Mary Burchell’s A SONG BEGINS: Romance Doesn’t Get Better Than This …

A_Song_BeginsUntil reading Mary Burchell’s A Song Begins, Miss Bates found it hard to believe that anyone could rival her beloved Betty Neels. And yet, here she is, enthralled with Mary Burchell. And all she can say is, MOAR! A Song Begins is the first of Burchell’s Warrender Saga, a series of thirteen romances she wrote for Mills and Boon stretching from 1965 to 1985. They are set in the opera world and feature harsh, closed-off heroes and heroines who can hold their own against them. Burchell and Neels share the exclusive heroine POV and the mystery, which Miss Bates loves, of knowing the heroes only by their actions. Their kindness and love for the heroine are hinted at with only very occasional near-tender gestures. Otherwise, they’re cyphers of raised eyebrows, mysterious smiles, flashing, angry eyes, suppressed frustration, and an exacting work ethic, to which our heroine’s inexperience is subject, in Neels’ case in the surgery and Burchell’s on the stage. A Song Begins opens with Anthea Benton, aspiring singer from Cromerdale, trying to win a TV singing spot to help her pay her way to London and voice training. Anthea’s family is financially humble; while loving and supportive of her aspirations, they cannot afford to help her. This TV spot is her only chance and it is foiled by one of the judges, the famous conductor, Oscar Warrender. Anthea’s disappointment is short-lived, however, because she receives word, through her voice teacher, Miss Sharp, that a mysterious benefactor is funding her move to London to study with none other than the maestro himself, Oscar Warrender!   Continue reading

Maisey Yates’s HOLD ME, COWBOY

Hold_Me_CowboyMaisey Yates continues her Copper Ridge, Oregon saga in yet another of Miss Bates’s belated Christmas romance reads, Hold Me, Cowboy. It was the perfect antidote to the bad after-taste of Sandas’s Untouchable Earl. Miss Bates was captured and gave a rueful chuckle when she read in Yates’s first chapter: ” ‘I just need to … I need to rip the Band-Aid off.’ ‘The Band-Aid?’ ‘The sex Band-Aid.’ He nodded, pretending that he understood. ‘Okay.’ ‘I want this,’ she said, her tone confident. ‘Are you … suggesting … that I give you … sexual healing?’ ” You see, dear reader, Miss Bates suffered from nearly 300 pages of “sexual healing” in her previous rom-read/review and it brought out the snark big-time, but Yates understands the fundamental untruthfulness of the healing in “sexual healing.” It takes all manner of touch to heal. What distinguishes romance from erotica is that the central couple may start with sexual touch, but to make a romance and reach the HEA, there must be other kinds of touch, motivated by emotions that aren’t lust, emerging from the impetus to comfort, care for, and succour. To give Sandas some credit, Miss Bates thinks she understood that, but failed in execution. Yates, on the other hand, did the clever and adroit romance writer thing: there’s lust and it’s pleasurable for her protagonists, but it’s a stopgap to other kinds of touch and talk that will connect, bind, and drive them to an HEA of commitment, fidelity, and love.
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Cheryl St. John’s and Sherri Shackelford’s COWBOY CREEK CHRISTMAS

Cowboy_Creek_ChristmasMissB’s been very busy at the day-job and preparing for Pascha to get a lot of reading done. Though it’s seasonally months-late and incongruous given the Paschal season, she thought she’d try one of her not-yet-reviewed Christmas romances. Maybe get that warm glow of hope going. And … novellas, short reads are good when your time is at a premium. Yet it still took her ages to get through them, despite being possessed of some of Miss B’s favourite tropes. St. John’s “Mistletoe Reunion” has a proto-feminist, no-nonsense alternative medicine doctor-heroine, Dr. Marlys Boyd, and the man she left to be educated and practice her profession, newspaperman and widowed father, Sam Mason. Theirs is a reunited-fiancé(e)s romance with doubt and hurt on the hero’s part and a reassessment of her life-choices on the heroine’s. Shackelford’s “Mistletoe Bride” is a marriage-of-convenience romance, Miss B’s favourite histrom trope. Newly-arrived Austrian immigrant mail-order bride, Beatrix Haas, arrives in Cowboy Creek, Kansas, only to be told that the man she was to marry, Sheriff Quincy Davis, was killed by a local gang. When farrier-hero Colton Werner meets her, it’s because he’s been summoned by the mid-wife to help translate from Beatrix’s German as she labors to give birth. Beatrix travelled to Kansas to give her baby a name and Quincy Davis, it seems, was willing to do so. Now, the realization that she’s near-death and her baby to be born thus and left without a care-giver is devastating. Until Colton offers to marry her, even knowing she might die and he left with an infant’s care.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Amy Andrews’s SWEPT AWAY BY THE SEDUCTIVE STRANGER

Swept_Away_By_The_Seductive_StrangerMiss Bates has been reading rom long enough, ten years to date, that it’s harder and harder to find a new-to-her category author (category being her primary romance consumption). BUT Amy Andrews is new to Miss Bates and she’s sorry she took as long as she did to read her. There was much to like about Andrews’s Swept Away By The Seductive Stranger and the title wasn’t it. The characters, their conflicts, inner and outer, the setting, and their surprisingly honest and realistic romance were.

Nurse Felicity Mitchell is fulfilling the dream of a life-time riding the Indian-Pacific rail to Adelaide when she meets and is attracted to Callum Hollingsworth. Though neither are one-night-stand aficionados, their overwhelming attraction, during dinner with the retirees they share the train with, it appears will lead them to share their deliciously cramped overnight berths. A medical emergency puts a stop to their soon-to-be-tryst and reveals their respective professions as nurse and doctor, respectively. Nevertheless, the post-adrenaline restlessness following the medical emergency’s resolution has them share a night of never-to-be-repeated passion between “strangers on a train”. With the inevitable hokey coincidence of the romance novel plot, it turns out the strangers on the train will soon be co-workers in the clinic, as Callum appears at Nurse Felicity’s Vickers Hill clinic to take over for two months while one of their doctors goes on maternity leave. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s THE SPANIARD’S PREGNANT BRIDE

Spaniard's_Pregnant_BrideMiss Bates is always suspect that Maisey Yates can be as prolific as she is and still retain her novels’ high standards. Yates pulls it off with an ensured hand for the most part. Though Miss Bates prefers Yates’s more realistic contemporary romance, she also can’t resist an HP by an author she consistently enjoys. And so … Yates’s Spaniard’s Pregnant Bride, wherein Yates really rocks a lovely reversal of the princess in the tower narrative, with a towered and towering prince, oops duke … the prince is the heroine’s rejected fiancé. Allegra Valenti, at 22, is set to marry Prince Raphael DeSantis of Santa Firenze thanks to the match-making efforts of her brother’s best friend, Cristian Acosta. Cristian, despite his name, is an arrogant donkey-butt of a hero, purporting to know what’s best for the heroine, even choosing her husband. But, like any good HP, the hero’s high-and-mighty will be hoisted on his own petard. Allegra is smart and possesses what Miss Bates most admires in a heroine, integrity and spunk. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Christine Rimmer’s MS. BRAVO AND THE BOSS

ms_bravo_and_the_bossMiss Bates is looking at a very busy few weeks, so her reviews will be especially “mini” and impressionistic. She restlessly DNF-ed several titles … too trite, too much tell, *shudder* insta-lust … before settling on Christine Rimmer’s Ms. Bravo and the Boss, an author she enjoyed with her first foray into the Bravo-Word, a series whose novels run in the double-digits!

Ms. Bravo and the Boss tells of the meet-near-fail, burgeoning sympathy, eventual courtship, betrayal, and reconciliation of two likeable characters, the eponymous “Ms”, Elise Bravo, and reclusive Justice Creek, Colorado-resident thriller writer, Jed Walsh. When the novel opens, Elise’s life is a shambles: her business burnt to the ground, her best friend off to Seattle, her relationship with her family a tad estranged, working two menial jobs (on the humiliating generosity of two Bravo sisters), living above a donut shop, eating too many of the sweet-rounds and not quite fitting into her clothes. Jed too is in a pickle: he has trouble keeping an assistant and is working on a tight deadline. Jed needs to find the right person to help him with his “process”: dictating his novels to a silent, fast typist while he either throws knives, or cleans guns. His gruff ways and beastly temper chased every assistant away. Since his grandmotherly typist, Anna, left to live with her grandchildren, he’s blocked. Until Nell, Elise’s sister, suggests that Elise take the job.  
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REVIEW: Marion Lennox’s STEPPING INTO THE PRINCE’S WORLD

stepping_into_princes_worldMiss Bates often wonders who can ever succeed Betty Neels in the rom-reader’s world of comfort reads? With every Marion Lennox she reads, she inches towards thinking that it might very well be Lennox. Not that Neels and Lennox have everything in common (the greatest difference being the reader’s access to the hero’s interiority) but they do share in the sheer decency, good eats, animals, and pathos of the worlds they create. These elements are present in Lennox’s Stepping Into the Prince’s World. And like last year’s Saving Maddie’s Baby, there’s much to love.

Lennox enjoys writing an accident, or disaster as the hero and heroine’s meet-cute. When Stepping Into the Prince’s World opens, disgruntled Special Forces soldier, Raoul de Castelaise, realizes he must leave the military he loves to take up the mantle of his native country’s, Marétal’s, rule. With his parents’ deaths when he was a child, his grand-parents have ruled while he dedicated himself to military service. He’s reluctant to return, but return he must. Before he does, however, he goes down to the Tasmanian port where he and his fellow soldiers had been conducting manoeuvres, and takes a friend’s boat out for a sail, is caught in a terrible storm, and rescued by Claire Tremaine.    Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jodi Thomas’s SUNRISE CROSSING

sunrise_crossingJodi Thomas’s Sunrise Crossing is the fourth novel in her Texas-set Ransom Canyon series. Set in fictional Crossroads, Thomas’s novels are about characters at a turning point. They confront their past, demons, and regrets. The sole redeeming facet to their Rubicon-crossing is a different life from the one they led before. This facet takes shape in the form of a man or woman who affects them deeply. Thomas’s characters are changed in two ways: one, the conviction that their lives have gone off-kilter and must be redressed; and, two, that love makes everything worthwhile, meaningful, and joyous. Thomas intertwines several characters’ lives to make their lives fuller, happier, and love-filled. As with the previous three Ransom Canyon novels, Thomas brings together a company of likeable, kind, compassionate, and loving characters, and one or two nasty villains, who are foiled by community, co-operation, and care. In Thomas’s novels, there are people who care, and those who don’t. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jennifer Hayward’s MARRYING HER ROYAL ENEMY

marrying_her_royal_enemyMiss Bates is at the mid-point of her heavy winter: the new parka’s lost its cachet and there are only so many cocoas you can drink. Her romance reading is a great winter sustainer and she’s had a run of good luck with darn good reads lately. The trusted HP, short enough to get through in a few evenings and yet so concentrated on the couple’s romantic journey that it really hits the escapist sweet spot, is a fave pic around this time of year. Jennifer Hayward’s Marrying Her Royal Enemy, third in the mythical Greek-speaking kingdoms of Akathinia and Carnelia series, tells the romantic journey of Akathinian Princess Stella Constantinides and her marriage-of-convenience Carnelian king, Kostas Laskos. Stella and Kostas share a fraught backstory. Their royal families of adjoining kingdoms spent time together, as children, teens, and into adulthood. Kostas’s friendship with Stella’s brothers, Nikanos and Athamos, brought Stella and Kostas together often. Ten years ago one night, Stella waited in Kostas’s bed, her teen crush-faith emboldening her. Kostas squelched his desire for honour’s and frienship’s sake and rejected Stella … even though he wanted her badly. A familiar story to the romance reader and, in Miss Bates’s now-decade-old romance-reading habit, somewhat a tired one. The experience left Stella feeling a failure and harboring dislike and resentment for Kostas. 
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Miss Bates’s Best of 2016: It’s All In the Romance

happy_new_yearAs 2016 draws to an end, Miss Bates offers new-year wishes to her readers: may 2017 bring good cheer, good friends, hearty constitutions, and every book be a keeper! Every year is marked by a particular reading mood and this year was harried for Miss Bates. A new job and responsibilities made reading and reviewing more infrequent than she would’ve liked. Maybe because of this, however, Miss Bates was reminded, as she winds down her reviewing year with a final “best of” post, what a soul-sustainer a life-long love of reading is. No matter how busy the week, how laden with tasks the week-end, even a half hour in another place or time, with characters working their way to an HEA, buoyed her spirits and gave her renewed strength for entering “once more unto the breach”. Romance itself had a lacklustre year. As you’ll note from her “best of” choices below, there are as many older roms as recently published ones. Romancelandia lost its unified magic and its controversies paled in light of world events. Review blogging felt quaint, which might be in keeping with Miss Bates’s own persona, but the loss of waning, or shut-down blogs saddens her. And yet, the genre’s message remains true and good: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the promise of plenitude, of body and spirit, is a candle in the darkening room that seems to be our world. Reading, thinking about reading, and engaging in dialogue about what we read with others, which is what MBRR always wants to be about, still feels right to Miss B. Continue reading