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: Emily March’s MIRACLE ROAD, “It’s Not You, It’s Me”

Miracle RoadMiss Bates reached a point in March’s contemporary, small-town romance novel where she lost perspective, lost objectivity.  Since she started Miss Bates Reads Romance, she’s felt an especial obligation to keep an open mind, consider any given romance narrative on merits to which she might not adhere.  This to provide a fair and open consideration for whomever might drop by in the hope of being able to make a to-read-or-not-to-read decision.  There came a point, however, in reading Miracle Road where only a miracle could salvage it for Miss Bates.  Even now, as she pens this post, she recognizes the attraction of this romance for certain readers, in light of its positive and “life-affirming” message, inspirational drift, and competent writing.  It still pushed all of Miss Bates’ buttons of what she intensely dislikes about woo-hoo-miracles-do-happen-“touched-by-an-angel” narratives.  You’ve been warned, dear reader, what will follow is not necessarily snark, but a Miss Bates without sang-froid, or the balanced perspective that she likes to think she maintains.  It flew away on angel wings …
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REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s WILD CHILD, Will It “Make Your Heart Sing”?

Wild ChildIn The Crucible (1953), Arthur Miller’s “wild child,” Abigail Williams, says to her tormented, married lover, John Proctor,  “A wild thing may say wild things.  But not so wild, I think … I have seen you … burning in your loneliness.”  In 1966, The Troggs sang, “Wild thing, you make my heart sing … Wild thing, I think I love you.”  In those two most unlike and unconnected quotations, Miss Bates stands before Molly O’Keefe’s Wild Child with a conflicted response/recommendation/critique.  See?  Conflicted.  Because Wild Child is very well written, with figurative language that zings for reader attention, honest, raw dialogue, and love scenes that are sexy and shaming.  If this is to your taste, Wild Child may be a compelling ride of a read; it is tightly written and character-driven and will remind you of Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome To Temptation.  To Miss Bates, it remains a novel she struggled with.  It is, picking our signals from Miller and The Troggs, about the consequences of a life lived on the edge, loneliness, and love.  Maybe the exercise of writing about it will help Miss B. reach a balanced, steady view? 

“Wild child” free-spirit heroine Monica Appleby meets golden-good-boy hero Jackson Davies … except she’s not “wild” any more and “wild” is all he wants to be.  On the basis of this premise, O’Keefe writes another signature romance novel where bad girl re-makes herself into a cleaner, stronger, better version and good boy takes a walk on the wild side.  At cross purposes in their lives’ paths, at odds with themselves, these two figures, who are not ready for love or commitment, fall in love … most unconvincingly.  Miss Bates loved O’Keefe’s writing, highlighted many bits and pieces of its skill and smoothness, but the romance, the love these two feel and want by the end, Miss B. just can’t see it, can’t see their future, their happiness, or their life together.  This was one of several problematic elements in O’Keefe’s romance narrative.   Read on for more of Miss Bates’ thoughts on O’Keefe’s latest

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’être of Devlyn’s hybrid historical+thriller+romance novel. Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts

REVIEW: Juliana Stone’s THE CHRISTMAS HE LOVED HER and Came Home

The Christmas He Loved HerWhat if Jim Sheridan’s 2009 film, Brothers, were a romance novel? What if the brothers were war heroes?  What if one came home and the other didn’t?  What if they were twins?  What if they’d loved the same girl since they were children?  What if pain and guilt and love and memories hung like a pall over the mourners?  What if grief for the one who didn’t come home crippled the living … parents, brother, wife, friends, and a town?  It might, says Miss Bates, be Juliana Stone’s second book in her Bad Boys of Crystal Lake series, The Christmas He Loved Her.  How can a romance novel flawed in its inception be right in execution?  How did Miss Bates come to enjoy a novel that pushed many of her ick-factor buttons?        Continue reading: will Miss Bates work out her ambivalence about Stone’s novel?

REVIEW: Anne Stuart’s NEVER KISS A RAKE/Fallen Angel/Seraph/Cherub …

Never Kiss A RakeWhen Miss Bates returned to reading romance five years ago, one of the first books she read was Anne Stuart’s Black Ice. She loved it; in retrospect, the writing was over-wrought, but the ingenue heroine and dark, dark hero were engaging and believable. She held the same hope for Stuart’s latest, a Victorian romance, Never Kiss A Rake, the first in a series, if one goes by the sequel-tantalizing epilogue. Sadly, this Stuart feels tired, like she’s going through the motions of creating a romance, but lost the heart for it. The recipe’s the same; the inspiration is absent. The fire’s gone and she’s repeating herself. What’s true for the writer becomes the experience of the reader. Even though the dark hero and ingenue heroine are still present, they’re not convincing. An ember glows softly in the last twenty per cent of the novel, alas, too little, too late. Miss Bates was sympathetic to our hero and heroine, Bryony and Adrian, at long last, sort of, but so much that was wrong came before that she can’t say to the discerning romance reader not to miss Never Kiss A Rake.   Continue reading, much snark follows

REVIEW: Toni Anderson’s DARK WATERS and Still, Run Deep

Dark WatersToni Anderson’s Dark Waters is a contemporary romantic suspense novel that took Miss Bates by surprise. She plunged into it without any hope that it would prove more than mediocre. Well, lo and behold, she enjoyed it: agonized over the knuckle-biting bits, cringed at the violence, rooted for the hero and heroine, and basked in the beautiful Canadian West Coast setting. The beauty and danger in nature serve Brent and Anna’s story in a compelling way: adding a twist of what Miss Bates calls “nature-gothic,” whereby natural surroundings support the suspenseful and danger-filled atmosphere. In this case, murky and dangerous water imagery makes this stomach-tightening tale all the more moody and ominous. This is not a ground-breaking book by any means, and it suffers from some typical criticisms leveled against the romantic suspense sub-genre, but Miss Bates would still heartily urge you to read it for the sheer enjoyment of a roller-coaster ride of a thriller and love story well-told.  Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts

REVIEW: Laura Florand’s THE CHOCOLATE TOUCH, Ou Chocolat Avec Un Enfant Terrible

The Chocolate TouchMiss Bates’s favourite chocolate is dark and encrusted with sea salt and caramel; she waits for it to go on sale (it’s a bit pricey for the spinster budget) at the local drug mart and nabs as many of its knobby bars as she can. It’s not nearly as good as some of the “chocolat artisanal” available in her city, but it isn’t candy-bar dross either. It is, she admits sheepishly, a “designer” knock-off. This is where Florand’s contemporary romance, The Chocolate Touch, stands in the romance spectrum. It’s not the best romance you’ll read this summer, nor the worst. It has stock-in-trade characters, especially the tedious poor-self-esteem-themed hero and heroine, a weak to non-existent conflict, copious amorous scenes to make up for the lack of conflict, and angsty internal monologues also to make up for the lack of conflict. On the other hand, the writing is solid and it’s set in Paris. It’s set in Paris! The author obviously can parlez-vous because the French phrases peppered throughout are kind of cool. Florand captures the spirit and charm of the city. Paris is an expensive city, much like hand-made luxury chocolate, and Florand’s novel serves an armchair traveler like Miss Bates quite well, maybe more than her romance did. This pretty much sums it up, but for details, read on

GASP: Patricia Gaffney’s TO HAVE AND TO HOLD

When Miss Bates turned the last page of To Love and To Cherish, she sighed with relief. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared. Nothing’d shocked her; nothing’d disturbed her all that much. On the contrary, in the end, her sensibilities were at ease; she thought Christy endearing and a great study of the meaning of Christian faith. Anne was a good, decent heroine, with integrity and had blossomed in the most wonderful way. All was well in Miss Bates’s romance universe. Gaffney’s first Wyckerley novel had inspired associations with many 19th century novels Miss Bates’d loved, still loved. It was all good and what need was there for any fuss? To Love and To Cherish was what its title claimed: loving and cherishing the other, making the other precious in one’s eyes. Christy comes to this state naturally; Anne has to learn it. There is a darkness to her understanding; there is a price, but it is one that she makes of her own free will. Then, Miss Bates read To Have and To Hold and is reeling. She doesn’t have much to say, hopes to reach some equanimity by the time a much-anticipated discussion takes place at Something More. For now, however, there are only half-formed thoughts.  Read on at your peril; Miss Bates is too riled to say that much and the little she does say would be of mild interest only to those who’ve read the novel

A Smidgeon of a Review for a Mite of a Book: Jill Sorenson’s STRANDED WITH HER EX

Stranded With Her ExCategory romance is an appetizer. Miss Bates reads it as a bridge over to something more substantial, a breather in the race to a longer historical, or contemporary. There are category writers that she would never treat this way: Karina Bliss, the divine Sarah Mayberry, Molly O’Keefe, Janice Kay Johnson, Karen Templeton, Carla Kelly, and Cheryl St. John. She quite likes Sarah Morgan and India Grey, sometimes Jessica Hart, Liz Fielding, and Donna Alward. So, not all category romances are treated cavalierly by Miss Bates; in Sorenson’s case, however, she carelessly brandishes a sword of disapproval. You can read on, if you’re interested