Dear friends and readers, another year with Miss Bates in the waning light of blogs everywhere. Romance review blogging has given way to Twitter, #bookstagram, etc. and you can find me there, as well as Goodreads and Netgalley, if that’s where you get your reviews. The new and shiny is always a temptation, but I happen to think that the best engagement for reading books is writing about them. So I shall continue to do so. Thank you for reading, commenting, and plain old sticking by me and whatever idiosyncratic reading thoughts and opinions I throw your way. I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, prosperous, inspired and inspiring 2019 and oodles of wonderful books.
I had a great reading year, exceeding my Goodreads goal of a hundred books. I enjoyed many romance novels this year and expanded my non-fiction reading to balance out the HEAs. Below are the best books I read in 2018. I started this post on the first of 2018 and it blossomed with many-a-title till December 31st. It originally had over 30 “favourite” titles. My criteria for the final twelve that follow was simple: if I could vividly remember scenes, ideas, characters, or atmosphere, then it merited inclusion. If the book was “great” at the time of reading but faded over time, well then, it was excised. I hope to articulate, with a few lines for each, what stayed, lingered, and impressed me … strictly from memory, so these will be, at best, impressionistic “reviews”. Continue reading
Caitlin Crews’s A True Cowboy Christmas is one of the most convincing contemporary marriage-of-convenience romances I’ve read … and so many other things. It opens with the hero’s father’s funeral. Gray Everett, however, is not mourning his father, but afraid of ending up like him. Gray introduces us to the family with: “Everetts historically lived mean and more than a little feral … tended to nurse the bottle or wield their piety like a weapon, spending their days alone and angry.” Gray’s Colorado ranch, Cold River Ranch, has never been a happy home. His father, a mean, violent drunk; his cheating wife, dead for ten years in a car crash; Gray works the land, cattle, and horses, keeps the bank at bay, and rears his teen daughter, Becca. Back at the ranch, at the post-funeral luncheon, where neighbours and friends have gathered to pay their respects and many to breathe a sigh of relief that Amos Everett’s meanness will no longer touch anyone, Gray realizes that ” … if he didn’t change”, “today’s grumpy hermit” would become “tomorrow’s bitter, old man.” He resolves, there and then, in sight of the funeral-baked casseroles, that he “was going to have to figure out a way to live this life without drowning in his own darkness” and “to make sure that Becca didn’t succumb to it either.” Gray looks up from his thoughts to heroine and neighbour-spinster Abby Douglas’s question, should she warm up a casserole? Continue reading
Caitlin Crews’s Imprisoned By the Greek’s Ring is a cautionary tale about revenge, a redemptive story of two broken people learning to love, and a sly meta-romance. It is outlandish, exaggerated, high strung, and over-the-top. Its premise is unlikely; its romance, hyperbolic; its hero and heroine, made of clichés and uberness. In a nutshell, it’s an HP romance and delivered exactly what I sought: an immersive id-reading experience. It is apropos that it kept me up till the wee hours and I crawled into work (looking quite deceptively crisp and business-like, with a string of meetings to plan for and endure) with major bleary-eyed book hangover. (And to whomever left espressos and stickie buns in the common room, you have my eternal gratitude.) Crews is one of the masters of the genre and she drew me in (it took some work) and left me on the bank and shoal of time, happy to have spent a few hours with her visceral characters and plot. Continue reading
Caitlin Crews’s Prince’s Nine-Month Scandal opens with as ludicrous a premise as we’ve come to expect from the HP romance. In a bathroom at London’s Heathrow, Natalie Monette contemplates leaving her PA job with billionaire Achilles Casilieris after five years of all-consuming dedication to her volatile employer. In the mirror, she espies her twin, or someone who could be her twin. Princess Valentina of the mythical kingdom of Murin is running away from her arranged marriage to Prince Rodolfo of the mythical kingdom of Tessely. What better solution to both their dilemmas than to “switch” places: Natalie off to a princess’s life and Valentina to escape her impending nuptials by serving the mercurial Achilles. They put on each other’s clothes and take each other’s cell phones, with which they agree to text. Valentina pretty much goes off-grid till the romance’s final revelations and Natalie is left with her princess-fantasy in a bit of a shambles. She must navigate her kingly father, royal duties and protocols, and most importantly, devil-may-care, reckless, promiscuous fiancé. But Natalie hasn’t “handled” the temperamental Achilles for five years without learning a thing or two about difficult men. She sets out to set a few things straight with Rodolfo – for Valentina’s sake. She doesn’t count, this is an HP after all, on her visceral physical and emotional response to him.
Miss Bates hasn’t read a Crews HP in a while. There can be something overwrought about Crews’s work, but all was toned down, as toned down as an HP can be, in Bride By Royal Decree. Crews’s romance roots are deeply embedded, maybe deliberately so, in fairy tale. Miss Bates enjoyed it all the more for that reason. Let’s face it: realism, nay plausibility, is not the HP’s companion. We read it as fairy-tale-wish-fulfillment-fantasy and Bride By Royal Decree has this in spades.
Decree‘s premise lies in one of Miss Bates’s favourite fairy-tale elements: the revelation of the heroine’s identity and mysterious past. In Deanville, Connecticut, Maggie Strafford scrubs the floor of her barista-job café when Reza Argos, His Royal Majesty, King and Supreme Ruler of Constantines, walks in with the revelation that Maggy is his long-thought-to-be-dead-and-lost fiancée, Princess Magdalena of Santa Domini. At eight, Maggy had “been found by the side of the road as a feral child with no memory of where she’d come from.” Since then, her “unfortunate childhood in foster care” and subsequent adult poverty made her the snarly, mouthy woman she is. Reza is controlled, proper, and duty-bound, “not a sentimental man” writes Crews. He reveals Maggie’s identity and, despite her lippy disbelief, whisks her away to a private island for princess-grooming where the novel’s main action takes place, soon thereafter to be put in her queenly place in his kingdom. Like many an HP-hero, Reza is a “beast,” not in appearance, but emotionally. He’s coiled inward, with a backstory that makes him balk at emotional entanglement. Continue reading
Most of the time, when Miss Bates reads a romance, her response to it is consistent. The love-hate-or-meh feelings set in with the first sentence … and first-sentence-mini-review-to-self rarely steers her wrong. In Caitlin Crews’ At the Count’s Bidding, Miss B. ran a gamut of responses. Crews’ romance doesn’t deviate from the HP reader’s expectations, but the narrative exhibits abrupt shifts. At the same time, players and plot are typical of the category. Count Giancarlo Alessi, budding actor, and Paige Fielding, young dancer, met and loved ten years ago on a film set. Paige destroyed their young love when she took money from a tabloid in exchange for their nude photos. Paige had shameful obligations she was too embarrassed to share with Giancarlo. Ten years later, Giancarlo, now running his deceased father’s Tuscan estate, still hurt and angry over Paige’s betrayal, confronts her at his mother’s Bel Air mansion. Paige works as his mother’s personal assistant, fetching, carrying, and indulging the famous actress’s, Violet Sutherlin’s, whims. Paige, without family, or friends, clings to Violet as the only person who knows and loves her. Giancarlo is shocked to see her ensconced as his mother’s right-hand and assumes she insinuated herself into the job. It’s an opportunity to finally exact his revenge. He strikes a deal: Paige will cater to his sexual whims while he’ll allow her to remain as Violet’s PA. Paige won’t leave the woman who means so much to her and allowing Giancarlo to hurt her will assuage her guilt over their break-up. Continue reading