As I read Donna Alward’s Summer Escape With the Tycoon, I realized that I enjoy romance where the main characters are at a crossroads, out of their element/comfort zone, or about to embark on a fresh start. This context makes them more open to love, but also more vulnerable and uncertain. Alward is particularly adept at this theme. In Summer Escape, for example, heroine Molly Quinn has bid on and won her first alone-time vacation in years. At 29, she practises family law in her father’s law firm, thus far, her life dedicated to a career that pleases her parents. Eric Chambault, who carried the burden of his family’s welfare when their father abandoned them, has made financial good, so good his now ex-wife has taken 30 meagre millions in their divorce. He doesn’t care about the money, but the failure of his marriage and his ex-wife’s reasons for it (his absence and workaholism) have left him questioning his choices. Like Molly, he bid on the same silent auction holiday at the same charity event. Months later, when he mistakenly ends up in Molly’s hotel room and glimpses her in the tub, well, it’s a priceless meet-cute. The room issue is cleared up, but their vacation-journey through British Columbia’s natural beauty throws them together time and again, especially as they’re the only singles on the luxury trip. Continue reading
Shannon Stacey’s romance ethos is a likable one and it’s evident in volume two of her Boston Fire series, Controlled Burn. Her characters aren’t glamorous, super-rich, brilliantly educated, or extraordinary. Boston Fire is set with everyday heroes, their local watering-hole, families and friends. Stacey prefers mature protagonists and Miss Bates likes how the heroes often feel it’s time to settle down, marry, have a family. Controlled Burn‘s hero, Rick Gulloti, is no longer comfortable with his reputation as “not the marrying kind”. Grey’s in his hair and a hint of stiffness in his joints. Otherwise, Rick is content: Ladder 37’s lieutenant, uncle to his two nephews, a good son, and Joe and Marie Broussard’s loving neighbour and friend. Rick rents their upstairs apartment, renovated to his taste and comfort. He helps them out, hangs out, and enjoys Marie’s cooking. The Broussards, however, are aging and less and less able to care for their home, more fragile and prone to hospital stays. One such stay brings heroine Jessica “Jess” Broussard to Boston from San Diego when the hospital contacts her father, Davey, and she intercepts the call. Her father hadn’t shared his parents’ existence with her. They’ve been estranged for years. As a woman running her father’s financial advising firm, Jess is a no nonsense, super-competent woman. She arrives in Boston to meet her newly-discovered grandparents and help them re-settle their lives in an assisted-living community – and runs smack into Mr. Firefighter-Hunk and Joe and Marie’s support and protector.
Miss Bates read Phillippi Ryan for the first time, having noted time and again Phillippi Ryan’s name on the Agatha Awards nominee or winner lists. Phillippi Ryan’s murder-mystery-thriller-police-procedural narrative structure brings a wheel’s hub and spokes to mind. The novel opens, most dramatically, with a back-stabbing murder in the midst of a hot, tourist-laden June day in Boston’s Curley Park. This central incident radiates outwardly to a number of characters and situations, which come together in a masterful dénouement. The Curley Park murder scene draws hero and heroine, Jake Brogan, BPD detective, and Jane Ryland, unemployed journalist and Jake’s secret-lover. Jane freelances for a local TV station, working to resurrect her defunct career. A student-photographer claiming to have pics of the murder waylays Jane. Jake and DeLuca, his partner, run into an alley to discover a security expert wrestling the perp to the ground. Jane and her new photographer-friend follow. The scene is chaotic; neither Jane, representing the media, nor Jake and his partner, representing law enforcement, can tell the crime’s why or who. Meanwhile, in the mayor’s offices above Curley Park, teen-age Tenley Siskel, whose mom, Catherine, Mayor Holbrooke’s chief of staff, got her a job working the security video, may or may not have recorded the murder. Moreover, Jane responds to a call from her sister Melissa who’s frantic with worry over the disappearance of her nine-year-old step-daughter-to-be, Grace.
Miss Bates spent many a happy childhood summer in Boston, visiting family, a few days at the Cape now and then. Shannon Stacey’s new romance series, Boston Fire, of which Heat Exchange is the first, was irresistible, thanks to its Bostonian setting. Like most rom of this ilk and length, however, setting didn’t figure prominently, but there was a definite Bostonian working-class urban feel. Stacey specializes in the family saga romance without ever losing sight of the rom. This series is signature Stacey: a large clan, the Kincaids, with a retired firefighter dad, and firefighter baby brother to two older sisters, one of whom, Ashley, is married to a firefighter, and another, Lydia, divorced a firefighter. The men of the family are several-generation firefighters and the ethos makes for the background and conflict to the romance.
Ashley and husband Danny are estranged: Danny’s the strong, silent type and Ashley’s tired of his close-mouthed love. She wants him to communicate, dammit. With good reason, Danny can’t; Ashley kicks him out and calls sister Lydia to help out by taking over her bar-tending duties at dad’s, Tommy Kincaid’s, pub. After a cheating heartbreaking break-up and divorce, Lydia moved to New Hampshire to work in an upscale restaurant and leave behind the firefighting scene and long-suffering women who care for and agonize over the men who fight fires. But when Ashley calls, sobbing and distraught, family bonds are stronger than any desire to start anew. To Boston Lydia returns, to everything that hurt her, and runs smack up against her brother’s best friend, Aidan Hunt. Continue reading
Miss Bates isn’t keen on closed bedroom-door romances, kisses-only yes, but not closed door. Why you say? The genre’s beauty lies in the reader’s access to every aspect of a couple’s relationship. The closed-bedroom door turns one important relationship-facet away from the reader; whereas, kisses-only doesn’t. But there are category writers who like their bedroom doors closed and Miss Bates concedes to them because they deliver in other ways. Jessica Hart is one; Liz Fielding, another; maybe Jackie Braun; some early Soraya Lane; and Barbara Wallace, after she proved wondrous in one of Miss Bates’ favourite category romances, The Heart Of A Hero. As a result, she was most eager to read Wallace’s latest, A Millionaire For Cinderella. Set on Boston’s moneyed Beacon Hill, it’s the story of housekeeper Patience Rush and wealthy attorney Stuart Duchenko. Patience takes care of Stuart’s beloved Great-Aunt Ana and they both cater to cat Nigel. Stuart’s arrival to find Patience ensconced at the Beacon Hill brownstone and even “writing checks,” brings out the lawyering suspicion in him, despite the attraction he feels for her Venus-bod. As the vulnerable and pretty Patience notes when she first sees him in the ER where she awaits news after Ana’s fall, Stuart Duchenko is “predatory,” with a “killer instinct.” His suspicions prove correct when revelations about Patience’s past put her in an entirely different light from fresh-faced and competent care-giver, painful, hurtful revelations that should urge Stuart to stay far, far away – instead he grows to like and admire Patience. Continue reading