TBR Challenge: Carla Kelly’s MISS CHARTLEY’S GUIDED TOUR, Or What Happens When the Itinerary Is Tossed

Miss_Chartley's_Guided_TourMiss Bates shares an ambivalent relationship with Carla Kelly’s historical romance fiction. She enjoys them, doesn’t love them. She reads them from cover to cover, but experiences moments of restlessness, or boredom. When she ends a Kelly romance, she’s glad she read it. They resonate, but reading one is preceded by feelings of obligation and an “it’s-good-for-you” pep talk. Why is that? Because Miss Bates finds an unappealing preciousness to Kelly’s characters. Her characters’ “buck up” attitude to disasters that befall them tend to the farcical. Though historical details are accurate, the ease with which class distinctions are discarded, while ethically appealing, makes Miss B. squirmy with discomfit. Yet Miss Bates loved Kelly’s Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour. She loved it because it calls on the hero and heroine to engage with life, even after horrific events befell them and they “bucked up” to make the best of lives gone wrong. Kelly writes about how a time to weep gives way to happiness … and the means of that happiness are to open the heart and to serve others. The best way that Miss Bates can think of to describe Kelly’s appeal is that her romances exemplify Christ’s notion that to find your life, you must lose it. Miss Bates loved Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour … despite the ragged hole of implausibility in its fabric. Continue reading

REVIEW: Robin York’s HARDER, From Surviving To Thriving

HarderMiss Bates loved Robin York’s Deeper. Highly anticipated Harder is the second part of Caroline Piasecki and West Leavitt’s story, in Ruthie Knox’s second incarnation as a writer of New Adult romance. It doesn’t feel as New Adult as the first, though. West and Caroline are grown up; they’ve made decisions and are living with the consequences. Their characters are set, though West must let go of the past to have a future with Caroline. The reader knows that, in ten or fifteen years, she would recognize them as the hero and heroine of Harder. If York wrote Caroline and West’s story twenty years down the line, Miss Bates’d be happy to read it. Caroline and West are just that likable. And why not? Knox/York was successful with Amber and Tony from How To Misbehave to ten-years-later Making It Last

Though York tends to lean to the thematically didactic, her characters are consistently engaging and her writing inspired, skirting the edgy; in places, overwrought, but there is no doubt she is a stylist. Moreover, whether her vision is congenial to the reader or not, it’s undeniable that she writes with purpose and ideas. A character in Harder describes visual art as, ” … the purpose of art is to make you feel or think, and a lot of the time both.” York does both as well in Harder as she did in Deeper. Miss Bates read Harder with as much pleasure and interest as she did Deeper: she read through the day and she read through the night. And she loved near every moment of it. Continue reading

REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s SEDUCED, Finding “Rainbows in Little, Wrinkled Brown Seeds”

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What a beautiful cover!

 Miss Bates’ Canadian perspective of the American ante- and post- bellum periods is set, in most unscholarly fashion, by popular culture. She read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind when she was in grade six. She loathed it then; she loathes it now. (And no, she wouldn’t reread it to gauge her response years later.) In 1976, when Miss B. was a new teen, she, and millions of others, watched the TV miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots, a novel with its own controversies and questions. Nevertheless, at the time, Miss Bates and her family, European immigrants to North America, loved it. In 1990, Miss Bates, again with so many others, was glued to Ken Burns’ The Civil War. Who can resist the images, soulful music, and epistolary eloquence? But, it too has its misrepresentations. She doesn’t purport any expertise on the topic other than what she refers to here and that is no expertise at all, really. Moreover, Miss Bates sees the American civil conflict through the lens of a tsk-tsk-ing outsider, her own country’s conflicts never having seen a battlefield other than the legislative (though Louis Riel, the rebellions, his trial, and execution in 1885 might have something to say about that. It is a time and place worthy of a romance). Not that Canada is immune to racism and conflict, au contraire, but our “quiet revolutions” have been linguistically decentralizing, while our neighbours’ claim to unity has always struck her as more mythic than actual. All of this to say that she, nevertheless, welcomes a romance set in the aftermath of the war, though she’s also leery of it, thanks to GWTW, given this period in American history remains a tender, if scabbed over, wound. She’s uncertain, nay ignorant, how well O’Keefe’s Seduced skirted historical and political landmines. From this outsider’s perspective, however, as a romance, Miss Bates loved it … with a few caveats for some weaknesses … but a highly recommended read nonetheless. Continue reading

TBR Challenge Review: “Lovely Rita” Month Saw Miss B. Read Marion Lennox’s HER ROYAL BABY

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Charming cover: check out Tammy’s flipflops!

Miss Bates is content to return to her neglected TBR Challenge! Check it out chez Wendy here. This month’s theme was to read a nominated, or winning Rita title. Because Miss Bates is pathetically slumping along to Ros’s Summer Big Fat Book read-a-long, she chose a category romance. They’re short and she’s already behind the BFB, and summer reading piles litter her apartment and slow down two e-readers. (Way too much time on Twitter for Miss B.; also lolling, gazing at sunbeams, and sleeping in. It’s a feline life.) Reading Rita winners was one way Miss Bates segued into romance: their annual nominated and winning title lists provided tried and true romance reading as Miss B. figured out what she liked and didn’t in the genre. (Shudder PNR.) It was with nostalgia for her early romance reading days that she looked at titles she’d added to the TBR from these romance reading baby steps. Marion Lennox’s Her Royal Baby won the 2004 Best Traditional Romance. Woot! thought Miss B., category, baby, Rita winner, and an author that she’s wanted to read for ages thanks to some nifty reviews over at Dear Author lauding Lennox’s more recent category novels. The whole royalty thing is not to Miss B.’s taste, no blood is blue she says, but she liked the cover. Miss Bates doesn’t regret her choice, but boy oh boy, was this ever a flawed and floundering effort. Continue reading

REVIEW: Juliana Stone’s THE DAY HE KISSED HER, Or “Down, Wanton, Down”

The_Day_He_Kissed_HerMiss Bates loved volume two of Stone’s “Bad Boys of Crystal Lake” series, The Christmas He Loved Her. Indeed, it was one of her favourite 2013 reads. As a result, expectations were high for volume three, The Day He Kissed Her. Miss Bates’s response to this romance novel was a reiteration of what she says about romantic heroes and heroines: a hard-to-like heroine, bring her on … a hard-to-like hero? Um, no. It’s difficult to redeem the assholey hero. Though Stone weaves much back-story torment for hero Mackenzie Draper, his behaviour is such that there is hardly redemption for him … and, as a result, not much of one for the novel. The lovely writing and strong use of metaphor that Miss Bates found in The Christmas He Loved Her was, sadly, absent from The Day He Kissed Her. The richness of the former’s relationship between the heroine and hero was not present, shared history and care and friendship, no … the sole link between heroine and hero in The Day He Kissed Her is a one-night stand. And once you get to know these two, there’s not much to build on.  It’s a pale companion to the previous book in the series. And yet, when Miss Bates reached three-quarters of the way into the novel, she was affected, moved, by the narrative. Stone has that capacity: to touch and haul you in emotionally. It was too little, too late, but it was there. Continue reading

REVIEW: Simone St. James’s SILENCE FOR THE DEAD, Or Crossing No Man’s Land

Silence_For_the_DeadWhen Miss Bates was in graduate school many years ago, she read Paul Fussell’s Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars.  She went on to read Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, (which she still counts among her favourite books) and all of Wilfred Owen’s poetry.  As she completed her graduate studies, Pat Barker’s World War I trilogy was published, Regeneration, The Eye In the Door, and The Ghost Road, and Miss Bates devoured them in singular sittings.  “The Great War” was a line in the sand in Western history and we experience its repercussions still.  Her reading and rereading of these great books and fascination with the era and its aftermath remain.  It follows that she was disposed to be interested in, if not to like, Simone St. James’s post-Great-War mystery-ghost-story-historical-romance Silence For the Dead.  She found that she loved it!  Its echo of history’s ghosts, their haunting of us, the experience of ordinary, working-class people, the crossing of the dividing-line between classes that the trenches entailed, the walking wounded that are its legacy … all of that and more is in St. James’s hybrid novel of romantic suspense, closed-room mystery, ghost story, and one gloriously rendered romance of friendship, respect, love, humour, and desire.  Like most thrillers, it lost some of these wonderful threads in the solving of the mystery as it lapsed into sensationalism, a niggling point in light of its wunder-HEA, however. 😉 If you read one mystery with really “strong romantic elements” this year, it should be this one. Continue reading, but there’ll be more lauding

REVIEW: Meredith Duran’s FOOL ME TWICE, Or How the Mighty Are Risen

Fool Me TwiceUntil Miss Bates read Jeannie Lin’s Jade Temptress, she’d despaired of recent historical romances. Her faith was restored by Lin’s 9th-century-China tale of mystery and romance, that of the smooth, skillful writing and historical authenticity. Okay, Miss Bates thought, maybe it’s the European historical one should give up … and then she read Duran’s Fool Me Twice and, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth says, “mine eyes are made the fools of the other senses.” Miss Bates was all eyes the two days it took her to read Duran’s novel: eyes glued to e-reader through workplace lunch hours, sneaked-in quarter hours, and staying up too late only to appear bleary-eyed at the breakfast table until she was delivered of a thoroughly satisfying end by late afternoon. Duran has been a favourite since Miss Bates was enthralled by The Duke of Shadows to the more recent, and one of Miss Bates’ favourite romance novels, A Lady’s Lesson In Scandal. Everything that appealed in those, Miss Bates found in gentler mode in Fool Me Twice: a sensitivity to the class issues of the day, a complex heroine, a flawed and compelling hero, wondrously good writing, a central couple who talk more than they couple and embody a meeting of equals akin to Jane and Rochester, who ” … stood at God’s feet, equal … ” Continue reading

REVIEW: Inez Kelley’s THE PLACE I BELONG, Is With You

The Place I BelongMiss Bates lauded Kelley’s first book in the “Country Roads” series and this, her second, had the potential to be even better. The first half was wondrously good and Miss Bates excited to have landed a keeper. “Best laid plans” and all that and the second half, except for one or two scenes, fell apart (which is not to say that MissB’d discourage anyone from reading it.) Au contraire, the parts that are good are worth enduring the cringey bits, but let Miss Bates say that the cringey bits are pretty seriously messed up and dominate the second half. There is much to like about The Place I Belong: the initially nuanced hero and heroine, a role for religion that is NOT inspirational and sufficiently ambivalent to make it interesting, the requisite rift between hero and heroine is ideological instead of circumstantial, and the descriptions of the beauty of West Virginia’s mountains are loving. What goes terribly wrong in the second half, so much that it possibly negates the terrific first? Continue reading

REVIEW: Scarlet Wilson’s ENGLISH GIRL IN NEW YORK, Or Healing An “Annus Horribilis”

English Girl In New YorkWhen a novel involves a snowstorm, a stranded hero and heroine, and a baby, Miss Bates is all over it.  Well, she could take or leave the baby part … but still.  Kathleen Creighton’s One Christmas Knight started it for Miss B.: an over-the-top snowstorm in the Texas panhandle (an account of an actual!), eight-months-pregnant Mirabella Waskowitz and long-haul trucker and single dad, Jimmy Joe Starr, one of Miss Bates’s favourite romance fiction couples.  Wouldn’t you love these two just on the basis of their names?  Creighton’s category romance set the bar high and Miss Bates has had trouble finding its match since.  She likes Janice Kay Johnson’s Snowbound well enough, but finds it more sombre than Creighton’s warm-hearted little gem.  Because Scarlet Wilson’s English Girl In New York has the same beloved elements, Miss Bates had high hopes for it.  Sadly, a promising start led to a lagging middle, which led to a flat, if viable, ending; but the entirety proved to be saccharine.  (She is also annoyed at the deceptive tourist-selfie look of the cover, which bears no connection to the narrative, much less a resemblance to the protagonists.) Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Grace Burrowes’ ANDREW, or The Hero As Nursemaid

AndrewMiss Bates read Burrowes’ latest “lonely lord,” Andrew, in hopes that she’d get the original pleasure of reading her first Burrowes novel, The Heir.  If Andrew had been her first Burrowes, she might have written this review more positively?  However, for Miss Bates, as well as romance readers who find themselves beset with an author’s work near-monthly, reader fatigue has set in.  Burrowes exhibits the same smooth, competent prose, the same caring characters and sexy scenes, the same concerns with family, love, and children, but it feels so very the same.  This is because Burrowes’ Lonely Lords, or Lords of Despair as the cover subtitle indicates, are “ensemble romances,” romance novels whose concerns are not with the singular courtship and eventual HEA/marriage of a couple, but with the creation of a family saga made of couples in various HEA stages, between incipient and established.  (Many a contemporary, small-town romance is guilty of this too.)  Maybe Miss Bates’ romance-reading tastes are a tad passé, but she rather enjoys an old-fashioned antagonistic, sparring romance narrative like, let’s say for argument’s sake, Pride and Prejudice.  Burrowes’ Andrew is not like that at all, with its surfeit of family politics, married couples, in utero offspring, or toddling around … and way too many clinical details about parturition. Continue reading, as Miss Bates finalizes her verdict