Miss 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
Miss Bates waits for, anticipates, and relishes every volume of Donna Thorland’s “Renegades of the American Revolution” series. She is especially intrigued by Thorland’s cold-blooded, single-mindedly-devoted-to-the-cause American spy, Angela Ferrars. Thorland’s author’s note to “Christmas At Mount Holly” (in the Christmas In America Anthology) offers fascinating information about Ferrers: she is based on a historical character; we don’t know much about her except she was the cause of the hero’s loss of face and Washington’s triumph at an important Revolutionary War battle; she mentors the first book’s heroine in the interest of creating a female figure who is cunning spy, instrumental in America’s victory against the British, and unusually characterized as female mentor to female-neophyte-spy. In this short, moving, and beautifully-written story, Thorland gave Miss Bates what she and other readers long for: Angela Ferrars stripped of craftiness and uncompromising devotion to the American cause, Angela Ferrars weakened by desire, liking, maybe even, in the end, love. Thorland gave her a worthy hero: strong, ruefully amusing, loving, honest, kind, and most importantly, capable of showing The Widow a glimpse of another life, one of connection in place of conflict, love in place of hate, hope in place of resignation.
After finishing Jo Beverley’s sublime Emily and the Dark Angel, Miss Bates was in a reading funk. Much like a fussy baby, “grizzling” (as Hart describes adorable Freya in Juggling Briefcase and Baby) from book to book, unable to settle. Miss Bates read the opening pages to at least 15 e-ARCs; none of them took: the writing was stilted, info-dumps galore, and even romance writers she usually loves were giving her the meh-blues. She tried out a few non-roms; that experiment fell flat as well, too many writers too conscious of the prose and ignorant of the pacing, plot, and characterization. She stood in her spinster’s lair, foot a-tapping, index finger beating a dissatisfied refrain on her chin: nothing stood out from the groaning paper TBR shelves. “What to read? What to read?” … always turn to a title from a favourite author! Hence, Jessica Hart’s Juggling Briefcase and Baby, a one-click buy from years ago when Miss Bates read Wendy’s review. Dear readers, Wendy was right: this is a great great rom. There be reasons. There be one reason above all that makes for great rom. The genre runs with a pretty straight forward narrative: encounter, new or reunited; development with obstacles; HEA. That’s all there is to it; characterization, pretty standard, flawed but basically likeable, on occasion, admirable. What distinguishes the romance genre from others is the emotional wisdom, the deep deep astuteness about the bond of falling in love and making the scary leap to commitment. Hart, alas no longer practicing the romance art, is/was one of its most sensitive practitioners.
Jodi Thomas’s Rustler’s Moon is the third Ransom Canyon romance. Miss Bates liked the first one, Ransom Canyon, and reviewed it with much lauding. In Rustler’s Moon, Thomas continues to weave several narrative threads set in the allegorically-named, fictional town of Crossroads, Texas. Thomas recounts four story-lines, some of which end in an HEA, while others are HEA-pending. The main story-line and HEA-concluded romance is the bantering, wooing story of Angie Harold, newly-arrived and sole curator of the Ransom Canyon Museum, and Wilkes Wagner, local rancher and historian. Thomas continues the story of Yancy Grey, ex-con and custodian and protector of the “old folks” living at the Evening Shadows Retirement Community. She also continues the story of Sheriff Dan Brigman’s daughter, Lauren, experiencing her first year at Texas Tech and trying to negotiate a relationship with the driven Lucas Reyes. Thomas introduces the character of septuagenarian Carter Mayes, whose memories of cave paintings of stick figures haunt him still sixty years later and bring him to Ransom Canyon in search of them every spring. Alternating story-lines in third-person deep POV, Thomas captures something about small-town romance that many of its writers miss. She creates an authentic sense of community because she doesn’t sacrifice her secondary characters to one-dimensionality. It may be she sacrifices all her characters to one-dimensionality – Miss Bates leaves that judgement up to Rustler’s Moon‘s readers.
Ever since youthful Miss Bates watched black-and-white film matinées, she’s a sucker for a narrative set in WWII (also, the glorious Band Of Brothers). She watched The Guns Of Navarone sundry times, even Mrs. Miniver, which gets a nod in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, fifth in the Maggie Hope series set during WWII. MacNeal’s murder mystery is historically rich, interweaving fictional and non-fictional characters that never feel contrived. The heart of Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante is the eponymous heroine, Maggie Hope, ostensibly Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s secretary, actually special ops spy and code-breaker. For the most part, the novel takes place in Washington D.C. during Christmas of ’41 to New Year’s ’42. Maggie and her cohorts, David Greene and John Stirling (former RAF pilot and ex-fiancé) accompany Churchill to his meeting with President Roosevelt. For Maggie, David, and John, this is the culmination of what Churchill and they have been hoping for and planning, an alliance giving Britain the edge to defeat Nazi Germany. However, forces in the U.S. and Europe are operating against them, some of global significance and others of an equally pernicious domestic nature. Maggie is embroiled in the latter when figures, aiming to hurt the liberal president and scuttle his war efforts, frame his wife Eleanor. Blanche Balfour, Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretary, is found dead, an apparent suicide, with a note claiming that Eleanor made amorous advances to her. Should the letter be leaked to the media, repercussions would affect Roosevelt and Churchill’s plans … Continue reading
Miss Bates is familiar with Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series. She read the first few, And Only To Deceive, A Poisoned Season, maybe A Fatal Waltz. The Adventuress is tenth (!) in the series and Alexander’s tried-and-true formula is evident. Reminiscent of Raybourn’s Lady Julia series, Alexander’s series introduces a widowed, precocious Victorian lady-sleuth who finds love and romance and displays her sharp sleuthing skills with each novel. Miss Bates abandoned both Victorian “Ladies” because of romance dearth, despite dashing heroes. This tenth novel finds Emily at the French Riviera with beloved agent-for-the-Crown husband and sleuthing partner, Colin Hargreaves, celebrating the engagement of best friend Jeremy Sheffield, Duke of Bainbridge, to American heiress, the eponymous “adventuress,” Amity Wells. Jeremy, Emily, and Colin are part of quite a party: Amity’s crass parents; peevish, unsavory brother Augustus; Margaret and Cécile, Emily’s friends; Jack, Jeremy’s brother; Cristabel, Amity’s friend; and, Misters Neville and Fairchild, Jeremy’s bosom pals. Amidst luxury hotels stays, celebratory dinners, and site-seeing, murder mystery arrives when Mr. Neville is found, an apparent suicide, in Jeremy’s room. Emily soon suspects more nefarious reasons for Mr. Neville’s death. Was Chauncey Neville the murderer’s target, or was the poisoned whiskey meant for Jeremy? Continue reading
Miss Bates wasn’t enamoured of the first Marion Lennox romance she read, Her Royal Baby. There was something treacly to it, a heroine too good to be believed, a hero so honorable under his gruff exterior, he makes Capt. von Trapp look like a debauché. But something happened when she read Lennox’s latest, From Christmas To Forever. The elements that irritated suddenly charmed, the syrup goo-y sweetness moved. And Miss Bates lost her Lennox side-eye. Sometime it takes a while to “get” a writer (and sometimes, one never does … delegating said to the heap of “I tried, but she doesn’t work for me.”): to learn to appreciate her thematic concerns, understand her choice of narrative threads, her particular take on the classic romance narrative of encounter/attraction-repulsion/consummation/disintegration, and reconciliation. Lennox clicked for Miss Bates when she saw Lennox as a contemporary Carla Kelly, a Kelly transplanted to a contemporary Australian-set romance. Like Kelly, we find the officiously caring hero, slightly broken but eager to do good in the world heroine, and thematic concern with service and love making for the happiest couples. Continue reading
Miss Bates loves pie, apple, cherry, strawberry-rhubarb, but nothing beats humble pie. She happily munches on it after sneering, snarling, and dramatically slapping her forehead with “What was I thinking?” reading Jodi Thomas’s Ransom Canyon – it’s women’s fiction. More fool Miss Bates because Thomas’s novel has as much going for it as it does going on.
Ransom Canyon is braided with three narrative strands: the romance between dour, tragic Staten Kirkland, rancher, and Quinn O’Grady, lavender farmer, reclusive pianist, and his dead wife’s best friend; the burgeoning feelings between Lucas Reyes, ambitious teen-ager and hand at Staten’s ranch, and Lauren Brigman, dreamy girl and sheriff’s daughter; and, Yancy Grey, ex-con and handyman to the adorable old coots, all former teachers, at the local retirement home. Add the blue-cape-swirling, curvaceous, sharp-tongued Miss Ellie, nurse-in-training, and frequent visitor to the retirement home and Yancy Grey, at 25, newly released from the big house, has himself a serious case of desire. Ransom Canyon is set in Texas ranching country, in the allegorically-named town of Crossroads, not far from Lubbock. Thomas weaves the three story-lines beautifully, offering redemption, renewal, and love to the broken and troubled – and leaving pending romance threads in the stories of the young ones, Yancy and Ellie, Lucas and Lauren. Continue reading
With a nod of thanks for Willaful who nominated Miss Bates for this challenge. Miss B’s having a blast!
The category romance is the humblest and most succinct manifestation of the romance narrative: the encounter, the attraction/detraction, the separation and dark night of the couple soul, and the grovel and HEA. Category romance distills the romance narrative to its essentials: two people working out, in their relationship, a beloved romance trope. Take, for example, the wondrous Molly O’Keefe contemporary category, His Wife For One Night, a contemporary marriage-of-convenience, so difficult to pull off. And yet, O’Keefe convinces, moves, and engages her reader in Jack and Mia’s story.
Marriage of convenience is a beloved trope for Miss B.: it satisfies her old-fashioned sensibilities for sex within the sanctity of marriage and makes for courtship-within-marriage an interesting narrative twist. And yet, her favourite category romance is built on a hated trope: the office romance. Yuck. Boards and profit margins and pencil skirts just ain’t her thing. Besides, everything that could possibly go wrong with the trope is inherent in it, like power differentials, usually to the detriment of the heroine. But here she is LOVING today’s opening line romance, Jessica Hart’s execrably titled, Promoted to Wife and Mother:
Perdita drummed her fingers on the sleeves of her jacket and tried not to look as if she were sulking.
What happens to your identity when everything you’ve known about your family is a lie? This is Lauren Willig’s premise for The Other Daughter. It opens as a cross between Mary Stewart and Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Heroine Rachel Woodley’s life has the air of impoverished 19th century governess as she cares for the Comte de Brillac’s three daughters in the French countryside. An urgent telegram summons her to England. Rachel, however, is too late: her mother is dead of influenza, the funeral wreaths bought, adorned, and withered. At 25, Rachel is bereft of mother and father and destitute; her only hope, a secretarial course and immediate employment. Troubles come in battalias when their landlord in the obscure village of Netherwell evicts her. As Rachel packs her mother’s things, she makes a remarkable discovery – a Tattler photograph of Lady Olivia Standish and her father, the Earl of Ardmore, the man Rachel knew as Edward Woodley, the father she thought dead when she was four. Is the title’s “other daughter” Olivia, wealthy, polished, privileged, or Rachel, Ardmore’s by-blow? To lose job, mother, home … and discover you’re the illegitimate daughter of a man you’d adored and thought dead, alive, well, and callously indifferent to the wife and daughter he deceived and abandoned, what does it do to a girl? Can an author, other than Brontë, deprive her heroine of everything stable and loving and throw her into a surreal sense of dislocated self: Willig certainly has. Continue reading