I’m way too old to have read Cabot’s Princess Diary books, but glad I’m old enough to enjoy her contemporary romance. Despite its rom-com cover, No Judgments, though often droll, tackles sombre issues for its protagonist and narrator, Sabrina “Bree” Beckham. Bree has divided her life between when-she-was-Sabrina and lived in Manhattan as a law student with a famous mom and a trust fund and, at present, Bree, living humbly in Florida’s fictional Little Bridge Island, waitress, art-dabbler, and cat owner. (Indeed, Bree’s imperious former-shelter-cat Gary is one of the most charming of the island’s denizens, feline, canine, or human.) But darker events than law-school-dropping-out brought Bree to Florida: her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, oh, not with another woman, but by excusing his best friend’s execrable behaviour, behaviour that left Bree with uncertainty, fear, and mistrust. But there’s one man who breaks through her wariness, sexy Drew Hartwell, her bosses’ nephew and resident renovation-king-and-heartthrob. When Hurricane Marilyn bears down on Little Bridge Island, Drew and Bree, despite their initial banterish dislike (which we always know masks healthy-lust-like), work together to ensure evacuees’ left-behind animals are cared for, while falling into love and between Drew’s bed-sheets.
Another reading year gone and it was a strange one: an intense reading summer, testament to the plethora of reviews I managed to write, and a dry autumn with barely any reading done. Nevertheless, I read some good romance among others genres and I’m going to herein name the ones I think might withstand the test of time and taste. With this first post of 2020, I wish you all the health, happiness, prosperity, and love the world can bring. Without further ado, here are the titles that resonate with me still. I’ve written about all of them, so you’re welcome to check out my reviews to see why I liked them. With apologies that I can’t manage more commentary than that, but 2019 was the year I was tired. I’m hoping to have more blogging energy for 2020! Continue reading
I love Ruby Lang’s voice: fresh, original, droll, sophisticated. “Playing House” is first in a series set amidst NYC-based real-estate-involved characters, whether urban planners, brokers, etc. In “Playing House,” unemployed, gig-economy-victim, urban-planner Oliver Huang is touring houses in Harlem when he meet-cute runs into recently-divorced, college-mate Fay Liu. He helps her avoid “Clompy Brent”, a dude coming on to her who can’t hear, or understand the word “no”. It’s obvious from the get-go that Oliver has harbored an attraction for Fay and Fay reciprocates. They fall into a pattern of pretending to be newly-weds, Olly and Darling, for the chance to urban-plan geek out on beautiful NYC properties. They enjoy their pretend dates and become lovers. In the meanwhile, a potential conflict rears its mild head because Oliver has applied for a job at the urban-planning firm, Milieu, where Fay is partner. Neither Oliver, nor Fay take their affair too seriously and they have a lot of stuff to figure out, given they’re both in transitional life-spaces. But it is serious because feelings are involved, the acquaintance too short-lived to result in anything but misunderstanding, doubts, and hurt feelings.
It was lovely to read a category romance as gentle and subdued as Wallace’s One Night In Provence after Yates’s and Crews’s angsty intensity. One Night‘s first half and premise set-up were wonderful, richly descriptive and chockfull of lovely banter between hero and heroine.
The scene opens in Provence with Jenna Brown, who won a silent-auction luxury trip to lavender-country, something the Nantucket-based hospice nurse could ill afford otherwise. There, she meets lavender-field owner and charming Frenchman, Philippe d’Usay, as close to French aristocracy as it’s possible to be given the French Revolution. The novel’s first half is the better of the two, with Philippe’s charming, tender pursuit of Jenna. It was wonderful to read a romance that was “romantic”: dates with delicious French food, teasing conversation, outings to the countryside and the beauties of southern France the nonpareil. Wallace did the wooing and geographic wonders justice.
Reading Caitlin Crews’s Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy right after Yates’s Lone Wolf Cowboy was like seeing the two romances in a two-way mirror. They are linked by ethos and setting and would be, you might think, too much of a good thing one after the other. Nope. I was as immersed in the former as the latter. Besides, who can resist amnesia and secret-baby trope combined!? Maybe a lot of romance readers can, but I can’t! Moreover, Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy was the follow-up to one of my favourites 2018 romances, A True Cowboy Christmas, though not as good and there be reasons. Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy picks up where True Cowboy Christmas departs, centering on Everett middle brother, Ty, though we have delicious glimpses of the hero and heroine of True Cowboy enjoying married bliss. Cold Heart, Warm Cowboy opens with the heroine, former-rodeo-queen Hannah Leigh Monroe. She’s on her way to Cold River Ranch to confront Ty with the cold hard facts of: exhibit A, their marriage (Las Vegas certificate and all) and exhibit B, their 10-month-old baby, Jack, though Jack’s safely with her mother back in Hannah’s hometown of Sweet Myrtle, Georgia. After what happened eighteen months ago, Hannah thinks it’s high time Ty and she divorced.
I read Maisey Yates because I know exactly what I’m going to get. I don’t mean this in a predictable, comfort-read kind of way. Yates is NOT a comforting read; she is an angst-queen. I read her because I like her ethos: it’s as close to sexy inspie minus-God-talk as you’re going to get in contemporary romance. In Yates’s romances, encounters are meaningful; the past, redeemable; sex, mystical and earthy all at once; and, love, something huge, frightening, wonderful, and as much to be run away from as to run towards. These themes are reiterated in every romance, but they never get old and are expressed with urgency as the basis of self-fulfillment and a happy marriage. Most importantly, for Yates, as for my long-lamented absent romance-writing friend, Ros Clarke, the body knows before the mind and heart can come into its orbit.
In Yates’s seventh Gold Valley romance, she tackles a heroine with a daunting backstory. Vanessa Logan (Olivia’s sister, heroine of Yates’s first Gold Valley romance, Smooth-Talking Cowboy) returns to home-town Gold Valley because it is “the last refuge for her demons, and the final locked door in her life … her origin story. And everyone needed to revisit an origin story. She’d gone out on her own, failed, hit rock bottom and healed. But she had healed away, not at the site of her first fall from grace.” Teen-age Vanessa had shamed her family by drinking, carousing, and indulging in promiscuity. Running away to LA, she became an addict to drugs and alcohol. Now, she’s back to confront her family and teach art therapy to the hero’s, Jacob Dalton’s, brother’s therapy ranch for troubled boys.
I loved Liz Talley’s Superromances and I’m sad and sorry that category line is no more. I was glad to see Talley on my Netgalley shelf, however, and with one of my favourite settings, Christmas! I figure if Costco can set up its Christmas tree display next to the lurid Hallowe’en costumes, I can certainly read a Christmas romance in September …
A Down Home Christmas is a most christmasy of holiday romances, with Christmas cookie baking, the crooning of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”, massive-tree buying and decorating, and a pageant. It’s also the story of rediscovering roots and finding one’s way when all feels lost. Though less quirky and sexy than Talley’s categories, A Down Home Christmas still had her signature humour and heart. Unlike her categories, however, Down Home is hero-centric and the rediscovering and finding one’s way belong squarely to the hero. The heroine is settled and sure and knows exactly what she wants. It’s Kris Trabeau’s journey we follow, as the country music star returns to his hometown of Charming, Mississippi, for the holiday season, ostensibly to visit his Aunt Tansy, the woman who took him in and brought him up when his parents were killed in an airplane crash. The opening scene is a hoot: as he arrives at his Aunt’s and his ancestral farm, he’s greeted by a great floppy dog, scampering chickens, and a barefoot beauty in pursuit. Continue reading
Well, friends and readers, a month of nonstop work and no play, which, for this feral spinster, means barely romance reading since mid-August other than a slog through Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe (not to say that the novel was sluggish). But it wasn’t a shining star of the romance universe either; the romance-reading torpidity was all me. I can safely say to you, my readers, that The Right Swipe was better in concept than execution. It certainly hit a lot of the cool-romance-gestalt buttons: the heroine, Rhiannon Hunter, CEO of a date-matching app, Crush, out to buy the tried-and-tested-and-first-now-dated app, Matchmaker; the hero, Samson Lima, a mild, muscular beta, former football star, nephew to Matchmaker’s owner, Annabelle Kostas. Honestly, I started the novel such a long time ago, I barely remember the beginning, other than to say Samson and Rhi are thrown together at a tech con, Samson having taken a promotional role in his aunt’s company. Ah, but dear readers, there be a past history here. Thanks to said apps, Samson and Rhi spent one night together months ago. Though Samson asked to see Rhi again at the end of the night, he never contacted her. As she thinks in the first chapter, he “ghosted” her … cool-romance-element, check two. Continue reading
When I think about how much I’ve loved category romance and how much of that love has diminished, I do thank the romance gods for Marion Lennox. Though I didn’t love her last romance, she’s come back in signature form in Cinderella and the Billionaire. Like Betty Neels and maybe Carla Kelly, Lennox has a set of romance elements that speak to me, never feel formulaic or repetitive, and put romance in the best of lights. There’s a man; there’s a woman, neither of whom are very happy, nor terribly unhappy. There’s a dog, or a child, or a vulnerable need somewhere. They answer the call of caring for another, or the land, or work that needs to be done. Their journey is funny, and touching, and painful, in the way that coming alive and feeling things after an emotional hibernation is. In Cinderella and the Billionaire, Matt MacLennan is “one semireclusive billionaire” who brings one grieving-7-year-old boy to Australia to give him over to his grandmother’s care, after his mother (Matt’s employee) is killed in an accident. (Matt had seen Henry around the office, as his mother worked all hours and grew to feel liking and sympathy for him.) Henry’s grandmother, Peggy’s care lives on an isolated Australian island. Matt needs to hire a private boat to reach it. In comes one skipper fisherwoman, heroine, Meg O’Hara, whose boss hands them a ramshackle boat named “Bertha,” the last of his meagre, dilapidated fleet, with which to reach Peggy’s Garnett Island. Continue reading
Michelle Smart beautifully parallels the Cinderella fairy tale in the second volume of the Cinderella Seductions series, The Greek’s Pregnant Cinderella. Tabitha Brigstock toils in Vienna’s Basinas Palace Hotel as a cleaner after her evil stepmother and beloved father’s widow, seizes control of her wealth and property and kicks her out of the Oxfordshire family home. Tabitha’s fairy godmother comes in the form of a wealthy elderly Basinas Palace Hotel denizen, Amelia Coulter. In appreciation of Tabitha’s care and company when Amelia was ill, she gifts Tabitha with a Basinas-hosted 40 000-euro Viennese ball ticket, and a dress and shoes fit for a princess. Widower and billionaire Giannis Basinas takes one look at Tabitha (he insists on describing her as “exquisite,” which annoyed me to no end; I have a feral spinster antipathy for the word) and is enchanted. They dance, drink champagne, and share a passionate night. In the morning, while Giannis makes coffee to share with Tabitha, she sneaks away. Giannis is angry and hurt, but in the weeks ahead, can’t get Tabitha out of his mind. Continue reading