than black-kohl-rimmed-eyes rocker-chick in her teen years. The world of Bliss’s series didn’t appeal. Nevertheless, given that Bliss’s A Prior Engagement is one of her favourite category romances, she was willing to take on the raucous. What she found, instead, was a moving and funny romance, believable characterization, and engaging, trope-twisting genre-bending. At first, Fall is harmless enough. Picking up from the riff Bliss set up in Rise, she moves the action from rocker-millionaire-bad-boy Zander Freedman to his PA, Dimity Graham, and drummer, Seth Curran. While Zander is happy with his love, Elizabeth, the band’s fortunes and future are awry and Dimity is in full powerhouse damage-control mode. Zander’s reputation in tatters and recent throat surgery has put the band at risk of ever “rising” again. Dimity finds herself at the local watering-hole near Zander’s LA mansion with Seth, still mourning the loss of his high school sweetheart to another man, the news of Mel’s engagement putting the heart-broken icing on the proverbial non-wedding-cake for him. They drink too much, he cries on Dimity’s shoulder, and – yada yada yada – they do the beast with two backs. Dimity offers to play pretend-girlfriend when they return to New Zealand to help Seth get Mel back (while Dimity also machinates to save Zander’s career and  their band, Rage).   Continue reading

REVIEW: Juliana Gray’s A MOST EXTRAORDINARY PURSUIT

A_Most-Extraordinary_PursuitThere’s a certain kind of novel Miss Bates adores and it appears Juliana Gray has written one in A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. Maybe it’s the summer Miss Bates spent in Greece reading Elizabeth Peters. Maybe it’s the heroines: feral spinsters, independent, prickly, and devoted to their work. A hero who may or may not be “heroic,” a combination 007, Indiana Jones, and Lord Peter Wimsey; he’s ambiguous, as are the heroine’s feelings for him. Nevertheless, hero and heroine must work together to solve a mystery, a mystery set in a locale east of their western European English setting, a place hot and difficult to navigate linguistically and culturally, where the narrative isn’t easy to read, Egypt, India, or Greece. Not since Deanna Raybourn’s first Veronica Speedwell mystery has Miss Bates found and enjoyed a novel of this ilk, not until Gray’s Pursuit.

Our heroine and narrator, Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove, has faithfully served the Duke of Olympia and his Duchess, Penelope, for six years. Emmeline and her employers’ relationship is a close and protective one. Sadly, Emmeline’s beloved Duke died while trout-fishing and his now-Dowager Duchess entrusts her with finding the missing heir, grand-nephew Mr. Maximilian Haywood, off studying Knossian ruins in Crete. Miss Truelove seems to have, at least initially, two companions on her voyage aboard the Duke’s yacht “Isolde” and throughout her journey-pursuit of Mr. Haywood: the charming “reprobate,” Freddie, Marquess of Silverton and Queen Victoria’s finger-wagging, admonishing ghost! Continue reading

REVIEW: Amy Andrews’s SWEPT AWAY BY THE SEDUCTIVE STRANGER

Swept_Away_By_The_Seductive_StrangerMiss Bates has been reading rom long enough, ten years to date, that it’s harder and harder to find a new-to-her category author (category being her primary romance consumption). BUT Amy Andrews is new to Miss Bates and she’s sorry she took as long as she did to read her. There was much to like about Andrews’s Swept Away By The Seductive Stranger and the title wasn’t it. The characters, their conflicts, inner and outer, the setting, and their surprisingly honest and realistic romance were.

Nurse Felicity Mitchell is fulfilling the dream of a life-time riding the Indian-Pacific rail to Adelaide when she meets and is attracted to Callum Hollingsworth. Though neither are one-night-stand aficionados, their overwhelming attraction, during dinner with the retirees they share the train with, it appears will lead them to share their deliciously cramped overnight berths. A medical emergency puts a stop to their soon-to-be-tryst and reveals their respective professions as nurse and doctor, respectively. Nevertheless, the post-adrenaline restlessness following the medical emergency’s resolution has them share a night of never-to-be-repeated passion between “strangers on a train”. With the inevitable hokey coincidence of the romance novel plot, it turns out the strangers on the train will soon be co-workers in the clinic, as Callum appears at Nurse Felicity’s Vickers Hill clinic to take over for two months while one of their doctors goes on maternity leave. Continue reading

REVIEW: Tessa Dare’s DO YOU WANT TO START A SCANDAL

Do_You_Want_To_Start_A_ScandalMiss Bates is a Tessa Dare fan. She read the first three Spindle Cove novels and adored them, especially the third, A Week To Be Wicked, with its bespectacled paleontologist-heroine and dissolute rake-hero. Also, it’s a road romance and Miss B. loves a road romance almost as much as she does a closed-cabin one.

Do You Want To Start A Scandal, Spindle Cove #5, doesn’t take place in Spindle Cove, but at the Nottinghamshire estate of Sir Vernon Parkhurst and, as such, is more a closed-estate romance, with a dash of closed-room mystery thrown in.  Heroine Charlotte Highwood and hero Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville, are Sir Vernon’s guests. When the novel opens, neither is in a good place. Charlotte’s marriage-machinating mum, reminiscent of Austen’s Mrs. Bennett, has landed her in the humiliating position of being a gossip-rag’s ridiculed gull, the Prattler‘s. Charlotte is the source of the eponymous “scandal” and the moniker plagues her throughout. Piers, on the other hand, is everything proper, controlled, and aristocratic. His presence at the Parkhurst estate, however, is not in the convention of the languid gentleman enjoying a few weeks in the country. He’s on official crown business, spying on Sir Vernon, who may be asked, by the government, to take a sensitive overseas position. Piers is there to find out if scandal, tryst, blackmail, or any politically-lethal weakness, may put the crown at risk of humiliation. So, Charlotte, prodded by her mother, is on a husband-finding mission while Piers is on a fact-finding one.
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REVIEW: Liz Talley’s PERFECTLY CHARMING

Perfectly_CharmingLiz Talley’s Perfectly Charming is her second Montlake-published Morning Glory novel. Talley used to write great Super-romance for Harlequin. While Miss Bates loved Talley’s Harlequin work, the first Morning Glory, Mississippi, novel was shrug-worthy. But Talley is a strong enough writer to convince MissB. to give the series another try. The series premise is an interesting, though conventional one. Three childhood friends lose #4 in their tight, supportive circle to cancer. Lucy leaves a charm bracelet and wish for each with enough money attached that each heroine can have an adventure, take a chance, and make a change in her life. When her life has taken its turn, she passes the bracelet on. Jessica Culpepper, Perfectly Charming‘s heroine, has already had her life turned upside down when the novel opens. Her “American Dream” existence, the cheerleader who married the wealthy high school football star and had a white-picket fence life, ended in divorce when Benton slept with the florist and told Jess their marriage no longer fulfilled him. Jess’s world crashed, but Lucy’s legacy allows her to leave her loving Morning Glory family and friends, to take a nursing job in Pensacola. Now a year after the divorce, Jess has healed and Florida is the final step in making her psychic cure complete.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Marion Lennox’s STEPPING INTO THE PRINCE’S WORLD

stepping_into_princes_worldMiss Bates often wonders who can ever succeed Betty Neels in the rom-reader’s world of comfort reads? With every Marion Lennox she reads, she inches towards thinking that it might very well be Lennox. Not that Neels and Lennox have everything in common (the greatest difference being the reader’s access to the hero’s interiority) but they do share in the sheer decency, good eats, animals, and pathos of the worlds they create. These elements are present in Lennox’s Stepping Into the Prince’s World. And like last year’s Saving Maddie’s Baby, there’s much to love.

Lennox enjoys writing an accident, or disaster as the hero and heroine’s meet-cute. When Stepping Into the Prince’s World opens, disgruntled Special Forces soldier, Raoul de Castelaise, realizes he must leave the military he loves to take up the mantle of his native country’s, Marétal’s, rule. With his parents’ deaths when he was a child, his grand-parents have ruled while he dedicated himself to military service. He’s reluctant to return, but return he must. Before he does, however, he goes down to the Tasmanian port where he and his fellow soldiers had been conducting manoeuvres, and takes a friend’s boat out for a sail, is caught in a terrible storm, and rescued by Claire Tremaine.    Continue reading

REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s LAST CHANCE REBEL

last_chance_rebelAbout three years ago, Miss Bates loved Maisey Yates’s HP, Pretender To the Throne. Her recent Yates read, Last Chance Rebel, has much in common, though the mythical-kingdom setting is nothing like the small-town-feel of Copper Ridge, Oregon. Nevertheless, both novels are about contending and making peace with the past, recognizing internal patterns hindering connection and love, and how forgiveness of self and others heals us, the other, and the community.

Last Chance Rebel is Yates’s eleventh Copper Ridge, Oregon series romance and more are out, or planned. Yates has created one of the great contemporary rom series around this community. Her view of it is neither rose-coloured nor condemnatory. Instead, she focusses on interweaving various members’ lives as they come face to face with the incontrovertible fact of love, a feeling so strong, so vibrant, and so frightening that Copper Ridge’s men and woman alternately run to and from it. Like Pretender To the ThroneLast Chance Rebel has a physically scarred heroine, scars caused by the hero’s carelessness. Like Pretender To the Throne, family circumstances bring the hero home to confront his past and role in the heroine’s life. Like Pretender To the Throne, the heroine’s rage against the hero is explosive and the hero’s guilt and atonement, spectacular.   Continue reading

REVIEW: Sarah Morgan’s SUNSET IN CENTRAL PARK

sunset_in_central_park“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” says the inimitable, raspy-voiced Rick in Casablanca. And we in romance-landia think, with that statement, Rick capsized the HEA. World events, ideals and ideologies, peace, order, justice, and equality sitting in every HEA’s background and ensuring it, are imperiled. Then, individual desires for the domestic HEA that completes the romance genre’s narrative cycle, are subsumed by themes greater than those the genre embodies. Miss Bates concurs; recent events make reading fiction, much less romance, difficult. Focus is elusive and the safe spaces we once cocooned in are tottering and toppling. And yet, what greater gift can a free, open, and tolerant country offer its citizens than the safety to make choices, love, live in plenitude and generosity and offer something to the next generation in having or succoring children, plants, animals, knowledge, nature, or art. Embedded in the romance narrative is the conviction that every person has the inner resources, given safety and love, to live without crippling constraints, whether they are internal, or external. Though Miss Bates feels “itchy” and can’t always immerse herself in a romance, she still feels life-affirmation after reading one of its best practitioners.  Though she started and dropped it restlessly, she read Sarah Morgan’s Sunset In Central Park, a quiet and lovely romance.


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