Three romance novels saw me DNF them because of their opening scene: Mary Balogh’s The Secret Pearl; Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Nobody’s Baby But Mine; and, Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened. In time, I returned to all three and loved them. We can add a fourth, Lopez’s début, Lush Money. All four open with a scene where one or both of the protagonists are morally comprised; we see the them at their worst. All four involve a scene where the body is exchanged for money, or services, where the “other” is objectified and exploited. It is most interesting that in three of the four, including Lopez’s, the hero is objectified. What Lopez brings to the table is a flip to the classic HP ethos: the billionaire, in this case, the heroine, Roxanne Medina, “buys” Prince Mateo Esperanza’s, the hero’s, services to make her dream baby and cement her business empire. They marry, business-like, and “meet” once a month over a three-day period when Roxanne ovulates. So, what’s in it for Mateo? Continue reading
Eons ago, I read Julie Anne Long’s I Kissed An Earl and liked it well enough, but not with the passion of anticipating the next book in the series or eye-balling the newly-arriveds for her author’s name. I was surprised to see her turn to contemporary romance as she seemed quite ensconced in the former. But, hey, what do I know about author inspirations or the changing face of romance publishing? Bupkis. I was curious, however, and since contemporary is my sub-genre of choice, happy to give her a try with book four of the Hellcat Canyon series, The First Time At Firelight Falls, and even happier to eat reader humble-pie when I was *forced* to reassess my initial ho-hum judgement of it. It is seemingly run-of-the-mill contemporary small-town romance: Hellcat’s denizens are eccentric and supportive, there’s a good dose of wholesome humour and a modicum of conventionally-positioned, hot sex between the leads, and, at least initially, a whole lot of not-much-ness.
Reading Michelle Smart’s Once a Moretti Wife was balm to Miss Bates’s reading soul after its wounding by Knox’s Madly. Admittedly, if you’re an HP reader, you’re going to recognize some of the line’s pernicious elements in Smart’s novel: a hero and heroine plagued by abusive and/or disappointing families, a heroine the nonpareil to the hero’s negative views of women, and a gargantuan mis. MissB. had one of two choices: cling to every accusation thrown at the HP, even though conventions are givens and if you don’t like them, don’t read them, OR revel in its wit and the characters’ vibrancy. Add a dollop of amnesia to the heroine, show her disoriented and weak, even while the dark, nasty hero conjures his revenge against her, then catches her when she collapses at his feet and nearly has a heart attack from his fear over her well-being. Marvelous, thought MissB., this is going to be great! And it was. Continue reading
Kat Latham is a new author to Miss Bates. She read a glowing review of Latham’s novella in her London Legends series, “Unwrapping Her Perfect Match,” and was curious to try one of her books. (Some *day*, Miss B. will link to all these reviews she reads, but that day will not be today … some *day*, Miss B. will keep a record of reviews she reads … ) In any case, she dug into Latham’s fourth rugby-playing heroes novel, Taming The Legend. Miss Bates is strictly a hockey watcher, but thought the rough-and-tumble rugby-world would appeal and it did. Latham’s novel is much more than that: it’s about forgiveness and love, new-found hope and redressing of past wrongs. It’s about being friends and lovers and working together to achieve something worthy and good. It’s also really really funny!
Taming The Legend opens with London Legends star-player Ashley Trenton, 36, holding the World Cup. Ash’s victory is bittersweet: he and his team have reached the apex of rugby achievement, but this is his last game. Ash is retiring and like everyone who dedicates a life to a beloved career, he’s uncertain and scared he’ll not be able to find a purpose as all-consuming as his career. Ash puts it best when he says, “He’d married his career, and he’d never questioned that decision. So what did he do now his career was divorcing him?” The answer comes in the form of Camila Morales and a punch to Ash’s victorious jaw. One glance in the hotel lobby brought Ash back to the girl he loved and left in Barcelona eighteen years ago. Ash’s grin and sexual excitement at seeing her again last a blink … before Camila has him reeling back on his very fine bum. Continue reading
HelenKay Dimon’s first in the Greenway Range series, Chain Of Command, was easy to pick up in the spirit of nostalgia. When Miss Bates started reading romance eight or so years ago, contemporary romance was rife with military heroes. Dimon was writing some delightful Hawaiian-set romance with protective cops and ex-military-type heroes: they were sexy and fun. Reading Chain Of Command about ex-Marine hero, Sawyer Cain, and heroine, Hailey Thorne, was all about getting those feelings back. But Miss Bates is not the reader she used to be when any romance, as long as it was romance, would do. Tastes change and trends that were attractive eight years ago are no longer. Reading Chain Of Command felt, well, tired. Sawyer Cain and his coterie of ex-military buddies, Jason, Marcus, and Marcus’s SEAL lover, Will (that WAS a nice touch) and sister, Molly, converge on an area north of San Diego to start a business. It is especially important to Sawyer, who carries guilt from their time in Afghanistan and is haunted by the soldiers lost there, to keep everyone together, provide them with viable work and create a safe haven. He wants to acquire the land his deceased buddy, Rob Turner, intended him to have and use it to establish a firing range business. The land, however, was left to Rob’s adopted daughter, heroine Hailey, and her coterie of friends are involved in it too: one of them is Rob’s fiancée, Kat, and their friend, Jessie, who lives with Hailey because of her abusive ex-husband, Pete. 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
Miss Bates’ latest read is Genevieve Turner’s second “Las Morenas” late-nineteenth-century romance, Autumn Sage. Miss Bates has enjoyed this series’ sweep: California-set, intertwined Anglo and old stock Spanish families, tales tragic and comedic, characters sympathetic and antipathetic, violent pasts, present trials, and in their midst, love, forgiveness, and forging a new family and better way of being in the world. She reviewed the first book, Summer Chaparral; the eldest Moreno sister and family beauty, Catarina, is the heroine. She enters into a shotgun marriage with newly-arrived rancher, Jace Merrill. Autumn Sage is second-sister Isabel Moreno’s story; in Summer Chaparral, we learn Isabel was attacked while riding with her fiancé, Sheriff Joaquin Obregon. When Autumn Sage opens, her engagement is over; Joaquin is an invalid in the sanatorium; and, she suffers from PTSD. Isabel and Joaquin were ambushed by villain outlaw and rich-daddy’s-bad-boy-son, Cole McCade. Enter hero U. S. Marshal Sebastian Spencer, summoned from LA to Cabrillo by Jace, whose estranged father, Judge Bannister, is Sebastian’s superior. Big, black-clad, and austere Sebastian, appropriately named after the tree-bound, arrow-tormented early Christian saint, protects Isabel and captures McCade. Isabel travels to Los Angeles to testify at McCade’s trial. The silent, controlled, still-waters-run-deep Sebastian is reunited with schoolmarm and temperance-society advocate, broken-but-not-down, Isabel. McCade’s guilty conviction proves elusive. While they work to bring him to justice, Sebastian and Isabel fight their own and families’ demons, while their need, desire, and fierce love for each other are as lovely and wild as autumn sage. Continue reading
Genevieve Turner’s début, Summer Chaparral, Las Morenas Book 1, is Miss Bates’ first shotgun-wedding-themed romance. Judging from the places Turner’s novel lead her to, it won’t be her last. Her impression is that a “good” shot-gun-wedding-troped romance needs a historical context where codes of family honour are paramount. (This is harder to pull off in contemporary romance, but HPs do it with sheikh and Greek billionaire romances and Orientalism be damned.) Turner’s near-turn-of-the-twentieth-century California-set romance is perfectly situated within that description. The diminished Californianos, the Spanish-originned families, are still significant landowners in a California with American statehood. The heroine’s, Catarina Moreno’s, family, is such a one, landed, Californian Hispanic gentry: they speak Spanish in their home, live with Old-World decorum, keep a Spanish kitchen, and expect their daughters, in particular, to maintain a cloistered virtue and marry into one of the equally landed and “aristocratic” long-established Hispanic families. For maximum tension and conflict, Turner places her Morenos, and their oldest and most beautiful daughter, Catarina, into a changing world: statehood and the anglo-Americans who now dominate the state. Her hero, Jace Merrill, with his own family baggage, rides into Cabrillo, looking for land and a home, “The valley had enough space to let a man breathe, while the ranges encircling it were close enough to give the impression of protecting what lay below. Freedom and comfort, all in the same place. Odd, that a landscape could be so reassuring.” The landscape is reassuring, with its green-hued chaparral beauty, but Catarina Moreno is forbidden territory.
The chaparral reaches out to him, as do Catarina’s comely curves and cinnamon eyes. Though Jace carries the secret of his family’s power and hatred of Hispanics, though he doesn’t carry their name Bannister, having run away at fifteen, he yearns for connection and family. A meeting by the town trough and some stolen kisses establish his and Catarina’s attraction. He knows that the Bannisters and Morenos have ancient and nasty history. Animosity, family feud, and blood honour mix with desire, attraction, passion, and yearning for a place in the world: Jace for home and wife; Catarina, now 26, for a husband, home of her own, and freedom from her mother’s austere dominance. Continue reading