I have an innate distrust of any romance with an excess of “baby” endearment and there’s A LOT of “babying” in Love Her or Lose Her, second in Tessa Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series. There were a few things to recommend it: the working-class ethos, that stays working-class, and the marriage-in-trouble trope, which is a rarity and yet should appear more often in contemporary romance. It’s topical and true, after all, and way more believable than ye olde fake relationship. So, my launching into Love Her or Lose Her was with the enthusiasm of the ignorant but tropically engaged. It didn’t take long for my keenness to deflate like a geriatric balloon.
But first, other than the premise, who are the protags and what are their narrative stakes? Rosie Vega works as a perfume-counter girl, then goes home to her taciturn husband, Dominic. He’s a good guy: works hard, doesn’t drink, gamble, or cheat. They share a powerful attraction, which they indulge once a week, on Tuesdays. We don’t really know why they’ve stopped their amorous pursuits beyond Tuesdays, given how hot and bothered they get around each other, but suffice to say, it’s a “symptom” of what’s wrong with their marriage.
I hadn’t read a romantic suspense novel in a long time and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to. Calhoun’s Turn Me Loose has a naked-chest-and-dog-tags cover that always turns me off. But, Calhoun: I’d heard a lot of good about her in the Twitterverse and wanted to give a new-to-me author a fighting chance. Turn Me Loose‘s introduction didn’t cover itself with glory and I came a hair’s-breath away from DNF-ing. But the writing was good, darn good, though I disliked the flash-back routine to the hero and heroine’s past. I recognized its necessity because it made it easier for Calhoun to segue into the present, but those, albeit not significant, parts of the novel never won me over. So, what did?
Let’s begin with basic premise and characterization. Seven years before the present scene, undercover cop Ian Hawthorn arrested eighteen-year-old college student and petty drug-dealer, Riva Henneman. In exchange for her freedom, Riva agreed to act as Ian’s “confidential informant”. Ian and Riva spent a lot of time together in stake-out and/or drug busts, with Riva entering dangerous situations as her CI-drug-dealer-self to help Ian and the Lancaster Police Department make arrests. A resentful attraction seethes between them, but ethical lines and power differentials are not crossed. Seven years pass and Ian walks into Riva’s business, a farm-to-table restaurant operation, Oasis, that takes teens and young adults from food-impoverished neighbourhoods and gives them a chance at fair and engaging labour. The food is delicious, Riva is beautiful, and the attraction between them still sizzles and seethes. Continue reading
One of the things Miss Bates loves about Marion Lennox’s romances is how kind her characters are and yet still often hurt others. Because that’s what we do, an unkind word, a slip of the sarcastic tongue, a nay in place of, with a small giving of self, what could be a yay. But Lennox also understands and sympathetically portrays what that yay might cost, what vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear have to be overcome to reach assent. Lennox’s Stranded With the Secret Billionaire, and this review’s subject, is a book illustrative of this theme and characterization.
Penelope “Penny” Hindmarsh Firth, at 27, has run away from home. She runs from a bullying father, milk-toast mom, and selfish half-sister whose fiancé and soon-to-be-father of baby is none other than Penny’s ex-fiancé, Brett Taggart. Penny has run from urbane Sydney to NSW and, when the novel opens, is trapped in a rising creek, in her low-to-the-ground pink sports-car accompanied by Samson, her cute-as-a-button-but-useless-in-a-crisis poodle. Enter reclusive billionaire-living-as-sheep-farmer Matt Fraser, astride Nugget, to rescue Penny and ensure Samson’s continued spoilage. Continue reading
Jennifer 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
With a book about food, love, and family, Miss Bates launches her review by eating humble pie. “Never say never” should be Miss B’s mantra regarding romance reading. Katherine Reay’s Lizzy and Jane is mild romance; it’s … GASP … women’s fiction, a fictive genre Miss Bates purports to abhor. Indeed, there’s been scorn-heaping. It’s the type of fiction she’s most likely to DNF. She finds it precious and precious becomes boring and boring becomes the worst kind of sentimental. Reay’s novel skirts close to DNF territory: estranged sisters (sibling relationships have never interested Miss B.), acrimony remaining from their mother’s illness, CANCER, one of the two sisters ill with CANCER herself, confronting the past, each other, and salvaging, or sundering, relationships. It focuses on younger sister, Elizabeth, “Lizzy,” Hughes, 33, moving back to the Pacific Northwest (from New York City where her chef’s career was floundering) to come to terms with people she left behind: retired firefighter dad and especially older sister, Jane. Her journey tries to answer: what is home? What do we owe the people closest to us, particularly those with whom we share strained relations? What is family? From where do we derive meaning and purpose? How do we find God amidst acrimony and failure?
It is the start of the Lenten season for Miss Bates, a season of re-evaluation and reflection, and Reay’s novel was a perfect fit. While suffering from the failure of inspirational fiction to make a tangible, ritualistic participation in church life as essential to defining ourselves as Christians, Reay’s novel nevertheless took a eucharistic perspective through Lizzy’s creative food acts. And her spirit guide, and that of others as well, like her sister, Jane, was Jane Austen. Like food, which serves as healer and binder, literature stands in as such as well. Continue reading