Tag: American Setting

REVIEW: Kathleen Eagle’s NEVER TRUST A COWBOY, Wherein Miss B. Is Peevish

Never_Trust_CowboyWhen Miss Bates re-started reading romance eight years ago, she combed AAR’s reviews for titles. One of those was Kathleen Eagle’s nearly-DIK-status The Last Good Man, a romance novel about a heroine living in the after-math of breast cancer treatment and a torch-carrying hero. The details about the heroine’s illness were raw and realistic and Miss Bates thought the novel honest and worthy. The romance wasn’t half as interesting, the least memorable aspect of the book. When an Eagle category became available, Miss Bates wanted to give Eagle another try to cement what she thought of her writing and the stories she tells.

In the South-Dakota-set Never Trust A Cowboy, Eagle tells the story of a signature Lakota Sioux hero, Delano Fox, and heroine, Lila Flynn, who shares a cattle ranch with her father, Frank, stepmother, and stepbrother. Her stepbrother, Brad, meets cow-hand Delano at the local watering-hole and hires him. But Delano is not an itinerant cowboy: he actually works a mysterious, Miss Bates would say vague, law enforcement job catching cattle rustlers. Brad, it appears, is running such an operation out of his step-father’s ranch. While Delano investigates the rustling, he gets to know Frank’s daughter, Lila. Lila lives by herself in the house her grandmother left her and has little to do with her father’s new family. She runs a daycare centre out of her barn, as well as what appears to be a lending library. The chemistry between Del and Lila is immediate and potent. But what of Delano’s secret mission? And why does Lila isolate herself on the ranch? Why is she withdrawn and sad? Nevertheless, the attraction between them, peppered with banter, burns strong. Continue reading

REVIEW: Donna Alward’s THE COWBOY’S VALENTINE, Or Awakening To the Possibilities

Cowboy's_ValentineMiss Bates can’t offer readers chocolates, or flowers such as our lovely cowboy carries on the cover of Donna Alward’s latest, but a review of a Valentine romance, she can deliver! 

Donna Alward is the queen of domestic romance. How she manages to keep Miss Bates riveted with ordinary lives of ordinary people, doing no more than making dinner, watching TV, and drinking a beer at the local pub is a wonder. But that is exactly what Alward does: expose the soft core of her characters, their fears, vulnerabilities, dashed hopes and dreams, all the ways in which life has worn them down amidst everyday ordinariness. Alward is good at depicting characters vacillating between giving in to the fears received from life’s knocks and reaching towards hope, counting on love to renew them. This rich inner life is enacted amidst simple possibilities and domestic chores: a place to belong, meaningful work, a partner to love, a child to rear, and puppy to walk. Miss Bates says that Alward is the only romance writer she knows who has her rushing home from work to read her novels when the only exciting moment that makes up a scene is the flip of a pancake! Well, there’s all that and pancakes, chocolate-chip ones, in Alward’s latest romance novel, The Cowboy’s Valentine. Continue reading

REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s INDECENT PROPOSAL, Or “Harrison, Found In Manhattan”

Indecent_ProposalSome time in the late 90s, Miss Bates saw a film she hasn’t forgotten, much as she’d like to. It was bleak, depressing, definitely anti-romance. In it, the heroine had opportunities to save herself, to achieve an HEA. She was so passive, so unable to accept help from the people she encountered that she perished needlessly. The film is Amos Kollek’s Sue: Lost In Manhattan (it’s available, in its entirety, on YouTube, if you’re so inclined). What does this bleak portrait, in the centre of which is an anti-heroine with a strangely compelling passivity, have to do with Molly O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal? Miss Bates couldn’t help but recall the film as she read O’Keefe’s final book in her Boys of Bishop series. Kollek’s Sue is unemployed, evicted, and meanders through Manhattan looking ethereally, cadaverously beautiful. She worked as a temp and has a degree in psychology. She’s friendless and without family. She cleans up well and is intelligent and soft-spoken. Sue carries a defeated look, her eyes say “I’ve lost even before I’ve begun.” She meets a wonderful friend (actually, she’s a bartender!) and a beautiful man: the friend wants to help her, the man to care for her. She doesn’t reject them: she’s so tired of life she doesn’t call on them.

O’Keefe’s heroine, Ryan Kaminski, could have easily been Sue: a high-school drop-out, a divorcée who survived a shiftless and violent man, a 15-minutes-of-fame teen-age model who makes ends meet by working as a bartender in a Manhattan hotel. Ryan lives in a tenement and buys used psychology books because that’s what she’d like to study if she ever goes back to school. She’s 32, too old, she feels, to call it opportunity. The connections between Sue and Ryan are compelling. Miss Bates couldn’t help but think of these disparate texts because their juxtaposition spotlights what distinguishes the romance narrative. Same girl, same narrative, same edge of hopelessness, same seediness, cheap clothes and worn-out beauty … what does the romance narrative do with the same stuff, the same material, but imbues it with hope in place of despair? (As a side-note, she loved O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal: marriage-of-convenience, a heroine who gains in strength and love, a Hubbell-hero humbled. What’s not to love?) Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Molly Harper’s SNOW FALLING ON BLUEGRASS

Snow_Falling_On_BluegrassMolly Harper’s Snow Falling On Bluegrass didn’t bode well for Miss Bates at page one: first-person narration in her romance reading is a no-no. Reading further, the no-nos amplified: there was the distinct whiff of chick-lit-hood (an unromantic genre often lumped with romance). There’s only one other designation that sends Miss Bates’ eyes rolling and lip curling than chick lit and that’s “women’s fiction.” The no-no’s piled up: one ruefully self-deprecating heroine down on her confidence? Check. Two love interests? Check. One marriage-obsessed, self-esteem-killing mother? Check. Cutesy secondary characters? Check. One worthless ex? Check. One true BFF, with deliveries of chocolate and cocktail-sharing commiseration? Check. Thus is the story of heroine, Kelsey Wade, her caricatured ex, Darrell; her office crush, Dr. (Ph.d, not medical) Charles Bennett; and, one snowed- and iced-in staff retreat with the members of the Kentucky Commission on Tourism at isolated, winter-wonderland Lockwood Lodge. Enter one handsome, smouldering park ranger/night clerk … and you have Harper’s third novel in her Bluegrass series in a nutshell. Continue reading

REVIEW: Emma Barry’s PARTY LINES, Or The Best Minds of a Generation

Party_LinesEmma Barry writes Miss Bates’ favourite kind of romance novel: rich in context, with characters immersed in a definitive place and time, uniquely themselves, but also emerging out of that place and time. Barry sets her contemporary romances in the arena of contemporary American politics. It was the stew that bubbled forth the first in the Easy Part trilogy, Special Interests, and second, Private Politics. Barry’s third “politically-set” romance, Party Lines, is her most “politically dense” novel yet, but it also offers a gloriously interesting romance. It contains a delicious irony in premise and title. Party politics/lines, especially modern party politics, are constantly in the public eye in this social-media age. How to carve space for intimacy, friendship, love, for “private spaces” in the midst of an election campaign as a key organizing player? That is the story of Democratic campaign manager, Michael Picetti, and Republican assistant to the deputy campaign manager, Lydia Reales. What if the furthering of one’s career hinges on this performance? What if the object of one’s love and desire is on the opposing side? Ideology, conviction, ambition, loyalty come into play and clash with desire, friendship, love, fulfillment, when political affiliations draw the line on what lines can’t be crossed for love. Continue reading

Review: Janice Kay Johnson’s ONE FROSTY NIGHT, Or High School Sweethearts Reunite

One_Frosty_NightWhose Baby? (2000), Maternal Instinct (2002), With Child (2005), Snowbound (2007) and The Man Behind the Cop (2008): romantic suspense, family-centred, child-parent-focussed, believable problems and dilemmas, and all Janice Kay Johnson category novels Miss Bates read and enjoyed. Johnson goes about the business of producing solid, unassuming romance novels without “strum und drang.” Miss Bates can’t say that the Johnson novels she’s read are huggable-loveable and she’d carry them to a desert isle, except for the contemporary marriage-of-convenience and unusual Whose Baby? Nevertheless, they never fail to leave her thoughtful about the complications life can throw at good, ordinary, fallible people, how to contend with troubles in “battalias,” how to make families out of pretty crappy circumstances, and how to love another person in his/her imperfections. Not a bad feat, even if Miss Bates’ reader heart doesn’t miss a beat reading. Johnson does no less in her latest Harlequin Super-Romance, One Frosty Night. Miss Bates has quibbles, but this is a solid romantic suspense, with more suspense than romance. Continue reading

Culling the TBR One Letter At a Time: “E” Is for Early, Margot Early’s MR. FAMILY

Mr_Family

Welcome, Willaful, to the Alphabet Challenge! Whittling the TBR one letter at a time! For her “E” read, Willaful read a meh m/m romance, but her voice is droll and astute.

Miss Bates returns to her personal, too-long-abandoned TBR challenge: reading through the Doddering TBR one alphabetical letter at a time. She last posted in this vein in September of 2013! In tackling “e,” Miss Bates opted for a book about which she knew bupkis, but whose cover drew her: a foxy-looking pooch, pretty little girl, and smiling man in high-waisted jeans and bare feet, also leis … it looked awful and turned out great. In Margot Early’s 1996 Harlequin Superromance, Mr. Family, Miss Bates had the rare experience of reading an unexpected, unusual, a true original of a romance. Mr. Family blew her away: it was unlike anything she’s read in romance fiction in ages. Though it dragged in a few places, and its suffering-protagonists’ pitch had strident moments, it was terrific. She hopes that her post urges some of MBRR’s readers to try it: she’d love to hear what new readers make of it. It stands a cut above mundane contemporary romance in several ways: its believable portrayal of a modern marriage-of-convenience narrative (with epistolary element!) its treatment of grief and loss, self-loathing and sexual frigidity, its extensive creation of a cultural context for the protagonists and portrayal of religious ritual that isn’t Christian romance-inspirational.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Elizabeth Camden’s WITH EVERY BREATH

With_Every_Breath
Attractive cover!

Miss Bates anticipates an Elizabeth Camden novel. She appreciated Camden’s previous novel, Into the Whirlwind. Since then, she follows Camden into her inspirational-lite, historical bent because Camden is a writer with ideas. Into the Whirlwind had grand sweep and great drama in its setting, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Camden is a thoughtful writer who considers context and a story to tell about how historical circumstances affect individual lives, important. She researches carefully and conveys time, place, and the concerns of ordinary people living in that time with skill and sensitivity. Miss Bates lays, however, the same caveats at With Every Breath as she did Into the Whirlwind. Those shortcomings are more apparent in the former. Set in the fictional Washington Memorial Hospital in 1891 Washington D. C., Camden tells the story of Dr. Trevor M. Kendall, tuberculosis specialist and researcher, and his statistician assistant, Kate Livingston, as they battle to cure a deadly and widespread disease. What a compelling idea for the background to a romance, thought Miss Bates, how unique and interesting. Moreover, how inspiring to have a mathematician heroine! Camden’s novel offers all this in concept, but suffers somewhat in execution. Continue reading

REVIEW: Ruthie Knox’s TRULY Yourself

Truly
Finally, a lovely Loveswept cover (no waxy mannequins)!

Ruthie Knox’s latest (previously serialized) novel and first in the New York series, Truly, exemplifies a theme dear to Knox: the discovery and triumph of the hero’s and heroine’s authentic selves. The discovery of the authentic self on the part of heroine and hero is worked out in the romantic relationship of desire, conflict, and love; push-back comes from their masked, or social selves and embedded family neuroses. Miss Bates must say she loves this about Knox and finds it endearingly American: the notion that authenticity is at the core of the self and the self can be remade in a more open, psychically healthier and happier way. When Knox is at her best, her core characters’ authentic selves emerge by abrading the old skin of past hurts and habitual patterns of self-sabotage. This was so in Miss Bates’ favourite Knox novels, Ride With Me and About Last Night, as it was of the less-successful Camelot and Roman Holiday series. (It is a theme that runs throughout her Robin York NA Caroline and West series, more successfully than the latter titles.) Knox’s writer’s-triumph depends on her willingness to free her characters to gambol and screw up and argue and have messy passionate sex; her weakness is a tendency to use them as mouthpieces. Where does Truly fall on that spectrum? Miss Bates loved most of it: the writing is smooth and funny and touching. She loved the opening with the surly hero and innocent-in-the-city, “dairymaid”-wholesome heroine; she loved the interactions between Ben Hausman and May Fredericks. She loved the NYC setting and the hero and heroine wandering through it, falling in love, kissing, challenging each other, and exploring its parks, restaurants, and denizens’ mosaic. However, once again embracing the journey narrative that Knox favours, she transports her couple to Wisconsin … and there, things fall apart and the centre doesn’t hold. Continue reading

REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s BETWEEN THE SHEETS, “A Broken Hallelujah”

Between_the_Sheets
Loved the cover; for once, the models look like heroine and hero!

Miss Bates finally made her way to the third novel in Molly O’Keefe’s “Boys of Bishop” series, Between the Sheets. She reviewed the first one, Wild Child, and second, Never Been Kissed. The latter emerges as her favourite, but the beauty and pain of Between the Sheets remain with her. There was so much going on in the hero’s and heroine’s lives that while the relationship made sense … romance showed up too-little-too-late in a schmaltzy epilogue. The sheer daily nightmare of the heroine’s life detracted from the warm-and-fuzzies that romance readers expect, nay demand, ’cause damnit isn’t life hard enough that I have to confront it in my comfort corner? There were moments when Miss B. resented this novel: with its harsh realities and stubborn personalities. BUT, O’Keefe is writing some of the best in contemporary romance. Between the Sheets, like the two previous novels, is set up in the aftermath of a media debacle, Shelby Monroe’s media debacle, one we cringed over in Wild Child. Between the Sheets fills in the cracks of Shelby’s humiliation, hauls in her mother and memories of her father and closed-in, cool-as-a-cucumber spinster’s existence. Between the Sheets isn’t a picking-up-the-pieces story, it’s a darkest before the dawn tale … and the hero is an unlikely and dealing-with-his-own-crap knight, with his own vulnerabilities and burdens. O’Keefe’s novel grabs you like Fay Wray in Kong’s fist and tosses you around emotionally … you should read it. It is a spinster’s tale told by a master of the genre. 😉 Continue reading