REVIEW: Mary Burchell’s THE BROKEN WING

The_Broken_WingWhen Miss Bates read her first Burchell, A Song Begins, the 13-volume Warrender Saga introductory romance, she waxed adoring and enthusiastic. With the second title, The Broken Wing, as her mama would say, she had to put a little water in her wine. Burchell remains, in Miss Bates’s estimation, one of the finest writers in the genre; her prose is refined, elegant, clear, polished, and yet still tugs at the heartstrings. An appreciation of Burchell’s writing will ensure that Miss Bates reads to the end. She has too much respect for fine prose to DNF, even when narrative elements prove problematic, or personally unappealing.

The Broken Wing is set in the opera world that was so dear to Burchell’s heart and provided one of her most vivid settings. Oscar Warrender and now-wife Anthea Benton, A Song Begins‘s hero and heroine, play a part in Quentin Otway and Tessa Morley’s romance, yet another element Burchell handled well. Oscar and Anthea aren’t in the narrative for a reader’s glimpse of wedded bliss. They play an interesting role in nurturing Tessa’s talent and providing support and friendship, respectively. Tessa, Quentin’s “Mouse” and “Angel”, is the artistic director’s irreplaceable secretary. Quentin and conductor Oscar Warrender are the key figures and driving forces behind the Northern Counties Festival. The novel takes place during the hectic weeks of preparation that precede the festival, throwing the volatile, charming, and rogue-ish Quentin into closer and closer proximity to Tessa, his right-hand women, tea-steeper, and mercurial moods’ soother, “selfless devotion would not have been much good on its own, of course. But fortunately Tessa was remarkably efficient too.”    Continue reading

Lynne Graham’s THE GREEK’S CHRISTMAS BRIDE, Or Emotional Pay-Off

The_Greek's_Christmas_BrideIt’s been said ad infinitum that the HP is rom at its most elemental, most ur-like, most wild-fantasy unbelievability. And rom-readers who love their crazysauce HP tolerate, excuse, overlook, and forgive many elements that they’d excoriate in other rom: slut-shaming, evil step-mothers, “other women,” whose shenanigans make Lucrezia Borgia demure and modest. To say nothing of the alpha-heroes: they can stomp, dominate, and toss the heroine over their shoulder, pound their chest and be possessive and jealous and paternalistically over-protective. The reader, in the meanwhile, like MissB. sits blithely sipping tea, nodding, smiling, and reading into the wee hours (only the HP has the ability to deprive Miss B. of her love of a good night’s sleep). The reason for this, dear reader?: the HP’s capacity for emotional pay-off. And no one, no one, does it better than Lynne Graham. Miss Bates had barely typed the last period on her Kate Noble review when she read the first few pages of Graham’s The Greek’s Christmas Bride; a mere 24 hours later, here we are. Like Miss Bates’s favourite Graham, The Greek’s Chosen Bride, The Greek’s Christmas Bride has a moral-core, forge-ahead-with-independence, poverty-stricken, humble heroine, a successful bazillionaire arrogant “man whore” hero with a hidden heart of gold, and a dog, in this case, a traumatized terrier named Hector. Like Chosen Bride, Christmas Bride sees the matrimonially-averse hero have to marry and procreate to ensure control of his inheritance. To do so, he takes advantage of a poor heroine who’ll do anything to protect the well-being of the most vulnerable of her family and/or acquaintance.
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Kate Noble’s THE DARE AND THE DOCTOR

The_Dare_and_the_DoctorKate Noble writes romance of complexity and thought. And her most recent The Dare and the Doctor is wrought in this vein: thoughtful, with nuanced characters caught in believable dilemmas, and with growing feelings of love for the wrong person. Miss Bates admits that, while she enjoyed the novel in its entirety, prose and characterization and plot, her favourite part was the opening section for its epistolary nature. Miss Margaret Babcock of Lincolnshire, horticulturist extraordinare, she of rose cross-breeding fame, found a friend and kindred spirit in Dr. Rhys Gray, former army surgeon and now Greenwich-based, when he attended her father at their estate and relieved him of his gout. Since, and serving in a marvelous series of exchanged letters, Margaret and Rhys have enjoyed a close, warm, and witty correspondence, deepening and growing their friendship. Knowing that Margaret’s dream is to present her prize roses to the Horticultural Society, Rhys arranges for her to meet with them in London. Margaret travels to London to stay with their mutual friends, Lord Ashby, Ned; wife, Phoebe; and cherubically fun six-month-old, Edward. Rhys, in turn, travels from his Greenwich laboratory to London to reconnect with old and dear friends Ned and Phoebe and see Margaret.  
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Opening-Line Mini-Review: Charlotte Lamb’s LOVE IS A FRENZY

Love_Is_FrenzyIf you scroll down this page, you’ll see that Miss Bates took part in a “Quote Challenge,” thanks to Willaful’s Three-Day Quote Challenge. Miss Bates opted to write mini-reviews based on her impressions of a romance novel’s opening line. If you follow Miss Bates on Twitter, you’ll also know she indulges in spinsterish bubble-bath romance reading every night (you can follow her musings under the hashtag #bathtubromreading). She loved the quote format and opportunity to be succinct (not too often, mind you) 😉 . Hashtag and quote review married and are ready to have babies. Thus, she’ll occasionally abandon herself to an opening-line mini-review of her bathtubromread. Her latest was Charlotte Lamb’s 1979 Love Is A Frenzy. Like most great romance novels, its opening line is simple and sublime:

She recognized him at once.

Beautiful. And mysterious. Who is she? What previous knowledge does she have of him allowing her to recognize him “at once”? And how clever of Lamb to use personal pronouns instead of the heroine and hero’s first name? Adding to the mystique. Working the reader’s curiosity, drawing her in without being coy, silly, or manipulative. Continue reading

REVIEW: Lauren Willig’s THE OTHER DAUGHTER, Or “You’re yourself … Isn’t that enough?”

Other_DaughterWhat happens to your identity when everything you’ve known about your family is a lie? This is Lauren Willig’s premise for The Other Daughter. It opens as a cross between Mary Stewart and Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Heroine Rachel Woodley’s life has the air of impoverished 19th century governess as she cares for the Comte de Brillac’s three daughters in the French countryside. An urgent telegram summons her to England. Rachel, however, is too late: her mother is dead of influenza, the funeral wreaths bought, adorned, and withered. At 25, Rachel is bereft of mother and father and destitute; her only hope, a secretarial course and immediate employment. Troubles come in battalias when their landlord in the obscure village of Netherwell evicts her. As Rachel packs her mother’s things, she makes a remarkable discovery – a Tattler photograph of Lady Olivia Standish and her father, the Earl of Ardmore, the man Rachel knew as Edward Woodley, the father she thought dead when she was four. Is the title’s “other daughter” Olivia, wealthy, polished, privileged, or Rachel, Ardmore’s by-blow? To lose job, mother, home … and discover you’re the illegitimate daughter of a man you’d adored and thought dead, alive, well, and callously indifferent to the wife and daughter he deceived and abandoned, what does it do to a girl? Can an author, other than Brontë, deprive her heroine of everything stable and loving and throw her into a surreal sense of dislocated self: Willig certainly has. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lynne Graham’s THE SHEIKH’S SECRET BABIES

Sheikh's_Secret_BabiesMiss Bates is not a fan of sheikhs, or secret babies (babies yes, but not the secret ones). She loved Graham’s The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain, the first rom in the series, and wanted to read the second to learn about the heroine’s sister, Chrissie. Lizzie Whitaker, of Bridal Bargain, noticed her university student sister looking sad and stressed in a way she knows is not related to her studies. The reason why is evident in The Sheikh’s Secret Babies; she married Prince Jaul, future king of the Middle Eastern kingdom of Marwan, in haste and repented at leisure, strapped for cash and pregnant. The novel opens four years later with Jaul contemplating marriage to Zaliha, a woman he doesn’t love who will be good for his reign and people. Cue ta-da music … Bandar, his legal advisor, informs him he’s still married to Chrissie. Jaul pegged Chrissie as a “mercenary, hard-hearted” “gold-digger,” after she accepted his father’s five-million-pound bribe to desert him. Little did he know Chrissie was destitute and pregnant in London (after he left for Marwan without her) until Lizzie and Cesare came to her and soon-to-be-born twins rescue. Though Chrissie doesn’t deserve it, Jaul thinks the decent thing to do is go to London, inform Lizzie about their still-married state, and ask for a divorce. Continue reading

REVIEW: Jessica Gilmore’s EXPECTING THE EARL’S BABY … And A Whole Lot More

Expecting-Earl's_BabyJessica Gilmore’s latest category romance, Expecting the Earl’s Baby, holds out the promise of a marriage-of-convenience between opposites. Gilmore is a good hand at tropish writing, aware of the genre’s conventions in a witty, loving way; the last Gilmore category Miss Bates reviewed was a wonderfully written reunited husband-wife story. Though marriage-of-convenience is difficult to pull off in contemporary romance, Gilmore made a great start with a magical castle setting to add a touch of old-world fantasy and top it off with cheeky regency allusions. It reminded Miss Bates of one of her favourite castle-set romances (which also has the advantage of being Christmas-set!) Fiona Harper’s Snowbound In the Earl’s Castle. Gilmore’s heroine, like Harper’s, is an artistic working gal. Daisy Huntingdon-Cross, a wedding photographer, is doing a shoot at Hawksley Castle when her dedication to be last of the party to leave lands her, her stilettos, and flimsy car tires in a foot of snow. Her about-face to the castle to ask for help has her: ” … skid[ding] straight into a fleececlad chest. It was firm, warm, broad. Not a ghost. Probably not a werewolf. Or a vampire. Supernatural creatures didn’t wear fleece as far as she knew.” Said chest belongs to one pragmatic earl who offers chains for her tires because ” ‘… wouldn’t want you to freeze to death on the premises. Think of the paperwork.’ ” Humming “Good King Wenceslas” as she tiptoes in his steps’ wake, Daisy is attracted to The Chest. As is the guy in possession of The Chest, Sebastian Beresford, Earl of Holgate … and, well, one thing leads to another … six weeks later, Daisy returns to Hawksley Castle to tell Sebastian he’s going to be a daddy. Continue reading

Wendy’s TBR Challenge: Simone St. James’ THE HAUNTING OF MADDY CLARE, Or The Great Yea

Haunting_Of_Maddy_ClareFinding a TBR challenge title for July’s theme, a RITA Award winner, was easy for Miss Bates. She loved Simone St. James’ Silence For the Dead and The Other Side Of Midnight; it was natural to choose St. James’ first hybrid gothic-romance-ghost-story-mystery novel to read, The Haunting Of Maddy Clare, which won Best First Book and Novel With Strong Romantic Elements in RITA’s 2013 competition. Again Miss Bates had to read with the light on, again she read non-stop to reach the HEA, and again St. James delivered gothic romance’s promise: eerie atmosphere, a naïve, intelligent, diffident heroine, mysterious, dark hero, haunted places and unsettled spirits, and the heroine’s voice, growing in strength and understanding as she sets the world aright. The Haunting Of Maddy Clare opens in London in June 1922. Alistair Gellis, ghost hunter, seeks an assistant to help him investigate the ghostly presence of Maddy Clare in the village of Waringstoke. His request to a temp agency brings him solitary, lonely, poverty-stricken, sad Sarah Piper. While he already has an assistant in volatile Matthew Ryder, Maddy Clare’s ghost is particular in her hatred and violence towards men. With Sarah’s help in approaching and recording Maddy’s ghostly presence, Alistair and Matthew hope to rid Mrs. Clare, Maddy’s foster parent and employer, of the malevolent spirit residing and wreaking havoc in her barn. Continue reading

REVIEW/RESPONSE and Miss Bates Reads A Mystery Novel: Laurie R. King’s DREAMING SPIES and Elliptical Romance

Dreaming_SpiesMiss Bates rarely ventures outside her romance reading enclave, but when she hears the siren call of another genre, it’s a crime novel she goes to. Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, named one of the twentieth century’s 100 best mysteries by IMBA, has been in Miss B’s TBR pile forever. Dreaming Spies, with its detecting team of Sherlock Holmes and wife, Mary Russell, is 13th in the series. (Rats … now Miss B. has to go back to twelve more!) Amidst, like her friend Vassiliki, a super-busy near-non-reading few weeks, Miss B. managed to get through Dreaming Spies in dribs and drabs. But she must read, even when deadlines loom. As a result of this sporadic reading, often conducted in bed nodding over a gently glowing Kindle, Dreaming Spies‘ mystery receded into inchoate Miss B. head-mess (not to fault King, but Miss B’s weak focus and exhaustion) and what emerged into the foreground was Mary Russell’s first-person perspective, a wonderful use of first-person “voice,” and the things “not said” about her marriage to Holmes. Though Miss Bates doesn’t often indulge in blurb quoting, her hazy retention of plot details, in this case, necessitates it. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Fiona Harper’s MAKE MY WISH COME TRUE, Or THE HOLIDAY Meets SHIRLEY VALENTINE

Make_My-Wish_Come_TrueMiss Bates isn’t sure what’s happened to her ARC-TBR lately, but there’s a strange conglomeration of slightly-off-romance narratives, like Reay’s Lizzy and Jane, or a recent cozy mystery that failed and will appear in an “exorcising dnfs” post soon. Fiona Harper’s Make My Wish Come True follows in the same vein and is more women’s fiction (one cut above chick-lit in Miss Bates’ no-no universe) than romance. The primary relationship account in Harper’s novel is the working out of a sibling relationship and the romances, one per sister, are secondary. Nevertheless, having enjoyed Harper’s 2012 Snowbound In the Earl’s Castle, with its aristocrat hero and stained-glass restorer heroine, Miss Bates was willing to tolerate yet another sisters-working-out-an-acrimonious-relationship narrative (and so soon after Reay’s similar themed). Make My Wish Come True added delight with some greatly humorous moments, third-person narration, and significantly less ponderous content. It also helped make the women’s-fiction medicine go down when Harper’s novel echoed two of Miss Bates’ sentimental film favourites, The Holiday (as a matter of fact, younger sister, Gemma, watches this in one scene) and more brilliant fare, Shirley Valentine. (Miss Bates wishes she’d noted this Christmas-set novel; she’d have made it one of her November-to-December Christmas-themed review-posts.) Continue reading