REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s COWBOY SEAL CHRISTMAS

Cowboy_SEAL_ChristmasAfter 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

REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s A NICE DAY FOR A COWBOY WEDDING

Nice_Day_For_Cowboy_WeddingWe 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. 
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REVIEW: Caroline Linden’s AN EARL LIKE YOU

An_Earl_Like_YouReaders 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. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s PRINCESS’S NINE-MONTH SECRET

Princess's_Nine_Month_SecretWith 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. 
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REVIEW: Barbara O’Neal’s THE ART OF INHERITING SECRETS

Art_Of_Inheriting_SecretsI both dreaded and looked forward to Barbara O’Neal’s The Art Of Inheriting Secrets, dreaded because I dislike women’s fiction and looked forward to because the blurb offered gothic potential. In the end, the novel’s gothic and romance aspects outweighed the women’s fic. I was one contentedly satiated reader at pages’ end. Be warned, there’s also first-person narration, but the narrator is engaging, funny, self-deprecating, intelligent, and as the hero notes, looks like Kate Winslet (I adore Winslet, ever since I saw her in Heavenly Creatures). Our narrator-heroine is San Francisco-based food writer and editor of the fictional magazine Egg and Hen, Olivia Shaw. When the novel opens, Olivia’s life has taken some spectacularly difficult, life-altering turns. She arrives in Hertfordshire’s Saint Ives Cross having recently learned she has inherited a crumbling estate, Rosemere Priory. She is mourning her mother, only six weeks gone, but she’s also learned that her mother kept her identity as Lady Caroline Shaw secret. The drippily unhappy heroine, the rain, the English countryside, the quaint village, down to the country-accented friendly cab-driver who drops her off at the local inn, absorbed me. I loved the premise of the family secrets, the crumbling priory, Olivia’s voice, and the notion of a heroine navigating a new place, culture, community, and her own new-found, strange identity.
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REVIEW: Karina Bliss’s RESURRECTION

ResurrectionNo matter the claims to originality, no matter how new and fresh the voice, 99.9% of romances follow the narrative pattern of encounter, attraction, obstacles, false Eden, betrayal/estrangement, and resolution/HEA, and all centring solely, exclusively on the central couple, their conflict, their feelings, and their between-the-sheets time. But Bliss always manages to surprise me, always twists that old familiar, comfortable pattern to make me stand up and notice. In historical romance, only Rose Lerner has managed to do the same (see especially my review of True Pretenses). I’ve loved each of Bliss’s Rock Star romances. She delighted, moved, and surprised me in each one, but her fourth, Resurrection, might be the best one yet. Surprisingly, its quota of romantic tension is near-zero. The hero and heroine’s feelings are so apparent and easy that all the while, Bliss sneaks in other interesting things, themes and ideas, and still, in the end, makes me sigh with the perfection of her HEA (I also ugly-cried, but the scrunched-up faced Miss Bates is a thing best left unimagined).
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MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s COWBOY SEAL REDEMPTION

Cowboy_SEAL_RedemptionNicole Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series builds a world of hope and love for broken people. It is no wonder that its geographic setting, fictional “Blue Valley” Montana, is a land of sky, mountain, and range, a world the noise of urban life, or the bombs of deserts far away haven’t touched. Except they have. By war and those who’ve returned from it, broken in spirit and body. Helm’s heroes are men who served in Afghanistan and were injured externally and internally, when one of the them, the ghost who stands sentry to their worst memories and their best (because they cared so much for one another), Geiger. But they are now in Montana, Alex Maguire, Jack Armstrong, and Gabe Cortez, to bring renewed life and hope to broken vets at their aptly-named Revival Ranch. Helm’s heroines are often survivors of domestic wars, now grown women who knew a childhood of abuse, fear, and neglect. Helm brings the broken man and woman together so they can build a new life. Sex doesn’t have the answers (though there’s that too and it’s good), romance doesn’t (though candles are lit and flowers are bought), but healing comes through therapy, talking to each other, striving for understanding, and being honest with, and true to, oneself. Like her obvious professional buddy Maisey Yates, Helm writes to her own tune of redemptive love, through confession (secular and personal), connection, and creating bonds with others, rather than breaking or avoiding them. To reach this point, however, hero and heroine must go through an agon of being broken open and exposed.  
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REVIEW: Roni Loren’s THE ONE YOU CAN’T FORGET

The_One_You-Can't_ForgetI enjoyed the first in Roni Loren’s series “The Ones Who Got Away”, centred on a group of school-shooting survivors as they heal from the past and find love, twelve years after the shooting. I thought the first was great and looked forward to the second, the here named The One You Can’t Forget. Though heroine Rebecca Lindt is the high school shooting survivor, the hero is a survivor of a sort too: from loss, financial ruin, divorce, and alcoholism. Between the two of them, you’d think Loren’s novel’d be a misery-fest. While it’s a serious novel about serious things, it’s also funny, hopeful, and sexy.

We met Rebecca Lindt in the series début, The Ones Who Got Away, as the stiff, cool prom queen to the heroine’s sexy wild child persona. But Rebecca was Liv Arias’s great love’s prom date: Finn may have put Rebecca on his arm, but he was kissing Liv in the supply closet … when tragedy struck. In the first book, Finn and Liv are reunited lovers and Rebecca is the rejected girl next door. Loren more than makes up for Rebecca’s losses by giving her Wes Garrett, tattooed chef extraordinaire. I thought, from Loren’s spectacular start, that I would love The One You Can’t Forget more than The Ones Who Got Away … but nope, the latter still edges out the former, but the former came very very close. Part of that was thanks to a spectacular “meet-cute”, which wasn’t so cute, but definitely memorable.
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MINI-REVIEW: Julie Anne Long’s THE FIRST TIME AT FIRELIGHT FALLS

First_Time_At_Firelight_FallsEons ago, I read Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed An Earl and liked it well enough, but not with the passion of anticipating the next book in the series or eye-balling the newly-arriveds for her author’s name. I was surprised to see her turn to contemporary romance as she seemed quite ensconced in the former. But, hey, what do I know about author inspirations or the changing face of romance publishing? Bupkis. I was curious, however, and since contemporary is my sub-genre of choice, happy to give her a try with book four of the Hellcat Canyon series, The First Time At Firelight Falls, and even happier to eat reader humble-pie when I was *forced* to reassess my initial ho-hum judgement of it. It is seemingly run-of-the-mill contemporary small-town romance: Hellcat’s denizens are eccentric and supportive, there’s a good dose of wholesome humour and a modicum of conventionally-positioned, hot sex between the leads, and, at least initially, a whole lot of not-much-ness.
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An HP Reading: Michelle Smart’s BILLIONAIRE’S BRIDE FOR REVENGE

Billionaire's_Bride_For_RevengeWhen I devour an HP romance, I wonder, all over again, why I do? The plots are preposterous; the characters, ridiculously exaggerated; and the theme of a moneyed, ruthless hero entrapping the heroine with a pitiless, self-serving scheme. Her innocence, yuck her virginity, turns his ruthlessness into helplessness and leads to the hero being a better man, the man lurking behind layers of survival and necessity over empathy. The hero is left bare, stripped of all his power in the face of his love for the heroine; he goes from tempered steel to marshmallow in 150 pages. It never ceases to amaze me why I, and countless others, enjoy them so darn much. Smart’s Billionaire’s Bride For Revenge is a perfect example. I think, I suspect, that the reason I and others enjoy them is that life’s petty, everyday, economic impediments are pushed aside by the hero’s wealth and we are left only, solely, with the emotional impediments that thwart hero and heroine from finding fulfillment and happiness in and with each other. The ways they manoeuvre their way through these emotional barriers are sex, conversation, and internal, personal realization, acts of self-honesty. Continue reading