REVIEW: Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 LESSONS FOR THE 21st CENTURY

21_Lessons_for_the_21st_CenturyIt has been a long while since I’ve written about my reading. “The world is too much with us,” us poor working folks, or as Harari says in his latest, everyone is too busy to look around and analyze how our world is shifting, changing, transforming, and dangerously so. Hence, why Harari sees his role, the historian’s role, as one providing clarity. Reading 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, certainly “clarifies” what ills beset our world. Moreover, his book is fearless, brilliant, and terrifying.

“All is vanity, saith the preacher” … Harari takes our Western “vanities”, our most closely-held ideals, as illusions, as the fictions of childish adults, and bashes our shibboleths to smithereens. It is a powerful, relentless argument that strips away at every illusion of Western cultural, political, religious, and economic bulwarks. Not that the East escapes: he has less to say about it, but what he does say, stays pretty much in the same vein. No one is exempt and no one escapes from Harari’s frightening intellect. In the end, not even Harari himself. Continue reading

REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s A NICE DAY FOR A COWBOY WEDDING

Nice_Day_For_Cowboy_WeddingWe meet Cora Preston, the heroine of Nicole Helm’s A Nice Day For A Cowboy Wedding, as she comes into her own: “She was reaching for the stars now, or maybe those snow-peaked mountains. Strong, immovable, and majestic.” Five years ago, Cora and her then seven-year-old, Micah, lived with an abusive husband and father. When Stephen threatened Micah rather than her, Cora divorced him, got full custody of Micah and a restraining order. In the intervening years, Cora and Micah moved to small-town Gracely to live with Lilly, her sister. They’ve been difficult, growing-pain years, but the movement has been forward and positive. Cora and Micah are forging a new life. Cora’s gleaned herself off of total dependence on her older sister, is living on her own with her son, and partnering with Lilly to launch a wedding-planning business. More importantly, she and Micah’s therapy, while a work in progress, is helping them cope with the day-to-day. Micah is showing signs of teen-age rebellion and sullenness, but Cora is mothering more than being mothered. Micah is in baseball day-camp and Cora on her way to her first wedding plan client, Deb Tyler of Tyler Ranch. Cora is a vulnerable heroine, but determined to succeed and do right by her son. I liked her from the get-go. 
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REVIEW: Caroline Linden’s AN EARL LIKE YOU

An_Earl_Like_YouReaders familiar with MBRR will know I am interested in romance’s dark moment, which I define as a betrayal. The darker and more heinous the betrayal, the better executed the narrative tension, when it seems as if hero and heroine will never mend their rift. In Linden’s latest, An Earl Like You (second in the series The Wagers of Sin), this new-to-me author deftly creates a romance which sustains the coming betrayal from the first chapter to the final. I was coiled with tension from the get-go which I attribute to Linden’s premise. Upon his father’s death, Hugh Deveraux, 7th Earl of Hastings, learns that the 6th earl’s profligate ways left their family destitute: estates given to gardens and follies rather than tenants, debts galore, two sisters dowry-less and a mother grieving; the Deveraux women are ignorant of their new circumstances … and Hugh wants to keep it that way. What’s a peer to do but take to the gambling tables in a desperate attempt to ensure his mother’s well-being and sisters’ future? Until Hugh loses and is faced with a devil’s bargain from a wealthy speculator, Edward Cross, looking to ensure his daughter’s future. Cross asks Hugh to meet him at his palatial Greenwich home, tells him he now holds his debts and will call them in …  unless Hugh woos and wins Cross’s plain, spinster daughter, Eliza. 
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REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s GOOD TIME COWBOY & A Confession from MissB

Good_Time_CowboyOver the summer, I jumped off the Maisey Yates bandwagon. She’s prolific and I did have an ARC in the TBR. Something Something Cowboy. I read the first page, slapped the Kindle shut and moved on. No can do. There it was *eye roll* the typical Yates antagonism, the heroine with the defiant mouth, the surly and/or laid-back hero … usually, this is reading catnip for me. I quixotically thought, Yates and I are parting company. You’d rightly say: here you are, MissB., reviewing another Yates romance. (Which I loved, btw … ) So, what happened? I have a terrible reader confession, so petty, kinda mean: I cannot read tall heroines, just can’t. No way. Every other ilk I’m cool with, but once a heroine confesses to tallness, there’s a disconnect. And that points to something about what I want as a reader: a tiny connection with the heroine that says, “You’re small, but you can do this.” Maybe because I’m small, like Jane-Eyre small, and since reading Brontë’s novel, it has stood as a model of what a heroine should be: humble, but never diminished. It’s terrible and … prejudicial … and goodness knows, we don’t need any more of that in the world, but there you have it. But with Good Time Cowboy, Yates hit all my satisfaction levels and I’m back on the bandwagon.
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MINI-REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s PRINCESS’S NINE-MONTH SECRET

Princess's_Nine_Month_SecretWith the end of my precious holidays and a week of getting back into early-morning-commute mode, I knew my fried brain couldn’t handle reading anything more than an HP. However derided the category, it’s a survivor and, in the hands of its greatest practitioners (ahem, Sarah Morgan), it can be original, fun, and range from witty to angsty all in the same book. I consider Hewitt one of its best. Princess’s Nine-Month Secret is HP-typical, less than what I’ve seen Hewitt deliver. Nevertheless, it “hit the spot” during a can’t-work-too-hard to read week. Its trappings will be familiar to the die-hard HP reader. Sheltered, cloistered Princess Halina Amari sneaks away from the Roman hotel suite she shares with her mother and into a party. Halina wants a taste of freedom and adventure before she returns home to wed Prince Zayed al bin Nur, a marriage arranged by her politically expedient father, using his daughter to advance the kingdom. At the party, Halina spends her night of rebellion with Rico Falcone. Two months later, Halina is pregnant and exiled to a desert fortress. Her engagement to the Prince has been called off (see book 1) and the parents she thought loved her have brushed her aside as an embarrassment to the family. When Rico discovers Halina’s pregnancy, he kidnaps her from the desert “palace” and returns to Rome, where they will marry pronto. 
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REVIEW: Louise Allen’s A LADY IN NEED OF AN HEIR

Lady_In_Need_Of_HeirWhen I read the title of Louise Allen’s A Lady In Need Of An Heir, I immediately thought of Cecilia Grant’s incomparable A Lady Awakened. And, of course, reading Allen’s effort, I couldn’t help but compare it to Grant’s. At first, I thought it would be too similar and prepared to be disappointed, harbored a certain peevishness at Allen for copying Grant’s idea. I was happy to discover that Grant’s Lady and Allen’s are two different animals. Allen wrote her own story; I just didn’t like it very much. It was smoothly written, researched, considered, an attempt was made at thematic richness, a feminist message was conveyed without betraying the historical realities. It was rich in stuff. It was a romance that Allen obviously worked carefully and hard on. Still. I was, at least initially, deceived into a false sense of reader-enthusiasm. Allen’s Lady had a promising opening: atmospheric, a compelling premise. In the fall of 1815, former Colonel Nathaniel Graystone, Earl of Leybourne, from hereon referrred to as “Gray,” arrives in Portugal’s Douro Valley at his godmother’s, Lady Orford’s, behest. As his barge moors at the port-producing estate of Quinta do Falcão, Gray is beset by memories of the Peninsular War. I thought, “oh, wounded warrior, this could be good … ” (Alas, this aspect of the novel wasn’t dropped. A romance red herring I do not like.) Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Fiona Davis’s THE MASTERPIECE

MasterpieceI’m not certain what possessed me to want to read Fiona Davis’s The Masterpiece, other than a yen to leave the familiar reader-world of genre fiction for a while. Romance and mystery fiction are like comfortable only-at-home pants and sweatshirt. I ease into them and enjoy their sense of familiarity; on occasion, they also stifle. I need “something else,” so I venture into other reading territory. As a result I’ve read some remarkable non-fiction, Philippe Sands’s East West Street, the overhyped Peter Frankopan’s The Silk Roads, or left-me-agog Yuval Harari’s Sapiens. This time around, I went for historical fiction, that in retrospect, has a great dose of women’s fiction to it (cue moue of disappointment) Fiona Davis’s The Masterpiece. I love all things art and museums and thought this might be the thing to refresh my romance-murder-mystery-reading malaise. Written in third-person POV, The Masterpiece tells the story of two women, very much of their time and circumstance, 1920s-30s illustrator Clara Darden and 1970s breast cancer survivor, newly divorced Virginia Clay. The main character, however, is NYC’s Grand Central Terminal, its fortunes and misfortunes, its acme and nadir, its glory, dereliction, and resurrection. Of all the novel’s elements, I liked the building and Virginia the best.
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REVIEW: Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s FREE FALL

Free_FallEmma Barry and Genevieve Turner write one of my favourite historical romance series and Free Fall is their fifth story in it. I love that it’s set in the 1960s, a decade I was born into, but don’t remember much of … other than a vague black-and-white memory of MamaB, in bouffant hair, sitting on the coffee table, smoking, and weeping over Bobby Kennedy’s assassination flickering on our tiny, bunny-eared TV. Barry and Turner’s series avoids America’s many ’60s tragedies and focusses instead on the American race to space. Their novels are peopled with astronauts, space scientists and engineers, and Jello-mold-making wives. There is one marvelous female engineer heroine and her grumpy second, Parsons, the scowling engineer who makes an appearance in this present volume. To us, living in these bizarre times, and without the ’60s’ take-to-the-streets ethos, Barry and Turner give their novels a setting that feels like a more innocent, less fraught one. Yet, just around the corner are the women’s movement that will change the genre and us forever and the loss of whatever hope and possibility our American neighbours wrought in Camelot. What I really liked about Free Fall, by way of introduction, is how it’s a domestic novel and more focussed on the heroine’s growth. Vivian Grace “Vivy” Muller is loud, brash, colourful, big in every way, physically, in her laugh, walk, and taste for “bouffant hair” and “winged eyeliner”: “She laughed too loudly, and she did more than wink at boys, and she was always losing her gloves.”   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: HelenKay Dimon’s THE PROTECTOR

ProtectorWhen I started to read romance in 2007, after more than thirty years away, much of what I read was romantic suspense. Probably because I was coming to romance from reading mystery novels. One of the first romantic suspense authors I read was HelenKay Dimon. I was new to the genre and she was too: so, we’ve kind of romance grown up together (please note I have no personal acquaintance with Ms Dimon, I meant this solely in a metaphoric way). I read the Men of Hawaii series and enjoyed them (not as much as my favourites, Lucy Munroe’s Mercenary Trilogy or Shannon K. Butcher’s Delta Force) well enough. I remembered how I loved her heroes’ wit and humour, how they were alphas without the hole. And I liked her heroines, determined, smart, but soft and compassionate too, without ever losing their sense of self and identity in loving the hero. Returning to Dimon’s romantic suspense after ten years plus, I can see how the formula worked for her then and works for her now. I’m not sure it’s still what I want the lion’s share of my romance reading to be, but I did enjoy the travel down romance-reader’s memory lane. Continue reading

REVIEW: Barbara O’Neal’s THE ART OF INHERITING SECRETS

Art_Of_Inheriting_SecretsI both dreaded and looked forward to Barbara O’Neal’s The Art Of Inheriting Secrets, dreaded because I dislike women’s fiction and looked forward to because the blurb offered gothic potential. In the end, the novel’s gothic and romance aspects outweighed the women’s fic. I was one contentedly satiated reader at pages’ end. Be warned, there’s also first-person narration, but the narrator is engaging, funny, self-deprecating, intelligent, and as the hero notes, looks like Kate Winslet (I adore Winslet, ever since I saw her in Heavenly Creatures). Our narrator-heroine is San Francisco-based food writer and editor of the fictional magazine Egg and Hen, Olivia Shaw. When the novel opens, Olivia’s life has taken some spectacularly difficult, life-altering turns. She arrives in Hertfordshire’s Saint Ives Cross having recently learned she has inherited a crumbling estate, Rosemere Priory. She is mourning her mother, only six weeks gone, but she’s also learned that her mother kept her identity as Lady Caroline Shaw secret. The drippily unhappy heroine, the rain, the English countryside, the quaint village, down to the country-accented friendly cab-driver who drops her off at the local inn, absorbed me. I loved the premise of the family secrets, the crumbling priory, Olivia’s voice, and the notion of a heroine navigating a new place, culture, community, and her own new-found, strange identity.
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