Engagement_CharadeAfter reading Amber Belldene’s Not Another Rock Star, with its unique, true-to-life mix of messed-up faith characters and non, minister-heroine, earthy love scenes, the wonder of its ability to posit a faith-based romance with an atheist hero, a novel where sexuality, love, faith, romance, community, goodness and integrity don’t come within the strait-jacket of inspirational romance tropes … well, I really wanted to read an inspirational romance and consider my response to it. Karen Kirst’s The Engagement Charade fit the bill, especially because I’ve loved her books in the past and I’d be inclined to do so again. And, I did … mildly (it isn’t her best). However, it also solidified why the either-or, evangelical-Christianity-based romance narrative brings me out of reader-pleasure-zone to render me hyper-conscious of its flaws.

First, to set the scene: in late nineteenth-century fictional Gatlinburg Tennessee, our hero, Plum Café owner Alexander Copeland broods in his office, tormented by memories of a fire that killed his wife and son back home in Texas. Meanwhile, widowed, pregnant heroine Ellie Jameson cooks and runs his business. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sarah M. Anderson’s FALLING FOR HER FAKE FIANCE, Or How to Write a Romance Novel

Falling_For_Her_Fake_FiancéMiss Bates side-eyed Sarah M. Anderson’s Falling For Her Fake Fiancé: 5th in the Beaumont Heirs series … how tired can that get? She wasn’t keen on #3, A Beaumont Christmas Wedding (didn’t read #4). Miss Bates is a lover of pie, particularly humble pie, and especially when she has to eat her words. 😉 She had to read Falling For Her Fake Fiancé because alliteration and near-marriage-of-convenience, two elements irresistible to Miss B. She went in doubtful and emerged glowing with reader satisfaction. Hero Ethan Logan is CEO of Beaumont Brewery, dealing with redundancy, raising the “bottom line.” He takes sick companies and makes them well; then, on to the next corporate patient. Nothing’s working for him at Beaumont and his fixer pride smarts: employees wage a calling-in-sick campaign and production is down, thanks to their loyalty for former owners, the Beaumont clan. Enter stunner Beaumont sister, Frances, with cleavage and charm, sharp-tongued, armed with donuts. In a heartbeat, the employees are eating donuts and out of her hand. Ethan’s savvy businessman’s pragmatism, not his raging attraction to Frances, no, not that, finds him verbally sparring, lusting, and proposing a marriage-of-convenience. With this connection to the Beaumonts, employees will co-operate, Ethan does the job, and gets the hell out of Dodge, well, Denver. What’s in it for Frances? She is used to men’s adulation and attention, but her professional life, an online art gallery, went bust. At 30, she lives at home, feels like a failure, and wants her family’s place in the sun back. If not that, then, a little coy revenge would go a long way to assuage hurt pride. What she doesn’t count on? How nice Ethan is and how he makes her want things she never considered.
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REVIEW(s): Maisey Yates’ A Christmas Vow of Seduction … ‘Tis the Season!

‘Tis the season when Miss Bates embarks on reading and reviewing Christmas-set romance. There aren’t too many pending in the ARC TBR this year, but enough to tide her over till Christmas. Last year, she opened the Christmas review series with a post on past favourites. (There are great recs in the comments as well.) This year, for her début Christmas romance review post, something a little different: a brief discussion of a past favourite and mini-review of a recent Christmas-set read.

Marian's_Xmas_WishMiss Bates thinks the Christmas setting gives romance writers the opportunity to weave a healing theme into the romance narrative arc of encounter, attraction, consummation, repulsion/dissolution, and reconciliation/HEA. Carla Kelly’s Marian’s Christmas Wish, one of MissB’s favourite Christmas romances, embodies this idea. The eponymous Marian, a maybe-too-young, irrepressible, exuberant heroine meets Gil Collingwood, gentle, older, charming, but a little tired of life’s struggle, when her brother brings him home for Christmas. Their romance is sweet and funny; moreover, it also strikes a serious note when Marian uses her healing salve, created to help her beloved animals, on a persistent, painful sore on Gil’s cheek. The physical healing reflects the heart’s healing  of Gil’s reintegration into a family and a hope for the future in the love he’ll share with his betrothed, Marian. The theme of healing through love and the creation of a new family/reintegration into a broken family can also be found in that unlikeliest of genre places, the HP, and, particularly, in Miss Bates’ latest Christmas romance read, Maisey Yates’ A Christmas Vow Of Seduction.  
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Frontier_EngagementRegina Scott is a new-to-Miss-B author. Miss B’s relentless pursuit of good inspie fiction is running down like an wound-up toy. Scott’s Frontier Engagement is inspie-light (some heartfelt praying and one lovely forest-set singing of “Amazing Grace”), but not inspired to offer anything new or original in the subgenre. If you’re looking no further than the pleasantness that the subgenre has on offer with none of the offense that it occasionally exhibits, Scott’s 1866-Washington-frontier romance will be for you. Logger James Wallin travels to Seattle to bring a school teacher to Wallin Landing, his family’s fledgling town, and finds Alexandrina Eugenia Fosgrave, newly arrived with the Mercer expedition. Like all good inspie heroines, she’s suspicious and mistrustful, but James’ charm and persistence pay off: “So, like it or not, that schoolmarm had an engagement with the frontier.” James convinces Alexandrina, re-christening her with the diminutive “Rina,” as they set off for Wallin Landing, where Rina hopes to “make something good out of the tatters of her life, where she could make a difference.” Readers soon realize that James’ charm and humour, as well as Rina’s regal bearing, conceal psychic wounds. But Rina is barely established in Wallin Landing when the challenges of teaching leave her tear-eyed and on her way to an easier teaching post. To ensure her safety and, frankly, because he’s sweet on her, James accompanies her in the guise of her fiancé and the narrative makes an about-face, becoming an inspie road romance. The “road” provides much fodder for both humorous and dangerous incidents, as well as James and Rina opportunity to know each other better and grow closer in love and friendship. Continue reading

Jennifer Hayward’s THE ITALIAN’S DEAL FOR I DO, Or “How to Slay Your Dragons”

Italian's_Deal_For_I_DoOstensibly, the HP category romance is all about the glamour: heroes are nothing less than billionaires, their looks, physical and intellectual strengths, and sexual prowess are super-human; heroines may occasionally be a little less than, but more often than not are virginal, breathtakingly beautiful, possibly secretively super-accomplished, and loveable. Moreover, the attraction between the hero and heroine is of fireworks calibre.  Jennifer Hayward’s The Italian’s Deal For I Do has all the trappings an HP reader could wish for in the glamor department: wealthy, good-looking hero running his family’s Milan fashion house and a super-model heroine. But, in the HP, while glamour reigns, its true success lies in the writer’s ability to convey the hero and heroine’s humanity: all that fantasy building up has to be brought down, vulnerabilities and fears and feelings have to crack open the glamour to expose the hero and heroine’s less-than-super-human soft “just-like-us ordinary mortals” cores. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sherri Shackelford’s THE ENGAGEMENT BARGAIN, or How to Ruin A Perfectly Good Romance

Engagement_BargainMiss Bates’ determination to read inspirational romance is quixotic. (It hasn’t been in vain: there’re last Christmas’s Lacy Williams and Karen Kirst discoveries). Most of her inspirational reads have been duds at worse; “okay” at best. And yet, there goes Miss B., tilting at reader windmills. That the combination of faith in love and God may be conjoined in a romance narrative persists in Miss B’s “this can work” universe. Her latest inspie read, Sherri Shackelford’s The Engagement Bargain, proved to Miss B., once again, the marriage of faith and romantic love, as defined by the inspirational subgenre, is elusive. There was much to like in Shackelford’s effort and much not to. To start, Miss Bates liked the premise, the build-up. Small-town veterinarian Caleb McCoy escorts his sister, JoBeth, to a suffragist rally in late 19th-century Kansas City. Caleb is mesmerized by the speaker, determined, committed, and beautiful Anna Bishop. Anna’s impassioned speech is barely underway when she is shot. Caleb carries her to the nearby Savoy Hotel to succor and heal her. Caleb and Jo continue to care for weakened Anna; Caleb has fierce and uncomfortable urges to protect her. Anna, used to her independence, is discomfited by her reliance on Caleb, but can’t deny how safe and cared for he helps her feel. An unsavory Pinkerton detective shows up; another attempt is made on Anna’s life. The usually reticent Caleb, drawn more and more to Anna’s intelligence, blue eyes, and bearing up under fear and danger, offers to take her to his home town, Cimarron Springs, under the guise of being his fiancée. She will be cared for by his family and her safety assured. 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