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

REVIEW: “Tonya Burrows’s SEAL Of Honour: Action Heroes and Damsels In Distress”

Burrows’s soon-to-be-released début, SEAL  Of Honour, is action-packed, well-paced, and entertaining. It is also raw, crude, caricaturish in its characterization and cartoonish in its ethics. The writing is uneven, typical of the newbie writer, but improves as the novel progresses. It doesn’t break any ground, or say anything new about the genre. Even though it is not to Miss Bates’s taste, it was obviously written with commitment and heart. Ms Burrows loved her story and characters and this comes through. It disturbed Miss Bates’s sensibilities in places, but it is genuine and engaging, reminiscent of a good action flick with accompanying romantic interest. Good for a sleepy, rainy Sunday afternoon curled up on the couch.

In principle, SEAL Of Honour, is simple: good guys, former SEALS turned rescue team for kidnap victims, extract the heroine’s brother who was kidnapped by unsavoury ones in Colombia. The love story happens between the stalwart leader of this motley crew, injured and retired SEAL Gabe Bristow, and the victim’s sister, free-spirited artist Audrey Van Amee. They fall in lust, then love, are taken hostage, shot, beaten, abused in sundry ways by such a variety of bad guys that Miss Bates had trouble keeping track of them. Like an Indiana Jones film, after a while this didn’t matter. The action sequences swept her along and just when things reached an idyllic point for hero and heroine, bad guys reared their ugly heads again and again … were foiled again and again …   until the true happy ending was enacted.  A neat and entertaining package, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Miss Bates made a point of saying this novel was not her cuppa and she needs to back that up. To start, Burrows’s novel had passages of awkward writing, stilted dialogue, and convoluted plotting. One of the things that Miss Bates loves about romantic suspense novels is that hero and heroine are motivated by honour and integrity. What she doesn’t love about them, and this comes through loud and clear in this novel, is the glorification of vigilante justice and passionate and acrobatic love scenes in circumstances where that would be the last thing on anyone’s mind. The superhuman ability to enact lustful scenes, especially when hero and/or heroine are injured or beaten is ludicrous. This is especially evident in SEAL Of Honour. Miss Bates was also nonplussed by love scenes that were crude and … well, a trifle too clinical for her taste.

One loves one’s heroes larger-than-life, yes, but these guys sound like their muscles are blown up using a bicycle pump. The heroine is harder to pinpoint: her characterization is uneven. Initially, she is supposed to be free-spirited and fey, but comes across as puerile and immature, calling the hero “numb nuts” and “grumpy butt”! As the writing improves, she does too: she is honest and forthcoming about her physical and emotional needs and this was refreshing to read. A heroine who is not coy, or strident. It’s unfortunate that she’s constantly weeping: read it, you’ll see what Miss Bates means. Miss Bates is circumspect about crying a river, but then Miss Bates isn’t a free-spirited artiste! The violence in this novel is over-the-top and Miss Bates had a hard time reading certain scenes. If you like that kind of thing though, you’ll definitely enjoy this book.

Burrows’s SEAL Of Honour doesn’t break any ground, or do anything more than a good Cindy Gerard novel does. It doesn’t reach the goodness of the early Suzanne Brockmann, but it’s entertaining and will keep your interest, if you can stomach it.

Miss Bates is a tad displeased and may not come calling here again, but she does say, “Tolerable comfort.” Mansfield Park

This review was made possible by a generous e-ARC from Entangled Publishing via Netgalley.