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

MINI-REVIEW: Isabel Cooper’s LEGEND OF THE HIGHLAND DRAGON, Or Brogue Meets East End

Legend Of the Highland DragonMiss Bates has read only a handful of paranormal romances.  For example, she read J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal, #2 in the Blackdagger Brotherhood, and enjoyed it, but never returned to the series, or any others from one of the romance genre’s most popular incarnations.  Isobel Cooper’s Legend Of the Highland Dragon, though well-written and worthy of praise on certain levels, reminded her why she didn’t, and doesn’t, read paranormal romance, or does so rarely.  It’s not that paranormal romance is less worthy of her attention; it is, for Miss Bates, a matter of sensibility: and there’s something about these transforming/shifting heroes/heroines that she finds … well, silly and unconvincing. 

On the  other hand, she acknowledges that paranormal romance, more than any other romance sub-genre, confronts and explores the encounter with the “other”: its hyperbolic, and/or fantastical nature brings into the foreground the foreignness of another person/creature and the sheer miracle of recognition, of the romantic assertion that “I know you.  I see you. You are my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,” to quote the psalm.  Cooper’s novel does this no less and no less well than any well-written, tongue-in-cheek, witty paranormal romance … yet, it fell a little flat for Miss Bates and she often had trouble buying into the narrative. Continue reading

REVIEW: Grace Livingston Hill’s BEAUTY FOR ASHES

Beauty For AshesGrace Livingston Hill’s Beauty For Ashes was published in 1935.  Not a happy year in America: Pres. Roosevelt’s New Deal valiantly addressed the Depression’s ravages, while the Dust Bowl resisted gains against deprivation, unemployment, and rural stagnation.  A give and take, a push and pull, of hope and despair.  The iconic representation of the Depression remains Dorothea Lange’s 1936 “Migrant Mother,” after the publication of Livingston Hill’s inspirational romance.  Amidst these hardships, Miss Bates likes to imagine that Livingston Hill’s novels provided comfort, respite, and hope for thousands of readers.  Miss Bates read one more Livingston Hill romance, reviewed here; she confronted the same problems in Beauty For Ashes as she did in the previous one.  However, she read Beauty with less consternation at the evangelical fervor (familiarity, in this case, breeds tolerance) and Manichaean characterization and greater appreciation for elements she acknowledged as worthy and interesting in her initial impression of Livingston Hill’s signature fiction.  She ended her previous review uncertain about reading more of GLH, but in this second volume, Miss Bates looks at GLH with affection, while recognizing that she remains “not for everyone.” Continue reading

REVIEW: Amanda Flower’s A PLAIN DISAPPEARANCE, Or The Hammer and the Mouse

A Plain DisappearanceIf there’s one thing Miss Bates can say about the occasional cozy mystery series she follows, it’s that they remind her of a favourite autumnal sweater. Heather-green wool, hand-knit from Scotland, she’s waiting for that October chill to don it and walk the red- and gold-leaf-strewn streets of her native city. Thus is Amanda Flower’s Appleseed Creek series now that Miss Bates has read the latest and third volume: comfortable, familiar, endearing. It’s also lovingly written and in keeping with the sympathetic conventions of the cozy. On the other hand, it suffers from the bane of any series: familiarity breeding contempt … and the particular bane of the cozy, the reader’s increasing difficulty to sustain belief in the viability of that many people murdered in a small town and our heroine’s bad/good luck in consistently finding the bodies!  Continue reading to learn what Miss Bates thought of Flower’s latest

MINI-REVIEW: Amanda Flower’s A PLAIN SCANDAL, and Wherein A Little Malaise Sets In

A Plain ScandalLong before Miss Bates was ever a spinster, she read all the Pippi Longstocking books she could get her hands on. It was with a nostalgic smile that she read Chief Greta Rose’s assessment of our romance heroine and amateur sleuth, Chloe Humphrey, in Amanda Flower’s first Appleseed Creek cozy mystery, A Plain Death, “You’re like the Pippi Longstocking version of Nancy Drew.” Our red-haired geek girl and wanna-be detective continues to eavesdrop, interview, investigate, and fight for truth, justice, and the Amish way in Flower’s second cozy mystery, A Plain Scandal. In this case, she’s in pursuit of the culprit who is cutting off the beards of Amish men and Amish girls’ long hair … until these nasty shenanigans turn to murder, the murder of a successful young Amish man, Ezekiel Young. Continue reading for a rare look at a surprisingly succinct Miss Bates

REVIEW: “And Now For Something Completely Different,” Amanda Flower’s A PLAIN DEATH

A Plain DeathFor some time now, Miss Bates had a hankering to read outside of her contemporary and historical romance comfort zone. She wanted to read an Amish-set romance, but didn’t know enough about the sub-genre to select an author or title. She’d read about Amanda Flower’s Appleseed Creek series in USA Today and thought this might be her gentled way in, thought she’d pay a call and linger for a spot of tea. Miss Bates is leery of the cozy mystery’s cuteness and catness, having consumed tons of these before embracing romance wholeheartedly. Once assured that there was a strong romantic element woven into the who-done-it, she gave Flower’s first Appleseed Creek, Amish-set, inspirational, cozy mystery a try. With some misgivings aside, smack, smack, like trying a new food, she uttered, “me like”. Continue reading about Miss Bates’s foray into Amish country

REVIEW: Lily Everett’s SANCTUARY ISLAND, Or Finding Shangri-La

Sanctuary IslandEverett’s Sanctuary Island echoes some of the best that contemporary romance offers without being overly derivative: a touch of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s generational complications, a nuance of Kristen Higgins’s humour, a nod to Nora Roberts’s mystical Chesapeake Bay, and a hail to Shalvis’s loveable secondary characters. Everett stands equal to any of these authors’ series. And, she carries earnestness and genuine love for the genre. Miss Bates has minor quibbles, but overall, she urges you not to overlook Everett’s storyIt is an accomplished, promising romance novel. Among the many sweet contemporary romances buffeting readers, it’s one of the best Miss Bates has read this year. It deserves an audience and Miss Bates hopes readers flock to it. The writing stands a notch above most; the characters are believable, likeable, and flawed, inhibiting the typical small-town romance’s saccharine quality. The setting is beautifully portrayed and carries a lovely suggestion of mystique.
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