After an excess of mystery-reading, I was ready for some romance. And you can’t get more of a romance-concentration than in an HP. And Dani Collins being one of my favourite HP authors, I was set. I stayed up way past my bed-time to finish A Hidden Heir To Redeem Him and it wasn’t because it blew me away. Rather, there’s something so viscerally satisfying in the HP that even a less-than-stellar effort from a favourite author keeps you glued to the page. Is it over-the-top-ness? Is it every wish-fulfillment fantasy for safety and devotion? Is it pure escapism and thus a respite from this surreal, frightening year? Probably all of the above. Hidden Heir hit the notes, but Collins didn’t always hit them as perfectly as her Cinderella’s Royal Seduction, which is as perfect an HP as Sarah Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules or Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife. These three titles distill the best of the HP. They’re tightly focus on the couple’s relationship. A Hidden Heir, on the other hand, lost its way when the hero’s and heroine’s painful backgrounds overwhelmed their romance.
Oy, as if I need another historical mystery with romantic elements to follow, but this cross-genre is appealing to me … so, here I go again with Andrea Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane Regency-set, slow-burn romance and mystery series. Add this to the pile with Harris’s St. Cyr, Raybourn’s Speedwell, and Ashley’s Holloway.
Murder At Kensington Palace is the series third and I’m sorry I didn’t read the first two. The present volume was so satisfying, however, that it made me an insta-fan and regretful not to have discovered it from the get-go. As with Harris, Raybourn, and Ashley, Penrose creates engaging, easy-to-love protagonists. Like Ashley especially, she fashions an irresistible band-of-sleuths ethos, with a circle of friends, servants, street-people and -children, Bow Street runners, an eagle-eyed, sharp-tongued aged aunt, aiding and abetting the primary protags, compelling, lovable characters in their own right. Wrexford and Sloane are Lord and Lady “statussed,” but their world goes way beyond the ton. Continue reading
I’m way too old to have read Cabot’s Princess Diary books, but glad I’m old enough to enjoy her contemporary romance. Despite its rom-com cover, No Judgments, though often droll, tackles sombre issues for its protagonist and narrator, Sabrina “Bree” Beckham. Bree has divided her life between when-she-was-Sabrina and lived in Manhattan as a law student with a famous mom and a trust fund and, at present, Bree, living humbly in Florida’s fictional Little Bridge Island, waitress, art-dabbler, and cat owner. (Indeed, Bree’s imperious former-shelter-cat Gary is one of the most charming of the island’s denizens, feline, canine, or human.) But darker events than law-school-dropping-out brought Bree to Florida: her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, oh, not with another woman, but by excusing his best friend’s execrable behaviour, behaviour that left Bree with uncertainty, fear, and mistrust. But there’s one man who breaks through her wariness, sexy Drew Hartwell, her bosses’ nephew and resident renovation-king-and-heartthrob. When Hurricane Marilyn bears down on Little Bridge Island, Drew and Bree, despite their initial banterish dislike (which we always know masks healthy-lust-like), work together to ensure evacuees’ left-behind animals are cared for, while falling into love and between Drew’s bed-sheets.
Disclosure: the author of Bear No Malice and I are friendly. Not bosom buddies because we don’t live in the same part of the country, but we’ve met and shared coffee, laughter and book talk. FYI, dear reader! Because review of Harwood’s second novel, Bear No Malice follows forthwith.
Bear No Malice shows a writer in better control of her material, assured and adept at navigating the intricacies of her narrative. Also, on a prosaic note, I loved the hero and heroine in a way I didn’t Impossible Saints. The saints proved difficult to like, but Bear No Malice‘s sinners are sympathetic, even when they’re difficult, overbearing, downright wrong, or blind to the truth of things. And Harwood manages to take melodramatic, Victorian clichés, the “fallen woman”, the do-gooder “vicar” and turn them quite nicely on their heads, surprising and delighting this reader. She even did so with secondary characters, the “cuckold,” the bored, society wife; everyone in Harwood’s Edwardian world has depth and nuance, is compelling and surprising. Continue reading
I’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
Miss 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.
Angela 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.
Jodi 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
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!
Tonight 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.
Miss 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