New-to-me-author Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal certainly starts off with a bang. I was quite taken by the premise. Heroine Nik (Nikole) Paterson meets hero Dr. Carlos Ibarra at an LA Dodgers game when he rescues her from the Jumbotron-drama of having her man-bunned boyfriend proposing to her before thousands of people … not counting the ones watching on TV. This is a “proposal”, hence the title, that Nik neither wants nor anticipates. Her boyfriend Fisher, an actor with more ego than talent, is a sleep-with boyfriend and no more than that. As Carlos, at the game with his sister Angela, watches Nik’s horror-stricken face on the Jumbotron, he and Angela, only a few seats away, ward off the cameras coming at Nik when she refuses Fisher. Angela, Carlos, and Nik join Nik’s besties, Dana and Courtney, for drinks after the game and Nik and Carlos strike a friendship with some incipient attraction. They text, call, and meet for drinks, go to dinner, enjoy each other’s company, cook together, watch baseball games, and generally have a great ole time. Not soon after a few get-togethers, they become lovers.
Carly Bloom is a new-to-me author and Big Bad Cowboy, her début romance. If she sustains this level of humour and pathos, then she has a good chance of becoming many romance readers’ autobuy. Big Bad Cowboy is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of many romance conceits and in its combining of them, uniquely itself. Be warned, however, Big Bad Cowboy is busy with conceits and stories within stories. To start, the hero, Travis Blake, newly-returned Afghan vet to his dilapidated, tax-debt-ridden Texas ranch and uncle to his incarcerated brother’s and dead sister-in-law’s five-year-old, Henry. Henry is precocious, hilariously sharp-tongued, and Travis knows it from the get-go: “Henry struck him as being smarter than the average five-year-old, which was probably the very worst kind of five-year-old.” Henry provides so much of the novel’s humour; he’s not twee, but acts very much like a Shakespearean sprite: mischievous, temperamental, smart … with moments of heart-breaking pathos. Travis cares for him, indulges him, and knows exactly the right touch to let him know he’s safe, cared-for, loved, cherished. So, for Bloom, there’s one relationship that makes the heart glow and lips grin, what of the rest?
Caitlin Crews’s A True Cowboy Christmas is one of the most convincing contemporary marriage-of-convenience romances I’ve read … and so many other things. It opens with the hero’s father’s funeral. Gray Everett, however, is not mourning his father, but afraid of ending up like him. Gray introduces us to the family with: “Everetts historically lived mean and more than a little feral … tended to nurse the bottle or wield their piety like a weapon, spending their days alone and angry.” Gray’s Colorado ranch, Cold River Ranch, has never been a happy home. His father, a mean, violent drunk; his cheating wife, dead for ten years in a car crash; Gray works the land, cattle, and horses, keeps the bank at bay, and rears his teen daughter, Becca. Back at the ranch, at the post-funeral luncheon, where neighbours and friends have gathered to pay their respects and many to breathe a sigh of relief that Amos Everett’s meanness will no longer touch anyone, Gray realizes that ” … if he didn’t change”, “today’s grumpy hermit” would become “tomorrow’s bitter, old man.” He resolves, there and then, in sight of the funeral-baked casseroles, that he “was going to have to figure out a way to live this life without drowning in his own darkness” and “to make sure that Becca didn’t succumb to it either.” Gray looks up from his thoughts to heroine and neighbour-spinster Abby Douglas’s question, should she warm up a casserole? Continue reading
A Kate Hewitt romance is a welcome thing. Hewitt writes her characters with insightful psychology. Their dilemmas are believable and well-developped. She writes with a light touch, making the reader chuckle with affection even as she sheds a tear or two. Her latest Willoughby Close, Christmas-romance incarnation is Cupcakes For Christmas, a trite title for a romance that tackles some difficult issues.
Olivia James, at near-40, is a spinster, having never committed herself to husband or family, even though she lived in London and dated for years before returning to Wychwood-on-Lea to run her now-retired mother’s bake-shop, Tea On the Lea. Hero Simon Blacklock is newly arrived in Wychwood, living with his sister, teaching music part-time at the local elementary school and playing his cello at church concerts. Simon walks into Olivia’s shop to buy a cupcake, answering the call of Olivia’s Christmas bakes promotion, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”. Olivia has been working hard to raise the shop’s profile and drum up business. The cupcake promotion is one of several events that run throughout the novel with a scrumptious Christmas-baked-goods theme. Continue reading
As winter sleet, ice, snow, and ice loom, and the day-job continues its relentlessly demanding pace, I can at least celebrate the coming holidays. And the hols bring the Christmas romance and Hallmark Christmas movies in double-time! What does this have to do with Marnie Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses? Everything, as it’s a slip of a romance that sounds like category rom and smells like Hallmark. If you like one or t’other or both, you’re going to be a happy camper.
Blue is a new-to-me author and the first of my newly-resolved reviewing decision to try new romance authors every few months. My introvert’s heart can’t really take much more change than that. I started Blue’s romance with trepidation, experienced delight, eye-rolled several bits, and ended up replete with reader satisfaction. Blue’s Mistletoe Kisses doesn’t break any romance molds and its Hallmark-Christmas-movie ethos will be familiar to those of us who revel in the joys of tinsel, garland, frosted gingerbread men, and tree-lighting ceremonies, of which there is a hilarious one in Mistletoe Kisses. When the novel opens, Grinch-like cop-hero Justin Weaver is sneezing his way through his Santa-beard as he grumbles at his commanding officer’s “request” to make nice with the public by playing Santa to collect toys for underprivileged children. It’s a good cause and Justin is a good egg, he just hates Christmas, his tight Santa costume, and public appearances … especially speeches. Continue reading
When I first started to read romance again, after a thirty-year hiatus (ah, the “lost years”), one of the first romances I read was J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal (2006), a romance novel I thought at once execrable and utterly compelling. Really, I couldn’t put it down, even though I was embarrassed for enjoying it and yet thinking how laughably bad it was. I can’t say I experienced the same reader self-hatred reading the first of Ward’s new non-vampiric “Firefighters” series, Consumed. Maybe it was the first flush of allowing myself to read romance again, but I’d gained some distance from Consumed in a way I hadn’t with Lover Eternal, though I read it with the same enthusiasm and rueful self-doubt. I can now recognize what makes Ward compelling: there’s a hyperbolic physicality to her characters, a gritty underbelly feel to her setting, and a rawness to it all that makes for a powerful formula. There’s NOTHING small-town cutsie or gentle about Ward’s world and she’s pretty fearless about writing her characters’ edginess. I liked that about her and I liked Consumed, though, at times, it bugged the heck out of me. Continue reading
I loved reading Thomas’s The Hollow Of Fear, but I was more-than-happy to sink into a thorough romance-romance, emotional, sexy, with a clear line to the HEA, littered with dark little moments. Though the day-job continues to be an albatross, I took a lot of time in my evenings to finish Kelly’s Just This Once, book three in The Wedding Date series. Like the others, Just This Once opens with the hero at the previous book’s hero and heroine’s wedding; it concludes with his own. A premise that’s a tad twee, but I forgive because the novels often win me over. In Just This Once, hotel-owning-rich-boy hero, Sean Wyse of the Chicago Hotel Wyse chain, is best-manning his guy best friend’s wedding, Max Brandt’s. His side-kick and ever wedding date is the friend of his heart and youth, Max’s younger sister, Molly. Sean and Molly’s friendship is immature, but kind of fun. He teases, she torments; they pretty much behave like two teens who secretly harbor crushes and take them out in silly pranks. Everyone in their friendship circle, the past and future heroes and heroines of Kelly’s series, look upon their shenanigans with affection and amusement. The silliness being given a critical nod, I liked how Kelly also built in true camaraderie, compatibility, and affection into the group’s relationships and a lovely tenderness between Sean and Molly, despite the occasional sophomoric behaviour.
I came to this lauded series late. Have the first two on audio and once again, I’ve had to relearn that my ability to listen to audiobooks is severely limited. It took me days and days to read Hollow, buffeted as I was by day-job issues. It never offered that romance punch of happiness and rightness, but it was a worthy read nonetheless.
For those unfamiliar with Thomas’s series, she sets up her Victorian female detective as a sly critique of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Thomas imagines Sherlock Holmes as Charlotte, a cross-dressing, fallen woman amidst the puritanical strictures of Victorian England, who uses her troubling powers of detection and frighteningly incisive intellect to solve convoluted mysteries full of dastardly nemeses and plots within plots. In this third book in the series, Charlotte solves the murder of dear friend and eventual lover’s, Lord Ashburton Ingram’s, estranged wife, Lady Ingram. An ice queen if there ever was one, found murdered in the Ash’s estate’s ice house. Continue reading
Maisey Yates opens Gold Valley romance #4 with the line “Grant Dodge was alone. And that was how he liked it”, ensuring the reader that Grant Dodge is about to NOT be alone and that his hold on his solitude is to be shaken by the heroine. Said heroine, McKenna Tate, is blithely slumbering in an abandoned cabin on the ranch Grant shares with his brother Wyatt, sister-in-law Lindy, and sometimes-around veterinarian brother Bennett and sister-in-law, Kaylee. A “full house” of family and connections, but Grant prefers his solitude: what’s up with that and how will it be “shook up”? My tone may be flippant as I introduce Yates’s romance, but the romance is anything but: it’s angsty, heart-wrenching stuff with two very broken, very vulnerable, pain-filled protagonists. One is broken by his first marriage and the other broken by a life as a foster child, unloved, unwanted, uncared for. Reading their story, I thought Yates penned her most painful story yet, unredeemed by humour, or playful sex, banter (okay, there are soupçons of banter, but hardly) tenderness or joy. Grant and McKenna are two suffering characters, with burdens making Aeneas’s look like fluff, and the romance suffers under their weight as much as they do.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where romance fiction “fits” in the scheme of things literary. I’m tired of arguments either defending the genre or condemning it, discussing its relevance or irrelevance … blah blah blah. Not that these discussions aren’t relevant, they are to those who partake and more power to them. I do enjoy listening “in” to the Twitter debates, etc. But I have been asking why I persist in reading romance when the world around me makes the romance’s domestic world focus feel irrelevant. I think we read romance of any ilk, paranormal, historical, contemporary, conservative to radical in its perspective, because it’s utopian (minus the satire; there is nothing Thomas More would recognize in the genre). End of thought bubble.
The latest “utopian” romance I read was Kelly Bowen’s Last Night With the Earl, depicting the love and closeness of Napoleonic War veteran, Eli Dawes, the eponymous “Earl” of Rivers, and artist Rose Hayward. Like many romance couples, Eli and Rose are “broken” and their relationship, as it plays out, works towards achieving their healing and wholeness. As a narrative, it succeeded and failed in depicting their story. Continue reading