Georgette Heyer’s DEVIL’S CUB Foiled By A Heroine “Mistress of Herself”

Devil's_CubIn April, Miss Bates followed a discussion about the question of a romance canon. The debate began with a thorny Salon article which, nevertheless, inspired interesting responses. For Miss Bates, said article was of minimal regard: its noblesse oblige attitude towards the genre ensured she stop reading by first paragraph’s end. The responses, however, were a boon: the always fearlessly incisive Vacuous Minx, no-nonsense sharpness and smarts of Wendy the Superlibrarian, perspective of Love In the Margins, take of Romance Novels for Feminists, and Jody at Momentum Moonlight. Miss Bates, though agreeing with these points of view, found Jody’s stance the most helpful because it summarized the problematic nature of canon setting/launching/exploding and offered an alternate term and means of pointing to seminal texts in the genre. Jody defines “iconic” texts as those which “affect the genre in a meaningful way.” Simple, direct, flexible, and workable. Miss Bates borrows Jody’s term “iconic” to identify “affective/effective” romance texts, such as Heyer’s, subject of her present post. Jody’s definition implies that iconic romance texts are those to which other romance texts accrue. They represent something important to the genre, not that they are necessarily meritorious in and of themselves, though they may very well be. They’re a hub; other texts are the spokes. They’re texts around which discussion occurs. (Sometimes, they may be denigrated, or rejected texts, representing things we don’t want to see in the genre, such as elements found in Old Skool romances.) They may change; more may be added, or forgotten, as the genre develops, grows, or regresses. Time is the only given. Miss Bates also thinks that the genre benefits more from pointing to an author, rather than individual texts, to identify an iconic moment in it. Heyer would certainly be present in such company.

When Miss Bates read her first Georgette Heyer, These Old Shades, she wasn’t aware of Heyer’s iconic status for romance readers. On reading her second, Devil’s Cub, published 1932, a sort of sequel to Shades (not 50!), educated somewhat in the genre (though by no means is she done, nor does she purport to be an expert), it’s evident that Heyer contributed iconic texts. Heyer’s tropes echo in every duke, rake, and plain-Jane; nonetheless, reading Devil’s Cub was alienating. That may be because of a narrative shift in more recent romance that Miss Bates’ refers to as the main characters’ endless internal ruminations. In that sense, Heyer appears quaint vis-à-vis character development and an excess of madcap plot; she forewent modernism. Yet, Miss Bates found something refreshing about a romance narrative where reader has to decode gesture and pose rather than thinker-tells-all of characters’ internal worlds in close point of view. Ye shall know them by their gesture … this is her subject. Bear with her: bodies in Heyer, what do they tell us? How does she establish character through the physicality of gesture, pose, tone, and gaze?  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: Louise Allen’s UNLACING LADY THEA, Or “A Talent for Friendship”

Unlacing Lady TheaOne of Miss Bates’ favourite literary exchanges occurs between snarky Hamlet and his doofus-y friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in Act 2, scene 2:

Hamlet: “My excellent good friends! How dost thou?” …

… Guildenstern: ” … On Fortune’s cap we are not the very button.”

Hamlet: “Nor the soles of her shoes?”

Rosencrantz: “Neither, my lord.”

Hamlet: “Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours?”

This exemplifies how Miss Bates considers most of the romance novels she reads, neither the “very button,” nor the “soles” of goodness, but somewhere about the middle and somewhere about the middle of Miss Bates’ favours is where most lie. This may be said about Louise Allen’s Unlacing Lady Thea, the first half of which Miss Bates slogged through, annoyed with much of it. Nevertheless, competent, smooth prose kept her reading. The second half proved much better: with atmosphere, thanks to lovely descriptions of France and Venice, and a hero and heroine who grew on her. The result is a romance that started out “meh” and ended up fairly good, a lot like our hero and heroine’s journey from solid friends to glorious lovers, from gently green and misty England to the magnificence of canals, gondolas, and the Piazza San Marco. Continue reading

REVIEW for TBR Challenge: Sarah MacLean’s NINE RULES TO BREAK WHEN ROMANCING A RAKE, Or How A Spinster Lost Her Shelf

Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A RakeMacLean’s Nine Rules To Break When Romancing A Rake sat on Miss Bates’s TBR for a long, long while.  She was averse to reading a romance novel possessed of such a lengthy and insipid title.  Spurred by Wendy’s TBR Challenge, the promise of interesting sharing on Twitter with like-minded readers, and MacLean’s sundry good reviews, she thought this month’s TBR theme, New-To-You-Author, perfect fodder for Nine Rules.   And, truth be told, she really really liked the Empire dress on the cover.  It took Miss Bates a while to warm to the characters, narrative, and MacLean’s style, but for a first-time read and début romance, it was a good reading experience: it got better the further Miss Bates read.  What started out as a middling read, mildly interesting and clipping-along, inched its way to pretty good to darn-good-ending.  Miss Bates admits that her impression of MacLean leans to “much ado;” nevertheless, Nine Rules is an amusing and heartfelt romance novel.  It doesn’t break any ground, falters on several fronts, is nominally historical, and doesn’t enter innovative, or interestingly controversial territory.  Would Miss Bates read another MacLean?  Probably, possibly, likely. Continue reading

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

REVIEW: Jayne Fresina’s MISS MOLLY ROBBINS DESIGNS A SEDUCTION, Or Hoisted on Your Own Bobbin

Miss Molly Robbins Designs A SeductionMiss Bates loves a cross-class romance.  Indeed, it is one of her most frequently-used review tags!  Obviously, it is a trope that “works” better in historical fiction, but if The Great Gatsby is anything to go by and it is, then it has potential for contemporary romance.  In historical romance, however, Miss Bates’s (and many other romance reviewers much wiser and more widely romance-read than she) favourite cross-class romances are Elizabeth Hoyt’s Raven and Leopard Princes.  Miss Bates’s recent cross-class romance read was Jayne Fresina’s Miss Molly Robbins Designs A Seduction.  Fresina’s effort has similarities to Hoyt’s, but not their mastery, the weakest link being the cross-class element.  The ease with which this historical given is overcome puts the novel on the fluffy-wish-fulfillment shelf.  On the scale of MissBatesian goodness of romance reading, it is middling.  On the other hand, it is humourous and well-written and offers a likeable hero and heroine. 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

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: 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

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