REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s BETWEEN THE SHEETS, “A Broken Hallelujah”

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Loved the cover; for once, the models look like heroine and hero!

Miss Bates finally made her way to the third novel in Molly O’Keefe’s “Boys of Bishop” series, Between the Sheets. She reviewed the first one, Wild Child, and second, Never Been Kissed. The latter emerges as her favourite, but the beauty and pain of Between the Sheets remain with her. There was so much going on in the hero’s and heroine’s lives that while the relationship made sense … romance showed up too-little-too-late in a schmaltzy epilogue. The sheer daily nightmare of the heroine’s life detracted from the warm-and-fuzzies that romance readers expect, nay demand, ’cause damnit isn’t life hard enough that I have to confront it in my comfort corner? There were moments when Miss B. resented this novel: with its harsh realities and stubborn personalities. BUT, O’Keefe is writing some of the best in contemporary romance. Between the Sheets, like the two previous novels, is set up in the aftermath of a media debacle, Shelby Monroe’s media debacle, one we cringed over in Wild Child. Between the Sheets fills in the cracks of Shelby’s humiliation, hauls in her mother and memories of her father and closed-in, cool-as-a-cucumber spinster’s existence. Between the Sheets isn’t a picking-up-the-pieces story, it’s a darkest before the dawn tale … and the hero is an unlikely and dealing-with-his-own-crap knight, with his own vulnerabilities and burdens. O’Keefe’s novel grabs you like Fay Wray in Kong’s fist and tosses you around emotionally … you should read it. It is a spinster’s tale told by a master of the genre. 😉 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: Maisey Yates’s PRETENDER TO THE THRONE, Or Sin and Surf

Pretender To the ThroneIt must be tedious to hear Miss Bates say how much she loves an HP, a kick-off-your-shoes-sip-your-tea and get-lost-in-it read.  So, she won’t.  What she will say is that sometimes the tried-and-true formula that we forgive may, given the writer’s style and purpose, surprise us.  And those are the best kind of HPs: where you forget what you’re forgiving for your reading-drug of choice and are lost in it.  That’s exactly what Maisey Yates’ Pretender To the Throne is: a thoroughly emotionally engaging romance novel, no pretense, no writing-to-type-and-formula … it takes you by the heart and squeezes from the opening page to the last.  Miss Bates read it in one sitting, with a snowstorm raging outside her spinster’s lair, stopping only for a walk to the window to stretch the legs.  She surmises that, if you’re an HP aficionado as she is, you’ll love it too.  It has its outlandish HP flaws and Miss Bates has every intention of pointing them out, but it’s an unstoppable reading force for raw, honest emotion. Continue reading

TBR Challenge REVIEW: Beth Kery’s LIAM’S PERFECT WOMAN On the Dunes

Liam's Perfect WomanMiss Bates loves Wendy’s TBR challenge, even though it reminds her of dreaded school deadlines.  Nevertheless, it pushes her to re-visit the TBR, cull, read, review, and re-discover the myriad titles she’s e-piled.  One of those was Beth Kery’s Liam’s Perfect Woman, second in the Home to Harbor Town series, a perfect fit to this month’s theme, “Series Catch-Up.”  Miss Bates read the first, The Hometown Hero Returns, three years ago and liked it very much.  She acquired the second, third, and fourth in the series and, to date, hadn’t read any, even though she meant to, though she knew she’d enjoy them.  THIS is why Wendy’s initiative rocks … MissB. is harvesting the TBR and reading, in this case, a good romance.  Kery’s premise for the series is what initially drew Miss Bates to it: three families, one town, one terrible accident and its repercussions on the families’ lives.  Fifteen years ago, an intoxicated Derry Kavanaugh got into a car and killed a married couple, Kassim and Shada Itani, and another woman, Miriam Reyes.  Liam’s Perfect Woman is about the sole survivor of the accident, Miriam’s daughter Nathalie, injured and bearing physical scars, and Derry’s youngest son, soon-to-be-police-chief of Harbor Town, Liam Kavanaugh.  And what is Miss Bates’s verdict?  Despite several elements that had Miss Bates cringing, she was moved by this novel and she felt for, and liked, the leads, especially the hero. 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

REVIEW: Tina Beckett’s HER HARD-TO-RESIST HUSBAND Is Easy To Resist

Her Hard To Resist HusbandAfter historical romance, Miss Bates loves category.  Ever since she read some of Wendy’s recommendations, she’s found the concentrated-focus-on-the-romance bent of them so satisfying.  And, darn it, Harlequin, though no longer the sole publisher of category-type romance, has such appealing covers that, truth be told, they’ve drawn Miss Bates in.  There are promises in those covers and Miss Bates has stood at the bookstore till hoping they’ll bear fruit.  Many times they have: she’s loved many a category romance and counts Sarah Mayberry as one of her favourite romance writers, followed by Molly O’Keefe, Karina Bliss, Donna Alward, Liz Fielding, Jessica Hart, and the beloved Betty Neels, of course.  She’s loved the HP line (she’s looking at you, Sarah Morgan and Kelly Hunter) with a love that is matched only by her love for funky shoes and frothy coffees.   With so many lines and volumes appearing monthly, however, quality can vary … and Tina Beckett’s Her Hard To Resist Husband, with its mouthful of a title, was flawed, not the worst Miss Bates has read, but most definitely not memorable, or interesting, or quirky as category romance can be. Continue reading

READING/REVIEW: Kristen Ashley’s LAW MAN, Contemporary Cross-Class Romance

Time and again, romance readers contend with harsh verdicts aimed at the genre from non-romance readers.  It is interesting, however, that within the romance-reading community, gradations of snootiness exist as well.  Those judgements are aimed at sub-genres, or category romance, or individual authors, or books, or whatever chip a reader/reviewer carries on her shoulder.  Miss Bates herself has a certain distaste for the silliness factor of paranormal romance, indulging in a sweeping generalization and dismissal of hundreds of beloved and worthy stories.  Kristen Ashley’s novels, Miss Bates suspects, have received their share of disdain.

Law ManWhen Miss Bates read Kristen Ashley’s opening page for Law Man, she understood why Ashley’s novels come under scornful fire: sloppy writing, bizarro switches in point of view, a certain sentimentality, the hero’s machismo, heroine’s naïveté, and rugrats’ cuteness … all at the mercy of a reader’s sneering lip curls and exasperated eye-rolls.  Miss Bates too, at first note, slipped into derision mode.  However, by the end of chapter one, she was eating humble pie.  Ashley’s devil-may-care prose and not-politically-correct characterization and narrative won her.  Miss Bates discovered that Ashley wrote, in her breezy style, a contemporary cross-class romance, a perceptive portrait of class and status, a debate between nature/upbringing and individual will, between determinism and free will.

Detective Mitch Lawson is a middle-class, college-educated, no-working-beat cop.  Mara Hanover is “pink collar,” a successful retail salesperson, but nevertheless one of the vast number of women who occupy precarious service-industry positions, working mainly on commission.  Suffice to say, hero and heroine are people, as originally defined (thank you, Oxford American Dictionary) by the word “proletarian,” “having no wealth in property.”  (They certainly do not own the “means of production!”)  Fear not, Miss Bates is not doing a Marxist reading (she wouldn’t even know how), merely sharing some fascinating, to her at least, observations regarding class and status that permeate Ashley’s romance.  Her reading may be erroneous, but she’s going to plunge into it anyway. Read on, at your peril