Iona Grey’s The Glittering Hour wrenched my heart, squeezed it, and wrung it out to dry. This is a very sad book, a hopeful one, but nevertheless, sad. At the same time, despite work deadlines, it kept me in its grip and I stayed up to finish it into the early morning, something I do rarely these days. If you love Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, Karen White, and our very own Canuck, Clarissa Harwood, you’re going to love Grey’s novel, as long as you’re willing to forego their more-often-than-not HEAs.
The novel opens, as the best novels do, with a naked sleeping couple in 1926. We don’t know who they are, yet we sense love and desperation. Selina Lennox, aristocratic bright young thing, darling of the then-tabloids, lover of cocktails, jazz, and wild, nocturnal shenanigans. And Lawrence Weston, dark, handsome, talented, an artist and photographer, of humble means, lowly origins, cultured, urbane, working-class. Lovers. Tragic lovers, we sense. Fast forward to 1936 and the narrative shifts to Alice Carew, eleven-year-old daughter to Selina née Lennox and Rupert Carew, presently living with her maternal grandmama and grandpapa in the Lennox family estate, Blackwood Park, of former grandeur and still the site of much of the Lennoxes’ cool snobbery. Continue reading
In 1825 Edinburgh, Miss Elizabeth “Libby” Shaw yearns to follow in her father’s footsteps, to become a doctor, to heal others. But a woman in 1825 Edinburgh, or anywhere in the Western world, cannot apply to Surgeon’s Hall for studies and sit qualifying exams, for the very reason that she is a woman. Miss Libby Shaw strikes an arrangement with Mr. Ibrahim Kent, a society portraitist and exiled “Turk,” actually Ziyaeddin Mirza, Prince of Tabir. Libby will live in his house as his guest, under disguise as Mr. Joseph Smart, surgical student. In return, as Libby, she will sit as Ibrahim’s artist’s model. With this convenient bargain, Ashe begins her fourth Devil’s Duke historical romance and a remarkable achievement it is too. I’d read the first, The Rogue, and liked it very much, but The Prince far surpasses it. The two novels are linked in having admirable, easily-loved stubborn heroines who have a cause and mission that they fulfill by taking on acts then only enacted by men. Their heroes are taciturn loners who come to see the rightness of their heroines’ causes and aid and abet them without taking over, dictating, or directing. The novels are linked by questions about what it means to be a woman, a man, and have meaningful work. By virtue of their eccentricity, these heroes and heroines are outsiders yet live within society and are rewarded with a warm circle of friends and family. Continue reading
When you read a lot of romance, like Miss Bates does, it’s inevitable the narrative becomes stale. You lose patience and are more likely to curl your lip and DNF. There are romance writers, however, who renew your faith in the narrative’s ability to be fresh, yet familiar. The romance reader is this creature: she wants the familiar because it has meaning and the familiar to be sufficiently deviant to keep her interest and delight her. Liz Talley’s Sweet Talking Man was such a narrative for Miss B.: familiar and fresh, well-known conventions unfolding like beloved Christmas ornaments and their subversion unfolding like unexpected gifts. Thus transpires the story of B&B owner, PTA president, organizer-of-all-things, super-single-mom, forty-year-old divorcée heroine, Abigail Beauchamp Orgeron, and artist, teacher, vegan, ukulele-playing, thirty-four-year-old hero, Lief Lively, or as strait-laced Abigail calls him, “resident cuckoo bird.” The familiar is evident in the “opposites-attract” trope and romance narrative deviations in a 40-year-old heroine and the un-alpha-like interests of her December-to-his-May hero. Continue reading
In her most recent Donna Alward review, Miss Bates declared Alward the “queen of domestic romance” in reference to her category novels. The first novel in her Jewell Cove series, The House On Blackberry Hill, written under a different publisher, introduced new elements to Alward’s winning category themes: a certain mysticism, a woo-woo-ness and preciousness that didn’t sit thoroughly well. Miss Bates is an Alward fan (from the moment she closed the final, sopping-Kleenex page of The Cowboy Who Loved Her, one of Miss Bates’ favourite category romances and one she’s often suggested to successfully turn readers onto the genre); she was ready to like Blackberry Hill. Treasure On Lilac Lane, however, turned out even better. Alward tempered the woo-woo with a gentle inspirational element, whisper-thin but moving nonetheless, cranked up the fleshiness, and re-introduced her signature working-class, or lower-middle-class hero and heroine, battered by life, struggling to find their way and waylaid by attraction, desire, and love. Continue reading
Toni Anderson’s Dark Waters is a contemporary romantic suspense novel that took Miss Bates by surprise. She plunged into it without any hope that it would prove more than mediocre. Well, lo and behold, she enjoyed it: agonized over the knuckle-biting bits, cringed at the violence, rooted for the hero and heroine, and basked in the beautiful Canadian West Coast setting. The beauty and danger in nature serve Brent and Anna’s story in a compelling way: adding a twist of what Miss Bates calls “nature-gothic,” whereby natural surroundings support the suspenseful and danger-filled atmosphere. In this case, murky and dangerous water imagery makes this stomach-tightening tale all the more moody and ominous. This is not a ground-breaking book by any means, and it suffers from some typical criticisms leveled against the romantic suspense sub-genre, but Miss Bates would still heartily urge you to read it for the sheer enjoyment of a roller-coaster ride of a thriller and love story well-told. Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts