I’d never read a Maxwell romance and embarked on A Match Made In Bed with curiosity and enthusiasm. Because I’m a naïve, gullible reader who’s too easily pleased, I lauded Maxwell to a Twitter friend and smiled smugly to myself on having “discovered” a great, new-to-me historical romance author. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up where I began. A Match Made In Bed showed initial promise. The hero and heroine intrigued me and the narrative promised compelling themes about money, women’s place in society, class, and family dynamics.
Soren York, Lord Dewsberry, and Miss Cassandra Holwell meet at a house party held outside of London. It’s not their first encounter. They share an interesting history: their Cornish-origined families have long feuded over past deception. Soren, aware of Cassandra’s dislike, yet woos her … because he needs an heiress’s money to bolster his soon-to-be-lost estate, Pentreath Castle. The novel opens with great banter and a wonderful antagonistic attraction between Cassandra and Soren. Even though Soren is mercenary, Maxwell manages to show us how he’s also kind and honourable. Cassandra is bookish and intelligent and has a lot of our sympathy, nursing a childhood hurt inflicted, unknowingly mind you, by Soren.
I never knew I was a fan of the tropish goodness of a marriage-in-trouble romance until I read Nicole Helm’s Bride For Keeps. It’s not that I avoided the trope, it’s just not one that’s done often, or at least favoured by the authors I tend to read. One of my earliest reviews was of Ruthie Knox’s marriage-in-trouble novella, “Making It Last.” There was an edge to Knox, an anger, that made the marriage compromise, no matter how cheerfully I tried to review it at the time, about diminishing the hero and heroine. This is not the case for Helm’s category-length romance.
Bride For Keeps opens with a family bombshell for the hero: the diagnosis of his father’s MS accompanied by the revelation that he is the product of his mother’s affair. Dr. Carter McArthur is floored: he has striven to be the perfect son, to stand in his father’s medical and community footsteps, giant, important, arrogant footsteps. His one rebellion, his one out-of-perfection decision was to marry wild-child Sierra Shuller. Continue reading
With much sadness, I read Janice Kay Johnson’s note on her Superromance, In A Heartbeat. It is her last, alas, and the category is no more. I’ve loved so many of JKJ’s Superromances, especially the early ones. I read In A Heartbeat with enjoyment, for it is JKJ signature good. I didn’t always love the category’s authors and found some tedious, but I loved the idea of what it represented: a fantasy-based genre coming as close to realism as it could.
I read Betty Neels’s Tabitha In Moonlight at the same time as I read Johnson’s In A Heartbeat and, given Neels’s comfort-read status, I expected some dissonance. In the end, I wasn’t surprised to find none from two authors whose moral impetus is writing about decent people doing good and falling in love. I guess the only difference, given Johnson’s preference for realism, is that her characters do the best they can, in often difficult circumstances. Betty Neels’s characters are about being the best they can. Continue reading
Things are looking up reading-wise since my last post. I had a few quiet days at home to catch up on work and find some leisure reading time. DNF-ing a few turgid titles helped too: there’s no greater reading downer than that awful reviewer’s ARC-obligation. You can kill it with snark, or you can kill it by shutting down the Kindle before crossing the reading Rubicon. You know, that point where you’ve bloody read 68% of The Thing and you might as well finish it. Enough, though, of reading despondency.
I made a few decisions about reading and things are looking up. When I’m in a romance-reading slump, there’s only one author who can coax me back from the reading blues: Betty Neels. I put the ARC list away and started Betty Neels’s Tabitha In Moonlight (you can follow along with my nightly #bathtubromreading hashtag on Twitter). I put Frankopan’s The Silk Roads away for a less fraught working time. Then, I plunged back into the ARC pile with the express purpose of divesting myself of a few more dreary, meh titles. What I found instead was a funny, charming, flawed little romance in new-to-me Lenora Bell’s What A Difference A Duke Makes. It has all the eyebrow-raising qualities of wallpaperhood, but it delighted me. It’s first in a new series and I liked the characters so much that I’m looking forward to reading the second, about the hero’s Egyptologist sister and her archaeological rival and nemesis. Continue reading
Linda Howard’s Mackenzie’s Mountain and Mr. Perfect were two of the first romances I read and loved. When Howard “returned” to romantic suspense with Troublemaker in 2016, I was thrilled. I can’t say I loved the latter with the same giddy enthusiasm I read my first Howards, but her latest, The Woman Left Behind? Wow, is it ever terrific!
There’s enough signature Howard to please her earliest fans and more than enough to earn her new ones. Howard sees a conventional romantic suspense premise turn into something original, yet familiar, fresh, yet Howard-satisfying. The Woman Left Behind opens with the villain, a traitorous, vengeful Congressman bent on destroying Alex Macnamara’s GO-Teams, government-sanctioned paramilitary groups Macnamara leads, who fight threats to US security. The GO-Teams are made of big, bad, muscle-bound dudes with patriotic hearts, wise-cracking mouths, and superhuman physical abilities. Continue reading
True to characters cover!
One of the first romance novels I read when I returned to the genre and combed through best-of lists for titles to throw money at was Lisa Kleypas’s Dreaming Of You. I adored Sarah and Derek, the casino setting, the pesky, bespectacled heroine and hardened with a secret heart of gold hero. Ostensibly, Lorraine Heath’s Beyond Scandal and Desire has echoes of Kleypas’s romance classic, but in many other ways, it is an entirely different beast, unique to Heath’s vision. Beyond Scandal and Desire‘s cross-class promise, its ingenue heroine who’s too smart to stay that way and guttersnipe-made-good hero kept me reading through a slow, though evident of a sure writing hand, first third. The similarities to Kleypas saw me through the premise’s set-up. What kept me rivetted was Heath’s weaving of a tale about the need to be recognized, acknowledged, loved, and validated, a journey both hero and heroine take in their unique ways, about what family means, and where we can meet on a plane of forgiveness and reconciliation. To start, the novel’s gothic opening sees a London aristocrat deliver a new-born to the East End Widow Trewlove, by-blow of an affair? shame of the aristocracy? Yet, the birth scene had been one of tenderness and love between mother and father … whatever happened here, I wanted to know.
I adore Michelle Smart’s category romances. The HP is my romance-ice-cream-tub of choice, so good while I’m reading it and then, disoriented and nauseous from melodramatic hangover. My forehead-slapping reaction: “Did I really just read that?” Yes, dear reader, I read them: the romance guilty pleasure, outlandish, overblown, eye-rollingly breaking every smidgen of feministic progress the genre has made. Some HPs are out there and so badly written, they’re easy to ridicule. Some are written with elegance and humour: I’m looking at YOU, Sarah Morgan. Smart’s HPs usually elicit the latter response, but A Bride At His Bidding? Well, this is one of the strangest HPs I’ve ever read … and that’s saying a whole hell of a lot if you’re one of the category’s aficionados as I am. I’m having a hard time making up my mind whether A Bride At His Bidding is a laughable mess, or brilliant. Maybe both? All I know is that its idiosyncratic narrative and character about-faces gave me reading whiplash, goggle-eyed reactions of gasping disbelief, derision, and heart-clenching delight and enjoyment.
Nicole Helm’s Cowboy Seal Homecoming gave me exactly what I was looking for: Helm’s brand of emotional honesty, quirky animals, uber-masculine heroes whose mission is to set the world aright, heroines who call them on their bullshit and yet don’t shame them for their vulnerabilities, and a beautifully -rendered rural setting, in this case, rancher-country Montana. Honorably discharged wounded warrior hero Alex Maguire comes home to his deceased father’s ranch. He claims an inheritance he shares with heroine Becca Denton, who found, in Burt Maguire’s ranch, a home and father. Now, she’s invited her stranger stepbrother to share in a joint project, creating a therapeutic ranch for war veterans like Alex and the two buddies (sequel-bait!) he brings along on his and Becca’s venture, Jack Armstrong and Gabe Cortez. As far as the romance’s outer trappings are concerned, originality isn’t what makes them up. But then, what romance’s tropes, trappings, and narrative structure do that? The romance’s attraction lies in all the ways the story can be told of how two alone become one united and fulfilled. Continue reading
Nicole Helm’s Need You Now, first in the “Mile High Romance” series, at first appeared to be run-of-the-mill, contemporary, small-town romance, but proved more complex and interesting. Nevertheless, its opening wasn’t auspicious, with a scene of rugged he-men ribbing each other and indulging in scared-of-deep-communication man-talk. Ugh. Usually, in contemporary romance, these bros are, well, bros, or best friends, or business partners. In Need You Now, they are bearded, handsome “lumbersexuals”. Two are brothers, the hero Brandon, and his twin, Will, and their friend and business partner, Sam. They operate an “outdoor adventure excursion company,” Mile High, in the Colorado mountains, near the fictional town of Gracely. With much manly teasing, the jokester Will informs his austere, a polite way of saying “grumpy”, brother Brandon that they’ve hired a PR consultant to help promote their business, cue one cute heroine, Lilly Preston, freshly arrived from Denver. Lilly shows up, sparks fly, angst follows, much banter, and yet care, affection, and friendship grow, one glorious sexy time follows, then, a terrible sundering of the relationship and, the rest, as we say in the genre, is HEA. Continue reading
Caitlin Crews’s Prince’s Nine-Month Scandal opens with as ludicrous a premise as we’ve come to expect from the HP romance. In a bathroom at London’s Heathrow, Natalie Monette contemplates leaving her PA job with billionaire Achilles Casilieris after five years of all-consuming dedication to her volatile employer. In the mirror, she espies her twin, or someone who could be her twin. Princess Valentina of the mythical kingdom of Murin is running away from her arranged marriage to Prince Rodolfo of the mythical kingdom of Tessely. What better solution to both their dilemmas than to “switch” places: Natalie off to a princess’s life and Valentina to escape her impending nuptials by serving the mercurial Achilles. They put on each other’s clothes and take each other’s cell phones, with which they agree to text. Valentina pretty much goes off-grid till the romance’s final revelations and Natalie is left with her princess-fantasy in a bit of a shambles. She must navigate her kingly father, royal duties and protocols, and most importantly, devil-may-care, reckless, promiscuous fiancé. But Natalie hasn’t “handled” the temperamental Achilles for five years without learning a thing or two about difficult men. She sets out to set a few things straight with Rodolfo – for Valentina’s sake. She doesn’t count, this is an HP after all, on her visceral physical and emotional response to him.