MINI-REVIEW: Kelly Bowen’s LAST NIGHT WITH THE EARL

Last_Night_W_the_EarlI’ve been thinking a lot lately about where romance fiction “fits” in the scheme of things literary. I’m tired of arguments either defending the genre or condemning it, discussing its relevance or irrelevance … blah blah blah. Not that these discussions aren’t relevant, they are to those who partake and more power to them. I do enjoy listening “in” to the Twitter debates, etc. But I have been asking why I persist in reading romance when the world around me makes the romance’s domestic world focus feel irrelevant. I think we read romance of any ilk, paranormal, historical, contemporary, conservative to radical in its perspective, because it’s utopian (minus the satire; there is nothing Thomas More would recognize in the genre). End of thought bubble. 

The latest “utopian” romance I read was Kelly Bowen’s Last Night With the Earl, depicting the love and closeness of Napoleonic War veteran, Eli Dawes, the eponymous “Earl” of Rivers, and artist Rose Hayward. Like many romance couples, Eli and Rose are “broken” and their relationship, as it plays out, works towards achieving their healing and wholeness. As a narrative, it succeeded and failed in depicting their story. Continue reading

REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s A DI SIONE FOR THE GREEK’S PLEASURE

A_Di_Sione_For_the_Greek's_PleasureMiss Bates made the mistake of assuming that Kate Hewitt was an HP author who ran to trope. What a comeuppance for MissB! About the only thing HP-typical of Hewitt’s romance is the ho-hum title (the cover, OTOH, is lovely, with cool blues and greens). Miss Bates hadn’t read far before it dawned that Hewitt was rocking classic gothic conventions. In A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure, Hewitt nods to Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Du Maurier’s Rebecca, though it’s fair to say the housekeeper is more benign, indifferent matchmaker than nut-bar obsessive. Hermetic, agoraphobic heroine, Natalia Di Sione, braves the world beyond her grandfather’s sequestered Long Island estate (where she’s lived and created art for eight years) to travel to Greece in pursuit of locating a book her dying grandfather is obsessed with possessing again. Still hurting from her parents’ loss and a traumatic teen experience, Natalia wouldn’t easily leave her safe environment. Her grandfather’s precious book, however, resides with one tormented, widowed Greek billionaire, Angelos Menas. Fighting panic attacks during the plane trip, looking “pale but resolute,” Talia walks in on Angelos as he attempts to hire the umpteenth nanny for Sofia, his scarred eight-year-old daughter. When Sofia takes to Talia, Angelos hires her. Talia, in turn, accepts his grudging offer in hopes she’ll be closer to finding her grand-father’s book. 
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Angela Bissell’s DEFYING HER BILLIONAIRE PROTECTOR

Defying_Her_Billionaire_ProtectorAngela Bissell’s Defying Her Billionaire Protector gets a “wow” from the get-go thanks to its cover. While MissB is loathe to try a new author (burned one too many times), she wanted to know what an author, especially in the glamor-puss HP-world, could do with a wheel-chair-bound heroine. Bissell centres on a hero and heroine who have both lost a lot. Drunk, teen-aged Marietta Vincenzi got into a car with an inebriated driver and now, at thirty, lives with the consequences of that decision, as a paraplegic. While Bissell wants to throw a spotlight on the problem of drinking and driving, to her credit, she isn’t judgemental, or didactic. Marietta has regrets, but overall, she’s a heroine who is at peace with her life and living it fully. Marietta is an aspiring visual artist who runs a successful gallery. She lives on her own, but is close to her family, a brother, sister-in-law, and pretty adorbs baby nephew. But, she has a problem – someone is sending her creepy anonymous notes, gifts, and flowers. Marietta has a “secret-admirer-turned-stalker”. Into her full Rome-set life arrives Nico César, her brother Leo’s friend, and owner and operator of a security company. With the bond between Leo and Nico strong from ties forged in the Foreign Legion, Nico will personally oversee and be the primary operative of Marietta’s security detail. Like Marietta, Nico suffered loss when his beloved wife Julia was kidnapped and killed fifteen years ago. Nico is haunted by his inability to save her and, as a result, inures himself to love and commitment. Our hero has never concluded that it is better to have love and lost than never to have loved at all.
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MINI-REVIEW: Jodi Thomas’s SUNRISE CROSSING

sunrise_crossingJodi Thomas’s Sunrise Crossing is the fourth novel in her Texas-set Ransom Canyon series. Set in fictional Crossroads, Thomas’s novels are about characters at a turning point. They confront their past, demons, and regrets. The sole redeeming facet to their Rubicon-crossing is a different life from the one they led before. This facet takes shape in the form of a man or woman who affects them deeply. Thomas’s characters are changed in two ways: one, the conviction that their lives have gone off-kilter and must be redressed; and, two, that love makes everything worthwhile, meaningful, and joyous. Thomas intertwines several characters’ lives to make their lives fuller, happier, and love-filled. As with the previous three Ransom Canyon novels, Thomas brings together a company of likeable, kind, compassionate, and loving characters, and one or two nasty villains, who are foiled by community, co-operation, and care. In Thomas’s novels, there are people who care, and those who don’t. Continue reading

Three-Day Quote Challenge: Day Three

Miss Bates is going to miss this quote challenge, so much she might keep doing the occasional opening line review. And for this, she has to thank Willaful who nominated her!

Cinderella_DealTonight Miss Bates indulges in rom-reader nostalgia. A chance purchase at the local Costco, Julie Garwood’s 2007 Shadow Music, and Miss Bates was thrown down a vista of years, over thirty, to her early adolescence reading of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower. She’s never looked back. She scoured AAR lists for rom titles. One of the first she read after Garwood was Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, consumed, an apt metaphor, in one long languorous summer afternoon into early evening. It sent her to Crusie’s back-list; though Bet Me and Welcome to Temptation remain among Miss Bates’ favourite cerebral contemporary romances, it’s an early Crusie that serves as sentimental favourite. Miss Bates uses the term “sentimental” in the best way possible, as a book replete with sentiment, open and unabashed in celebrating the heart, wallowing in emotion. As Crusie herself wrote in the preface to a new edition, ” … if there was one thing I’d learned in my creative writing classes it was to avoid melodrama, to never be sentimental, to go for irony and detachment whenever possible, because otherwise I’d get killed in the critiques. But I think I knew all along I was wimping out, that if I’d had any backbone, I’d have gone first for the hearts of my readers, so I decided that for my first book for Bantam, I’d try something new, something different. Hearts would be touched, tears would be shed. By God, I was going to be emotional.” That book was The Cinderella Deal and its opening line is as good as any Crusie wrote: 

The storm raged dark outside, the light in the hallway flickered, and Lincoln Blaise cast a broad shadow over the mailboxes, but it didn’t matter.

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REVIEW: Marguerite Kaye’s THE SOLDIER’S DARK SECRET, Or Exorcising Demons and Resting Ghosts

Soldier's_Dark_SecretMiss Bates doesn’t read as much histrom as she used to, but it is her first romance-reading love. A new-to-her-author, Marguerite Kaye, is someone she’s been curious about since Kaye’s sheikh books were published by Harlequin, Innocent In the Sheikh’s Harem especially looked intriguing. As Miss B’s leery of sheikhs, she took a chance on her first Kaye read in the Regency romance The Soldier’s Dark Secret. It contains some of Miss Bates’ favourite romance conventions: hero and heroine solve a mystery; multiple locations, including continental ones; and, the plot is centred on working together to overcome instead of bickering to make it to the bedroom. Kaye’s protagonists don’t squabble, they converse in heated, or humorous tones … and still manage to be sexy as heck.

Waterloo veteran, former Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Trestain struggles with PTSD at his brother’s, Sir Charles’, estate. Enter Parisian heroine Celeste Marmion, commissioned by Charles to paint Trestain Manor’s grounds before his wife’s, Eleanor’s, planned renovations begin. Celeste, however, has another reason for being in England: she seeks the truth of her mother’s mysterious death, “to find some answers and close an unhappy chapter in her life.” Continue reading

Another One of Those Sort-Of REVIEWS: Victoria Dahl’s FLIRTING WITH DISASTER and Betrayal in Romance

Flirting_With_DisasterIf you’re literal-minded, or a prig, or easily titillated, the stand-out elements of Victoria Dahl’s Flirting With the Disaster are explicit love scenes and the hero and heroine’s foul mouths. These may be good reasons to read Dahl’s contemporary romance, or reject it in outrage. Which is why Miss Bates wants to get the review part over with pronto. Because she has other things to say. The first quarter or so, the set-up, left Miss Bates dubious: like taking that first bite of a new dish. The uncertainty: “Do I like this? What’s that strange flavour?” By the time the heroine’s combination of vulnerability and independent spirit were established, she was a fan. The hero had to work harder to win her. By the time things were heart-wrenching, she was a goner. If you don’t want to read how Dahl’s romance about U. S. marshal hero, Tom Duncan, and hermit-artist heroine, Isabelle West, got Miss Bates thinking about genre conventions, don’t read on. Read the novel (consider yourself warned about its rawness; she’ll let its tenderness take you by surprise). Then come back, tell her what you think about what follows. Or not. As long as you read it. Continue reading

REVIEW: Karen Kirst’s “Conveniently” MARRIED BY CHRISTMAS, “Inconveniently” In Love

Married_By_Christmas

Lovely cover art!

Married By Christmas … hmm, thought Miss Bates, inspie historical: low angst, a lot of baking, a little marriage-of-convenience … she liked that “by” in the title, build-up to Christmas! Hurrah! … Click went the Netgalley button back in the day. There’s nothing like Miss B. hoisted on her own petard: Kirst’s novel turned out to be more interesting, more riddled with pain and sexier, yes, sexier!, than most inspies. Miss B. is disappointed she missed out on the previous four books in the late 19th-century, Tennessee-set Smokey Mountain Matches series. Her heart dipped to see that Married By Christmas was fifth in the series: series, after the first three volumes, pretty much fizzle out and die, wane-in-quality has been Miss B.’s usual experience. She was surprised and delighted that she enjoyed Kirst’s effort as much as she did. It didn’t break any molds. You may certainly lob inspie-problematics at it any day; to Miss Bates, however, in the season’s glow and with a generous heart, she thought it was a lovely romance about redemption and second chances. 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: 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