REVIEW: Marin Thomas’s A COWBOY OF HER OWN, Or Girl Gets to Have It All

Cowboy_of_Her_OwnMarin Thomas’s A Cowboy Of Her Own is the final volume in her Cash Brothers series and it shows. There are plenty of brothers, wives, and babies peopling the narrative, though the first half focuses near-exclusively on the hero, baby brother Porter, and heroine, Wendy Chin. Thomas is a new-to-Miss-Bates category author and she was loathe to read this romance: she’s not keen on entering a series at the end and, frankly, she’s tired of cowboys. Cowboys seem to have taken over from the military, or ex-military heroes that were de rigueur in contemporary romance. (Now that our countries are once again embroiled in various Middle East conflicts, they should reappear.) Nevertheless, there were other deviations from the norm in Thomas’s romance that proved most interesting.

Though it’s a frequently-used trope, opposites-attract is one of Miss B.’s favourites for its potential banter-conflict. In Thomas’s hero and heroine, we have a bad-boy/good-girl pairing; with a Chinese-American heroine, the appeal turned out more original than your generic white-middle-class female protagonist. Thomas manages a nice set-up in the first chapter: “He was more interested in partying and working only when he needed money to fill the gas tank or treat a buckle bunny to a night on the town. Wendy was Porter’s polar opposite. She was a go-getter and a staylater at the job” and “As an only child and a daughter, she felt the weight of her parents’ high expectations of her. The constant pressure to climb the proverbial career ladder was overwhelming.” Add a romance-unusual profession for heroine, insurance adjuster, and a hero who transports cattle from rodeo to rodeo; add a mystery plot involving disappearing valuable cattle and you have a nice combination of narrative threads. When Wendy’s boss asks her to ride-along with Porter to unmask the cattle-rustling culprit, we have, in turn, a road romance. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Sarah Morgan’s MAYBE THIS CHRISTMAS, Maybe Every Christmas

Maybe_This_ChristmasMaybe This Christmas is Sarah Morgan’s third contemporary romance in the O’Neill series, preceded by Sleigh Bells In the Snow and Suddenly Last Summer, both of which are in Miss Bates’ Teetering TBR. Starting with the third in the series did not deter from Miss B’s enjoyment. The start was a tad wonky with characters from the previous books showing up in various states of blissful couple-hood, as well as sundry O’Neill family members who’d obviously been established as secondary characters in previous books. Maybe This Christmas, gloriously-set in small-town-Vermont winter wonderland, in fictional “Snow Crystal,” is a friends-to-lovers romance narrative high on humour, but no less on gravitas in two hurting friends admitting to love. The heroine, Brenna Daniels, has carried a smouldering love-torch for Tyler O’Neill since they were best buddies in high school. Single-dad, former Olympic skiing champion, and notorious womanizer, Tyler, has in Brenna the one relationship with a woman he’s yet to abandon. Continue reading

Georgette Heyer’s DEVIL’S CUB Foiled By A Heroine “Mistress of Herself”

Devil's_CubIn April, Miss Bates followed a discussion about the question of a romance canon. The debate began with a thorny Salon article which, nevertheless, inspired interesting responses. For Miss Bates, said article was of minimal regard: its noblesse oblige attitude towards the genre ensured she stop reading by first paragraph’s end. The responses, however, were a boon: the always fearlessly incisive Vacuous Minx, no-nonsense sharpness and smarts of Wendy the Superlibrarian, perspective of Love In the Margins, take of Romance Novels for Feminists, and Jody at Momentum Moonlight. Miss Bates, though agreeing with these points of view, found Jody’s stance the most helpful because it summarized the problematic nature of canon setting/launching/exploding and offered an alternate term and means of pointing to seminal texts in the genre. Jody defines “iconic” texts as those which “affect the genre in a meaningful way.” Simple, direct, flexible, and workable. Miss Bates borrows Jody’s term “iconic” to identify “affective/effective” romance texts, such as Heyer’s, subject of her present post. Jody’s definition implies that iconic romance texts are those to which other romance texts accrue. They represent something important to the genre, not that they are necessarily meritorious in and of themselves, though they may very well be. They’re a hub; other texts are the spokes. They’re texts around which discussion occurs. (Sometimes, they may be denigrated, or rejected texts, representing things we don’t want to see in the genre, such as elements found in Old Skool romances.) They may change; more may be added, or forgotten, as the genre develops, grows, or regresses. Time is the only given. Miss Bates also thinks that the genre benefits more from pointing to an author, rather than individual texts, to identify an iconic moment in it. Heyer would certainly be present in such company.

When Miss Bates read her first Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades, she wasn’t aware of Heyer’s iconic status for romance readers. On reading her second, Devil’s Cub, published 1932, a sort of sequel to Shades (not 50!), educated somewhat in the genre (though by no means is she done, nor does she purport to be an expert), it’s evident that Heyer contributed iconic texts. Heyer’s tropes echo in every duke, rake, and plain-Jane; nonetheless, reading Devil’s Cub was alienating. That may be because of a narrative shift in more recent romance that Miss Bates’ refers to as the main characters’ endless internal ruminations. In that sense, Heyer appears quaint vis-à-vis character development and an excess of madcap plot; she forewent modernism. Yet, Miss Bates found something refreshing about a romance narrative where reader has to decode gesture and pose rather than thinker-tells-all of characters’ internal worlds in close point of view. Ye shall know them by their gesture … this is her subject. Bear with her: bodies in Heyer, what do they tell us? How does she establish character through the physicality of gesture, pose, tone, and gaze?  Continue reading

REVIEW: Beth Andrews’ SMALL-TOWN REDEMPTION, Or Nursing the Wounded Hero

Small-Town_RedemptionIf there’s one thing grown ubiquitous in the past five years in the genre, it’s the small-town romance. Beth Andrews’ fourth title in the “In Shady Grove,” Pennsylvania, series stands for the very idea behind the small-town romance. If urban dwellers leave big-lights, big-city behind, with its rat race, stress, temptations, and sped up lives where we lose sight of our humanity, to return to a smaller world, communities where everyone knows you and you know everyone, our lives will somehow be redeemed. As the hero of Small-Town Redemption suggests, less than a year in Shady Grove and he’s turned into a “boy scout.” The refuge that the small-town purports to offer is a venue by which life is renewed and made better, more human, less overwhelming, where a person can belong by laying down roots and participating in the life of the community, where the community gives the heroine and hero the perfect matrix, ultimately, to live a more sedate pace and bring up children. How accurate is this picture? Not terribly, but it is a powerfully attractive one. What is interesting about Andrews’ romance novel is that the small town promise of redemption figures next to … not at all. It is a novel devoid of a strong sense of place, focussed as it is on tormented hero, Kane Bartasavich, and paragon of virtue and compassion, heroine Charlotte Ellison. The town figures only as a foil for the hero to reject his dissipated Houston past. If this were a historical romance novel, Kane would be an intemperate rake and Charlotte, the sensible, loving, plain virgin-heroine who leads him to the promised land of virtuous family life in the country. In Miss Bates’ opinion, too many romance novels laud and advance the idea that couplehood and family life are defined by a withdrawal from society to a domestic enclave. Andrews’ novel is a romance heavily invested in characterization, not setting. It was a solid read; Miss Bates enjoyed it. She was, however, frustrated with it as well. Continue reading

REVIEW: Carol Marinelli’s SURGEON IN A TUX And Nurse In A Ballgown

Surgeon_In_A_TuxMiss Bates is not a fan of the workplace romance, especially when the power dynamic between hero and heroine is unequal. She’s looking at you boss-and-secretary trope and you, nurse-and-doctor. It’s “ick.” Except there’s Betty Neels and her doctor/nurse hero and heroine and Miss Bates loves those to pieces. The only hard-and-fast rule in romance is never say never. Surgeon In A Tux did not bode well from the get-go and not only because it’s a boss-and-employee set-up: as Head Nurse Lizzie Birch says of her soon-to-be employer and the novel’s hero: “Leo Hunter was a heartbreaker, surgeon to the stars, irredeemable playboy and, as of Monday, he would also be her boss.” Here we go, thought Miss Bates. Everything in Carol Marinelli’s Surgeon In A Tux started out a total turn-off for Miss Bates: stilted writing, lack of development in the relationship between heroine and hero, neither of whom were terribly likeable and appeared to be cut from some 1950s code of ingenue and man-of-the-world, an episodic at best, disjointed at worst, plot, even the smarmy cover was unappealing … well, lo and behold, did Miss Bates make a complete turn-around on this one. It took For Evah, but this is the beauty of the category, folks, you’ll stick with it because you can see light at tunnel’s end; in this case, it was worth it. The last 30% or so was FANTABULOUS. Is it worth reading for the concluding 30%? Miss Bates says, in this case, it is. Continue reading to find out why

REVIEW: Juliana Stone’s THE DAY HE KISSED HER, Or “Down, Wanton, Down”

The_Day_He_Kissed_HerMiss Bates loved volume two of Stone’s “Bad Boys of Crystal Lake” series, The Christmas He Loved Her. Indeed, it was one of her favourite 2013 reads. As a result, expectations were high for volume three, The Day He Kissed Her. Miss Bates’s response to this romance novel was a reiteration of what she says about romantic heroes and heroines: a hard-to-like heroine, bring her on … a hard-to-like hero? Um, no. It’s difficult to redeem the assholey hero. Though Stone weaves much back-story torment for hero Mackenzie Draper, his behaviour is such that there is hardly redemption for him … and, as a result, not much of one for the novel. The lovely writing and strong use of metaphor that Miss Bates found in The Christmas He Loved Her was, sadly, absent from The Day He Kissed Her. The richness of the former’s relationship between the heroine and hero was not present, shared history and care and friendship, no … the sole link between heroine and hero in The Day He Kissed Her is a one-night stand. And once you get to know these two, there’s not much to build on.  It’s a pale companion to the previous book in the series. And yet, when Miss Bates reached three-quarters of the way into the novel, she was affected, moved, by the narrative. Stone has that capacity: to touch and haul you in emotionally. It was too little, too late, but it was there. Continue reading

REVIEW: Ros Clarke’s AN UNSUITABLE HUSBAND And Reluctant Wife

An Unsuitable HusbandMiss Bates once listened to a CBC radio program called “The Myth of the Secular,” which argued that the demise of religion in the public sphere has not come about as Western philosophical thought assumed. During one of the six episodes, a Muslim theologian presented an alternate view to the West’s traditional notion of faith originating in revelation and followed by practice, the most dramatic example being Paul’s road to Damascus moment. She argued that non-Western notions posit that gesture and practice, the physicality of religious ritual, in other words starting with the body, can lead to and sustain faith, understanding, and thought. Faith follows from practice. (One interesting addendum in support of this argument are testimonies from martial arts’ practitioners for fitness’ sake; they find themselves interested in, even adhering to, the Eastern philosophy in which their exercise routine originates.) Miss Bates, what are you talking about, you’d rightly say … and what does it have to do with Ros Clarke’s An Unsuitable Husband? Miss Bates thinks that in a novel like Clarke’s, indeed in a contemporary marriage-of-convenience, a difficult trope to pull off, (Miss Bates has no sampling here, only speculation) the author argues that going through the motions of being married leads to feelings of love and commitment. Or at least it does when it’s done well … and it’s done well in Clarke’s novel.

(To take this notion once step further, consider a novel like Mayberry’s Satisfaction, a more interesting novel than it’ll be given credit for: a relationship based solely on sexual satisfaction, one whose focus is the sexual satisfaction of the heroine as a matter of fact, leads to love and a desire for commitment.) In An Unsuitable Husband‘s case, marital arts’ practitioners bring about faith in the other and love. Miss Bates, you’ll say, what about An Unsuitable Husband? Should I read it? Yes. It is a romance novel, not without its flaws, but Miss Bates was moved by it. She loved Emile and Theresa and their silly marriage-of-convenience … because, in the end, they were flawed, but loveable. It was a place where love-making and pretense-gestures of marital commitment lead to devotion, fidelity, and love, a good marriage’s triumvirate. Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’ cogitations

REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s PRETENDER TO THE THRONE, Or Sin and Surf

Pretender To the ThroneIt must be tedious to hear Miss Bates say how much she loves an HP, a kick-off-your-shoes-sip-your-tea and get-lost-in-it read.  So, she won’t.  What she will say is that sometimes the tried-and-true formula that we forgive may, given the writer’s style and purpose, surprise us.  And those are the best kind of HPs: where you forget what you’re forgiving for your reading-drug of choice and are lost in it.  That’s exactly what Maisey Yates’ Pretender To the Throne is: a thoroughly emotionally engaging romance novel, no pretense, no writing-to-type-and-formula … it takes you by the heart and squeezes from the opening page to the last.  Miss Bates read it in one sitting, with a snowstorm raging outside her spinster’s lair, stopping only for a walk to the window to stretch the legs.  She surmises that, if you’re an HP aficionado as she is, you’ll love it too.  It has its outlandish HP flaws and Miss Bates has every intention of pointing them out, but it’s an unstoppable reading force for raw, honest emotion. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sarah Mayberry’s SATISFACTION, And “How To Get It”

SatisfactionThe Rolling Stones sang you “can’t get no” and Mayberry’s latest says take it for yourself.  That’s the gist of Mayberry’s sexy new novel, Satisfaction; the pleasure of it is in the myriad ways our hero and heroine discover how to lead full lives in and beyond the bedroom.  Miss Bates read Satisfaction with reader avarice for the only romance author she’s ever glommed without losing patience, or enjoyment.  Because Mayberry’s one of Miss Bates’s favourite romance writers, a new book is scrutinized in consideration of the impressive body of work and slotted into a place in Miss Bates’s hierarchy of beloved Mayberry novels.  This can’t only be a review of Satisfaction, but an assessment of how good Satisfaction is in light of the reader purrs other Mayberry novels have coaxed from Miss B.  Moreover, one of the coolest things about being familiar with an author’s work is being aware of her preferred storylines, characters, and themes … if an author is re-inventing and not repeating them, this is sheer pleasure.  Satisfaction accomplishes both: to be familiar and tell a fresh story. Continue reading, there’s more

REVIEW: Jayne Fresina’s MISS MOLLY ROBBINS DESIGNS A SEDUCTION, Or Hoisted on Your Own Bobbin

Miss Molly Robbins Designs A SeductionMiss Bates loves a cross-class romance.  Indeed, it is one of her most frequently-used review tags!  Obviously, it is a trope that “works” better in historical fiction, but if The Great Gatsby is anything to go by and it is, then it has potential for contemporary romance.  In historical romance, however, Miss Bates’s (and many other romance reviewers much wiser and more widely romance-read than she) favourite cross-class romances are Elizabeth Hoyt’s Raven and Leopard Princes.  Miss Bates’s recent cross-class romance read was Jayne Fresina’s Miss Molly Robbins Designs A Seduction.  Fresina’s effort has similarities to Hoyt’s, but not their mastery, the weakest link being the cross-class element.  The ease with which this historical given is overcome puts the novel on the fluffy-wish-fulfillment shelf.  On the scale of MissBatesian goodness of romance reading, it is middling.  On the other hand, it is humourous and well-written and offers a likeable hero and heroine. Continue reading