It was lovely to read a category romance as gentle and subdued as Wallace’s One Night In Provence after Yates’s and Crews’s angsty intensity. One Night‘s first half and premise set-up were wonderful, richly descriptive and chockfull of lovely banter between hero and heroine.
The scene opens in Provence with Jenna Brown, who won a silent-auction luxury trip to lavender-country, something the Nantucket-based hospice nurse could ill afford otherwise. There, she meets lavender-field owner and charming Frenchman, Philippe d’Usay, as close to French aristocracy as it’s possible to be given the French Revolution. The novel’s first half is the better of the two, with Philippe’s charming, tender pursuit of Jenna. It was wonderful to read a romance that was “romantic”: dates with delicious French food, teasing conversation, outings to the countryside and the beauties of southern France the nonpareil. Wallace did the wooing and geographic wonders justice.
Reading Caitlin Crews’s Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy right after Yates’s Lone Wolf Cowboy was like seeing the two romances in a two-way mirror. They are linked by ethos and setting and would be, you might think, too much of a good thing one after the other. Nope. I was as immersed in the former as the latter. Besides, who can resist amnesia and secret-baby trope combined!? Maybe a lot of romance readers can, but I can’t! Moreover, Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy was the follow-up to one of my favourites 2018 romances, A True Cowboy Christmas, though not as good and there be reasons. Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy picks up where True Cowboy Christmas departs, centering on Everett middle brother, Ty, though we have delicious glimpses of the hero and heroine of True Cowboy enjoying married bliss. Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy opens with the heroine, former-rodeo-queen Hannah Leigh Monroe. She’s on her way to Cold River Ranch to confront Ty with the cold hard facts of: exhibit A, their marriage (Las Vegas certificate and all) and exhibit B, their 10-month-old baby, Jack, though Jack’s safely with her mother back in Hannah’s hometown of Sweet Myrtle, Georgia. After what happened eighteen months ago, Hannah thinks it’s high time Ty and she divorced.
I read Maisey Yates because I know exactly what I’m going to get. I don’t mean this in a predictable, comfort-read kind of way. Yates is NOT a comforting read; she is an angst-queen. I read her because I like her ethos: it’s as close to sexy inspie minus-God-talk as you’re going to get in contemporary romance. In Yates’s romances, encounters are meaningful; the past, redeemable; sex, mystical and earthy all at once; and, love, something huge, frightening, wonderful, and as much to be run away from as to run towards. These themes are reiterated in every romance, but they never get old and are expressed with urgency as the basis of self-fulfillment and a happy marriage. Most importantly, for Yates, as for my long-lamented absent romance-writing friend, Ros Clarke, the body knows before the mind and heart can come into its orbit.
In Yates’s seventh Gold Valley romance, she tackles a heroine with a daunting backstory. Vanessa Logan (Olivia’s sister, heroine of Yates’s first Gold Valley romance, Smooth-Talking Cowboy) returns to home-town Gold Valley because it is “the last refuge for her demons, and the final locked door in her life … her origin story. And everyone needed to revisit an origin story. She’d gone out on her own, failed, hit rock bottom and healed. But she had healed away, not at the site of her first fall from grace.” Teen-age Vanessa had shamed her family by drinking, carousing, and indulging in promiscuity. Running away to LA, she became an addict to drugs and alcohol. Now, she’s back to confront her family and teach art therapy to the hero’s, Jacob Dalton’s, brother’s therapy ranch for troubled boys.
I always approach a new-to-me author with trepidation; like Captain Wentworth, I am “half agony, half hope”. Matthews did not disappoint, however; au contraire, I may, with a heavy heart for my least favourite rom-heat-designation, “closed-bedroom-door,” have discovered another historical romance autobuy.
Reading Matthews’s The Work Of Art, I was pleasantly surprised, often delighted, definitely engaged, and intellectually stimulated. In a nutshell, for the most part, I loved it. The play on the heroine as a “work of art,” the “My Last Duchess” allusions, and the tropish-goodness of marriage-of-convenience drove me to request the title. What kept me reading, however, was everything Matthews did with it. The premise in and of itself is compelling: zoophilic, penniless, and orphaned heroine, Miss Phyllida Satterthwaite, is brought to London by her uncle and heir to her beloved grandfather’s estate, Mr. Edgar Townsend, to début and put on the aristocratic Regency ton’s marriage mart. A generous gesture on his part, perhaps. But Philly is a deeply introverted young woman who prefers walking her dogs (various injured and decrepit strays she rescued over the years), reading, playing pianoforte, over balls and gossip. She finds a kindred spirit in one of her uncle’s guests, the hermetic former soldier, Captain Arthur Heywood, beloved second son, who keeps his own counsel, and still suffers physical and emotional war wounds.
I wanted to read Laura Lippman’s Lady In the Lake after I heard an NPR interview with the author. Lippman was knowledgeable and personable about her city’s fractured history, the state of American politics and journalism, its ills and its profound necessity for examining the state of the nation and ensuring free, open democracy. Certainly, her standalone novel contains threads of these ideas. It is, however, unlike Lippman’s expansive personality and openness, a cramped book. The premise held promise: a recently separated late-thirties beauty, Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz (née Morgenstern) has left marriage and middle-class comfort behind to pursue a reporter’s beat. In 1966, there was a ceiling still so thick for women that not even Maddie’s sledgehammer beauty and persistence can break it. Living in one of Baltimore’s seedier neighbourhoods, Maddie pursues an affair with a black policeman, whose nightly visits, an inter-racial “romance” still illicit and dangerous to both, are vigorous and all-consuming. Maddie revels in her freedom for sex and solitude. There’s a mild regret at leaving her son Seth with his father. Seth proves a snivelling, whiny character and I never warmed to him. If at first Maddie’s pursuit of a journalistic career seems random and half-hearted, once she gets a clerical job at a local paper, she begins a relentless pursuit to find the killer of the “lady in the lake”, Cleo Sherwood, make her mark, and get a beat of her own.
It’s been another super-busy work month, but I have three books going and Molly Fader’s McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets is the first I finished. Thanks to a compelling last third, I left the others idling on the nightstand. In the course of reading Fader’s novel, I decided I will no longer scoff at women’s fiction. No, I haven’t been converted to its smarmy, inward-looking, self-absorbed protagonists, or its not-without-my-daughter obsession with mother-child relationships, of no interest to me whatsoever — merely that, in the hands of a beloved writer, even a genre pandering to privileged women, can be redeemed and — gasp, enjoyed and celebrated. Molly Fader is, as you may know, one of my most beloved romance writers, Molly O’Keefe, whom I’ve been reading since she wrote categories! One of my favourite and I think most masterful contemporary romance series, Crooked Creek Ranch, was penned by O’Keefe (if you haven’t read it, address this stat). There was enough of the O’Keefe edge and intensity of emotion that I found in the romances to make me happy-reader-sigh through The McAvoy Sisters. And enough love interest to make me yearn for more … but I’ll take it. 😉 Continue reading
After a work-week from hell, a well-done HP is exactly what can set the mood right and tilt the world back towards HEA in one intense, short take. Dani Collins, a fellow-Canuck, is becoming one of my favourite HP authors. With category romance out of its Golden Age, and taking one step forward and two back trying to remake itself, the good ole HP, as practised by Collins, Smart, Hayward, maybe Hewitt, still stands sentinel to the category virtues.
Collins’s The Maid’s Spanish Secret is open to Romancelandia’s cognoscenti’s derision: secret baby! virginal heroine! emotionally-stunted bazillionaire hero! exotic locales! (Saskatchewan’s Northern Lights!) yet Collins manages to make it fresh, endearing, intense, with tongue-in-cheek banter and wit.
On a European vacation, Poppy Harris, aspiring photographer, loses her money and takes a job as a maid for a Spanish billionaire’s mother. Said billionaire, Rico Montero, the day his arranged-marriage fiancée breaks their engagement, gives in to the attraction he’s had for the maid and the maid for him and they make passionate love in the solarium. Continue reading
Wendy Roberts’s fourth Bodies of Evidence mystery finds our heroine and psychic body-finder caught between her past and future, as she has been for the past three books. Without spoiling the series if you’ve yet to read it, heroine Julie Hall uses “dowsing rods” to find missing, deceased people, bringing closure to their families and, more often than not, helping the police solve cold cases. Set in moody-broody Washington state, our Julie is a trailer park gal with supernatural abilities, an up-close-and-personal relationship with beer and wine, and a past as haunting and painful as the murderous circumstances of the bodies she discovers. In each volume, Julie tries to make peace with her abusive past, fend off dipsomania, and draw comfort from a life she’s forged with will power, the wisdom of a great therapist, and the love of her twenty-years-senior FBI-agent boyfriend (I know, but it totally works). Continue reading
Betty Neels’s Cobweb Morning reaches peak Other Woman over-the-top-ness. And in reaching this apex of romance-tropish-goodness, our Betty spotlights Neelsian values with an intensity borne of ethical conviction. Oh, it’s all typical enough: Nurse Alexandra Dobbs happens to be on duty when an amnesiac is brought to emergency by Dutch doctor Taro van Dresselhuys. Sparks fly: Taro is arrogant, officious, and cruelly teasing; he provokes Alexandra into fits of temper. Despite bringing out the worst in each other, he’s as good a man as she is a woman. I especially loved Taro’s remark when he sees Alexandra in a temper and notes, ” ‘ … you walked down the street as though you hated – er – whatever his name is. You have a very eloquent back.’ “Isn’t that “eloquent back” marvelous? Taro asks Alexandra to help him care for the amnesiac, “Penny,” first at his aunt’s house in England, then, in his own home in Holland, and she accepts. Penny is manipulative and meretricious, playing pathetic, hurt victim to Taro and simultaneously Delilah-like in her come-hither-babe routine. Alexandra nurses Penny with gentleness care, but sees through her damsel-in-distress act. While the romance is typical-Betty enough, aloof, mysterious, impenetrable hero and gah-all-feelings-out-there heroine with no hope of their return, it was Betty’s contrast between the two women I enjoyed most. (Be warned, dear reader, there be plenty of spoilers beyond this point.)
“I damned well won’t run around Nassau going to parties while my husband rots away in the middle of Nazi Germany.”
Beatriz Williams’s irrepressible heroine declares early in The Golden Hour and sets the tone and theme of a story spanning continents, political interests, and historical whirlwinds, but centering on love for the ages, love of country and of a man for a woman. Through two wars, intrigue, evil, characters buoy above history’s indifferent, raging waters. Williams writes about pre-Great-War Elfriede, a German beauty married to a German baron, who’s sent to a Swiss asylum to recover from what we’d recognize as post-partum depression. There, she meets the love of her life, a recovering British army officer, Wilfred Thorpe. And Lulu, a seemingly amoral American lady-columnist, adrift in 1940s Nassau, embroiled in the goings-on surrounding the cadaverously odious Windsors.
Though work left me only a reader’s lament of two to three pages of reading before nightly-stupor set in, Williams’s tale had me in thrall for weeks, working its magic to carry me, amidst teacherly tasks, to a golden-light-bathed crescendo of an HEA-conclusion. Continue reading