REVIEW: C. S. Harris’s WHERE THE DEAD LIE

Where_the_Dead_LieThis summer, in anticipation of reading MissB’s Where the Dead Lie ARC, she listened to the first 10 volumes of C. S. Harris’s Regency-set murder mystery, C. S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series. MissB. listened to them, rapt, when she took a walk, prepared dinner, and dabbed make-up on in the morning. And, she discovered something about her mystery reading: she reads mysteries for the detecting figure’s personality, his mind’s workings, motivation, method, and relationships. Nothing is more satisfying for good doses of those reading interests than Harris’s series.

At the centre of it all is the enigmatic, gorgeous figure of Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, amateur sleuth, military veteran: tall, handsome, with penetrating strange yellow eyes, and a deep sense of finding justice for the vulnerable and oppressed. Equally fascinating and much beloved are his family: wife Hero and baby-son Simon; the doctor-friend who helps him reveal what dead bodies can tell about their murders, Paul Gibson, and his mid-wife partner, Alexi Sauvage; the austere, fragile elderly man who is Sebastian’s father, Alistair St. Cyr, Earl of Hendon; arch-nemesis, father-in-law, Lord Jarvis; embittered, jealous sister, Amanda; beautiful, tragic niece, Stephanie, and dissipated nephew, Bayard; sleuthing partner, magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy; former actress-lover, Kat Boleyn; and Miss B’s personal favourites, Sebastian’s valet, Jules Calhoun and former-street-urchin tiger, Tom. While some novels in the series are stronger than others and MissB. may prefer some over others, Harris has created a Regency world, peopled it with the most likeable set of characters, drawn her villains with complexity, and ensured that MissB. remain with the series no matter where it might go.   Continue reading

REVIEW: Marion Lennox’s STRANDED WITH THE SECRET BILLIONAIRE

Stranded_W_the_Secret_BillionaireOne 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

MINI-REVIEW: Amanda Ashby’s FALLING FOR THE BEST MAN

Falling_For_the_Best_ManAmanda Ashby’s opening meet-cute to her new series, Sisters of Wishing Bridge Farm, won MissB over. Heroine Emmy Watson works hard to retain ownership of her deceased Aunt Ivy’s farm by turning the Connecticut venue into a wedding site and herself a wedding planner. Not everything has gone as planned, however, and she’s at the airport, waiting to pick up the best man whose local-inn accommodations were flooded by the groom’s gormless brother. There’s nought to be done, the best man’ll have to stay with her. Unfortunately, the airport terminal also coughs up a ghost from Emmy’s past, her one-week-end-stand, Christopher Henderson. Ashby’s talent for witty writing is evident in the re-meet-cute, as Emmy echoes Casablanca‘s Rick: “Of all the arrival gates in all the world, he walked into this one.” It turns out he not only walked into her arrival gate, he’s walking into her first wedding planner’s job as – the best man. Christopher too is non-plussed by seeing Emmy again, especially when she whisks him into her truck and drives away. As a travel writer, he’s seen some weird stuff, but this is a first: “He’d been in a lot of strange situations on his travels, but as far as he was aware, this was the first he’d ever been kidnapped by a wedding planner.” Ashby’s witty writing and pop-culture references engaged MissB and she looked forward to the novel.
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MINI-REVIEW: Karen White’s THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY

The_Guests_On_South_BatteryMiss Bates has followed the fortunes of Karen White’s heroine, Melanie Middleton, her on-again, off-again fraught relationship with writer Jack Trenholm, and her ghostly encounters, malevolent and benign, through four books. Though written in first-person narration and with a maddeningly slow-moving romance, MissB enjoyed every one, especially when they culminated in pleasing romantic conclusions. How could she pass up an opportunity to learn of Jack and Mellie’s further adventures? And how not to revisit beautiful Charleston and the vintage homes that feature in each mystery? Be warned, readers, if you haven’t read the first four books, MissB’s review of #5, The Guests On South Battery, contains spoilers. It’s inevitable when each book, while resolving the ghostly mystery at its heart, only moves Mellie and Jack’s relationship one smidgen forward. But there’s epilogue-satisfaction to The Guests On South Battery. When it opens, wife and husband, Mellie and Jack, their ten-month-old twins, JJ and Sarah, and Nola, Jack’s daughter from an earlier marriage, and now Melanie’s step-daughter, are living a good life. Continue reading

Kathy Altman’s TEMPTING THE SHERIFF

Tempting_the_SheriffMiss Bates read Kathy Altman’s Tempting the Sheriff with great joy amidst reader-mourning. Harlequin Books recently announced it would end the Superromance line in June 2018. The line has been a MissB favourite for ages. In its monthly titles, she discovered many of her favourite romance writers, Sarah Mayberry, Janice Kay Johnson, and more recently, Liz Talley. Altman, on the other hand, wasn’t as prolific, but MissB remembers Altman’s first, The Other Soldier, and how she loved it. With Altman’s fourth, Miss Bates can see that, like JKJohnson, Altman had the potential to be another favourite. Sadly, it is not to be. But Tempting the Sheriff is a great romance, nevertheless, in the JKJohnsonian vein. As small-town romances go, it doesn’t paint a halcyon picture of small-town life and its denizens. Castle Creek’s citizens are nosy, eccentric, chaotic (sometimes as lovably as Jodi Thomas’s), and occasionally shiftless, sometimes rowdy; they behave lovingly, but also criminally. Small-town life is close and neighbours do know and help each other, but they also feud like crazy and sometimes, small-town life is, well, boring. Into this Pennsylvania town, Altman introduces her hero and heroine: visiting Erie cop, Vaughn Fulton, in Castle Creek to clear out and sell the house he inherited from a deceased uncle; and, Sheriff Lily Tate, workaholic town protector haunted by personal tragedy. Small-town nosiness and proximity aside, Vaughn and Lily must work together when the mayor hires Vaughn to fill in as Lily’s deputy.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Marion Lennox’s STEPPING INTO THE PRINCE’S WORLD

stepping_into_princes_worldMiss 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

Mini-Review: Donna Thorland’s “Christmas At Mount Holly” in the CHRISTMAS IN AMERICA Anthology

christmas_in_americaMiss 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. 
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Review/Response: Jessica Hart’s JUGGLING BRIEFCASE AND BABY, Or The Crumpling Heart

Juggling_Briefcase_and_BabyAfter 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.   
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Review: Jodi Thomas’s RUSTLER’S MOON

Rustler's_MoonJodi 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.
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REVIEW: Susan Elia MacNeal’s MRS. ROOSEVELT’S CONFIDANTE

Mrs_Roosevelt's_ConfidanteEver 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