REVIEW: Robin York’s DEEPER, Or “Like A Drumbeat”

DeeperPhillip Phillips’ “Gone Gone Gone,” made the rounds in Miss Bates’ head as she read Robin York’s, aka Ruthie Knox, Deeper.¬† The song’s lively beat and Phillips’ glowingly adorable looks, despite the sentimentality of its “everything I do, I do it for you” ethos (more in keeping with Miss Bates’ youth ūüėČ ) are irresistible and an echo (“When life leaves you high and dry/I”ll be at your door tonight/If you need help … I’ll lie, cheat, I’ll beg and bride/To make you well”) of York’s d√©but New Adult romance series.¬† York captures youth’s passions, its ignorance and sensitivity, and its resilience, in a story that is as much coming-of-age as romantic.¬† Miss Bates, especially in light of this post at Vacuous Minx about what is and isn’t a romance, would say this isn’t, lacking, as it does, the de rigueur HEA.¬† On the other hand, York subtitles Deeper with the caveat Caroline and West, Part I, so the possibility of an HEA is open to later volumes.¬† Be warned, however, that Deeper‘s end was a cryfest for Miss B. Continue reading

REVIEW/Reading/Acclamation: Elizabeth Hoyt’s THE LEOPARD PRINCE, Or Why Scheherazade Always Wins Her Man

The Leopard PrinceGroundskeeper/land-steward/gardener/gamekeeper/estate manager, an eminently attractive and endearing hero-figure to Miss Bates.¬† This, ever since she read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a better novel than many give it credit for and more romantic than titillating.¬† (It concludes with an HEA¬†and baby-filled epilogue, folks.)¬† There’s also the marvelous film The Go-Between, based on L. P. Hartley’s novel, the story of an innocent and humbly-originned boy carrying clandestine messages between the lord’s daughter and a local farmer.¬†

The hero with deep roots in the land, in nature, manifests a special quality, a depth and salt-of-the-earth-ness.¬† But, is that Miss Bates’ only attraction to these heroes?¬† We must also know them by their relation to the heroine.¬† Miss Bates draws one conclusion: simply put, she loves a cross-class romance, especially one centered on an aristocratic lady and a man of the land.¬† (She’ll throw another narrative into the mix that compelled her: Ian McEwan’s Atonement, though the hero was not a man of the land; nevertheless, his origins are humble and he, and his mother, work for the lord of the manor.¬† They don’t inhabit the manor.¬† Nevertheless, it did contain an anti-romance conclusion that had Miss Bates sending the volume flying across the room.)¬†

As for her latest read, Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Leopard Prince, it has it all: labourer hero, a man of the earth, and an aristocratic lady.¬† As a sampling of cross-class romance, of the stoic farmer and his seemingly flighty lady (plumb the depths, reader discovers she’s no intellectual lightweight): well, it doesn’t get better than this.¬† Miss Bates will temper her enthusiasm with reasons why this romance has its flaws, but her love and devotion will break through … as they do in every romance where the “marriage of true minds” overcomes “impediments.”¬† For that is the essence, the core, of a cross-class romance done well. 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: Brenda Novak’s THROUGH THE SMOKE, Not “Worth the Fight”

Through The SmokeWhat happens when an author names her hero Truman?¬† The obvious.¬† Her reader has the plain, geeky, tight-lipped 33rd U.S. president floating in her head as she tries tries tries to conjure the magically engrossing experience that reading a romance novel brings. A woeful, bespectabled, steel-haired figure intrudes into the narrative space.¬† Thus it was with Brenda Novak’s Through the Smoke and her strangely-dubbed hero, Truman.¬† There might be an allegory there, you say?¬† Truman Stranhope, Earl of Druridge, is a True Man, a loyal man, a good man, a steadfast and loving man? Actually, as Miss Bates argues below, more a nonentity.¬†

In her note to the reader, Novak says that her girlhood reading of Jane Eyre informs her return to historical romance, “I love the gothic feel, the air of mystery and … the heart-pounding romance.”¬† Indeed, Miss Bates recognizes that Jane-Eyrean elements are in Through the Smoke: a mysterious hall named Blackmoor, a fire, a scarred hero, the nefarious wife-figure, an ingenue heroine true to her convictions and spunk-full, the cross-class nature of the protagonists’ relationship … even the housekeeper privy to the socially transgressive affair of hero and heroine.¬† It’s all there.¬† And, Miss Bates’ expectations rode high … as she willed herself not to flinch every time she read the hero’s name.
Continue reading to learn how Novak’s novel held up

REVIEW: Tracey Devlyn’s A LADY’S SECRET WEAPON, And A Gentleman’s Rules

A Lady's Secret WeaponBefore embarking on a review, Miss Bates experiences a hollowness: fear that fingers to keyboard will produce, to quote Lucretius, “nihilo ex nihilo.”¬† Thus Devlyn’s latest A Lady’s Secret Weapon echoes Miss Bates’s reviewing fears: characters on the edge, whose lives are out of control, emotions at the boiling point, who’ve come to the end of something and don’t know where to go next.¬† Characters whose dedication to a cause has cost them everything.¬† A hero whose licentiousness (love this word!) … for once! … makes sense: for king and country, he seduced, coaxed, and manipulated women into bed to glean information to keep Napoleon from English shores.¬† Dissolute, jaded, heroic, at the mercy of the demon alcohol, Devlyn’s male characters, especially her heroes, in this case, Ethan deBeau, Lord Danforth, flirt with “nihilo,” having assumed so many guises and disguises they don’t know who they are and, of what they do know, don’t much like.¬† There is endearing poignancy and pathos to Ethan and Sydney, our Goddess-Artemis-of-a-heroine.¬† Their quandaries over national security and their reckless-of-the -danger-to-themselves urge to protect the innocent and harbor the vulnerable render them sympathetic to the reader who happily flashes pages on the e-reader.¬† The romantic impetus, however, is secondary, lovely when it arrives, but not the primary raison d’√™tre of Devlyn’s hybrid historical+thriller+romance novel. Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts

REVIEW: Grace Burrowes’s GABRIEL, Another Forlorn Lord

GabrielGrace Burrowes’s latest “lonely lord,” Gabriel,¬†contains two elements Miss Bates loves: a hero who must set his house in order and a second-chance romance.¬† The notion of setting things right is a theme endemic to Burrowes’s work.¬† Miss Bates finds this morally appealing.¬† Burrowes’s characters are generous, honest, and kind; even when they make messes, they redress them.¬† And they never leave messes behind, particularly her heroes; this makes them eminently endearing.¬† Miss Bates noted these things when she enjoyed Burrowes’s first¬†Regency novel,¬†The Heir.¬† From that initial effort to this latest one, Miss Bates has noted that Burrowes is enamoured of the cross-class couple which, historically, rarely boasted the happy endings that her novels do.¬† (Miss Bates likes to think that Burrowes brings a beautifully equalizing American flair to the class-conscious British historical; accuracy be damned in the name of justice.¬† What’s an HEA for, if not to breach “impediments” to the “marriage of true minds”?)¬† This impediment to love, though historically likely inaccurate and viewed with rose-coloured glasses and all that, is nevertheless refreshing because it says all things are possible with love and the acceptance of responsibility.¬† However, can Miss Bates say that she loved this novel and wholeheartedly urges you to read it?¬† There be caveats. Carry on reading to discover more of what Miss Bates thought of Burrowes’s lonely lord #5

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

REVIEW: Mary Jo Putney’s SOMETIMES A ROGUE, Runner, Aristo …

Sometimes A RogueUntil she read Sometimes A Rogue, Miss Bates’s only Putney novel was The Bargain, a revised version of the 1989 Would-Be Widow. It had a great premise, great first third or so … then, it all went to hell in a hand-basket. Sometimes A Rogue¬†has its “problems,” i.e., the unique position of being peculiar and soporific. Much of it was … yes, boring. It comprises three, consecutive, not-well-executed narratives: with the same hero and heroine in strange mutations of their personalities over three contortions of the plot in one of the flattest-toned romance novels Miss Bates has ever read. Whew. More often than not, Sometimes A Rogue felt like Putney was assiduously following an outline, sketching in every scene: novel by fill-in-the-blanks, paint-by-number. Miss Bates had the same question at the end of Putney’s latest as she’d had at the end of one of her earliest: what happened here? Why did everything go so wrong in a book that had a modicum of potential? Read on; Miss Bates tries for droll

A REVIEWish Reading of Carla Kelly’s SUMMER CAMPAIGN, or The Hero-Suitor as Grand Strategist

Summer CampaignWhen Miss Bates rediscovered romance and dipped into various authors to determine who would suit for long-term relationships, she resolved to read certain authors’ oeuvres because she enjoyed, appreciated, or¬†found the initial sampling thought-provoking . One of those was Carla Kelly; this reading comes of Miss Bates’s reach into the back-list. Summer Campaign did not disappoint. After a slow start, Summer Campaign was wonderful and had the rare honour of turning Miss Bates into a watering-pot on several counts. What is it about Kelly’s stories that Miss Bates finds poignant, slow in places and imperfect, but moving and loveable? In the case of Summer Campaign, it lies in Kelly’s use of a military metaphor to tell a story about laying a siege of the heart. If you are vulnerable to her writing and the type of stories she tells, Kelly’s novels besiege the reader’s heart, tear down the walls, and expose vulnerable centres all the while reminding us that the purposeful life is a life of service conducted with humour, strength, and good will. Read on for more of Miss Bates’s watering-pot commentary