Hmm, Miss Bates had a somewhat bizarro thought after reading Andrea Laurence’s The CEO’s Unexpected Child: can it be that a not-very-good book can’t be discussed without spoilers? Because awfulness lies in the plot dominating, in a bad plot dominating? It struck Miss Bates that she can always discuss a good rom without spoilers. Would love to hear your thoughts on this, dear readers.
Onto to Laurence’s Desire and sifting through Miss Bates’s thoughts. Laurence’s CEO-mystery-mommy-plot-moppet smorgasbord is one of those roms which could’ve been great. The premise is wild (and possibly therein lies some of Miss Bates’s sour-puss face): what happens when an Italian’s CEO’s stored sperm is mixed up and ends up impregnating an IVF-ed woman instead of her husband’s? What happens when said husband dies in a car crash and pregnant lady finds out he was NOT the man she thought him? What happens when ten months later, studly-CEO discovers the fertility clinic’s error and sues new mommy to six-month-old-daughter for shared custody? That, folks, in a nutshell, is Laurence’s premise. When it opens, Luca Moretti, mega-millions CEO of Moretti Family Kitchen, and Claire Douglas confront each other, with their lawyers, across a negotiating table, trying to work out how Luca will play a significant role in his daughter’s, Eva’s, life.
Candace Calvert’s contemporary inspirational medical romance Step By Step is second in her Crisis Team series. It is Miss Bates’s first Calvert romance novel and won’t be her last. Whatever liking Miss Bates holds for this title, she acknowledges that the problem with inspirational fiction is its appeal to a niche market. This is problematic when Miss Bates finds an author who merits a wider audience. The dilemma remains, however, because inspie romance, even when it’s as well-written and psychologically nuanced as Calvert’s, contains elements that alienate the general reader.
Calvert’s Step By Step is a second-chance-at-love romance for two widowed protagonists. The wounds are deeper and grieving still fresh for nurse Taylor Cabot: ” … the rings had finally come off, after migrating from her left to her right hand in a painfully slow march through grief – like a turtle navigating broken glass.” Step By Step opens with Taylor and her cousin Aimee watching the San Diego Kidz Kite Festival. A private plane crashes, wreaking havoc and death on festival goers. This disaster scene is one of the “crises” that ER health care workers contend with and are heart-stoppingly described in Calvert’s novel. Taylor rushes to help, abandoning her conversation with Aimee about returning to life and love after grieving her beloved Greg for three years. The transfer of patients to San Diego Hope’s ER reunites Taylor with Seth Donovan, crisis chaplain with California Crisis Care and the man who offered Taylor friendship and compassion when she lost her husband.
One of Miss Bates’s favourite poems is Robert Frost’s “The Secret Sits:”: “We dance round in a ring and suppose,/But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.” Frost identifies our tendency to avoid truths which reveal our psychological soft spots. Inside us and between us sits the secret and the secret is truth and truth hurts. But it also “sets us free”. Between the hero and heroine of Cathyrn Parry’s The Secret Between Them is a secret haunting them since their teens. It was watered with guilt and its name is shame. Jessica Hughes was a star figure skater who practised her sport in Kyle Northrup’s step-father’s rink. Kyle was a star hockey player who also practised there. Kyle and his step-father’s relationship was one of anger and recrimination, especially after Kyle’s mum died when he was twelve. Kyle’s anger against Joe, his step-dad, resulted in an injury to Jessica and dashed her Olympic hopes. Kyle left Wallis Point, New Hampshire, ashamed and vowing never to return, to join the Marines. Years later, he returns, an injured veteran with a prosthetic foot, to claim his inheritance from Joe, the very rink he fled from. Jessica is still in Wallis Point, a dedicated physical therapist, no longer “the sweetheart of Wallis Point,” but still “the great ache of his teenage years … his dream girl.” Continue reading
As a spinster of modest means, Miss Bates was intrigued by Rogers Maher’s premise for Rolling In the Deep. Who doesn’t buy the occasional lottery ticket and dream big? Ramòn “Ray” Lopez and Holly Ward stock shelves at a Poughkeepsie Cogmans, a “Walmart-like” superstore. Single-mum Holly is a Cogmans veteran; Ray, a newcomer. They shoot the breeze when they share an aisle, tell each other about their lives, and harbor a shy attraction. Holly survived a nasty divorce. Brett, her ex, and she share custody of Drew, their eight-year-old son. Brett, a cheating, domineering husband, is still nasty, insulting and demeaning Holly. She is anxious and self-effacing. She believes Drew is better off with his father: there’s a marked difference between the quality of Drew’s life when he’s with Brett and his wife Emma and when he’s with Holly in a dreary apartment and sparse life-style. But she’s “too selfish” to give him up; she loves him. At first, Ray appears the cheerier of the two. Newly arrived from Queens, Ray works two jobs, at Cogmans and a local restaurant, hoping to fulfill his recently-deceased mom’s wish for him to attend culinary school. Ray carries an uprooted grief, but seeing Holly smile and chat make him happy. He wants a date, but senses her single-mum’s caution. On a lark, he asks her to go halfsies on a Powerball ticket. When they win eighty million dollars apiece, their fledgling attraction and financially-straitened lives change overnight.
Three Nights Before Christmas is the second Kat Latham romance Miss Bates read this year. When Miss Bates thoroughly enjoys two romances by the same author, said author enters auto-buy territory. Latham’s work is quirky, interesting; it stands out. It feels special and different, fresh. When you consider Three Nights Before Christmas‘ premise, it’s easy to see why. On Thanksgiving, Lacey Gallagher is released from prison, having completed three of a ten-year sentence. She will serve parole in her Montana hometown, live at home with older brother, Sawyer, and work at the family’s Christmas tree farm. Lacey was convicted of transporting drugs thanks to Dave Dugger, a charming, lying, manipulative ex-boyfriend. The man who arrested and helped put her in prison, nemesis Austin Wilder, letter-of-the-law forest ranger and looker, features in Lacey’s best and worst dreams. But Miss Bates tosses frivolity where she oughtn’t – yet, as serious and painful as it is to witness Lacey’s struggles adjusting to the world outside prison walls, the wit and warmth with which the novel is written and the love with which Austin, Lacey, and everyone around them are rendered, puts a smile on a reader’s face, even during some of the novel’s darkest moments. Continue reading
Miss Bates loves pie, apple, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, but nothing beats humble pie. She happily munches on it after sneering, snarling, and dramatically slapping her forehead with “What was I thinking?” reading Jodi Thomas’s Ransom Canyon – it’s women’s fiction. More fool Miss Bates because Thomas’s novel has as much going for it as it does going on.
Ransom Canyon is braided with three narrative strands: the romance between dour, tragic Staten Kirkland, rancher, and Quinn O’Grady, lavender farmer, reclusive pianist, and his dead wife’s best friend; the burgeoning feelings between Lucas Reyes, ambitious teen-ager and hand at Staten’s ranch, and Lauren Brigman, dreamy girl and sheriff’s daughter; and, Yancy Grey, ex-con and handyman to the adorable old coots, all former teachers, at the local retirement home. Add the blue-cape-swirling, curvaceous, sharp-tongued Miss Ellie, nurse-in-training, and frequent visitor to the retirement home and Yancy Grey, at 25, newly released from the big house, has himself a serious case of desire. Ransom Canyon is set in Texas ranching country, in the allegorically-named town of Crossroads, not far from Lubbock. Thomas weaves the three story-lines beautifully, offering redemption, renewal, and love to the broken and troubled – and leaving pending romance threads in the stories of the young ones, Yancy and Ellie, Lucas and Lauren. Continue reading
Regina Scott is a new-to-Miss-B author. Miss B’s relentless pursuit of good inspie fiction is running down like an wound-up toy. Scott’s Frontier Engagement is inspie-light (some heartfelt praying and one lovely forest-set singing of “Amazing Grace”), but not inspired to offer anything new or original in the subgenre. If you’re looking no further than the pleasantness that the subgenre has on offer with none of the offense that it occasionally exhibits, Scott’s 1866-Washington-frontier romance will be for you. Logger James Wallin travels to Seattle to bring a school teacher to Wallin Landing, his family’s fledgling town, and finds Alexandrina Eugenia Fosgrave, newly arrived with the Mercer expedition. Like all good inspie heroines, she’s suspicious and mistrustful, but James’ charm and persistence pay off: “So, like it or not, that schoolmarm had an engagement with the frontier.” James convinces Alexandrina, re-christening her with the diminutive “Rina,” as they set off for Wallin Landing, where Rina hopes to “make something good out of the tatters of her life, where she could make a difference.” Readers soon realize that James’ charm and humour, as well as Rina’s regal bearing, conceal psychic wounds. But Rina is barely established in Wallin Landing when the challenges of teaching leave her tear-eyed and on her way to an easier teaching post. To ensure her safety and, frankly, because he’s sweet on her, James accompanies her in the guise of her fiancé and the narrative makes an about-face, becoming an inspie road romance. The “road” provides much fodder for both humorous and dangerous incidents, as well as James and Rina opportunity to know each other better and grow closer in love and friendship. Continue reading
Miss Bates was curious to read Andrea Kane because she read a good review *somewhere* about the first book in her Forensic Instincts series, The Girl Who Disappeared Twice. ‘Sides, Kane wrote romance and the lure of suspense and romance together is too delicious for Miss Bates to ignore. What she found was a novel that could easily stand in for a television CSI show … shows too numerous and repetitive to keep track of. (But, damn, Miss B. always got a kick out of David Caruso donning/doffing his shades.) Kane’s novel doesn’t deviate from this tried and true formula. Miss Bates read The Silence That Speaks while on holiday, her reading broken up by road trip nausea, uncomfortable hotel beds, and daily excursions. Her review will be minimal, helping get her reviewing impetus back in gear. Kane’s contemporary thriller, with a touch of romance, set in NYC, centres its crime-fighting/crime-solving plot around an independent detective agency, the six-member Forensic Instincts team. Continue reading
Miss Bates doesn’t know how to write about a good book she disliked, not hated, not DNF-headed, not snark-inspiring, but a desultory slog, like eating a flavourless oatmeal biscuit. Partly, she attributes her response to the unappealing conventions of the New Adult romance sub-genre: the college scene, protagonists’ callowness, first-person narration, and HFN. New adult romance elements Miss Bates’ reader-self dislikes. Nay, avoids. She wasn’t well disposed to Milan’s Trade Me from the first solipsistic notes of “I” and “my”, but the issues were engaging, questions of wealth and privilege, the pressures on immigrants’ children versus good ole wealthy established American families.
Trade Me is, at least initially, a romance of economic realities. Californian heroine Tina Chen, computer science and chemistry college student, second-generation Chinese-American, struggles to get through school, pay rent, groceries, and help her parents out financially. Her mom succours persecuted Falun Gong members seeking asylum in the US, her dad’s on work disability and sister, with ADHD, requires pricey medication. Tina is poor: she can’t afford to do anything but survive on a shoe-string budget, working part-time and studying the rest. Hero Blake Reynolds is the only child of one of the wealthiest, most influential men in the US, owner of an innovative tech company, Cyclone. Unlike Tina, who has eleven dollars to her name, Blake is worth billions. During economics class, Blake makes privileged, ignorant remarks about people on food stamps. Tina retorts with hard truths about poverty that point to Blake’s cluelessness and presumptions. Blake is chastened and apologetic. He’s also nicer and more down-to-earth than Tina expected. He has the hots for her and she for him. He proposes a “trade,” to learn something about each other: swap lives. He lives in her unheated converted-garage apartment on her budget and she gets his Tesla, condo, and a hefty allowance. For Blake, he gets to be close to Tina while anonymity helps him figure out a “problem” plaguing him. Tina reciprocates the attraction, but also sees an opportunity to help her family. Continue reading
Miss Bates appreciates a good author’s note, especially at the end of a historical romance. A sense of where the author is coming from, her interests and motivations, and a tad about research are enlightening. One senses, Susanna Fraser, from her author’s note at the end of her latest, is thoughtful, respectful of historical mood, and details of time and place. She’s considered in her characterization, drawing her characters from historical context. Certainly, Miss Bates greatly enjoyed Fraser’s début, The Sergeant’s Lady, with its unique titled lady and ordinary soldier-hero, a nice reversal of the usual duke-and-commoner-focussed histrom.
In Freedom To Love, Fraser tackled a cross-class and mixed-race identity to her romantic couple and placed them in Louisiana at the end of the War of 1812. Though only spare to his brother’s, Charles, heir-status, Henry Farlow, officer in his majesty’s army, is still aristocratic. Part of General Pakenham’s retreating British forces at the 1815 Battle for New Orleans, wounded and disoriented, Henry wanders onto the Chalmette Plantation where he meets Thérèse Bondurant and her half-sister, Jeannette. Thérèse and Jeannette sneaked onto the plantation, now their father is dead, to find treasure he left behind for them. They must seize the jewels before the rightful plantation owners, their cousins, Bertrand and Jean-Baptiste, discover them. In addition to the treasure, they find and care for the wounded Henry. Thus, the three of them, Thérèse, free woman of mixed race, with a grandmother of African and Choctaw origins, Jeannette, the enslaved sister she wants to free, and a defeated, wounded British officer take refuge on an abandoned plantation hoping to flee before the Bondurant cousins claim the treasure and hand the delirious Henry over to American forces as a POW. Continue reading