I hadn’t read a romantic suspense novel in a long time and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to. Calhoun’s Turn Me Loose has a naked-chest-and-dog-tags cover that always turns me off. But, Calhoun: I’d heard a lot of good about her in the Twitterverse and wanted to give a new-to-me author a fighting chance. Turn Me Loose‘s introduction didn’t cover itself with glory and I came a hair’s-breath away from DNF-ing. But the writing was good, darn good, though I disliked the flash-back routine to the hero and heroine’s past. I recognized its necessity because it made it easier for Calhoun to segue into the present, but those, albeit not significant, parts of the novel never won me over. So, what did?
Let’s begin with basic premise and characterization. Seven years before the present scene, undercover cop Ian Hawthorn arrested eighteen-year-old college student and petty drug-dealer, Riva Henneman. In exchange for her freedom, Riva agreed to act as Ian’s “confidential informant”. Ian and Riva spent a lot of time together in stake-out and/or drug busts, with Riva entering dangerous situations as her CI-drug-dealer-self to help Ian and the Lancaster Police Department make arrests. A resentful attraction seethes between them, but ethical lines and power differentials are not crossed. Seven years pass and Ian walks into Riva’s business, a farm-to-table restaurant operation, Oasis, that takes teens and young adults from food-impoverished neighbourhoods and gives them a chance at fair and engaging labour. The food is delicious, Riva is beautiful, and the attraction between them still sizzles and seethes. Continue reading
Miss Bates loves category romance above all others and it’s been a while since she read and reviewed one. Jennifer Lohmann is a new-to-Miss-B author, but after reading A Southern Promise, one she’ll happily return to. Detective Howie Berry of the Durham, North Caroline PD, meets the daughter of Durham’s foremost family, Julianne Dawson, née Somerset, in the back seat of a police cruiser. He tells her that her beloved Aunt Binnie was murdered. Lohmann’s opening is wonderfully rendered, hinting at her protagonists’ characterization, setting up tension and conflict, and giving the reader a glimpse into their silent musings. Between Julianne and Howie is a whole city’s past, intertwined with their own demons. Lohmann sets up her cross-class-conflict-of-interest tropes from this opening scene, enriching her narrative and adding depth. The cross-class element is rarely convincing in contemporary romance, but Lohmann understands it better when she situates it in the mind and heart of one of the two main characters. Howie Berry is the result of a one-night stand between a Durham tobacco mill worker and David Berry, the Somerset tobacco company’s vice-president. Julianne is the daughter of the now-defunct tobacco company’s owner. With a wrong-side-of-the-tracks hero, – how refreshing! – Golden-Girl heroine AND a murder, what could go right between these two? Continue reading
Janice Kay Johnson’s In Hope’s Shadow is second in the “Two Daughters” series. As its title suggests, the second is a “shadow” of the first. Yesterday’s Gone is dramatically visceral: after twenty-some years, a family recovers Hope, their abducted biological daughter, with the help of Seth Chandler, a dedicated police detective. In Hope’s Shadow tells of the romance between Eve Lawson, the family’s adopted daughter, and Ben Kemper, the detective’s partner. Yesterday’s Gone is as a stone thrown in clear water to Hope’s Shadow, its rippling effects bearing on the secondary characters’ lives. Those who merely witnessed the events of the first story are the focus of the second. Eve’s, the adopted daughter’s, insecurities come to the foreground and colour her relationships with Hope, her “new” sister, parents, and evolving relationship with hero Ben. In Hope’s Shadow is a romance novel about the emotional aftermath of a seismic event in the characters’ lives. Eve, her family, Hope and her now-fiancé, Seth, are still adjusting their lives to each others, trying to find an equilibrium in the family dynamic. Ben too is adjusting to new life circumstances. He still smarts from his divorce from Nicole, his high school sweetheart and love of his life, and new role as an every-second-weekend single dad to Rachel, his six-year-old daughter.