REVIEW and CONNECTIONS: Ruthie Knox’s MAKING IT LAST, Or An HEA For Don and Betty

cover32533-smallIn Making It Last, Ruthie Knox re-invents one of Miss Bates’s favourite historical romance tropes: the re-united husband and wife. She cleverly separates her lovers/husband-wife not with physical distance, as so often happens in historical romance, but by the emotional distance that comes of a long-standing but floundering marriage. This novella was painful to read in places, but, in the end, it was hopeful and positive. It is all about “making things last” in a marriage: love, attraction, friendship, and desire. It’s about endurance and resilience, even though the hero and heroine are two of the most vulnerable, fragile figures Miss Bates has read in a long time. This is not a romantic narrative to cozy up to; there are uncomfortable feelings here that flow from the characters’ weaknesses to the reader’s, but it is worthy of the reader’s admiration and consideration. Continue reading

GASP: Patricia Gaffney’s TO HAVE AND TO HOLD

When Miss Bates turned the last page of To Love and To Cherish, she sighed with relief. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared. Nothing’d shocked her; nothing’d disturbed her all that much. On the contrary, in the end, her sensibilities were at ease; she thought Christy endearing and a great study of the meaning of Christian faith. Anne was a good, decent heroine, with integrity and had blossomed in the most wonderful way. All was well in Miss Bates’s romance universe. Gaffney’s first Wyckerley novel had inspired associations with many 19th century novels Miss Bates’d loved, still loved. It was all good and what need was there for any fuss? To Love and To Cherish was what its title claimed: loving and cherishing the other, making the other precious in one’s eyes. Christy comes to this state naturally; Anne has to learn it. There is a darkness to her understanding; there is a price, but it is one that she makes of her own free will. Then, Miss Bates read To Have and To Hold and is reeling. She doesn’t have much to say, hopes to reach some equanimity by the time a much-anticipated discussion takes place at Something More. For now, however, there are only half-formed thoughts.  Read on at your peril; Miss Bates is too riled to say that much and the little she does say would be of mild interest only to those who’ve read the novel

CONNECTIONS/REVIEWISH: Juliana Gray’s A LADY NEVER LIES, Unless She’s Trapped in Shakespearean Farce

A Lady Never LiesMiss Bates read …  was it in The Invention of the Human? …  Harold Bloom’s claim that there aren’t any happy marriages in Shakespeare. There aren’t any in romance either, but there is the assumption that the couple will be happy. The reader is left feeling that the HEA is a guarantee. It may not be conventional; it may not be traditional, but it will be blithe! Not so with The Bard. In Shakespeare, we sense that some couples, think Bianca and Lucentio, have misunderstand each other thoroughly and will be unhappy; some, like the Macbeths, are unhappy; and some, like Kate and Petruchio, will fall into the give-and-take/renege/renegotiate that every established couple reaches if they want to keep their sanity and commitment (even Bloom thinks these two might work out just fine). Gray’s A Lady Never Lies, based on The Bard’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, runs into that very problem. How could it not when it doesn’t consider the inherent irony in choosing to base a romance novel on a play called Love’s Labour’s Lost? How does a romance writer make the romance per se romantic when her narrative’s basis is The Bard’s ironic, farcical, comedic mode? Well, she certainly writes a hilarious narrative; as for the irony, she has to relinquish it about half-way through. What that does to the romance narrative (at least in this reader’s opinion) is make for an ambivalent, wonky first third. As the narrative moves away from irony and closer to the troth of love and sacrifice and care that is the mark of the genre, it gains in convincing us of the existence of love and sacrifice and care. Though, to credit Gray, it remains as droll and entertaining as its inception. Read on, if you care to, for more convoluted reasoning involving Shakespeare

A Smidgeon of a Review for a Mite of a Book: Jill Sorenson’s STRANDED WITH HER EX

Stranded With Her ExCategory romance is an appetizer. Miss Bates reads it as a bridge over to something more substantial, a breather in the race to a longer historical, or contemporary. There are category writers that she would never treat this way: Karina Bliss, the divine Sarah Mayberry, Molly O’Keefe, Janice Kay Johnson, Karen Templeton, Carla Kelly, and Cheryl St. John. She quite likes Sarah Morgan and India Grey, sometimes Jessica Hart, Liz Fielding, and Donna Alward. So, not all category romances are treated cavalierly by Miss Bates; in Sorenson’s case, however, she carelessly brandishes a sword of disapproval. You can read on, if you’re interested

IMPRESSIONS/CONNECTIONS: Courtney Milan’s UNLOCKED, Or Katie Keeps Her Golden Boy

UnlockedAlong with the frisson of utter delight that the first commentator (Pamela from Badass Romance) to MBRR gave Miss Bates, in the exchange, she articulated what always pulled at her when she read Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Yes, Jane got her man, a little broken, but she got him; yes, in the end, she was an heiress. Yes, she had her allotted babies, an indication he wasn’t broken where it counted. Jane won her glorious HEA. More than anything, however, in reading Jane, Miss Bates asks: quoting Hamlet (because Shakespeare always says it better) why do we endure “the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes”? Why indeed? Why does Jane endure the nastiness of Rochester’s house-party, the fortune-telling fiasco, Blanche and her mother’s jibes, the horrible aunt and cousins, the evils of Lowood? (To a certain extent because she has to, but let’s not be reductive, Jane never is.) Why do we sob in self-pity when we read these passages and secretly remember every hurt to our self-worth and read on and on even though reading causes us pain? Because at the end of Jane Eyre, at the end of every GREAT romance novel, the heroine (or whoever stands in for the “heroine,” but that’s for another discussion) isn’t just LOVED, SHE IS VINDICATED. Hah, we say, see, she showed them! (The ugly-duckling-fat-girl-awkward-girl-heroine incarnates our vindication fantasy … maybe it’s even sweeter than getting your man, the foiling of the queen bee and bullies?) If you read on, yes, Miss Bates’ll link this inchoate burst to Milan’s novella and more

REVIEW: Miranda Neville’s THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING WICKED, Or How A Stuffed Shirt Won A Bohemian Beauty

The Importance of Being WickedBetween the contrived angst of the HP and the brilliant, genuine angst of Gaffney’s To Love and To Cherish, Miss Bates comfortably settled into the wit and light touch of Neville’s The Importance of Being Wicked. Reading Neville’s romance novel was like skimming the bubbly goodness off a milkshake on a summer day! Delicious, sweet, but not substantial. The writing is good, the hero is lovely, and the pacing of the narrative smooth and appealing. The heroine’s fey and childish ways grated about three-quarters of the way through and Miss Bates thought the yummy hero was overly indulgent and a tad doltish for being as devoted as he was. The mystery of what makes seemingly incompatible people happy together is not for Miss Bates to solve; nor is that the purpose of our beloved genre. Nevertheless, making this incompatible couple endearing is to Neville’s credit. Reading about Lord Stuffy and his irrepressible Caro was fun; if you’re looking for a read that doesn’t stint on good writing, interesting characters, many funny, farcical scenes, and a healthy dose of lust on the part of the hero and, refreshingly, heroine, then you’d enjoy The Importance of Being Wicked. Read on for a more detailed look at this romance novel

REVIEW: Caitlin Crews’s THE REPLACEMENT WIFE, Or An Unlikely Henry and Eliza

The Replacement WifeAfter floundering in the richness and nuance of Gaffney’s To Love and To Cherish, Miss Bates wanted her romance reading to come down to something simple and predictable. What better than an HP for what ailed her? An HP with its clear-cut universe of billionaires and ingenues, overwrought frissons of physicality and high-pitched emotions. She knew exactly what she was getting in Caitlin Crews’s The Replacement Wife, and even got something more: stronger characterization, purpley but smooth prose, and a palatable ethic of love winning over money and fame. She was pleasantly surprised by this romance novel about a hero and heroine trying to fit in, to be “good enough” in a world of money, power, and privilege. Miss Bates enjoyed her foray into the hyperbole-ruled HP universe. There’s more, if you care to keep reading

SECOND THOUGHTS On Patricia Gaffney’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH: Why Not JANE too?

In the cool of the evening, Miss Bates swatted a fist-sized wasps’ nest from the back porch. She’d like to do the same to Gaffney’s novel. No matter, the wasps and it will settle in the vicinity to plague her. Not for a full and missbatesian pedantic post, but a pinata swipe, yes, she’ll manage. Miss Bates has settled into ambivalence’s discomfort zone. Ambivalence in an ordered spinster’s world … not good. Need a lodestone, a familiar one … like Rochester at his neediest, she calls out to “Jane.” If you want more, read on, but clarity still eludes

IMPRESSIONS Of Patricia Gaffney’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH

After supper, Miss Bates tried a piece of wasabi-flavoured chocolate. The smoky-sweet flavour of the dark chocolate was familiar; the wasabi, not so much. This is also her reaction to Gaffney’s To Love and To Cherish. She can’t really review it per se because she’s not sure what she can say about it other than you might want to read it. She doesn’t even really want to review it. There’s more, but not much, nor is it articulate

REVIEW: Lily Everett’s SANCTUARY ISLAND, Or Finding Shangri-La

Sanctuary IslandEverett’s Sanctuary Island echoes some of the best that contemporary romance offers without being overly derivative: a touch of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s generational complications, a nuance of Kristen Higgins’s humour, a nod to Nora Roberts’s mystical Chesapeake Bay, and a hail to Shalvis’s loveable secondary characters. Everett stands equal to any of these authors’ series. And, she carries earnestness and genuine love for the genre. Miss Bates has minor quibbles, but overall, she urges you not to overlook Everett’s storyIt is an accomplished, promising romance novel. Among the many sweet contemporary romances buffeting readers, it’s one of the best Miss Bates has read this year. It deserves an audience and Miss Bates hopes readers flock to it. The writing stands a notch above most; the characters are believable, likeable, and flawed, inhibiting the typical small-town romance’s saccharine quality. The setting is beautifully portrayed and carries a lovely suggestion of mystique.
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