Looks Like A Review: Sarah Morgan’s THE SULTAN’S VIRGIN BRIDE, Or Lysistrata In the Desert

When “the world is too much” with Miss Bates, when she’s “in disgrace with fortune” and has had the work month from hell, when Friday rolls around and fatigue comes cheap … she reads an HP.  HPs are Miss Bates’s preferred escapist reading: the caricatured masculinity of the uber-hero, the moral goodness and myriad virtues of the often-misunderstood heroine (even heiress-party-girls are good and secretly self-sacrificing).  Setting is set at minimum and the over-wrought physicality of the hero and heroine’s attraction is strung so tight Miss Bates hears zinging as she reads. 

The Sultan's Virgin BrideThus was Sarah Morgan’s The Sultan’s Virgin Bride.  Smooth, coconut-flavored chocolate, an espresso as dark as our hero’s eyes and Morgan’s PC-not tale and Miss Bates rejuvenated on a weary Friday night.

When Saturday’s grey-fogged incipient dawn crept into her room, however, she woke with thoughts whirling.  She’d enjoyed every moment of her HP; however, niggling and annoying considerations sidled into her consciousness.  She’s going to impose them on you, dear reader.  Bear with her.  This be reader response.

To the HP reader, there are no spoilers.  One of the HP’s virtues is its predictability.  But if you don’t read them and you’re reading this, there might be mild ones.  HPs require the suspension of your suffragette and post-suffragette sensibilities.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Tracey Devlyn’s A LADY’S SECRET WEAPON, And A Gentleman’s Rules

A Lady's Secret WeaponBefore embarking on a review, Miss Bates experiences a hollowness: fear that fingers to keyboard will produce, to quote Lucretius, “nihilo ex nihilo.”  Thus Devlyn’s latest A Lady’s Secret Weapon echoes Miss Bates’s reviewing fears: characters on the edge, whose lives are out of control, emotions at the boiling point, who’ve come to the end of something and don’t know where to go next.  Characters whose dedication to a cause has cost them everything.  A hero whose licentiousness (love this word!) … for once! … makes sense: for king and country, he seduced, coaxed, and manipulated women into bed to glean information to keep Napoleon from English shores.  Dissolute, jaded, heroic, at the mercy of the demon alcohol, Devlyn’s male characters, especially her heroes, in this case, Ethan deBeau, Lord Danforth, flirt with “nihilo,” having assumed so many guises and disguises they don’t know who they are and, of what they do know, don’t much like.  There is endearing poignancy and pathos to Ethan and Sydney, our Goddess-Artemis-of-a-heroine.  Their quandaries over national security and their reckless-of-the -danger-to-themselves urge to protect the innocent and harbor the vulnerable render them sympathetic to the reader who happily flashes pages on the e-reader.  The romantic impetus, however, is secondary, lovely when it arrives, but not the primary raison d’être of Devlyn’s hybrid historical+thriller+romance novel. Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts

REVIEW: Julia London’s THE BRIDESMAID, or “Fickle Fortune … Thou Wilt Not Keep Him Long”

The BridesmaidAn assumption accompanies a reader cracking open a romance novel: fate brings our hero and heroine together; caprice, human and/or otherwise, pulls them apart … will steers them back to each other.  Now Miss Bates is a strictly free-will kind of gal and, even though she hails from an indolently fate-believing culture, she likes to cling to free will as the determinant of human lives.  Certainly the romance novel takes this fate into account to our, its faithful readers, satisfaction: think of all the meet-cutes you’ve read, the tumblings into a room, the snow/rain/ice storms that strand strangers, sojourners, lovers or enemies, the circumstances that bring about marriages-of-convenience, the random doors that open onto the rest of a life (Miss Bates’s favourite being the opening scene of Sarah Morgan’s The Twelve Nights of Christmas) that bring our hero and heroine together.  We swallow it hook-link-and-sinker, this benevolent force ensuring that kindred spirits (think “carrots” and a boy named Gilbert) meet and mate.  However, for an HEA to be complete and satisfactory, the spirits must recognize the kindred in each other and, in an act or acts of transformation and will actively seek and request of the other to join them on life’s journey. 

For a bitty novella, Julia London’s The Bridesmaid serves up questions of fate and will and their role in the romance novel and does so with humour and delightful characters in an engaging plot that echoes what we love about romantic comedy.  In this modest, in length not scope, novella, London writes a romance and reflects on the genre; it’s not pedantic or self-conscious, but sheer fun.  Truth be told, however, there are things that may grate on some readers’ nerves/sensibilities, but Miss Bates is forgiving when a writer tickles both her funny and intellectual bones.           Continue reading for Miss Bates’s further ruminations

REVIEW: Juliana Stone’s THE CHRISTMAS HE LOVED HER and Came Home

The Christmas He Loved HerWhat if Jim Sheridan’s 2009 film, Brothers, were a romance novel? What if the brothers were war heroes?  What if one came home and the other didn’t?  What if they were twins?  What if they’d loved the same girl since they were children?  What if pain and guilt and love and memories hung like a pall over the mourners?  What if grief for the one who didn’t come home crippled the living … parents, brother, wife, friends, and a town?  It might, says Miss Bates, be Juliana Stone’s second book in her Bad Boys of Crystal Lake series, The Christmas He Loved Her.  How can a romance novel flawed in its inception be right in execution?  How did Miss Bates come to enjoy a novel that pushed many of her ick-factor buttons?        Continue reading: will Miss Bates work out her ambivalence about Stone’s novel?

REVIEW: Winnie Griggs’s A FAMILY FOR CHRISTMAS When Life Takes A Turnabout

A Family For ChristmasWinnie Griggs’s A Family For Christmas encompasses the strengths and weaknesses of the inspirational and category romance.  As such, there was much that Miss Bates liked and a modicum she didn’t: this is, she admits, a trite statement. However, every time she reads an inspirational category romance, she struggles to articulate how it can occasionally ring false in the telling and, at the same time, how attractive and positive its ethos can be.  On the one hand, there is a preciousness to the world of the inspirational that requires a suspension of belief akin to paranormal romance!  On the other hand, there is an ethos of love and acceptance that, if it’s not preachy and is coupled with honesty about physical attraction and a loosening of puritanical mores, can be quite appealing.

Blend the pros and cons of the inspirational with that of the category romance and the combination in Griggs’s novel is typical: there is succinctness and tightness to the writing and a well-thought-out plot, familiar and comforting, with the unfortunate propensity to leave interesting elements  under-developped and present characters with strange and sudden turnabouts (pun intended) in behaviour.  Griggs’s A Family For Christmas, guilty as charged.  And yet … and yet … Miss Bates loves Christmas-set romances and enjoyed this one. Continue reading as Miss Bates completes her thoughts about Griggs’s historical romance

REVIEW: Jill Shalvis’s ALWAYS ON MY MIND, But Never In the Same Room

Always On My MindJill Shalvis gives readers what they want and expect.  Her style, content, and way of perceiving and presenting the world are signature, which translates to predictable after reading a few of her books. They’re also good in the same way every time, pithily written, with wit and energy; they are humourous.  Her hero is big and tough and sexy.  Her heroine is independent, giddily messed up, and gives as good as she gets.  People change for the better and HEAs are worked out and made possible because her hero and heroine alter their ways of thinking and relating.  Families, especially how parents’ mistakes bear on the adult lives of the hero and heroine, figure prominently.  Always On My Mind, Lucky Harbor #8, runs to type and delivers what the reader seeks in a small-town Shalvis romance.  Miss Bates has enjoyed, if not loved or been enthralled by, every Shalvis romance she’s read and Always On My Mind did not fail her overall; however, it foundered where no Shalvis romance ever has, at least in Miss Bates’s experience.  There is also something in the sameness of it all that disappoints.  There is a blandness to the recent Lucky Harbor books that left Miss Bates restless through the first half of book eight … BUT, in typical Shalvis fashion, like her impossible-not-to-love animal characters, it picked up in the second half.  Miss Bates has damned Always On My Mind with faint praise, yes, but she’d still like to wax loquacious about it. Continue reading for Miss Bates’s further discussion of Shalvis’s novel

REVIEW: Harvesting the TBR One Letter At A Time, “D” Is For Devlyn’s CHECKMATE, MY LORD, Wherein Our Hero Comes In From the Cold and Miss Bates Forgets the Letter “C”

Checkmate, My LordThere are two types of heroes that Miss Bates avoids in her romance reading: spies and pirates.  It’s the mendacity that she objects to: the hidden identities, the deceptions; inevitably, our spy/pirate turns out to be an aristocrat of the first order, blah, blah, blah.  There have been missbatesian attempts: Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, for example, which Miss Bates loved up to and including book #7, The Mischief of the Mistletoe with the “intrepid,” loveable idiot Turnip Fitzhugh … the best doltish romantic hero ever.  Also, a much-lauded romance author, Joanna Bourne, whose prose, subject of spies aside, Miss Bates finds tortured and oblique (though she, with caveats, enjoyed The Forbidden Rose).  The last pirate romance she read, and remember that Miss Bates has only been reading romance since 2007 (after a hiatus of 35 years!) was Julie Garwood’s Guardian Angel.  The Pink Carnation series is presently more intrigue than romance and Garwood … well, she kept writing the same book, same hero and heroine.  So, spies and pirates are out (and no, Miss Bates has never read The Windflower).  But into every sensibility, an exception must fall and Tracey Devlyn’s Checkmate, My Lord was it.  Though ruined by Barry’s prose in Brave In Heart until something that sublime comes along (Cecilia Grant, we’re ready for another novel), Devlyn’s was, if not inspired in the writing, a moving and engrossing read. Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts on this surprisingly adept novel

REVIEW: Culling the TBR One Letter At A Time, “B” Is For Barry

roses2In the spirit of Disclosure! that has been the subject of an interesting discussion at Something More, Miss Bates confesses to being disposed to like Barry’s Brave In Heart for reasons other than her love of: American-set historical romance, spinster-schoolmarm heroines, military heroes, and Ken Burns’s The Civil War.  Ms Barry is a sympathetic and likeable blog presence to Miss Bates, though they’ve never met in person, nor communicated in any other fashion.  Frankly, Miss Bates was whew-relieved when Brave In Heart, Barry’s Connecticut-Civil-War-set romance captivated her from the opening sentence … and proved to be without any connection to one of Miss Bates’s most abhorred novels, Gone With the Wind.  With only minor bumps along the road to reader-joy, Miss Bates loved Brave In Heart … and, like Oliver Twist, begs for, “Some more, please.” Continue reading for Miss Bates’s thoughts on this wonderful novella

REVIEW: Irene Hannon’s TRAPPED, Or An Honourable Man Can’t Be Thwarted

TrappedMiss Bates never recovered from Jonathan Demme’s brilliant Silence Of the Lambs as the thriller par excellence, despite the critical controversy it garnered then and since.  And if Miss Bates hasn’t rallied (her discombobulation matched only by the effect of the Dutch film, The Vanishing … kept her sleepless for three nights) from Demme’s horror/thriller film, thriller writers haven’t either.  Irene Hannon’s contemporary, inspirational thriller, Trapped, runs in this vein.  It does not reach Silence‘s heights of horror frissons, portray the killer’s and pursuer’s psychological make-up with the same astuteness and precision, or wow us with penetratingly chilly dialogue, but it kept Miss Bates engaged and … poised and tense for the next scene.  The faith content was relatively minor; the romance, on the other hand, was more interesting than the suspense.  Hannon’s ideas about redemption, second chances, forgiveness, and hope are powerful, but their execution is clichéd. She could have told a more original story, but she did not fail to tell an interesting one.  Continue reading for Miss Bates’s verdict on Hannon’s romantic, Christian thriller

REVIEW: Grace Burrowes’s GABRIEL, Another Forlorn Lord

GabrielGrace Burrowes’s latest “lonely lord,” Gabriel, contains two elements Miss Bates loves: a hero who must set his house in order and a second-chance romance.  The notion of setting things right is a theme endemic to Burrowes’s work.  Miss Bates finds this morally appealing.  Burrowes’s characters are generous, honest, and kind; even when they make messes, they redress them.  And they never leave messes behind, particularly her heroes; this makes them eminently endearing.  Miss Bates noted these things when she enjoyed Burrowes’s first Regency novel, The Heir.  From that initial effort to this latest one, Miss Bates has noted that Burrowes is enamoured of the cross-class couple which, historically, rarely boasted the happy endings that her novels do.  (Miss Bates likes to think that Burrowes brings a beautifully equalizing American flair to the class-conscious British historical; accuracy be damned in the name of justice.  What’s an HEA for, if not to breach “impediments” to the “marriage of true minds”?)  This impediment to love, though historically likely inaccurate and viewed with rose-coloured glasses and all that, is nevertheless refreshing because it says all things are possible with love and the acceptance of responsibility.  However, can Miss Bates say that she loved this novel and wholeheartedly urges you to read it?  There be caveats. Carry on reading to discover more of what Miss Bates thought of Burrowes’s lonely lord #5