MINI-REVIEW: Sally Thorne’s 99 Percent Mine

99_Percent_MineHeroine Darcy Barrett is a mess. Hero Tom Valeska is perfect. Author Sally Thorne has a conceit. When the novel opens, Darcy possesses 1% of Tom Valeska; by its end, 99. Isn’t that a neat little metaphor of the genre’s narrative arc and the reader’s journeying along? Thorne also gives 99 Percent Mine a nice “flip”; just as Tom “flips” the cottage Darcy inherited from her grandmother Loretta, Thorne flips the romance convention of perfect heroine (because women must be perfect) and flawed hero (because a man’s embroiling in the messiness of the world must be redeemed by a good, virginal woman): typical HP-fare. Not in Thorne’s funny, heart-clenching romance of the befriended-boy now turned man and the girl and her twin brother who claimed him as their own, as if he was a stray animal turned family pet. Tom Valeska, six-six and perfectly striated muscles, warm, kind eyes, and gentle, rumbly voice has loved Darcy Barrett and her brother Jamie and their parents for giving him a home, their friendship and love, and the stability the poor boy of a single mum didn’t have. Now, he has a chance to give them their inheritance back a hundred-fold by making their grandmother’s cottage a great big ole moneymaker. And he cannot fail them. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Mira Lyn Kelly’s DECOY DATE

Decoy_DateWhenever I start a Mira Lyn Kelly contemporary romance, I always think how silly her premise and then end up loving it … despite the implausible, low-angst, near-non plot, the characters out of run-of-the-mill rom-com, and the Friends-like atmosphere of the secondary characters (I’m probably one of the few who found that show puerile and boring). Decoy Date checked all the above boxes.

Bar-owner Brody O’Donnel (okay, I have been waiting for his romantic comeuppance) is annoyed with his friend Gwen Danes. She carries a torch for childhood boy-next-door friend, Ted Normandy. Brody wants her to move on, to go for other guys instead of mooning over Ted and because Brody, with his easy-going charm, beautiful green eyes, and bruiser-bod always gets what he wants, he convinces Gwen to fake a relationship with him. He hopes that Ted will be jealous and come after Gwen, Gwen will realize that her “crush” is an adolescent vestige and move on to a better guy. Gwen, in turn, hopes that Ted will finally notice her and they’ll live happily ever after. So, the fake relationship is ON not far into the first few chapters. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Susan Cliff’s WITNESS ON THE RUN

Witness_On_the_RunI’d been looking forward to the next Susan Cliff romantic suspense thanks to enjoying her previous one, Navy SEAL Rescue. The locales were fascinating; characters, complex; and the politics, respectful of time and place. I expected and found no less in Witness On the Run. (And who can resist that marvelous cover? Which, BTW, reflects the characters exactly as they should be, a rarity in romance, sadly.) Witness opened with the same acute danger and desperate circumstances as Rescue, with Alaskan cold and ice in place of Afghani heat and dust; a grief-stricken widower and First Nations spousal abuse survivor heroine in place of a disillusioned SEAL and determined Assyrian-Christian heroine. In both cases, the heroines have reasons to run and the heroes are entangled in their brave flights from danger and evil. Cliff renders the settings with sensitivity to their politics and captures the climate and conditions with realistic, compelling detail. 
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REVIEW: Kate Clayborn’s BEST OF LUCK

Best_Of_LuckLike Clayborn’s hero, Alex Averin, I don’t like “luck” … well, the idea of it, anyway. I don’t like its randomness and I don’t like its hidden possibility in what might NOT happen. It played a much larger role in Clayborn’s third “Chance Of A Lifetime” romance than in the previous one I’d read. In Luck Of the Draw, luck was the set-up: three friends win the lottery and how they use the money puts them in certain circumstances, ones they wouldn’t’ve been in had they not won. It didn’t seem all that important to Luck Of the Draw, but in Best of Luck, it becomes an ongoing debate between hero and heroine. Heroine Greer Hawthorne has reason to believe she’s lucky, not only because of the money she won, but what fate dealt her: an illness that marked her childhood and adolescence and continues to be a daily reminder of both how lucky she is and how unlucky. What are the odds of being diagnosed with a life-altering birth-defect? As good as the odds that the surgery Greer had would help her lead a more active, engaged life. “Luck” for hero Alex is a bane and reminder of a childhood of want and neglect, thanks to his “luck-dependent”, gambling-addicted father. Continue reading

REVIEW: Caitlin Crews’s A TRUE COWBOY CHRISTMAS

True_Cowboy_ChristmasCaitlin Crews’s A True Cowboy Christmas is one of the most convincing contemporary marriage-of-convenience romances I’ve read … and so many other things. It opens with the hero’s father’s funeral. Gray Everett, however, is not mourning his father, but afraid of ending up like him. Gray introduces us to the family with: “Everetts historically lived mean and more than a little feral … tended to nurse the bottle or wield their piety like a weapon, spending their days alone and angry.” Gray’s Colorado ranch, Cold River Ranch, has never been a happy home. His father, a mean, violent drunk; his cheating wife, dead for ten years in a car crash; Gray works the land, cattle, and horses, keeps the bank at bay, and rears his teen daughter, Becca. Back at the ranch, at the post-funeral luncheon, where neighbours and friends have gathered to pay their respects and many to breathe a sigh of relief that Amos Everett’s meanness will no longer touch anyone, Gray realizes that ” … if he didn’t change”, “today’s grumpy hermit” would become “tomorrow’s bitter, old man.” He resolves, there and then, in sight of the funeral-baked casseroles, that he “was going to have to figure out a way to live this life without drowning in his own darkness” and “to make sure that Becca didn’t succumb to it either.” Gray looks up from his thoughts to heroine and neighbour-spinster Abby Douglas’s question, should she warm up a casserole?  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: J. R. Ward’s CONSUMED

ConsumedWhen I first started to read romance again, after a thirty-year hiatus (ah, the “lost years”), one of the first romances I read was J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal (2006), a romance novel I thought at once execrable and utterly compelling. Really, I couldn’t put it down, even though I was embarrassed for enjoying it and yet thinking how laughably bad it was. I can’t say I experienced the same reader self-hatred reading the first of Ward’s new non-vampiric “Firefighters” series, Consumed. Maybe it was the first flush of allowing myself to read romance again, but I’d gained some distance from Consumed in a way I hadn’t with Lover Eternal, though I read it with the same enthusiasm and rueful self-doubt. I can now recognize what makes Ward compelling: there’s a hyperbolic physicality to her characters, a gritty underbelly feel to her setting, and a rawness to it all that makes for a powerful formula. There’s NOTHING small-town cutsie or gentle about Ward’s world and she’s pretty fearless about writing her characters’ edginess. I liked that about her and I liked Consumed, though, at times, it bugged the heck out of me. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s A TALL, DARK COWBOY CHRISTMAS

Tall_Dark_Cowboy_XmasMaisey Yates opens Gold Valley romance #4 with the line “Grant Dodge was alone. And that was how he liked it”, ensuring the reader that Grant Dodge is about to NOT be alone and that his hold on his solitude is to be shaken by the heroine. Said heroine, McKenna Tate, is blithely slumbering in an abandoned cabin on the ranch Grant shares with his brother Wyatt, sister-in-law Lindy, and sometimes-around veterinarian brother Bennett and sister-in-law, Kaylee. A “full house” of family and connections, but Grant prefers his solitude: what’s up with that and how will it be “shook up”? My tone may be flippant as I introduce Yates’s romance, but the romance is anything but: it’s angsty, heart-wrenching stuff with two very broken, very vulnerable, pain-filled protagonists. One is broken by his first marriage and the other broken by a life as a foster child, unloved, unwanted, uncared for. Reading their story, I thought Yates penned her most painful story yet, unredeemed by humour, or playful sex, banter (okay, there are soupçons of banter, but hardly) tenderness or joy. Grant and McKenna are two suffering characters, with burdens making Aeneas’s look like fluff, and the romance suffers under their weight as much as they do.
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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

MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s WYOMING COWBOY JUSTICE

Wyoming_Cowboy_JusticeSo Nicole Helm takes her place with Maisey Yates in the I-read-all-their-books category of my romance reading. And even though I was feeling surfeited? satiated? on Yates-Helm, I can’t resist those Harq romantic suspense covers. It’s too bad that lanky, near-clean-shaven, moderately-good-looking dude on the cover has nothing to do with one of the most marvelous romance heroes I’ve read in ages. Grady Carson is HUGE, broad, bearded, rough, a saloon-owner with dubious liquor-selling practices, who gets mixed up with the straight-and-narrow town deputy, Lauren Delaney. As it turns out the Carsons and Delaneys have been harboring a feud in Bent, Wyoming, that makes Capulets and Montagues, Hatfields and McCoys, look like spats. Enter one dead cousin, Jason Delaney and a half-brother suspect, Clint Danvers, and Deputy Delaney and saloon, “Rightful Claim”, proprietor, work together and argue and fight their attraction to find the culprit in Laurel’s case and exonerate baby bro in Grady’s case. All pretty standard RS stuff and ho-hum, so what makes this great?
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MINI-REVIEW: Michelle Smart’s BILLIONAIRE’S BABY OF REDEMPTION

Billionaire's_Baby_Of_RedemptionMy recovery from Harari’s 21 Lessons continues in the form of romance-wallowing. What better than a dose of the HP’s uber-heightened-romance? Michelle Smart being a favourite author and with “baby” in the title (I like’em, what can I say?), I knew this would be a “Calgon-take-me-away” reading experience. And it was. I swallowed it in two evening sittings and it would’ve been one were it not for one drooly-sleep on night #1. As far as HPs go, it’s standard fare. Billionaire hero Javier Casillas is cold-hearted, ruthless, and angry, angry at his father who murdered his mother, angry at his brother for abandoning their business partnership to marry his enemy’s sister. He’s still raging at said enemy, his former best friend, whom Javier’d cheated in a business deal and who now sought his revenge by kidnapping and then marrying Javier’s fiancée, the prima ballerina of one of his and his brother’s many assets, a Madrid-based ballet company. Heroine Sophie Johnson walked into his life one night, on a mission to return certain important items to him from her best friend, Javier’s former fiancée. Sweet, innocent, tiny Sophie had been in love with her friend’s fiancé forever. Continue reading