If there’s one underused trope Miss Bates loves, it’s marriage-in-trouble, which is why she pounced on Barry and Turner’s novella-ish, category-length A Midnight Feast. It centres on the leader and doyenne of the space-race, 1960s-set American astronaut world that makes up Barry and Turner’s Fly Me To the Moon series, Colonel Mitch Dunsford and his wife of twenty-years-and-six-kids, Margie.
Barry-Turner have produced an adept narrative: alternating, especially in the first half, between Mitch and Margie’s present estrangement, set in 1965 Houston, and their courtship, young marriage, and flat middle years of care and children on her part and demanding, exhilarating career-making on his. Barry-Turner adroitly portray a marriage void of friendship, connection, and mutual desire, interspersed with chapters that chronologically fill in the intervening years, starting with a heady, whirlwind courtship set in 1945. In that sense, Barry-Turner tell a whole lot of story with a circumspect page-count; yet, their carefully-crafted snapshots of love, lust, affection to benign neglect and cutting indifference still allow the reader to get to know and possibly like their hero and heroine. The narrative is also beautifully bound together with a holiday sequence: starting with a make-it-or-break-it Thanksgiving for Mitch and Margie’s troubled marriage to a lovely Valentine-Day’s-1966-set epilogue. Continue reading
Truth be told, Miss Bates would advise you not to read past this sentence because she loves every Maisey Yates romance she reads. You’ve been warned: you may have heard this before.
With each Copper Ridge and related romance novels that come out, MissB. anticipates disappointment: “finally, this one will be stale, tired, Yates will just go through the motions”. Nope, each and every one is good: thoughtful, sexy, centred on love, romance, healing, fidelity, and commitment. Hero and heroine are often many kinds of messed up, in need of healing what is soul-and-heart broken. They skirt around what their fabulous love-making intimates, dismiss it as lust, run away from what their bodies already know: this is your soulmate, the one person you’ve waited for, the one who ends all others for you, the one you love and will share a family with. It’s simple and familiar and Yates makes it fresh and wonderful every time. You either buy her view of love and marriage, or you balk at the notion of what the body knows, the mind must get used to; and, what the body knows, the soul recognized a long time ago. This is as true for Golden-Good-Girl Sabrina Leighton as for returned bad-boy, wrong-side-of-tracks Liam Donnelly.
Miss Bates admits she is excited when she sees a new Kate Hewitt romance. Hewitt hits all of Miss B’s reading sweet-spots: a reverence for fidelity and commitment, a diffident sensibility about sexuality, and a portrayal of sympathetic vulnerability in her characters. The first in Hewitt’s latest series (with its cumbersome title, The Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite), A Vicarage Christmas has all that and Christmas! And a curate hero! The BESTEST heroes are Protestant clerical types: Miss B. has a real penchant for them. Also, Miss b. loves a northern England setting, and celibate, but not Puritanical, protagonists. Perfect, thought Miss B., and delved into the romance between third daughter/sister Anna Holley and Simon Truesdell, Anna’s vicar father’s curate. Anna travels home to the village of Thornthwaite (from Manchester, where she works as a legal librarian) to spend the holidays with her family: father Roger and mother Ruth, and two of four sisters, Esther and Rachel. The Holleys are a loving family. The girls obviously grew up in a home of care, comfort, and security. But Anna’s visits home are rare. She usually spends her holidays in Manchester and, while Anna’s mother, Ruth, has the cookies and trimmings and Christmas bows and whistles making up most of the vicarage’s spaces, there is something sad about the family, something off.
Now Miss Bates has read several Rimmer romances, she can speculate why she enjoys them so much. How are they sufficiently atypical to offer jolts of reader-surprise and predictable enough to be comfort reads? Miss B. has ideas. First, what her latest reading installment is about. Her click-happy finger on Netgalley amassed one too many Christmas roms, but the pleasure of reading one in June is no less. And it’s her favourite kind: the type that opens on Thanksgiving and builds to Christmas Eve and Day. When our romance opens, heroine Ava Malloy, fallen hero’s widow and single mum, “had the medals and the folded flag to prove it,” is contemplating taking a lover: “Ava wanted the shivery thrill of a hot kiss, the glory of a tender touch. To put it bluntly, she would love to get laid.” She’s in a good place: successful, with a great six-year-old daughter, Sylvie, and happy in her friends and family. Enter almost-high-school-flame Darius “Dare” Bravo and his irresistible charm. Moreover, he’s volunteering with a local girls’ Blueberry troop, helping them build dollhouses for underprivileged children. What with Sylvie a part of the troop and Ava having to pick her up and Dare’s persistently compelling flirting, the staid, serious single mum cracks and makes Dare a proposition he cannot resist, especially given he’s carried a torch for Ava since high school: secret lovers from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, no strings, no obligations, not even friendship, all the benefits, commitment – bupkis.
Contemporary romance is a big and diverse animal. Its “infinite variety” inhabits a breadth of verisimilitude, from HP fantasy to the realistic, at times gritty, MC urban wasteland, which, MissB argues, meet and mate in the fantasy realm when the straight-line continuum is arced to a circle. All this to say that along realism’s continuum, where tropes work at one point, may fail on another. Sarah Morgan’s third “From Manhattan With Love” romance, Miracle On 5th Avenue, is an example in comparson to her HP, Playing By the Greek’s Rules (possibly MissB’s favourite HP were it not for that pesky Lynne Graham writing annoyingly good HPs, like The Greek’s Chosen Wife.) The Greek’s Rules contains a naïvely endearing, full-force of positivity heroine and brooding, cynical alpha hero, as does Miracle. What works in one doesn’t in t’other, or maybe imitation isn’t the highest form of flattery when an author imitates herself?
Miss Bates was travelling for work on old chugga-chugga trains this week and, to their rocking motion, read a rom novel and novella, Sabrina Jeffries’s The Danger of Desire and Meredith Duran’s “Sweetest Regret”, two of her favourite romance writers. Jeffries’s rom was the follow-up to one of last year’s top MissB. roms, The Study of Seduction. As for Duran, it had been a while and MissB. was most happy to find herself in Duran’s erudite, moving romance ethos.
Jeffries’s late-Regency Danger of Desire sees yet another St. George’s Club heroes, Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, so-called rakehell (though he never behaves as such) pit himself against the shenanigans of miss-dressed-as-boy, Delia Trevor. Clarissa, Study of Seduction‘s heroine, asks Warren (possibly the worst rom-hero name ever) to look out for Delia. Delia, on her part, spends her nights, disguised as a young man, gambling her way to discovering the identity of the man who cheated her deceased brother of her, and his wife and son’s, living. Delia’s mystery and intrigue isn’t the only challenge facing her and Warren as they, at least initially, spar and circle each other. Warren, on the surface devil-may-care, contains a psychic wound, which explains his reluctance to marry. Continue reading
It’s been said ad infinitum that the HP is rom at its most elemental, most “ur”, most wild-fantasy implausibility. Rom-readers who love their crazysauce HP tolerate, excuse, overlook, and forgive many elements they excoriate in other rom: slut-shaming, evil step-mothers, “other women,” whose shenanigans make Lucrezia Borgia demure and modest. To say nothing of the alpha-heroes: they can stomp, dominate, and toss the heroine over their shoulder, pound their chest and be possessive and jealous and paternalistically over-protective. The reader, in the meanwhile, like MissB. sits blithely sipping tea, nodding, smiling, and reading into the wee hours (only the HP has the ability to deprive Miss B. of her love of a good night’s sleep). The reason for this, dear reader?: the HP’s capacity for emotional pay-off. And no one, no one, does it better than Lynne Graham. Miss Bates tapped the last period on her Kate Noble review when she read the first few pages of Graham’s The Greek’s Christmas Bride; a mere 24 hours later, here we are. Like Miss Bates’s favourite Graham, The Greek’s Chosen Bride, The Greek’s Christmas Bride has a moral-core, forge-ahead-with-independence, poverty-stricken, humble heroine, a successful bazillionaire arrogant “man whore” hero with a secret heart of gold, and a dog, in this case, a traumatized terrier named Hector. Like Chosen Bride, Christmas Bride sees the matrimonially-averse hero have to marry and procreate to ensure control of his inheritance. To do so, he takes advantage of a poor heroine who’ll do anything to protect the well-being of the most vulnerable of her family and/or acquaintance.
Maisey 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.
MissB’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
One of Miss Bates’s favourite films is Frank Capra’s 1934 It Happened One Night. Barbara Wallace’s gently romantic Christmas Baby For the Princess echoes it. Wallace’s hero, Manhattan night club owner Max Brown, is a film noir buff. References to Miss Bates’s beloved black-and-white films abound, enriching Wallace’s romance narrative. Capra’s film is not noir, but its themes of class, sex, love, and HEA are certainly of the romance variety. Like One Night‘s Ellie, Wallace’s heroine, Princess Arianna Santoro, has run away from her father, King Carlos IV of the mythical kingdom of Corinthia. Arianna was near-affiancéd to Manolo Tutuola, a Corinthian businessman her father had urged her to date with the hope they would marry. Always conscious of duty, and wanting to make her still-grieving father (after her mother’s loss) happy, she did her darndest to work out a relationship with Manolo. But Manolo turned out to be a cheating rat-bastard and now, Arianna is in Manhattan for the time and space to figure out what to do next. She’s pregnant with rat-bastard’s baby and her flea-bitten hotel doesn’t afford her protection, or comfort. Out and about for some air, she finds that “her wallet was missing”. “Out of all the gin-joints in all the world,” she walks into Max Brown’s for help (Miss Bates knows, wrong film, but since we’re making vintage film references … ) where the charming maître d’, Darius, Max’s friend and right-hand man, mistakenly thinks she’s answering their help-wanted ad for a waitress. Continue reading