Is there anything better than a lazy Saturday where you open windows letting the breeze in, lie on the couch, occasionally glance up from your book to watch the leaves dancing, and read to the final page? Nope, there isn’t. I gave the pile of work from the day-job a disdainful smirk-and-sniff and went right to the Kindle. With a compact Maisey Yates Desire, Claim Me, Cowboy, I knew it would be a reading-snack in one setting.
I’ll start right by saying I loved Yates’s outlandish premise. Rich-guy hero Joshua Grayson’s father puts an ad in the Seattle paper for a wife for his son. Joshua is over-the-top handsome and rich, but he eschews love and marriage. He lives in an idyllic, state-of-the-art house in the Oregon mountains in Yates’s mythical Copper Ridge (this being book 6). A sad thing once happened to Joshua and his life is now made of money-making, riding horses, and living in solitude (except for an occasional one-night-stand) in his big-ass house and ranch. His father, Todd, a farmer of modest means, but a big, loving heart places the ad to shake Joshua out of his self-condemning love-exile. Joshua, in turn, advertises for a fake fiancée, “an unsuitable, temporary wife” to get back at his father and gets her in the form of “elfin” Danielle Kelly, 22, with a baby in tow, the well-mannered, sleeping four-month-old Riley.
My reading trajectory through Alisha Rai’s Hurts To Love You, third in her Forbidden Hearts series, went from gleeful enthusiasm to tempered affection. The novel tidies and resolves the story (I assume because I haven’t read the first two in the series) of the complicated, convoluted relationships between the Kane and Chandler families. Complications and convolutions that must’ve been illuminated, to an extent, in Hate To Want You and Wrong To Need You. Reading Hurts To Love You felt like I was late to game, like walking into a dinner-party when the crux of the conversation is already underway. After a while I gave up trying to keep up with the sundry relationships and backstories and just enjoyed the romance between outsider Gabe Hunter and Baby Chandler rich-girl, Evangeline, or “Eve”. Gabe and Eve’s romance opens with a lot of mutual lusting from afar, which is a lot of fun. But, to start, to the premise. While Eve might be a wealthy Chandler, Gabe is the adopted son of the Kane family housekeeper. The Kane-Chandler family “feud” started when Maria Chandler and Robert Kane were killed in a car accident years ago, with the mystery of why they were in the car together in the first place resolved by the end of this third-in-series book. Continue reading
A new Susanna Kearsley book is cause for celebration. As Bellewether was a long time coming, I was tickled all the colours of the rainbow to read it. It is, at least initially, a novel that felt quieter than others Kearsley has written. I thought the first half of the narrative meandered, like a ship unmoored, like the ship it’s named after and like the bopping ghost-light in the Long Island forest that beckons to Kearsley’s contemporary heroine. Bellewether felt deceptively benign, but Kearsley’s hand steered the narrative ship on a sure course and it sneaks up on you how masterfully she does so when you experience the novel’s last third. It’s not as visceral a read as The Winter Sea, or as gothic-y and deliciously-Mary-Stewart-ish as Named Of the Dragon, but it sure is wonderful.
Signature Kearsley, Bellewether is a double narrative: made of a contemporary heroine in search of discovering something of the past, a past that is meaningful and significant to her in a more-than-scholarly way. And there is a historical narrative, centred on people caught up in a particular era meeting, loving, and redeeming the losses and griefs of their pasts. The most wonderful idea that I took away from Bellewether is that we should never allow historical circumstance, the sweeping canvas of power and politics, to blind us to the possibility of HEA.
Linda Howard’s Mackenzie’s Mountain and Mr. Perfect were two of the first romances I read and loved. When Howard “returned” to romantic suspense with Troublemaker in 2016, I was thrilled. I can’t say I loved the latter with the same giddy enthusiasm I read my first Howards, but her latest, The Woman Left Behind? Wow, is it ever terrific!
There’s enough signature Howard to please her earliest fans and more than enough to earn her new ones. Howard sees a conventional romantic suspense premise turn into something original, yet familiar, fresh, yet Howard-satisfying. The Woman Left Behind opens with the villain, a traitorous, vengeful Congressman bent on destroying Alex Macnamara’s GO-Teams, government-sanctioned paramilitary groups Macnamara leads, who fight threats to US security. The GO-Teams are made of big, bad, muscle-bound dudes with patriotic hearts, wise-cracking mouths, and superhuman physical abilities. Continue reading
True to characters cover!
One of the first romance novels I read when I returned to the genre and combed through best-of lists for titles to throw money at was Lisa Kleypas’s Dreaming Of You. I adored Sarah and Derek, the casino setting, the pesky, bespectacled heroine and hardened with a secret heart of gold hero. Ostensibly, Lorraine Heath’s Beyond Scandal and Desire has echoes of Kleypas’s romance classic, but in many other ways, it is an entirely different beast, unique to Heath’s vision. Beyond Scandal and Desire‘s cross-class promise, its ingenue heroine who’s too smart to stay that way and guttersnipe-made-good hero kept me reading through a slow, though evident of a sure writing hand, first third. The similarities to Kleypas saw me through the premise’s set-up. What kept me rivetted was Heath’s weaving of a tale about the need to be recognized, acknowledged, loved, and validated, a journey both hero and heroine take in their unique ways, about what family means, and where we can meet on a plane of forgiveness and reconciliation. To start, the novel’s gothic opening sees a London aristocrat deliver a new-born to the East End Widow Trewlove, by-blow of an affair? shame of the aristocracy? Yet, the birth scene had been one of tenderness and love between mother and father … whatever happened here, I wanted to know.
Deanna Raybourn’s third Veronica Speedwell, Victorian-set mystery finds her prickly, sleuthing pair, Veronica and Stoker, where they’ve settled since book one’s conclusion: in Bishop’s Folly, setting up the Earl of Rosemorran’s museum from his vast, eclectic, esoteric collection. In A Treacherous Curse, their museological endeavours are interrupted by a mystery that tickles their adventurous spirits and curiosity, challenging and deepening their relationship. Unlike my other favourite historical mystery series, C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr, it is interesting to note how Raybourn’s sleuthing protagonists are not endowed with a strong sense of justice. They’re driven by a crossword-puzzle-doer’s instincts, the need to solve the quandary, or as Veronica quips, “To investigate one murder is a curiosity. To investigate two is a habit.” This is not by way of criticism. It isn’t fair to compare persimmons with pineapples, but I do like to muse on authors’ world-building and thematic choices. What gives Raybourn’s series moral impetus, at least in these initial volumes, is the revelation of our main characters’ pasts. (In A Treacherous Curse‘s case, Stoker’s is under scrutiny.) Maybe this will change in future volumes? What else informs Raybourn’s series’ moral impetus is the fierce protectiveness and loyalty that Veronica and Stoker (aka Templeton-Vane) hold for each other. There’s romance dearth for romance readers, but enough of a spark to keep me reading, for this and sundry reasons. (I am delighted that Veronica ogles Stoker’s Laocoönian body, while he exhibits near-prudish bashfulness. So much fun in those scenes!) Continue reading
A groggy, caffeine-heavy morning for me after a night reading into the wee hours, thanks to Lauren Willig’s Gothic romance, historical mystery The English Wife. The novel opens in January 1899 in Cold Spring NY, at “Illyria,” Bay and Annabelle Van Duyvil’s country estate. Bay and Annabelle’s hermetic existence has thus far been the bane of Bay’s appearances-are-all mother, Alva. Formidable, humorless Alva is ever flanked by Janie, her mousy, silent daughter and Anne, the mouthy, flamboyant niece she took in. To Alva’s great society-loving heart, Bay and Annabelle are finally celebrating the opening of their magnificent estate by holding a costume ball for New York’s best, brightest, and finest. Until now, Bay and Annabelle’s life has been a mystery. Rumours of eccentricities and infidelities swirl around them, about them … maybe because they keep to themselves and, at least on the surface, appear to live an idyllic existence with twins Sebastian and Viola. Bay and Annabelle don’t seem to give a fig about what the “best people” think, rendering them endlessly fascinating to the society pages and ensuring Alva Van Duyvil’s frustrated, officious meddling. Continue reading
Uncertain and with trepidation, I picked up Roni Loren’s The Ones Who Got Away. After watching the news reports about Margery Stoneman Douglas HS and its mass-shooting aftermath, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a romance with this premise. But I ploughed ahead and read it because I thought: dammit, is that a niggling doubt that the genre can’t, shouldn’t, would botch, a premise so raw and horrific? Can romance do the subject justice? That little snooty inner judgement said “No, spinster-girl, you’re giving this genre a chance to tell this story.” What I discovered is that Loren got some things right and others, wrong. What Loren got right was situating the story twelve years after the school shooting. While her protagonists’ lives were marked by their experience, the initial horror/trauma has dulled. They have built lives as best they can, found some peace, but the shooting has dictated to them too. The time lapse gives Loren some romance narrative wiggle-room: her hero and heroine are adults focussed on adult things, working, paying their bills, being responsible citizens. They achieved this by leaving their Texas town and what happened at Long Acre High. Continue reading
Romance narratives are alien to my personal experience and circumstances and I’m perfectly okay with this. It’s not what I look for in my reading and, as far as I’m concerned, “relatable” has always been a dirty-word. The important thing is that my primary fictive reading is “literarily” familiar to me: in other words, I always read Austen, the Brontës, Mrs. Gaskell, and male authors, for the romance. When I started reading romance, I finally realized what they were missing. They left me hungry for more ‘o’ that; I took my romance where I could find it. Amber Belldene’s Not Another Rock Star added a dimension to romance I’ve never experienced. It felt as close and familiar to my theological viewpoint as a romance novel can get. I say this because what I have to say about Not Another Rock Star will be coloured by that sympathetic prejudice. It isn’t part and parcel of the religious tradition in which I worship, but its theological ethos and romance raison d’être are deeply sympathetic and right. I may have lost perspective, in other words, but take the review as you will, with that in mind.
Let me start off by saying that Belldene, an Episcopal priest herself, does not write what the romance genre defines as inspirational romance. She includes religious and theological content, her heroine is a priest, but Not Another Rock Star doesn’t use a conversion narrative, or posit the idea that evangelical Christianity is the matrix of everyone’s “Come to Jesus” moment. Belldene also includes elements, pun intended, anathema to inspie romance: explicit love scenes of the premarital variety, an atheist hero and remains so, and quite a bit of spirit-imbibing, of the bottled variety. Continue reading
I hadn’t read a romantic suspense novel in a long time and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to. Calhoun’s Turn Me Loose has a naked-chest-and-dog-tags cover that always turns me off. But, Calhoun: I’d heard a lot of good about her in the Twitterverse and wanted to give a new-to-me author a fighting chance. Turn Me Loose‘s introduction didn’t cover itself with glory and I came a hair’s-breath away from DNF-ing. But the writing was good, darn good, though I disliked the flash-back routine to the hero and heroine’s past. I recognized its necessity because it made it easier for Calhoun to segue into the present, but those, albeit not significant, parts of the novel never won me over. So, what did?
Let’s begin with basic premise and characterization. Seven years before the present scene, undercover cop Ian Hawthorn arrested eighteen-year-old college student and petty drug-dealer, Riva Henneman. In exchange for her freedom, Riva agreed to act as Ian’s “confidential informant”. Ian and Riva spent a lot of time together in stake-out and/or drug busts, with Riva entering dangerous situations as her CI-drug-dealer-self to help Ian and the Lancaster Police Department make arrests. A resentful attraction seethes between them, but ethical lines and power differentials are not crossed. Seven years pass and Ian walks into Riva’s business, a farm-to-table restaurant operation, Oasis, that takes teens and young adults from food-impoverished neighbourhoods and gives them a chance at fair and engaging labour. The food is delicious, Riva is beautiful, and the attraction between them still sizzles and seethes. Continue reading