Rarely does a romance novel see Miss Bates guffaw, snort-laugh, and read the final page with great, gulping sobs, except Ruby Lang’s Clean Breaks did!
Miss Bates hates it when romance reviewers dub romance novels “fresh”, as if every other romance written to this point were stale. But Lang’s Clean Breaks felt, to MissB. at least, that Lang’s voice, characterization, conflict, were, ugh she hates to say it, a “fresh” take on a genre becoming too familiar. And you know what familiarity breeds … Clean Breaks made MissB. stand up and take notice instead of sink into the comforting, stock romance arc. What was “fresh” for MissB? On a micro-scale, Lang’s ironic quip of a title (too often romance titles, like their covers, are descriptively mundane) – that “clean breaks” aren’t possible. As her heroine realizes, love doesn’t call when one is ready, cleansed of messy conflict and perfected in career, life-style, and balanced inner workings. Nope, it asks admittance and its call must be answered, even when life is uncertain and messy. On a macro-scale, Lang made MissB laugh and cry, and discover a “fresh” new romance voice. Not bad for a few hours reading on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon.
MissB. returned to a beloved series with Jodi Thomas’s Wild Horse Springs. Crossroads, Texas’s denizens’ stories continue. Thomas’s series has steadily produced one excellent ensemble-romance after another and MissB. is always happy to return. Wild Horse Springs is a particularly strong addition, if only because the town’s long-lonely sheriff finally gets his HEA. The novel focuses on three couples and a compelling RS plot. Sheriff Dan Brigman falls for newly-arrived country singer, Brandi Malone; our PTSD-ed Texas Ranger hero, Cody Winslow falls (literally! you’ll see) for park ranger Tess Adams; and, we finally have a reunion between high-powered lawyer, former-Cross-Roads cowboy Lucas Reyes and Sheriff Brigman’s daughter, Lauren. The romances unfold in conjunction with some pretty nasty doings. Former waif now grown and happily ensconced in family love and support, Thatcher Jones, finds and loses a little girl – silent, obviously physically abused, and in much need of rescuing. Sheriff Brigman is on the case, as are various Cross-Road-ites and the novel concludes, other than with HEAs for our couples, with an exciting rescue operation. Continue reading
Miss Bates puts out a tentative tentacle in writing about her “other” reading: non-fiction. She doesn’t know if this is something she’ll continue, or if it’ll prove of any interest to her readers. But it’s her way of opening up her blog to all her reading and testing the waters of writing about things other than romance. As she abandoned the solipsistic, self-conscious writing of litfit a long while ago, she will endeavour to write about, in this case, a hybrid form she’s long loved that’ll have to be satisfied with the vague name of “travel literature.” Travel literature, enjoying greater popularity in the twentieth century, is on the wane. Miss Bates has a silly theory that its decline coincides with the physical bookstore’s loss and reliance on all things Internet. Though not too long ago from this age of barely-recordable change, travel literature, for want of a better name, looks back at a time when the armchair traveller and bookstore browser, as opposed to Internet surfer and social media lurker, were present in Western culture as intellectual participants and cultural consumers.
One of travel literature’s greatest practitioners was a larger-than-life, dilettante-ish figure, WWII hero and one of the the twentieth century’s greatest prose writers, Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915-2011), whose literary output can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Travel literature is a strange, hybrid form. It is part travel log, part history, part autobiography, part reportage, part memoir; above all however, it is distinguished by its first-person narrator’s unique tone and perspective, a narrator both himself and a chronicler of time and place, participant and observer, observed and observing, in time and out, whose presence (as anthropology posits) changes the alien culture he enters even as he is changed by it. He is a stranger in a strange land and culture-clash places him uniquely in a space where he can reflect on his own time and place “back home” in contrast to the place, time, and people in which he finds himself by will, or chance, or both. Continue reading
Maisey Yates’s The Last Di Sione Claims His Prize concludes the multi-author Di Sione family series. Apropos of being the last volume, it tells the story of Giovanni Di Sione’s eldest grandson, Alessandro “Alex”. It completes Giovanni’s journey to rediscover a lost love, while fulfilling his secret wish to guide each grandchild to love and commitment. Of the volumes Miss Bates has read, the series’ unifying premise never faltered in meaningfulness. Giovanni’s benign machinations and his grandchildren’s adventures to love and the fulfillment of their grandfather’s request were compelling. This is as true of His Prize as any of the others, though Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure remains the best of the lot. Nevertheless, reading a Maisey Yates romance is never a loss for Miss Bates. Yates is consistently one of the genre’s finest practitioners, whether writing fantasy-driven HP, or closer-to-reality contemporary.
True to premise, Giovanni asks Alex to travel to Aceena in a “search-and-rescue/retrieve” operation to reunite him with a painting entitled “The Lost Love.” The painting, like the other lost and then recovered objects of Giovanni’s youth, is connected to a woman he left behind when he came to America to make his fortune. The portrait is in the possession of the disgraced, exiled royal family D’Oro. Though jaded and surly, Alex agrees to his grand-father’s request, aware of what he owes Giovanni – his upbringing, success, and most importantly, his rearing with love and care when Alex’s wastrel parents died in a car crash.
Miss Bates hasn’t read a Crews HP in a while. There can be something overwrought about Crews’s work, but all was toned down, as toned down as an HP can be in Bride By Royal Decree. Crews’s romance’s roots are deeply embedded, maybe deliberately so, in fairy tale. Miss Bates enjoyed it all the more for that reason. Let’s face it: realism, nay plausibility, is not the HP’s companion. We read it as fairy-tale-wish-fulfillment-fantasy and Bride By Royal Decree has this in spades.
Decree‘s premise lies in one of Miss Bates’s favourite fairy-tale elements: the revelation of the heroine’s identity and mysterious past. In Deanville, Connecticut, Maggie Strafford scrubs the floor of her barista-job café when Reza Argos, His Royal Majesty, King and Supreme Ruler of Constantines, walks in with the revelation that Maggy is his long-thought-to-be-dead-and-lost fiancée, Princess Magdalena of Santa Domini. At eight, Maggy had “been found by the side of the road as a feral child with no memory of where she’d come from.” Since then, her “unfortunate childhood in foster care” and subsequent adult poverty made her the snarly, mouthy woman she is. Reza is controlled, proper, and duty-bound, “not a sentimental man” writes Crews, but also an HP-hero. He reveals Maggie’s identity and, despite her lippy disbelief, whisks her away to a private island for princess-grooming where the novel’s main action takes place, soon thereafter to be put in her queenly place in his kingdom. Like many an HP-hero, Reza is a “beast,” not in appearance in this case, but emotionally. He’s coiled inward, with a backstory that makes him balk at emotional entanglement. Continue reading
Amanda Ashby’s opening meet-cute to her new series, Sisters of Wishing Bridge Farm, won MissB over. Heroine Emmy Watson works hard to retain ownership of her deceased Aunt Ivy’s farm by turning the Connecticut venue into a wedding site and herself a wedding planner. Not everything has gone as planned, however, and she’s at the airport, waiting to pick up the best man whose local-inn accommodations were flooded by the groom’s gormless brother. There’s nought to be done, the best man’ll have to stay with her. Unfortunately, the airport terminal also coughs up a ghost from Emmy’s past, her one-week-end-stand, Christopher Henderson. Ashby’s talent for witty writing is evident in the re-meet-cute, as Emmy echoes Casablanca‘s Rick: “Of all the arrival gates in all the world, he walked into this one.” It turns out he not only walked into her arrival gate, he’s walking into her first wedding planner’s job as – the best man. Christopher too is non-plussed by seeing Emmy again, especially when she whisks him into her truck and drives away. As a travel writer, he’s seen some weird stuff, but this is a first: “He’d been in a lot of strange situations on his travels, but as far as he was aware, this was the first he’d ever been kidnapped by a wedding planner.” Ashby’s witty writing and pop-culture references engaged MissB and she looked forward to the novel.
Miss Bates has enjoyed many a Shalvis romance. In particular, she liked the Animal Magnetism and Lucky Harbor series, but there was something about them that made her abandon them. Miss Bates would say this is because Shalvis tends to start strong and end weak and can’t let a series go after the first successful volumes. Nevertheless, Shalvis’s talent for quick, funny dialogue and smooth prose convinced MissB. to delve into the San Francisco-set Heartbreaker Bay series, of which Accidentally On Purpose is third.
Shalvis’s romances are signature: strong, mouthy heroine meets strong, silent, dominating, domineering alpha hero. Accidentally On Purpose is true to type. Elle Wheaton is independent, successful, and determined to become more so. She is the Pacific Pier Building’s general manager and working toward an accounting degree. She’s blonde, curvy, beautiful and fills out a wrap-around dress and stilettos to make men sigh. Only one man is impervious to her charms: the building security firm head, Archer Hunt. Turns out, however, that Archer and Elle share a past, a past Archer can’t seem to get beyond to the desirable, desiring woman Elle has become. Years ago, desperate sixteen-year-old Elle was caught in a heist, trying to return stolen property to save her sister’s life, and rookie cop Archer rescued her, saving her from the clinker and a life on the streets. Now, Elle’s confidence and success aren’t sufficient to help Archer ever see her as anyone other than the frightened, hungry teen he first encountered. Archer and Elle are friends of a sort, though their exchanges run more to antagonistic than camaraderie. Continue reading
Miss Bates has followed the fortunes of Karen White’s heroine, Melanie Middleton, her on-again, off-again fraught relationship with writer Jack Trenholm, and her ghostly encounters, malevolent and benign, through four books. Though written in first-person narration and with a maddeningly slow-moving romance, MissB enjoyed every one, especially when they culminated in pleasing romantic conclusions. How could she pass up an opportunity to learn of Jack and Mellie’s further adventures? And how not to revisit beautiful Charleston and the vintage homes that feature in each mystery? Be warned, readers, if you haven’t read the first four books, MissB’s review of #5, The Guests On South Battery, contains spoilers. It’s inevitable when each book, while resolving the ghostly mystery at its heart, only moves Mellie and Jack’s relationship one smidgen forward. But there’s epilogue-satisfaction to The Guests On South Battery. When it opens, wife and husband, Mellie and Jack, their ten-month-old twins, JJ and Sarah, and Nola, Jack’s daughter from an earlier marriage, and now Melanie’s step-daughter, are living a good life. Continue reading
When Miss Bates read her first Burchell, A Song Begins, the 13-volume Warrender Saga introductory romance, she waxed adoring and enthusiastic. With the second title, The Broken Wing, as her mama would say, she had to put a little water in her wine. Burchell remains, in Miss Bates’s estimation, one of the finest writers in the genre; her prose is refined, elegant, clear, polished, and yet still tugs at the heartstrings. An appreciation of Burchell’s writing will ensure that Miss Bates reads to the end. She has too much respect for fine prose to DNF, even when narrative elements prove problematic, or personally unappealing.
The Broken Wing is set in the opera world that was so dear to Burchell’s heart and provided one of her most vivid settings. Oscar Warrender and now-wife Anthea Benton, A Song Begins‘s hero and heroine, play a part in Quentin Otway and Tessa Morley’s romance, yet another element Burchell handled well. Oscar and Anthea aren’t in the narrative for a reader’s glimpse of wedded bliss. They play an interesting role in nurturing Tessa’s talent and providing support and friendship, respectively. Tessa, Quentin’s “Mouse” and “Angel”, is the artistic director’s irreplaceable secretary. Quentin and conductor Oscar Warrender are the key figures and driving forces behind the Northern Counties Festival. The novel takes place during the hectic weeks of preparation that precede the festival, throwing the volatile, charming, and rogue-ish Quentin into closer and closer proximity to Tessa, his right-hand women, tea-steeper, and mercurial moods’ soother, “selfless devotion would not have been much good on its own, of course. But fortunately Tessa was remarkably efficient too.” Continue reading
Miss Bates made the mistake of assuming that Kate Hewitt was an HP author who ran to trope. And what a lovely comeuppance for MissB! About the only thing HP-typical of Hewitt’s romance is the ho-hum title (the cover, OTOH, is lovely, with its cool blues and greens). Miss Bates hadn’t read far before it dawned that Hewitt was rocking classic gothic conventions. In A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure, Hewitt nods to Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Du Maurier’s Rebecca, though it’s only fair to say the housekeeper is more benign, indifferent matchmaker than nut-bar obsessive. Hermetic, agoraphobic heroine, Natalia Di Sione, braves the world beyond her grandfather’s sequestered Long Island estate (where she’s lived and created art for eight years) to travel to Greece in pursuit of locating a book her dying grandfather is obsessed with possessing again. Still hurting from her parents’ loss when she was a child and a traumatic teen-age experience, Natalia wouldn’t easily leave her safe environment. Her grandfather’s precious book, however, resides with one tormented, widowed Greek billionaire, Angelos Menas. Resisting panic attacks the entire way, looking “pale but resolute,” Talia walks in on Angelos as he tries to hire the umpteenth nanny for Sofia, his scarred eight-year-old daughter. When Sofia takes to Talia, Angelos hires her. Talia, in turn, accepts his grudging offer in hopes she’ll be closer to finding her grand-father’s precious book.