True to characters cover!
One of the first romance novels I read when I returned to the genre and combed through best-of lists for titles to throw money at was Lisa Kleypas’s Dreaming Of You. I adored Sarah and Derek, the casino setting, the pesky, bespectacled heroine and hardened with a secret heart of gold hero. Ostensibly, Lorraine Heath’s Beyond Scandal and Desire has echoes of Kleypas’s romance classic, but in many other ways, it is an entirely different beast, unique to Heath’s vision. Beyond Scandal and Desire‘s cross-class promise, its ingenue heroine who’s too smart to stay that way and guttersnipe-made-good hero kept me reading through a slow, though evident of a sure writing hand, first third. The similarities to Kleypas saw me through the premise’s set-up. What kept me rivetted was Heath’s weaving of a tale about the need to be recognized, acknowledged, loved, and validated, a journey both hero and heroine take in their unique ways, about what family means, and where we can meet on a plane of forgiveness and reconciliation. To start, the novel’s gothic opening sees a London aristocrat deliver a new-born to the East End Widow Trewlove, by-blow of an affair? shame of the aristocracy? Yet, the birth scene had been one of tenderness and love between mother and father … whatever happened here, I wanted to know.
If Miss Bates could hand out book prescriptions as doctors do medicine, Marion Lennox would go on every prescription pad entitled comfort read. A Lennox romance offers a view of the world that says kindness and care are what make it better; everyone is capable of changing to be able to love; grace and consideration are virtues to look for in a mate; and the genre can be sweet, funny, tender, and true, without being saccharine. Lennox’s The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby does this by bringing a baby and unlikely hero and heroine together at Christmas. Lennox’s romance is the Cinderella-troped story of the aptly-named Sunny Raye and equally allegorically-named billionaire Max Grayland as Sunny sheds love’s light onto Max’s loveless, lonely existence. The two of them are redeemed and love made possible by the appearance of one newborn bundle of cuddly joy and screaming-like-a-banshee set of lungs baby, Phoebe.
Max is in a Sydney hotel trying to write his estranged father’s eulogy for tomorrow’s funeral when his father’s mistress, Isabelle, dumps her newborn daughter in Max’s lap. Workaholic Max is helpless before the crying, hungry, wet baby and his only recourse is hotel maid Sunny, who, it turns out, brought up four siblings with the help of her grandparents after their mother abandoned them. Continue reading
Miss Bates read one of the best romances ever and it was Eva Ibbotson’s A Company Of Swans. Woven into Harriet and Rom’s magnificent romance is Ibbotson’s notion of what faith constitutes: how it calls us and how we enact it. Religious references are threaded throughout Harriet and Rom’s great love.
To set the scene: Harriet lives in 1912 Cambridge, England, under her father’s and aunt’s puritanical, stringent, miserly, dour thumbs. Her singular joy: ballet. Her love of dance leads to her escape from her father’s house to join an eccentric company of dancers and prima ballerina, Simonova, slated to dance in the Amazon rainforest. There, she meets Rom, a wealthy, generous, darkly good-looking, self-exiled ex-pat. Rom falls in immediate love, as does Harriet, but they, for individual reasons, bide their time. Eventually, they become lovers. Another Woman, sundry parties’ nasty machinations, including Harriet’s father, aunt, and ex-fiancé, conspire to destroy Harriet and Rom’s love affair. Rom plays shiny-armor knight, in a scene reminiscent of one of MissB’s favourites, the ending of Hitchcock’s Notorious. All’s well that end’s well, as is the Bard’s wisdom and the romance genre’s. MissB will, in a most unscholarly fashion, pen what struck her about Ibbotson’s theology in A Company Of Swans. Read it for the romance, remember it for how love is our most vital calling.
Now Miss Bates has read several Rimmer romances, she can speculate why she enjoys them so much. How are they sufficiently atypical to offer jolts of reader-surprise and predictable enough to be comfort reads? Miss B. has ideas. First, what her latest reading installment is about. Her click-happy finger on Netgalley amassed one too many Christmas roms, but the pleasure of reading one in June is no less. And it’s her favourite kind: the type that opens on Thanksgiving and builds to Christmas Eve and Day. When our romance opens, heroine Ava Malloy, fallen hero’s widow and single mum, “had the medals and the folded flag to prove it,” is contemplating taking a lover: “Ava wanted the shivery thrill of a hot kiss, the glory of a tender touch. To put it bluntly, she would love to get laid.” She’s in a good place: successful, with a great six-year-old daughter, Sylvie, and happy in her friends and family. Enter almost-high-school-flame Darius “Dare” Bravo and his irresistible charm. Moreover, he’s volunteering with a local girls’ Blueberry troop, helping them build dollhouses for underprivileged children. What with Sylvie a part of the troop and Ava having to pick her up and Dare’s persistently compelling flirting, the staid, serious single mum cracks and makes Dare a proposition he cannot resist, especially given he’s carried a torch for Ava since high school: secret lovers from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, no strings, no obligations, not even friendship, all the benefits, commitment – bupkis.
Sarah M. Anderson’s His Forever Family has a dramatic opening and an intriguing premise. Chicago billionaire hero, Marcus Warren, and his executive assistant, Liberty Reese, are jogging along Lake Michigan. They’re sharing a near-banterish conversation about Marcus’s attendance at his ex-fiancée’s wedding. Liberty is urging him to find a date, then intuiting that he really doesn’t want to attend. Marcus is insistent on attending (because his mommy wants him to) while resisting selecting a date from the list his uber-efficient assistant compiled. He hits on the idea of taking Liberty. The reader senses that Liberty is afraid of Marcus’s social world, but we’re not yet privy to the reasons. Anderson balances witty dialogue with character revelations. We learn that Marcus is nervous about being attacked, distant from his self-serving parents, and yearns for love and belonging. We learn that Liberty’s beginnings are as far removed from her role in Marcus’s world as Lake Michigan is from Alaska. Into this complex little scene, Anderson drops a – BABY! – an abandoned baby, a foundling. Nearing Chicago’s famous Buckingham Fountain, Marcus hears a mewling and notes some strange movement. He drops to his knees, thinking it might be an abandoned kitten. He is shocked to discover ” … an African-American newborn in a shoe box by the trash can.” Liberty to the rescue! She cradles and croons to the baby, cools him off with their water bottles, and evokes warm, fuzzy, protective, and desirable feelings in Marcus.
In keeping with its melodramatic ethos, the HP romance thrives on a good revenge story. Revenge is lurid, dramatic, passionate, and more tangible than hate. Hate is nebulous; revenge is concrete and action-driven. New-to-Miss B. Michelle Smart’s Wedded, Bedded, Betrayed is powered by the hero’s vendetta against the heroine’s family. Gabriele Mantegna served two years in prison to save his innocent father from doing so. When he emerged, his father was dead, mother a ghost of her former self, fiancée a no-show, and business, Mantegna Cars, rudderless. For the next four years, Gabriele pursued “a subtle one-man vendetta against” the Riccis, the family who set up his father to take the fall. One night, seeking incriminating evidence at Ignazio Ricci’s Caribbean island villa, Gabriele rescues a maiden-waif captured by thieves. This woman-sprite is Elena Ricci, Ignazio’s beloved, over-protected daughter. What sweeter revenge than blackmailing his enemy’s precious princess into marrying and bedding him? Otherwise, Gabriele exposes her father’s corruption. When desire and love enter a picture where they had no place, what is a wrong-headed alpha-hero to do but the dumb-ass thing – cling to revenge and vindication. Continue reading
Elizabeth Hoyt: Miss Bates just can’t quit you. Thus Miss B. found herself reading Hoyt’s, yes, ninth Georgian-set, Maiden-Lane novel, Sweetest Scoundrel. And what a scoundrel Asa Makepeace was, paired with a plain-Jane heroine, his “harpy,” as he called her, Eve Dinwoody, sister to Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery (the previous novel‘s villain). As the old duke’s illegitimate daughter, Eve lives an introvert’s ideal life: Val provides her with a lovely home and servants, ample income to indulge her miniature painting hobby, keep her caged dove in fancy seeds, and a bodyguard, a great character in and of himself, Jean-Marie Pépin. Eve is the only person who genuinely loves her nefarious brother. Responsible for Val’s interests in his absence (his shenanigans sent him into “exile” on the continent), she ensures his investment in Asa Makepeace’s grand rebuilding project, the pleasure garden known as Harte’s Folly, is solid. Officious, book-keeping, and dignified Eve meets volatile, foul-mouthed, and crude “Mr. Harte”, Asa, when she confronts him about his cavalier spending of her brother’s money and then goes about controlling Asa’s purse-strings.
Miss Bates’ responses to Laura Florand have been mixed: a tepid reaction to The Chocolate Touch and warmer, more loving-it reading of All For You. Miss Bates likes Florand better with every book she reads; it’s taken a while to get used to Florand’s distinct voice, a style and thematic concerns she finds increasingly more sympatico. Miss Bates characterizes what Florand brings to the genre as “lyrical angst,” with heroes and heroines embodying an emotional intensity distinctly, gallically high-strung. When it works, it’s touching, moving, heart-stopping; when it doesn’t, it’s at best, sentimental and, as you know, Miss Bates believes there’s nothing wrong with sentiment. Florand’s latest, A Wish Upon Jasmine, second in her La Vie en Roses series, is signature “lyrical angst.” Jasmin “Jess” Bianchi and Damien Rosier met and briefly wooed on a NYC hotel terrace and shared a passionate night. Their connection was instaneous and fierce, a recognition of attachment to the other that the romance genre, and Florand in particular, does so well. The light of day, however, dissipated the magic. Continue reading
If you scroll down this page, you’ll see that Miss Bates took part in a “Quote Challenge,” thanks to Willaful’s Three-Day Quote Challenge. Miss Bates opted to write mini-reviews based on her impressions of a romance novel’s opening line. If you follow Miss Bates on Twitter, you’ll also know she indulges in spinsterish bubble-bath romance reading every night (you can follow her musings under the hashtag #bathtubromreading). She loved the quote format and opportunity to be succinct (not too often, mind you) 😉 . Hashtag and quote review married and are ready to have babies. Thus, she’ll occasionally abandon herself to an opening-line mini-review of her bathtubromread. Her latest was Charlotte Lamb’s 1979 Love Is A Frenzy. Like most great romance novels, its opening line is simple and sublime:
She recognized him at once.
Beautiful. And mysterious. Who is she? What previous knowledge does she have of him allowing her to recognize him “at once”? And how clever of Lamb to use personal pronouns instead of the heroine and hero’s first name? Adding to the mystique. Working the reader’s curiosity, drawing her in without being coy, silly, or manipulative. Continue reading
Jennifer McKenzie and the second volume of her Family Business series, Tempting Donovan Ford, is new-to-Miss-B. She’s sometimes keen to try a new author, especially in one of her favourite category lines, the meatier Super-Romance. Also on the look-out for that romance rarity, an HEA-journey set in her “home and native land,” Canada, in this case, Vancouver. McKenzie’s romance had sufficient narrative enticements to forego Miss Bates’ dislike for a chef heroine (really? another chef) and businessman hero (one-CEO-too-many in romance these days). Its tropish ways familiar and beloved, antagonists-to-lovers and opposites-attract, Jennifer McKenzie’s Tempting Donovan Ford tells the story of the eponymous hero, head of his father’s wine-bar business, and Julia Laurent, executive chef of established, if a tad dated, French resto, La Petite Bouchée. They are thrown together when Donovan’s father buys La Petite Bouchée, a surprise to Julia, to whom Jean-Paul, the previous owner, had promised to sell. La Petite Bouchée is Julia’s professional and personal grail: her mother, recently deceased, still terribly missed and mourned, was its original executive chef. Donovan’s tall-dark-handsome presence, though an immediate physical lodestar to Julia, is, nevertheless, her dream’s usurper … unless she can convince him to sell her the restaurant. Donovan was against his father’s purchase of the demodé establishment. His aim is to modernize, redesign, and re-sell. He knows Juliet’s cooking is a selling point. Their plans align: renovate the restaurant and give Julia first dibs on its purchase. Until Donovan’s father, now recovered from a recent heart attack, informs Donovan he won’t sell. Continue reading