Reading: The Radical Theology of Eva Ibbotson’s A COMPANY OF SWANS (1985)

A_Company_Of_SwansMiss 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 the puritanical, stringent, miserly, dour thumbs of father and aunt. Her singular joy: ballet. Her love of dance leads to her escape from her father’s house to join an eccentric, eclectic 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 are lovers. Another Woman, nasty machinating by sundry parties, including Harriet’s father, aunt, and ex-ish fiancé, conspire to destroy Harriet and Rom’s idyll. 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.
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REVIEW: Christine Rimmer’s A BRAVO FOR CHRISTMAS

A_Bravo_For_ChristmasNow 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.
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MINI-REVIEW: Sarah M. Anderson’s HIS FOREVER FAMILY

His_Forever_FamilySarah 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.
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MINI-REVIEW: Michelle Smart’s WEDDED, BEDDED, BETRAYED

Wedded_Bedded_BetrayedIn 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

REVIEW: Elizabeth Hoyt’s SWEETEST SCOUNDREL

Sweetest_SccoundrelElizabeth 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.
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REVIEW: Laura Florand’s A WISH UPON JASMINE

Wish_Upon_JasmineMiss 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

Opening-Line Mini-Review: Charlotte Lamb’s LOVE IS A FRENZY

Love_Is_FrenzyIf 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

Mini-Review: Jennifer McKenzie’s TEMPTING DONOVAN FORD, Cooking For the CEO

Tempting_Donovan_FordJennifer 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

Wendy’s TBR Challenge: Lynne Graham’s THE GREEK’S CHOSEN WIFE, Or The Truculent Heroine

Greek_Chosen_WifeMiss Bates has a weakness for heroines who rule with their chin … a chin described as defiant, stubborn, mutinous, obstinate. The thesaurus yields a world of possibilities. This perception of willfulness is the hero’s interpretation of the heroine’s personality. He knows better, thinks better, and it’s to the heroine’s benefit that she submit to his greater wisdom. BUT her usually stubborn little chin (body language is all in the romance novel, folks) goes up, or down, depending on whether her eyes spark defiance, or her brows lower with disobedience, and boom, she asserts her will … against the hero’s better judgement. No romance category is more subject to these interactions than the charged emotions, reactions, and interactions of the HP (no longer exclusive to Harlequin, of course, but most easily associated with it). In Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife, Miss Bates found the most delightfully truculent heroine she’s read since early Julie Garwood, though Miss Bates would argue that Garwood’s heroines are oblivious over truculent (that’s for another post). As for Graham’s HP masterpiece, what could be more appealing than the chin-leading truculence of a doughy heroine named Pudding? Continue reading