MINI-REVIEW: Sarah M. Anderson’s HIS FOREVER FAMILY

His_Forever_FamilySarah M. Anderson’s His Forever Family has a dramatic opening and an intriguing premise. Chicago billionaire hero, Marcus Warren, and his executive assistant, Liberty Reese, are jogging along Lake Michigan. They’re sharing a near-banterish conversation about Marcus’s attendance at his ex-fiancée’s wedding. Liberty is urging him to find a date, then intuiting that he really doesn’t want to attend. Marcus is insistent on attending (because his mommy wants him to) while resisting selecting a date from the list his uber-efficient assistant compiled. He hits on the idea of taking Liberty. The reader senses that Liberty is afraid of Marcus’s social world, but we’re not yet privy to the reasons. Anderson balances witty dialogue with character revelations. We learn that Marcus is nervous about being attacked, distant from his self-serving parents, and yearns for love and belonging. We learn that Liberty’s beginnings are as far removed from her role in Marcus’s world as Lake Michigan is from Alaska. Into this complex little scene, Anderson drops a – BABY! – an abandoned baby, a foundling. Nearing Chicago’s famous Buckingham Fountain, Marcus hears a mewling and notes some strange movement. He drops to his knees, thinking it  might be an abandoned kitten. He is shocked to discover ” … an African-American newborn in a shoe box by the trash can.” Liberty to the rescue! She cradles and croons to the baby, cools him off with their water bottles, and evokes warm, fuzzy, protective, and desirable feelings in Marcus.
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REVIEW: Deeanne Gist’s FAIR PLAY, Or “What Did You Do At the Fair?”

When Miss Bates was a tyke, the circus regularly came to town. One spring, a world’s fair did. On Easter Sunday, wearing a white straw bonnet, accompanied by family and friends, she entered its gates. It was 1967: skirts were short; music was loud … but Miss B’s mom and friends wore white gloves and hats with their new Easter outfits. Miss B. would say that anyone whose native city hosts an event of this magnitude holds the experience as a seminal moment in her life. MissB.’s unsure that such an event would have the same impact in our world of insta-experience on the Internet. But the Internet, at least for now, is strictly visual and aural, and therefore more limited. It is in the other senses that our deepest, most visceral memories reside. Miss B. remembers the warmth of the April sun, her slightly pinch-y, round-toed, white patent-leather Mary Janes, the press of bigger bodies in the queues, the inverted triangle pavilion of her native country, the dazzle of Bohemian crystal in the Czech, the tangy mustard on the hot dog, the fuzzy-pink sweetness of cotton candy.

Fair_Play

Miss Bates loves this cover!

It was with bittersweet nostalgia that Miss B. picked up Deanne Gist’s Fair Play, a romance novel set during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and featuring an older, doctor-spinster heroine, Dr. Billy Jack Tate, and younger-man, Texas Ranger hero, Hunter Joseph Scott. Miss Bates has been to Chicago and loved it, walked along Michigan Avenue, gazed into the waters of Lake Michigan, and spent every afternoon of her few days there at the Art Institute of Chicago sobbing before some of her favourite paintings. The bronze lions, indeed the building which houses the collection, have their origins in the 1893 fair. Miss Bates was excited to read Gist’s novel. Her experience of it, however, was akin to a descending musical scale: a bombastically wonderful start, flagging middle, bathetic conclusion. Continue reading

Romance Panacea Part I: “Taking the Waters,” Searching for Paradise …

DontBeAfraidAbout a month ago, Miss Bates, stuck in afternoon traffic, listened to a favourite CBC Radio podcast, Tapestry, a show that self-describes as offering “the more subtle news of life – a thoughtful consideration of what it means to be human.” Their motto is Kant’s “The human heart refuses to believe in a universe without purpose” (which is also a darn good motto for the romance genre). One segment of that particular podcast was “The Novel Cure,” an interview with Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin who run Bibliotherapy at The School of Life in London, England, and have published a book called The Novel Cure: An A-Z of Literary Remedies. What a great idea, thought Miss Bates, a book recommendation for what ails you: feeling blue, out of sorts, plain pissed off, or having the “mean reds” as Holly Golightly said. Have you been dumped, are about to embark on a voyage, be married, divorced, change jobs, or cities? Berthoud and Elderkin’s prescribed book eases the transition, comforts, and diverts. Books as “prescription” medicine for the under-the-weather soul, mind, and heart.

She listened, rapt, as Berthoud and Elderkin suggested titles for a variety of moods and circumstances: H. E. Bates’s The Darling Buds Of May for cynicism; Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity for a recent break-up; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Night Flight for fear of flying; and, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for a new father. Miss Bates considered their choices lugubrious. Blatty’s The Exorcist for a loss of faith!? She’s read de Saint-Exupéry’s Vol de nuit and there’s nothing in it to comfort someone who’s afraid to fly (especially in light of de Saint-Exupéry’s night flight disappearance during WWII). What cheer is there for a new dad in the post-apocalyptic world of The Road? Great books all, but do they comfort and divert? They are intelligent, well-written, and challenging; they offer answers and considerations. They are great choices, BUT! Miss Bates protested WHERE ARE THE ROMANCE NOVELS? Do they not offer comfort, diversion, and thought to feeling blue, turning green, and seeing red? To despair, uncertainty, ennui, malaise? On the occasion of birth, death, and everything in between? Don’t they have a place in the prescriptive canon?

Anecdotal or not, Miss Bates has encountered many women who find respite in reading a romance novel (which is not to say men don’t, she simply hasn’t met any). For many, including Miss Bates, who can’t “take the waters” at Baden-Baden, cracking open a romance novel and being lost in it, laughing, crying, mourning, and celebrating with heroine and hero, thinking about its thematic implications, enjoying its wit and wisdom, serves as panacea to a day gone terribly wrong. Continue reading

Review: Elizabeth Camden’s INTO THE WHIRLWIND “Do Not Go Gently”

Into The WhirlwindAfter two lemons, Miss Bates finally scored a peach in Elizabeth Camden’s Into The Whirlwind. It’s not sweet, but it’s refreshing and substantial. Miss Bates sought to read Camden’s effort after the recommendation that Against The Tide received from Dear Author. There is much to love about this story, says Miss Bates, but there are caveats and warnings for the unsuspecting reader. The narrative is sweeping, interesting, and well-written. The hero and heroine are admirable, likeable, and real. This novel is designated as “inspirational” and “romantic,” but exhibits a dearth of both, which is not to say that you shouldn’t read it. You should; pleasure awaits you. It is a novel that requires patience and understanding as character is revealed, internal worlds unfold, as we come to know and love our hero and heroine and all who surround them. We have to enter “into the whirlwind” with Zack and Mollie, the people they interact with, and the stalwart, hard-working, resilient, teeming city of Chicago at one of the most difficult and triumphant moments in its history; Chicago is as much a character as the fictive figures who make their lives in it. Read on, for Miss Bates’s further assessment of this complex novel