Caitlin 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
When 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
Maisey 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.
I’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
So 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?
My 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
After nearly a month of reading Harari’s 21 Lessons, I sure needed a heavy romance dose. Who better than Nicole Helm to provide an antidote to Harari’s intellectual harshness? Why Helm? There are romance writers who love romance and that comes through in their writing, say Mary Balogh, the romance classicist, or the contemporary Lucy Parker. Then, there are romance writers who believe in romance and one of those is Helm. Another is her sister-in-writing, Maisey Yates. There’s a genuine belief in their stories as being tangible, possible, and attainable outside the pages of a book, no matter how idealized their characters. Though I’d recently read and reviewed a Helm romance, I knew she was going to cleanse the reading palate: Harari was nice, like having an exotic meal once in a while, or eating on vacay what you wouldn’t at home. But I was ready for my usual fare and enjoyed every but five minutes of it (more of that later).
I don’t know that you can really trust my review: maybe it’s too coloured by my relief and happiness at reading a hopeful book? I wanted the whole deal, a romance, yes, and one set during Christmas, with a Christmas “deal” of friends-with-benefits between what have been two antagonists through the first two books in Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series – WOW, bring it on. Continue reading
We meet Cora Preston, the heroine of Nicole Helm’s A Nice Day For A Cowboy Wedding, as she comes into her own: “She was reaching for the stars now, or maybe those snow-peaked mountains. Strong, immovable, and majestic.” Five years ago, Cora and her then seven-year-old, Micah, lived with an abusive husband and father. When Stephen threatened Micah rather than her, Cora divorced him, got full custody of Micah and a restraining order. In the intervening years, Cora and Micah moved to small-town Gracely to live with Lilly, her sister. They’ve been difficult, growing-pain years, but the movement has been forward and positive. Cora and Micah are forging a new life. Cora’s gleaned herself off of total dependence on her older sister, is living on her own with her son, and partnering with Lilly to launch a wedding-planning business. More importantly, she and Micah’s therapy, while a work in progress, is helping them cope with the day-to-day. Micah is showing signs of teen-age rebellion and sullenness, but Cora is mothering more than being mothered. Micah is in baseball day-camp and Cora on her way to her first wedding plan client, Deb Tyler of Tyler Ranch. Cora is a vulnerable heroine, but determined to succeed and do right by her son. I liked her from the get-go.
Readers familiar with MBRR will know I am interested in romance’s dark moment, which I define as a betrayal. The darker and more heinous the betrayal, the better executed the narrative tension, when it seems as if hero and heroine will never mend their rift. In Linden’s latest, An Earl Like You (second in the series The Wagers of Sin), this new-to-me author deftly creates a romance which sustains the coming betrayal from the first chapter to the final. I was coiled with tension from the get-go which I attribute to Linden’s premise. Upon his father’s death, Hugh Deveraux, 7th Earl of Hastings, learns that the 6th earl’s profligate ways left their family destitute: estates given to gardens and follies rather than tenants, debts galore, two sisters dowry-less and a mother grieving; the Deveraux women are ignorant of their new circumstances … and Hugh wants to keep it that way. What’s a peer to do but take to the gambling tables in a desperate attempt to ensure his mother’s well-being and sisters’ future? Until Hugh loses and is faced with a devil’s bargain from a wealthy speculator, Edward Cross, looking to ensure his daughter’s future. Cross asks Hugh to meet him at his palatial Greenwich home, tells him he now holds his debts and will call them in … unless Hugh woos and wins Cross’s plain, spinster daughter, Eliza.
With the end of my precious holidays and a week of getting back into early-morning-commute mode, I knew my fried brain couldn’t handle reading anything more than an HP. However derided the category, it’s a survivor and, in the hands of its greatest practitioners (ahem, Sarah Morgan), it can be original, fun, and range from witty to angsty all in the same book. I consider Hewitt one of its best. Princess’s Nine-Month Secret is HP-typical, less than what I’ve seen Hewitt deliver. Nevertheless, it “hit the spot” during a can’t-work-too-hard to read week. Its trappings will be familiar to the die-hard HP reader. Sheltered, cloistered Princess Halina Amari sneaks away from the Roman hotel suite she shares with her mother and into a party. Halina wants a taste of freedom and adventure before she returns home to wed Prince Zayed al bin Nur, a marriage arranged by her politically expedient father, using his daughter to advance the kingdom. At the party, Halina spends her night of rebellion with Rico Falcone. Two months later, Halina is pregnant and exiled to a desert fortress. Her engagement to the Prince has been called off (see book 1) and the parents she thought loved her have brushed her aside as an embarrassment to the family. When Rico discovers Halina’s pregnancy, he kidnaps her from the desert “palace” and returns to Rome, where they will marry pronto.