I love Ruby Lang’s voice: fresh, original, droll, sophisticated. “Playing House” is first in a series set amidst NYC-based real-estate-involved characters, whether urban planners, brokers, etc. In “Playing House,” unemployed, gig-economy-victim, urban-planner Oliver Huang is touring houses in Harlem when he meet-cute runs into recently-divorced, college-mate Fay Liu. He helps her avoid “Clompy Brent”, a dude coming on to her who can’t hear, or understand the word “no”. It’s obvious from the get-go that Oliver has harbored an attraction for Fay and Fay reciprocates. They fall into a pattern of pretending to be newly-weds, Olly and Darling, for the chance to urban-plan geek out on beautiful NYC properties. They enjoy their pretend dates and become lovers. In the meanwhile, a potential conflict rears its mild head because Oliver has applied for a job at the urban-planning firm, Milieu, where Fay is partner. Neither Oliver, nor Fay take their affair too seriously and they have a lot of stuff to figure out, given they’re both in transitional life-spaces. But it is serious because feelings are involved, the acquaintance too short-lived to result in anything but misunderstanding, doubts, and hurt feelings.
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
Liz Talley’s Perfectly Charming is her second Montlake-published Morning Glory novel. Talley used to write great Super-romance for Harlequin. While Miss Bates loved Talley’s Harlequin work, the first Morning Glory, Mississippi, novel was shrug-worthy. But Talley is a strong enough writer to convince MissB. to give the series another try. The series premise is an interesting, though conventional one. Three childhood friends lose #4 in their tight, supportive circle to cancer. Lucy leaves a charm bracelet and wish for each with enough money attached that each heroine can have an adventure, take a chance, and make a change in her life. When her life has taken its turn, she passes the bracelet on. Jessica Culpepper, Perfectly Charming‘s heroine, has already had her life turned upside down when the novel opens. Her “American Dream” existence, the cheerleader who married the wealthy high school football star and had a white-picket fence life, ended in divorce when Benton slept with the florist and told Jess their marriage no longer fulfilled him. Jess’s world crashed, but Lucy’s legacy allows her to leave her loving Morning Glory family and friends, to take a nursing job in Pensacola. Now a year after the divorce, Jess has healed and Florida is the final step in making her psychic cure complete. Continue reading
For a while, it looked like contemporary small-town/rural romance eclipsed historical. Historical is slowly in the ascendant and contemporary looks stale. Or at least those have been Miss Bates’s feelings lately. Then, Tawna Fenske’s Let It Breathe: a perfect combination of humour and pathos, second chances, and sundry laugh-out-loud moments thanks to a hilariously motley crew of secondary characters.
Reese Clark, thirty-four-year-old divorcée, manages her family’s Oregon wine business, Larchwood Vineyards. She has big plans to expand the business by building a new tasting-hall, hosting tours, and getting LEED-certified. In her meagre spare time, she fosters injured wild animals and plays straight-woman to her outrageous grandpa, Albert, aka, “Axl,” her cooingly-in-love parents, her wild-living cousin Larissa, and Eric, vintner ex-husband, and Sheila, his wife. Clay Henderson re-enters their lives. He’s the Dorrington Construction manager and the man Reese has loved since college, Eric’s best friend, and the alcoholic everyone rescued and succoured until one night fifteen years ago when Reese didn’t bail him out. Clay Henderson is four-years sober-and-serious and back to build Reese’s vineyard-dream and make amends.
Miss Bates isn’t keen on films, or novels set in the early 1960s. She doesn’t like the bouffant dos, or sprawling skirts. For some – ahem, white males – Americans, however, it was an exciting, vibrant time and remains an unexplored setting for romance. It’s fitting that Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s collaboration, Star Dust (first in the “Fly Me To the Moon” series) is set during America’s “space race” with the Soviet Union. Uncharted territory then, and uncharted setting in romance. Barry and Turner’s Texas-set romance features Lieutenant Commander Christoper “Kit” Campbell, a blond, blue-eyed giant of an astronaut and Anne-Marie Smith, a diminutive divorcée and mother of two adorable children. They meet as bickering neighbours when Anne-Marie, Lisa, and Freddie move next door to Kit. Anne-Marie and Kit become friends over back-porch star-gazing, add benefits to friendship, fall in love, and achieve an HEA.
Miss Bates spent many a happy childhood summer in Boston, visiting family, a few days at the Cape now and then. Shannon Stacey’s new romance series, Boston Fire, of which Heat Exchange is the first, was irresistible, thanks to its Bostonian setting. Like most rom of this ilk and length, however, setting didn’t figure prominently, but there was a definite Bostonian working-class urban feel. Stacey specializes in the family saga romance without ever losing sight of the rom. This series is signature Stacey: a large clan, the Kincaids, with a retired firefighter dad, and firefighter baby brother to two older sisters, one of whom, Ashley, is married to a firefighter, and another, Lydia, divorced a firefighter. The men of the family are several-generation firefighters and the ethos makes for the background and conflict to the romance.
Ashley and husband Danny are estranged: Danny’s the strong, silent type and Ashley’s tired of his close-mouthed love. She wants him to communicate, dammit. With good reason, Danny can’t; Ashley kicks him out and calls sister Lydia to help out by taking over her bar-tending duties at dad’s, Tommy Kincaid’s, pub. After a cheating heartbreaking break-up and divorce, Lydia moved to New Hampshire to work in an upscale restaurant and leave behind the firefighting scene and long-suffering women who care for and agonize over the men who fight fires. But when Ashley calls, sobbing and distraught, family bonds are stronger than any desire to start anew. To Boston Lydia returns, to everything that hurt her, and runs smack up against her brother’s best friend, Aidan Hunt. Continue reading
Miss Bates can’t offer readers chocolates, or flowers such as our lovely cowboy carries on the cover of Donna Alward’s latest, but a review of a Valentine romance, she can deliver!
Donna Alward is the queen of domestic romance. How she manages to keep Miss Bates riveted with ordinary lives of ordinary people, doing no more than making dinner, watching TV, and drinking a beer at the local pub is a wonder. But that is exactly what Alward does: expose the soft core of her characters, their fears, vulnerabilities, dashed hopes and dreams, all the ways in which life has worn them down amidst everyday ordinariness. Alward is good at depicting characters vacillating between giving in to the fears received from life’s knocks and reaching towards hope, counting on love to renew them. This rich inner life is enacted amidst simple possibilities and domestic chores: a place to belong, meaningful work, a partner to love, a child to rear, and puppy to walk. Miss Bates says that Alward is the only romance writer she knows who has her rushing home from work to read her novels when the only exciting moment that makes up a scene is the flip of a pancake! Well, there’s all that and pancakes, chocolate-chip ones, in Alward’s latest romance novel, The Cowboy’s Valentine. Continue reading
Miss Bates declares her love of category romance loud and clear. The category has given us Betty Neels, after all. And the contemporary faves, Sarah Mayberry, Sarah Morgan, and Molly O’Keefe, some of whom may’ve moved to longer-length pastures, cut their teeth on, and made us happy with, category-length romance. Miss Bates is always eager to try something new in category and does so disposed to like it. Thus she read Marsh’s Romance For Cynics to try the “Kiss” line which, according to Harlequin’s writing guidelines is all about a “young, urban feel” and “21st century alpha male hero;” it’s “fun” and “flirty.” These are kisses of death to Miss Bates, but she was surprised by Marsh’s romance. Wading through these parameters like murky, reedy water was a “traditional,” enjoyable category romance trying to make its way to the surface, to the light. Marsh’s romance novel was uneven: a poorly executed cross/hybrid between a “Presents” and “Romance.” Parts were good, but the whole was inconsistent. Continue reading