MINI-REVIEW: Donna Alward’s BEST MAN FOR THE WEDDING PLANNER

Best_Man_for_the_Wedding_PlannerDonna Alward wrote some of my favourite category romances and seeing her back in “category-form” was most welcome. Alward writes romance for adults and it was disappointing to see her venture into imaginery-royal-kingdom territory in her past few books. While previous books have consistently been bedroom-tame, I think the classic Harlequin romance line results in a good fit.

Best Man for the Wedding Planner is book one of a two-book series, linked by the eponymous wedding planner, Adele “Delly” Hawthorne and her photographer best friend, Harper McBride. I was also delighted to see Alward set Wedding Planner in some of the most beautiful places in western Canada, heck, setting it in Canada alone is unusual and it made me so happy! Moreover, Wedding Planner sees Alward return to some familiar themes and draw her signature adult, mature, responsible characters, who nevertheless still manage to surprise the reader with their honesty and vulnerability. Ne’er is there a stupid misunderstanding or the shackles of bad parenting as explaining EVERYTHING there is to understand about a character’s obstacles to loving and being loved. There’s also the angst that Alward loves to write so well and there’s plenty of it in Wedding Planner, as Adele confronts the “best man” to her latest wedding venture, Dan Brimicombe, the man she loved and rejected eight years ago. Continue reading

Repeat/Opening-Line Mini-Review: M. O’Keefe’s “The Heart Of It”

“She was there. At the bar wearing a dress the color of a bruise’s dark heart.”

Heart_Of_ItMiss Bates first read Molly O’Keefe’s short story, “The Heart Of It,” in the Summer Rain romance anthology, which she reviewed in 2014. Miss Bates reread it when it was recently self-published as a standalone and was struck again by its fineness, the delicacy with which O’Keefe recounts her story. “The Heart Of It” isn’t a happy story, but it is a hopeful one. Gabe and Elena’s baggage is contained in the lovely opening line. Their initial encounters are monetary, self-interested, and heartbreaking. They are bruised by life, hurt; like a bruise, visible, when pressed, painful. In O’Keefe’s description of Gabe’s perception of Elena’s skin lies the hope at the story’s heart: 

“Her skin was the color of the harvest moon, or the inside of a shell, something white and creamy and perfect.” 

Purple bruises give way to an HEA wrested from pain, like the delicate, recovering skin emerging from a fading bruise. Continue reading

Opening-Line Mini-Review: L. M. Montgomery’s THE BLUE CASTLE

Blue_Castle“If it had not rained on a certain May morning, Valancy Stirling’s whole life would have been different.”

Thus opens Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Blue Castle, a novel that should be as beloved to Montgomery readers as Anne of Green Gables. Its opening line encompasses what happens to a life at the crossroads of arbitrariness and opportunity, circumstance and freedom. Valancy is a 29-year-old mousy spinster, a Miss Bates without the supportive community or tolerant mother, living in her contemptuous family’s shadow and reminded daily she is her supercilious mother’s cross to bear. Valancy is simultaneously cowed, dismissed, pitied, and exploited.    Continue reading

REVIEW: Donna Alward’s HER RANCHER RESCUER, Or Knight In A Stetson

Her Rancher RescuerMiss Bates anticipates, welcomes, and relishes a Donna Alward category romance.  Alward has given us some great romance fiction: Honeymoon With the Rancher, How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart, and The Rebel Rancher are among Miss Bates’s favourites.  (Indeed, How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart may be one of her favourite categories, akin to Sarah Mayberry’s She’s Got It Bad.)  Clean air, horses, complex characters, thorny, believable issues, deeply-felt love, desire, need, and burgeoning friendship between hero and heroine are a winning combination.  Thus, Miss Bates was eager to read Her Rancher Rescuer.  Miss Bates loves how Alward takes her characters, especially her heroes, and twists them up and spins them every which way in the name of love and the heroine.  She loves how her heroines are the stronger emotionally, grow to be self-assured and decisive, yet never lose their soft touch, or tenderness.  Though Her Rancher Rescuer did not grab Miss Bates immediately and there are reasons for that, it grew on her.  She liked it  … a lot.  It didn’t reduce her to a sniveling, Kleenex-sodden mess, as did How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart, but the heartstrings were pulled taut. Continue reading

REVIEW: Toni Anderson’s DARK WATERS and Still, Run Deep

Dark WatersToni Anderson’s Dark Waters is a contemporary romantic suspense novel that took Miss Bates by surprise. She plunged into it without any hope that it would prove more than mediocre. Well, lo and behold, she enjoyed it: agonized over the knuckle-biting bits, cringed at the violence, rooted for the hero and heroine, and basked in the beautiful Canadian West Coast setting. The beauty and danger in nature serve Brent and Anna’s story in a compelling way: adding a twist of what Miss Bates calls “nature-gothic,” whereby natural surroundings support the suspenseful and danger-filled atmosphere. In this case, murky and dangerous water imagery makes this stomach-tightening tale all the more moody and ominous. This is not a ground-breaking book by any means, and it suffers from some typical criticisms leveled against the romantic suspense sub-genre, but Miss Bates would still heartily urge you to read it for the sheer enjoyment of a roller-coaster ride of a thriller and love story well-told.  Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts