Beverly Jenkins’s Rebel is first in her Women Who Dare series and Jenkins, a new-to-me author. I was keen to try a new historical romance author. In truth, though, I slogged through it, taking two weeks to reach the end. Though its opening was compelling, I never warmed to the protagonists and found the persistently declarative prose, flat.
It opens in 1867 New Orleans as New-Yorker Valinda Lacy teaches her recently freedmen, women, and their children. We get a sense of a society, barely out of war, trying to adjust to new historical realities, some well, and others, clinging to their place as the dominant class and race. They pose a threat to the characters and Jenkins does a excellent job of conveying what it feels like to live under a constant edge of what ought to be a safe, going-about-business existence. For example, Valinda’s school is soon destroyed. Her path then crosses with a powerful, wealthy family, the LeVeqs, who give her a home and protection and help her re-establish the school.
Sometimes you need a shot of pure romance and the HP delivers. I went for one of the many TBR ARC HPs I have knocking around, Caitlin Crews’s Untamed Billionaire’s Innocent Bride and got what I was looking for; the HP recipe: eye-rolling premise and plot, standard-fare hero and heroine, and heart-tugging romance experience.
Personal assistant to billionaire Matteo Combe trudges through a Hungarian forest in high heels and red cape to lure a beast out of its lair. Said beast is Matteo’s long-lost half-brother Dominick James, the product of their mother’s foolish youth, abandoned to the miseries of an orphanage, the Italian streets and eventually the army. Though Dominick is wealthy in his own right (the ubiquitous security company having earned him $$$$$$$$), he chooses to keep his own counsel and company in this forest. When Lauren pounds on his cabin door and is granted entry, the inevitable visceral lust-response follows, “lust at first sight”. (Except for the niggling sense that neither Lauren nor Dominick has ever reacted to a man or woman this way before! *gasp*) Lauren tries to convince Dominick to return to England with her to take his place in the Combe family and claim his inheritance. In the interim, she’s going to give his wild, rough, gorgeous ways, a make-over. I must say I did get a kick out of this HP role reversal: it’s usually the heroine who gets the grooming and clothes update.
I have come ’round to being a Kelly Bowen fan-girl. I think her romances are among the best in the historical subgenre. They are elegantly executed; the characters are sympathetically idealized without being insipid. Her plots clip along at an excellent pace and, thematically, she is the nonpareil, with a feminist twist to her heroines, taking nothing away from the rich historical context. I’ve enjoyed two Bowen romances to date, with reservations, but I think this third in her Devils of Dover series is her best. I had been intrigued by glimpses of the hero in previous books: the mysterious Dr. Harland Hayward, Baron Strathmore, healer and comforter, ever on some mysterious, not-quite-legal coastal “operation.” (Sadly, the strangely somnambulistic figure on the cover doesn’t do him justice.) Everything comes home to roost for him in A Rogue By Night, when he finally meets his doctoring and smuggling match, “Dr” Katherine Wright, beauty, healer, veteran, and daughter and sister to two of Dover’s greatest smugglers, Paul and Matthew Wright. Though Katherine is of humble beginnings and Harland a noble, they have more in common than their social status suggests.
Today, I had book hangover from staying up too late to finish Caitlin Crews’s Sniper’s Pride. Given it was a back-to-work Monday morning, it took a heck of a lot of coffee to keep me amiable and functional . Was it worth it? Did I love it? I’m not sure.
Sometimes, I read a romance novel not to have to think about those plague-y things that wake you up in the night and leave you with heart palpitations and morning-after disquiet — if you ever do manage to fall back asleep.
In the cooler light of day, wolfing down Crews’s romance left me the way overindulgence in Haagen-Dazs’s Espresso Chocolate Cookie Crumble does, vaguely nauseated with questionable self-respect. Sometimes though, a feral spinster needs to leave the world behind and Crews’s novel hit the sweet spot. With a day’s work done, a dinner-full stomach and some halfway decent rosé, I can think about my response to Sniper’s Pride with more dispassion. Crews is a talented writer; she has a smooth, quick, moving way with words and tropish twists along the way that surprise and delight. I disliked some of Sniper’s Pride‘s content and yet loved the sheer heroine-vindication and HEA-fulfilling development of its core relationship.
Maisey-Yates romances breed like bunnies. Yet another one on the recent horizon, fifth in the Gold Valley series, Unbroken Cowboy, features two of my favourite sequel-bait characters from previous books, animal-loving Bea(trix) Leighton, and bull-trampled rodeo star-no-more, Dane Parker. Because, like Betty Neels, I read and review every Yates romance, my review will always be tainted by my mood, whether Yates’s brand of theme and ethos work for me “in the moment,” or not. When they’re published as close together as Yates seems to produce them, I tend to feel less well-disposed. When a whiley-while goes by, then I’m eager to immerse myself in her world. If my introduction to Yates had been Unbroken Cowboy, I’d have been all in with enthusiasm and praise. As it’s one of many and followed by the recently reviewed, Need Me, Cowboy, I read it more for because she’s Yates and I read’em all. No surprises here. In “yatesian” fashion, hero Dane and heroine Bea experience personal transformation, in this case, as the title suggests, from brokenness to wholeness. The glue that brings their resurrection about is the mystical power of love. Continue reading
Lucy Parker writes one of my favourite contemporary romance series, “London Celebrities,” with heroes and heroines as denizens of London’s West End theatre scene. In the series’ fourth volume, however, the West End is in the background. Heroine-actress Freddy Carlton (for Frederica, a nod to Heyer?) joins the cast of a “digital mash-up of characters from different Jane Austen books, transplanted into a murder-mystery, house-party scenario. Outcome guided by the choice of the player,” that is, the televison and app audience. All taking take place on a estate, à la Downton Abbey. The estate, 16th-century Highbrook Wells, magnificent and crumbling, is the mortgaged-to-the-gills family home of acerbic theatre critic and Freddy nemesis, James “Griff” Ford-Griffin. Griff can’t afford to say no to the “digital mash-up” and the company of actors, Freddy too, arrives at Highbrook as if it’s Elsinore. Put Griff and Freddy together in this enforced intimacy and let sparks fly: antagonists to lovers, opposites-attract denying their attraction. Not really. This isn’t a criticism. Parker hasn’t written what at first appears to be your romance trope of antagonists-to-lovers. No matter how witty and thick the banter ( it is fabulous), Parker juggles three simultaneous narratives, of which the romance between Freddy and Griff is the gentlest, the most assured of a positive outcome.
I’m enjoying Michelle Smart’s conceit in her latest HP series: “Cinderella” heroine and wealthy hero, especially because the Cinderella brings the “prince” to his feet. In Smart’s latest, A Cinderella To Secure His Heir, the Cinderella in question is 24-year-old Beth Hardingstone, a product of the foster system who made a career out of event planning. She has fallen on hard times, however, because she had to leave her job to care for baby Dom, entrusted to her after the death of best friend and fellow fosteree, Caroline Palvetti. Dom’s father, Domenico, also dead, in a motorcycle accident, is the hero’s, Alessio Palvetti’s, estranged older brother “RIP”.
When the novel opens, Alessio has deceived Beth into coming to Vienna, for quite a sum of money, to organize a Viennese ball for Alessio’s business partner and friend. Under the guise of working as Alessio’s assistant, Valente Cortada, aka Alessio himself, arranged for Beth’s job and transport, with baby Dom in tow. Thankfully, Valente reveals his identity pronto and moves to Phase 2 of his plan: threaten Beth with fighting her for Dom’s custody (a nebulous claim, but hey, it’s an HP and I’ll bypass laws and last wishes if I want to) unless she marry him. Continue reading
There are two romance authors I read for the sake of sinking into their familiar world: Betty Neels (I’m in the process of reading ALL her books, presently on 24 of 134) and Maisey Yates, incredibly prolific both. Do their books blend together and I don’t remember hide nor hair of any particular one? Absolutely. And yet, I can’t quit them. Neels and Yates, unlike in every way, share a deep, profound, abiding theme: no matter how chaste the Neels romance or carnal the Yates, the connection between hero and heroine is mystical, inevitable, and sacred. They are meant for each other: their bodies know this before reason accepts and acknowledges. Love is a realization arriving in an epiphanic moment. In Neels, the heroine believes the hero couldn’t possibly love her undeserving self, but she loves him; the hero, older, wiser, and more knowing, knows from their introduction the heroine will be his wife. In Yates, love is an agon, a passion, a difficult birth, many layers of ego, hurt, and lack of faith and hope must be divested for a character, more often than not the hero, to admit his love and need for the heroine. Once he does, however, his devotion, love, and protection are his sole purpose. The Neels and Yates worlds? One quieter, on the surface more conservative; the other, created out of the passions of the flesh and a tender antagonism.
Though I’m suspicious of new-to-me authors, I was willing to give Janice Preston a try because: a) MOC is my favourite trope and b) the word “highland” in the title always evokes a frisson of excitement and anticipation. What I found was an enjoyable, uneven romance. But, first, to the plotty details!
Because His Convenient Highland Wedding is the first of a four-book, four-author series centring around a mystery, Preston’s novel opens with a silly scene of the heroine’s discovery of a creepy tower and mysterious brooch. Flash-forward seven years and heroine Lady Flora McCrieff, having refused the lecherous old goat her father had arranged for her to marry (important to saving the straitened family estate) is in disgrace with fortune and her family’s eyes. To make up for her refusal to save the family fortune and marry within her class, her father compels her to marry second-best, wealthy but from lowly beginnings whiskey-baron Lachlan McNeill. Lachlan is looking to make inroads to the aristocracy for his whiskey and hopes Flora will help him achieve his goal. Little does he know, Flora is in social purgatory …
Though I appreciate a medieval-set romance, I’m aware of its challenges. It is difficult for a romance author to capture the strangeness of the medieval world and still make the romance familiar. Thus far, only two romance authors I’ve read achieve this successfully (mind you, I haven’t read much medieval romance, these are the ones who work for me): Blythe Gifford (Secrets At Court is my favourite) and Elizabeth Kingston. But, like Kingston’s mentor’s books, Laura Kinsale’s, it took me a long time to warm to Desire Lines.
To look to the novel’s opening, “It began in beauty and in blood.” A beautiful, knife-laden young woman, Nan, rescues a Welshman, originally sent to the English King Edward I as obeisance from the young Welshman’s father, Welsh royalty.
(England’s 13th-century conquest of Wales is the historical context of Kingston’s novel.) Gruffydd ab Iorwerth has been knight, prisoner, and captive. He’s lived in the luxury of the English court, then hid for years in a monastery, made friends and enemies, tamed and hunted with his beloved falcons (his marketable skill, important to English lords) and been chained, starved, and beaten.