There is much to abhor in the former-military, “band of special ops” brothers romance, but I also cannot take away how compellingly satisfying Crane’s fourth Alaska Force romantic suspense novel, Delta Force Defender, was, the long-awaited story of the Force’s leader, Isaac Gentry, and the curmudgeonly owner of Grizzly Harbor’s restaurant, the shadows-in-her-eyes-and-scowl-on-her-face Caradine Scott. My reading experience alternated between eye-rolling annoyance and page-tapping eagerness, I’m embarrassed to say, but there you have it. There is absolutely nothing terribly original about the premise and, if it were not for Crane’s writing chops, this nears the Kristen-Ashley-badness territory.
Caradine Scott’s past catches up with her one night in her Alaskan-anonymity town, peopled by your run-of-the-mill small town “characters” and the ice-men that make up Alaska Force, a security service solving the world’s ills from their isolated state-of-the-art compound. Her restaurant is bombed and ne-er may be found of her except footprints leading to the water. What can I say, there are monitors. (Given the zip-tie horror of the America Capitol attack, no zip-tie carrying hero can ever be that heroic again. The former-military hero romance, with a protective, San-Andreas-fault-sized man-handling protective streak of said hero incites shivers of anxiety rather than frissons of excitement.) Leader of the he-man pack, Isaac Gentry, who does carry zip-ties, former marine, occasional-Caradine lover, is, atypically, emotionally affected by Caradine’s disappearance, terrified, though he’d never show it to his ribbing mates. Has she been kidnapped, or left for dead, or will soon be? Isaac follows her trail as Caradine takes a round-about driving route from Seattle to Maine, throwing off her pursuers but never losing Isaac, though she doesn’t know it … because he’s that good, better than anybody in the world.
I didn’t think a romance writer could pull off a romance narrative without a betrayal. I’ve thought, until now, the romance narrative needed a tearing-asunder moment to work (executed with varied degrees of success depending on the author’s control of craft). Cara Bastone proved me wrong and her début romance, Just A Heartbeat Away, tossed my assumptions about the romance narrative out the window and bade me reevaluate its elements. Oh, there’s plenty of conflict (without a betrayal, or tearing-apart moment). Bastone replaces betrayal with doubt and misunderstanding with insecurity. She has her hero and heroine indulge much inner-lusting, my preferred form of lusting, and smooshes several love scenes, usually peppered throughout the narrative, into one extended scene as close to the end without making it The End. As a result, a fresh, engaging romance narrative, as original as true to the genre and a new auto-buy author for yours truly. It’s a romance novel like Just a Heartbeat Away that renews my faith in the genre and reminds me why I fell in love with it to begin with.
Susie Steiner’s Missing, Presumed (DS Manon Bradshaw #1) was recommended by Twitter friends whose word is auto-click/buy. A nice “old-fashioned” mass market came in the mail and made for spine-cracking pleasure. After the romance novel disaster (see my review of Kristen Ashley’s Dream Maker), I wanted away from caricatured alpha-heroes and self-sacrificing heroines to something cleanly realistic, devoid of HEA, a police procedural where the pursuit of the truth came in neat, defined lines and the female detective heroine made her way with smarts. What I got was something different, but more complex, compelling, and messy. I loved it, so you know, if you don’t want to read on … get yourself this book. At the centre of Steiner’s mystery is Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw of the Cambridgeshire Police. The novel opens with Manon on her nth Internet date, bored, restless, and barely tolerating the company of her desultory, cheapskate date … (when they divvy up the bill, it’s outtathere for me, but Manon stays, even sleeps with Mr. Forgettable.) After he leaves, she turns to the soothing sounds of her police radio to settle into sleep and Steiner’s lines give you a good sense of her fine writing and Manon’s character: ” … it is the sound of vigilance, this rapid response to hurt and misdeed. It is human kindness in action, protecting the good against the bad.” Idealized? Yes. Nevertheless, Manon is this very thing: curmudgeonly, sarcastic, but doggedly kind, relentless in her gruff decency and commitment to solving crime, bringing justice, righting wrong. She’s chaotic and mistaken and not warm, cuddly, or fuzzy, but she is acerbic, least likeable when strident, and I loved her. Continue reading
It was nice to start the reading year with a quiet book, with flawed, believable characters, and still get a satisfying HEA. That’s Noelle Adams’s The Return. In a way, it reminded me of another recent read, Lacy Williams’s Small-Town Girl. Adams and Williams manage to convey a certain grit to their heroes and heroines and yet still imbue them with vulnerability and kindness. It’s nice to read, refreshing. My reading world didn’t rock, but it had a nice gentle swing, leisurely and hopeful, for the few days I spent in The Return‘s company. It helped that The Return is a second-chance romance for two good people: florist Ria Phillips and the boy who loved her and left her just when they were new lovers at eighteen, Jacob Worth. The novel opens with more humour and light-heartedness than it ends, despite its HEA. At its opening, Ria is trying to convince her town that, after eight years, she’s NOT holding a torch aloft for Jacob Worth. Until he “returns” to Azalea, Virginia, as his grandfather lies dying (turns out grandfather had a lot to do with why Jacob abandoned Ria and none of it good on gramps’s part). It’s obvious from their first reunited meeting that these two love each other and belong together, but there’s plenty of hurt and years and change to integrate into a new relationship. No matter how difficult and valid Jacob’s reasons were for leaving, he still left without explanation and never again contacted Ria. He was young, proud, hurt, and stupid. But he’s an awfully nice guy and gets softer and more vulnerable as the novel progresses. Continue reading
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.
In January of 1998, I made my way to work amidst broken power lines, felled trees, and the ping-ping of ice pellets on the roof of my trusty Corolla. By the next day, Quebec, Ontario, and sundry US north eastern states, with whom we share a winter-affinity, were encased in ice, road crews, police, firefighters, and hydro crews working day and night to bring safety and light to 1000s, eventually millions. It was the first mass disruption to my daily work routine (the pandemic, the second) and reading Spencer-Fleming’s Through the Evil Days brought it back. Only someone who lives their winter like Canadians do, in this case Spencer-Fleming lives in Maine, close enough!, can render an ice storm as vividly as she did in this Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery, her eighth. It is one element among many that Spencer-Fleming does well in a novel I consumed in a 24-hour period, following fast upon my too-leisurely read of One Was A Soldier. If you’re new to the series, be warned, spoilers ahead. If you’re a fan and all caught up, read on. Continue reading
There are books I hoard until I know another one is imminent. But the wait for another Russ Van Alstyne/Clare Fergusson mystery was seven years in the offing. I kept One Was A Soldier and Through the Evil Days piled on the night-table, winking and beckoning and giving me the come-hither-reader. But I resisted. Now, with, finally, after a seven-year wait, a new Russ/Clare novel, Hid From Our Eyes, I decided to go whole hog and catch up on all of them. With covid-work and sundry tasks, reading-time has been at a premium, usually consisting of three sleepy-eyed pages and then oblivion until the alarm chirps. Nevertheless, I was glad, even piecemeal, to sink into One Was A Soldier, though it was as unlike the previous books in the series as I’d ever expected. Oh, I liked it, loved it for Russ and Clare, but it did come as a surprise. For one thing, Spencer-Fleming played with her narrative timeline and frankly, for another thing, I barely recognized Clare and Russ, their personalities usually running along the lines of serene wisdom to street-smart a-whole-lot-o’-mess respectively, suddenly turned on their head. Reverend Clare was a hot mess and Russ, an island of calm and reasonableness … until I started reading Through the Evil Days, but that’s for another post. (Be warned, what follows contains spoilers, so continue if you’re already a series fan and have read up to the present volume.)
When you review the 15th installment of a beloved historical murder mystery series, your review is inevitably about where the volume fits in the series’s scale of goodness to weakness. Because I have no perspective when it comes to Harris’s Regency-England-set Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, read no further if you haven’t read the series, just start reading it – from the beginning to the present volume.
In this 15th installment, Harris sees her nobleman-hero, Viscount Devlin, affectionately known as Seb for us in the series’s thrall, seek the murderers of a disgraced nobleman, Nicholas Hayes, youngest son of the deceased Earl of Seaforth. Years ago, Hayes was convicted of the murder of an exiled French aristocrat’s wife and, having stayed the noose, was sent to Botany Bay, an equally devastating, but protracted death sentence. Hayes’s return to London, with an Asian child, purported to be his son, shakes many privileged lives, not least of which is the present Earl, a distant cousin. But no sooner does the ton whisper speculation about Hayes’s return than he is found dead in Pennington’s Teas Gardens, with a sickle in his back. What brought Hayes back, though he would be captured and executed if caught by Bow Street? Was it revenge? Vindication? Continue reading
Sabrina Jeffries was among the first romance writers I ever read, so a new book is always welcome. The Bachelor is second in the “Duke Dynasty” series, following Project Duchess. While it isn’t a cross-class romance because both hero Major Joshua Wolfe and heroine Lady Gwyn Drake are aristocratic, Joshua, as a third son, is poverty-stricken compared to Gwyn’s heiress-status. Blue blood, however, throws them together. Joshua, injured and at half-pay from the Royal Marines, acts as the Drakes’ Lincolnshire estate’s, Armitage Hall’s, gameskeeper. They are also connected by marriage: Joshua’s sister, Beatrice, is married to Gwyn’s half-brother, the Duke of Greycourt. When the romance opens, Gwyn is dealing with a blackmailing villain from her past, former-Captain Lionel Malet. Gwyn and Malet had an affair ten years ago, when Malet took advantage of her innocence and made promises he did not intend to keep. Now, he’d like a piece of her dowry in exchange for not ruining her reputation. Continue reading
I looked forward to a new-to-me author, Weatherspoon, and have always been a sucker for an amnesia narrative. It’s residual love from my many years of day-time soap-opera watching. Weatherspoon’s premise attracted me; sadly, her execution didn’t hold my love, or attention.
Premise first: Chef Evie Buchanan, tv-cooking-show-darling, is pushed down the stairs during a pre-Christmas cast-party and left in the stairwell for two days. (The believability-metre for Weatherspoon requires a wide reader berth.) Her agent, Nicole Pruitt, finds her and takes her to the hospital, where she’s declared fit (after two days unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell?!), except for the teensy problem of brain trauma and total amnesia. Best-friend Blaire and assistant Raquelle enter the picture to care for her while she’s in hospital. We soon learn, however, that Evie is without family, though her emergency contact is one Jesse Pleasant, co-owner of a California dude ranch. (Why did Evie name him her emergency contact when she lives with Blaire?) Jesse and his brother, Zach, come to NYC to take Evie home with them for recuperation. In the meanwhile, Nicole and Raquelle will hold the SM fort and keep Evie’s memory-loss out of the media spotlight. In California, Evie will have a chance to heal, reunite with her found-family (parents and beloved grandmother died ten years ago), as well as the man who broke her heart, Zachariah Pleasant, cowboy, entrepreneur, and heart-crusher.