Lauren Willig’s “summer country” is early nineteenth and Victorian-Era-set Barbados. A young women arrives in Bridgetown in February 1854, Miss Emily Dawson, to claim her inheritance, the ruined sugar-producing estate of Peverills, only to discover a family history that alters everything she has known about who she is.
Since the *sniff* end to the Pink Carnation series and we can see vestiges of this theme there too, Willig’s novels centre around a heroine’s journey of unearthing familial and historical identity. Willig’s specializes in, to nay-say the Bard’s Hamlet, a “discovered country” that alters and then cements a new future for our heroine. The Summer Country‘s Emily Dawson is such a heroine, as she delves into the Barbadian history of slavery, white privilege and exploitation of others, and the personal tragedies and triumphs of parallel stories, one set in 1812-1816, and the heroine’s present, 1854, the 1812-16 narrative bearing on Emily’s present and future.
New-to-me-author Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal certainly starts off with a bang. I was quite taken by the premise. Heroine Nik (Nikole) Paterson meets hero Dr. Carlos Ibarra at an LA Dodgers game when he rescues her from the Jumbotron-drama of having her man-bunned boyfriend proposing to her before thousands of people … not counting the ones watching on TV. This is a “proposal”, hence the title, that Nik neither wants nor anticipates. Her boyfriend Fisher, an actor with more ego than talent, is a sleep-with boyfriend and no more than that. As Carlos, at the game with his sister Angela, watches Nik’s horror-stricken face on the Jumbotron, he and Angela, only a few seats away, ward off the cameras coming at Nik when she refuses Fisher. Angela, Carlos, and Nik join Nik’s besties, Dana and Courtney, for drinks after the game and Nik and Carlos strike a friendship with some incipient attraction. They text, call, and meet for drinks, go to dinner, enjoy each other’s company, cook together, watch baseball games, and generally have a great ole time. Not soon after a few get-togethers, they become lovers.
Miss Bates is a fan of Gifford’s medieval-set romances. Rumors is set among the machinations and intrigue of Edward III’s court. One of Gifford’s many appeals is her hero’s and heroine’s place among royalty and aristocracy. Though not of peasant descent, they are always subject to the whims of the royals they serve. Decisions are made for them, even by benign lords and masters such as the ones featured in Rumors.
The romance opens as John of Gaunt, Edward III’s third son, marries Constance of Castile and becomes, in potentia, King of Castile (once he wins it back from the present king). Gifford’s hero, Sir Gilbert Wolford is a man of war who yearns to return to Castile, retake the kingdom, and make his life there. Gifford’s heroine is the widowed Lady Valerie Scargill. John decides one of his greatest warriors, Gilbert, should marry, and who better than the genteel Lady Valerie. Valerie and Gilbert both have reasons for being averse to this marriage, but the royal’s word is law and their lives not their own. They agree to marry, despite the emotional impediments to their marriage becoming a love-match.
Miss Bates will always love Donna Alward’s categories, but her move to longer contemporaries offers readers uneven results: some books, reviewed here, have been great; others, so-so. But Alward’s depth and sensitivity will also see Miss Bates’s return to her books time and again. She did so with Alward’s second Darling, Vermont, contemporary romance, Someone To Love.
Willow Dunaway, owner of The Purple Pig Café, is Darling-born and raised. An unhappy childhood and adolescent trauma saw her leave Darling for years. Now she’s back with a new-found contentment in her business, yoga practice, and embracing of serenity. Willow has fought a long, hard battle to come back from some devastating experiences and the semi-colon tattoo on her forearm proves it to herself daily. She has found many things in her re-found hometown that she sought: friendship, community, and purpose. She does not, however, date … until she meets widowed single-dad and firefighter, Ethan Gallagher. In some delightful initial exchanges, Willow’s flower-child, vegetarian ways clash with Ethan’s carnivorous alpha-tendencies. Continue reading
MissB. returned to a beloved series with Jodi Thomas’s Wild Horse Springs. Crossroads, Texas’s denizens’ stories continue. Thomas’s series has steadily produced one excellent ensemble-romance after another and MissB. is always happy to return. Wild Horse Springs is a particularly strong addition, if only because the town’s long-lonely sheriff finally gets his HEA. The novel focuses on three couples and a compelling RS plot. Sheriff Dan Brigman falls for newly-arrived country singer, Brandi Malone; our PTSD-ed Texas Ranger hero, Cody Winslow falls (literally! you’ll see) for park ranger Tess Adams; and, we finally have a reunion between high-powered lawyer, former-Cross-Roads cowboy Lucas Reyes and Sheriff Brigman’s daughter, Lauren. The romances unfold in conjunction with some pretty nasty doings. Former waif now grown and happily ensconced in family love and support, Thatcher Jones, finds and loses a little girl – silent, obviously physically abused, and in much need of rescuing. Sheriff Brigman is on the case, as are various Cross-Road-ites and the novel concludes, other than with HEAs for our couples, with an exciting rescue operation. Continue reading
Jodi Thomas’s Sunrise Crossing is the fourth novel in her Texas-set Ransom Canyon series. Set in fictional Crossroads, Thomas’s novels are about characters at a turning point. They confront their past, demons, and regrets. The sole redeeming facet to their Rubicon-crossing is a different life from the one they led before. This facet takes shape in the form of a man or woman who affects them deeply. Thomas’s characters are changed in two ways: one, the conviction that their lives have gone off-kilter and must be redressed; and, two, that love makes everything worthwhile, meaningful, and joyous. Thomas intertwines several characters’ lives to make their lives fuller, happier, and love-filled. As with the previous three Ransom Canyon novels, Thomas brings together a company of likeable, kind, compassionate, and loving characters, and one or two nasty villains, who are foiled by community, co-operation, and care. In Thomas’s novels, there are people who care, and those who don’t. Continue reading
(Lately, Miss Bates has been thinking about how reading interweaves with our everyday lives. Maybe it’s because she’s having onerous days at work, maybe because she’s nursing a wicked head cold, but she was very much aware of what it meant to come home quite late, after a long and difficult day, and find a book waiting for her. A romance novel, even as this one, Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass, without much romancy romance, without sexy times, and with a meandering cast of characters, often NOT the hero and heroine. And yet, it was viscerally satisfying to know that good will triumph, brokenness healed, loneliness assuaged, and families melded.)
Jodi Thomas’s Lone Heart Pass is romance #3 in the Ransom Canyon series. No one book stands out as memorable, but the series itself stays with Miss Bates as a place of refuge. After reading the third book, Miss Bates realized that each novel’s romantic central couple fades and the characters who remain are the ones who appear to us book in, book out: the lonely, stalwart Sheriff Brigman, his ethereal daughter Lauren, her love for the elusive Lucas Reyes, and the retired teachers of the Evening Shadows Retirement Home. Most of all, Miss Bates carries with her Thomas’s fictional town as a “crossroads,” also the town’s literal name (place names in Thomas’s series are allegorical) where hero and heroine leave the broken past behind (often covered in family enmity and strife) and build a new world of love and family; black sheep are taken in; and community is healed. Continue reading
Karen Templeton wrote one of Miss Bates’s favourite Christmas romances, Dear Santa. Like that fave, Templeton’s A Soldier’s Promise contains the elements that she does so well: a protagonist emerges from a time of crisis, difficulty, or grief; the other manifests as a helping figure; believable, likable children and animals; and, a plot centering on the creation of a new, or blended family. Oh, and humour. And poignancy. And an everyday casualness to the dialogue that makes her characters feel like they’re our neighbours, or we’d like them to be.
After ten years, Levi Talbot returns permanently to Whispering Pines, New Mexico, from serving in Afghanistan. He is a changed but better man than the wild, adventure-seeking bad boy he was. How to convince Valerie Lopez, née Oswald, the woman who best remembers his recklessness and cause of her deceased husband’s enlistment, Tommy following his best friend into the military? Valerie is a widow with two daughters, young Josie and baby Risa. She blames Levi for Tommy’s decision, even if not his death, and Levi is torn: afraid to open old wounds and resentments, but how not to keep his promise to Tommy to help his family? “Because he’d made a promise. One he fully intended to keep. Whether his best friend’s widow was good with that idea or not.”
“The choppers appeared just after the sun.”
Human beings make sense of experience’s ephemerality by embodying it in art. Maya Lin’s controversial Vietnam Veterans War Memorial was/is integral to healing war’s wounds. It offers solace and remembrance as vets and families, foreigners and natives, bring offerings of flowers, pictures, etc., touch, wonder, and heal as they meditate on the war’s wastes and ravages (war is a universal experience, is it not?). Yusef Komunyakaa’s Vietnam-War-Memorial-set poem, “Facing It” also embodies the war, recounting a vet’s turbulent, ambivalent emotions as he touches and is reflected in the wall, naming loss, anger, and the ever-present American tragedy of race. (Don’t read this humble post, but read and listen to the poem as linked. It’s powerful.) The humble romance genre offers its embodiment in Kathleen Korbel’s A Soldier’s Heart (1994). The novel’s opening line is the prologue’s introduction to nurse Claire Henderson, who held dying Marine Tony Riordan and willed him to live. Twenty-three years later, Tony’s final act of putting his war wounds to rest, psychic where physical are long-healed, is to seek, find, and thank Claire. What he finds in her haunted eyes is the confusion, guilt, and self-destructive impulses of his own struggle with PTSD. Continue reading
Miss Bates almost DNF-ed Janice Kay Johnson’s To Love A Cop (cheesy cover and title should be ignored; this is thoughtful romance). It opens at a gun show, as cop hero, Ethan Winter, admires a gun; to give Johnson credit, he’s there to look out for potentially dangerous gun buyers. He spots a boy, one who seems fascinated by what’s on show. Ethan chats with him, realizes he’s younger than he appears and has skipped school. Ethan takes the boy, Jake, home to his single-mom, Laura Vennetti, to realize yet again that, five years ago, Jake was the boy who shot and killed his cousin when his father, Officer Matt Vennetti, left his service weapon carelessly lying on the kitchen counter. Not long after, with an extended family in shambles and ravaged by guilt, Matt committed suicide.
Heavy subject matter in romance doesn’t drive Miss Bates to DNF; but guns … man, she, like our heroine, doesn’t like them, doesn’t think they belong anywhere, should be strictly controlled and, if it was up to Miss B., banned. Living in Canada, gun control doesn’t have the divisiveness it does for her southern neighbours. But living in a city where a man with a gun killed fourteen women because they were being educated, she doesn’t buy the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” as a viable argument against their strict control. Miss B. doesn’t like wearing a seat belt either, but it does make for accident prevention. She’s digressed to this point to reinforce she didn’t really want to read Johnson’s romance, didn’t see much romance to be had in it … but she’s awfully glad she squelched her distaste, her visceral judgement against all things “gun” to take the story in. Because Johnson is a long-standing, serious, balanced, considered writer and this is one of the best stories she’s written. Continue reading