A groggy, caffeine-heavy morning for me after a night reading into the wee hours, thanks to Lauren Willig’s Gothic romance, historical mystery The English Wife. The novel opens in January 1899 in Cold Spring NY, at “Illyria,” Bay and Annabelle Van Duyvil’s country estate. Bay and Annabelle’s hermetic existence has thus far been the bane of Bay’s appearances-are-all mother, Alva. Formidable, humorless Alva is ever flanked by Janie, her mousy, silent daughter and Anne, the mouthy, flamboyant niece she took in. To Alva’s great society-loving heart, Bay and Annabelle are finally celebrating the opening of their magnificent estate by holding a costume ball for New York’s best, brightest, and finest. Until now, Bay and Annabelle’s life has been a mystery. Rumours of eccentricities and infidelities swirl around them, about them … maybe because they keep to themselves and, at least on the surface, appear to live an idyllic existence with twins Sebastian and Viola. Bay and Annabelle don’t seem to give a fig about what the “best people” think, rendering them endlessly fascinating to the society pages and ensuring Alva Van Duyvil’s frustrated, officious meddling. Continue reading
Miss Bates dislikes romance where the heroine has to choose between two suitors. She prefers her romance protagonists to know this is the one, no matter how antagonistic or impossible their relationship seems to be, whether thanks to external, or internal reasons, or both. But romance authors have time and again humbled Miss Bates by proving that her most hated tropes can be redeemed. Carla Kelly’s Libby’s London Merchant redeems the two-suitor trope most finely.
As with most Kelly romances, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Kelly uses the genre’s formulaic narrative arc and conventions to dress her most beloved themes: her young, intelligent, but inexperienced heroines have to learn the lesson that hard work and purpose go hand in hand with finding a person to love and share their lives with. In Libby Ames’s case, her struggle to figure out who she loves, the Duke of Knaresborough, Benedict Nesbitt “Nez”, who comes calling as the chocolate merchant “Nesbitt Duke”, or her neighbour and friend, Dr. Anthony Cook, is also the story of Libby’s coming-of-age, taking on adulthood by figuring out what will make life as meaningful as it is love-filled. Continue reading
If Miss Bates could hand out book prescriptions as doctors do medicine, Marion Lennox would go on every prescription pad entitled comfort read. A Lennox romance offers a view of the world that says kindness and care are what make it better; everyone is capable of changing to be able to love; grace and consideration are virtues to look for in a mate; and the genre can be sweet, funny, tender, and true, without being saccharine. Lennox’s The Billionaire’s Christmas Baby does this by bringing a baby and unlikely hero and heroine together at Christmas. Lennox’s romance is the Cinderella-troped story of the aptly-named Sunny Raye and equally allegorically-named billionaire Max Grayland as Sunny sheds love’s light onto Max’s loveless, lonely existence. The two of them are redeemed and love made possible by the appearance of one newborn bundle of cuddly joy and screaming-like-a-banshee set of lungs baby, Phoebe.
Max is in a Sydney hotel trying to write his estranged father’s eulogy for tomorrow’s funeral when his father’s mistress, Isabelle, dumps her newborn daughter in Max’s lap. Workaholic Max is helpless before the crying, hungry, wet baby and his only recourse is hotel maid Sunny, who, it turns out, brought up four siblings with the help of her grandparents after their mother abandoned them. Continue reading
Marguerite Kaye’s Claiming His Desert Princess is fourth in the Hot Arabian Nights series. Miss Bates read it and read it and read it and felt as if it would never end: this had more to do with how the day-job has a stranglehold on MissB than any flaws in Kaye’s romance novel. Nevertheless, her experience of it was disjointed and truncated. It’s a romance novel that Miss Bates feels she never quite grasped, never felt it pulled her in, but never lapsed so much, she’d abandon it. Suffice to say this is an interesting romance novel, and its flaw is that it is more so in concept than execution.
Certainly, its premise is an intriguing one: in 1815 Arabian mythical kingdom Nessarah, surveyor/archaeologist Christopher Fordyce searches for the origin of an amulet he recently inherited from his father. He hopes that Nessarah’s turquoise mine will lead him to the tomb that may house revelations of the amulet’s origins. Christopher isn’t merely searching his roots, or if he is, his roots have caused him pain. He recently discovered the loving family he believed his own was adoptive and his true parentage in a man he neither likes nor respects; his birth mother, a tragic young loss at his birth. Digging in the mine to purge himself of the amulet and what it stands for, Christopher encounters a beautiful young woman, with an equal passion for archaeology, Tahiri. Continue reading
In 1817 London, 20-year-old heroine Georgette Frost, “accustomed to flights of imagination” leaves the family business, Frost’s Bookshop, to seek her fortune, in pursuit of reward money for locating 50 000 Royal Mint stolen gold sovereigns. Hero Sir Hugo Starling, 32, Georgette-described “hawkish of feature, and stuffy of temperament … [r]epresentative of everything chill and sterile about the life of the mind: study, solitude, and sternness,” discovers boy-clad Georgette on her way to adventure and fortune. As a self-styled stodgy rescuer of females and taker-carers of everyone, doctor and younger son of a duke, Hugo cannot allow Georgette to proceed on her foolish errand without protection. He resolves to return her to his friend and her brother, Benedict, and she resolves to foil him. Theresa Romain’s witty pen is immediately evident in Passion Favors the Bold. Among histrom writers, Romain is gently humorous and deeply compassionate towards her characters and never more so than in her second Royal Rewards romance.
Miss Bates loved Kate Hewitt’s A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure and willingly delved into Hewitt’s women’s fic/romance incarnation in Meet Me At Willoughby Close. Meet Me has enough romance, and a likeable one at that, to satisfy a rom-reader. It contains an endearingly goofy heroine, Ellie Matthews, working at figuring out her divorced, single mum life, moving away from family and, for the first time, at 28, tackling life with eleven-year-old daughter, Abby. Ellie has a new job as an “administrative assistant” in the University of Oxford history department and new cottage in Wychwood-on-Lea, at Willoughby Close. Ellie is paired with her “boss,” a history professor she’s temporarily assigned to, the Darcy-like, upper-crust, Victorian-Era historian Oliver Venables, he of the grey-green eyes and impressive physique. Meet Me At Willoughby Close is funny and romantic. It tackles some serious subjects, with a light touch but no less profoundly: parent-child relationships, bullying, family dynamics, deadbeat dads, and class. Oh, and the joys and vagaries of pet ownership. Ellie’s dog, Marmite, is a great loping mutt whose exuberance (and wee bit of flatulence) elicit reader-giggles in every scene he snuffles into. Continue reading
Miss Bates was conflicted reading Duran’s latest, A Lady’s Code Of Misconduct, her responses a roller-coaster of dips and climbs of disappointment or enthusiasm. Misconduct contains Duran’s signature themes: trust, conscience, identity, wealth, class, ambition, power, and how they mesh, shift, and change as two people who start out one way make their way to their better selves because they discover they love the other.
To start, Duran’s narrative takes a convoluted route, opening with a compelling scene and then flashback to bring us the sequence of events leading to it. A man in his prime, a Victorian MP, Crispin Burke, lies dying of a head wound in his parents’ London house. Charlotte, his sister, brings a young woman to his death-bed, a woman who is familiar, yet he’s ignorant of their relationship. Jane Burke, née Mason, announces she is his wife.
Duran then takes us three months prior: filling in Crispin and Jane’s unholy alliance, bred of coercion, manipulation, and expediency. Duran’s plot starts and remains tangled. Crispin and Jane have been long-acquainted: Crispin, a frequent visitor to Jane’s uncle’s, her guardian’s, estate. Allied by ambition, Crispin and Uncle Philip shared a politics of personal gain. They’re not friends, nor loyal, content to use each other for political gain. Duran sets up the villainy: by pointing to how people, without love, see the other as an object, used for personal advancement. Continue reading
Without a doubt, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Duke Of Sin was one of the best romances Miss Bates ever read. It was natural, therefore, that she greatly look forward to Duke Of Pleasure, Hoyt’s 11th Maiden Lane novel. She had a glimpse of its hero, Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle, as probity to Valentine Napier’s debauchery in Duke Of Sin. Therein and as Duke Of Pleasure opens, Hugh Fitzroy has been pursuing the Lords of Chaos, a group of immoral, aristocratics who use and abuse children and women. With Valentine’s semi-taming by his house-keeper-heroine, Bridget Crumb, Hugh finds himself relying on Valentine’s Constaninopolean correspondence to help him identify and eventually destroy the Lords. Late one night, he is beset and hurt by a hired group of thugs near the notorious St. Giles area of London. The night-bound Ghost of St. Giles rescues him, the boy who doubles as the information-gathering daylight guttersnipe, Alf. When Alf, at the end of their encounter, boldly kisses Hugh, he realizes that the guttersnipe “from the dung head that was St. Giles” is a guttersnipette! Hugh brings Alf to his ducal abode to help him pursue the Lords. What Alf finds in Hugh is an emotionally closed off widower with two troubled young sons , still mourning the mere months-old loss of their mother and Hugh’s estranged wife, Katherine. At 21, Alf herself feels a certain restlessness with her life, wondering what it would be like to live as a woman, have children, and how to react to the strange heart-and-body-stirrings Hugh elicits in her. Continue reading
Miss Bates was travelling for work on old chugga-chugga trains this week and, to their rocking motion, read a rom novel and novella, Sabrina Jeffries’s The Danger of Desire and Meredith Duran’s “Sweetest Regret”, two of her favourite romance writers. Jeffries’s rom was the follow-up to one of last year’s top MissB. roms, The Study of Seduction. As for Duran, it had been a while and MissB. was most happy to find herself in Duran’s erudite, moving romance ethos.
Jeffries’s late-Regency Danger of Desire sees yet another St. George’s Club heroes, Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, so-called rakehell (though he never behaves as such) pit himself against the shenanigans of miss-dressed-as-boy, Delia Trevor. Clarissa, Study of Seduction‘s heroine, asks Warren (possibly the worst rom-hero name ever) to look out for Delia. Delia, on her part, spends her nights, disguised as a young man, gambling her way to discovering the identity of the man who cheated her deceased brother of her, and his wife and son’s, living. Delia’s mystery and intrigue isn’t the only challenge facing her and Warren as they, at least initially, spar and circle each other. Warren, on the surface devil-may-care, contains a psychic wound, which explains his reluctance to marry. Continue reading
Maisey Yates continues her Copper Ridge, Oregon saga in yet another of Miss Bates’s belated Christmas romance reads, Hold Me, Cowboy. It was the perfect antidote to the bad after-taste of Sandas’s Untouchable Earl. Miss Bates was captured and gave a rueful chuckle when she read in Yates’s first chapter: ” ‘I just need to … I need to rip the Band-Aid off.’ ‘The Band-Aid?’ ‘The sex Band-Aid.’ He nodded, pretending that he understood. ‘Okay.’ ‘I want this,’ she said, her tone confident. ‘Are you … suggesting … that I give you … sexual healing?’ ” You see, dear reader, Miss Bates suffered from nearly 300 pages of “sexual healing” in her previous rom-read/review and it brought out the snark big-time, but Yates understands the fundamental untruthfulness of the healing in “sexual healing.” It takes all manner of touch to heal. What distinguishes romance from erotica is that the central couple may start with sexual touch, but to make a romance and reach the HEA, there must be other kinds of touch, motivated by emotions that aren’t lust, emerging from the impetus to comfort, care for, and succour. To give Sandas some credit, Miss Bates thinks she understood that, but failed in execution. Yates, on the other hand, did the clever and adroit romance writer thing: there’s lust and it’s pleasurable for her protagonists, but it’s a stopgap to other kinds of touch and talk that will connect, bind, and drive them to an HEA of commitment, fidelity, and love.