When I first started to read romance again, after a thirty-year hiatus (ah, the “lost years”), one of the first romances I read was J. R. Ward’s Lover Eternal (2006), a romance novel I thought at once execrable and utterly compelling. Really, I couldn’t put it down, even though I was embarrassed for enjoying it and yet thinking how laughably bad it was. I can’t say I experienced the same reader self-hatred reading the first of Ward’s new non-vampiric “Firefighters” series, Consumed. Maybe it was the first flush of allowing myself to read romance again, but I’d gained some distance from Consumed in a way I hadn’t with Lover Eternal, though I read it with the same enthusiasm and rueful self-doubt. I can now recognize what makes Ward compelling: there’s a hyperbolic physicality to her characters, a gritty underbelly feel to her setting, and a rawness to it all that makes for a powerful formula. There’s NOTHING small-town cutsie or gentle about Ward’s world and she’s pretty fearless about writing her characters’ edginess. I liked that about her and I liked Consumed, though, at times, it bugged the heck out of me. Continue reading
I confess the reason I wanted to read Amie Denman’s In Love With the Firefighter was the cute cover. I pride myself on selecting my titles for my precious reading time with the confidence that this is an author I’ll enjoy; ALL are carefully curated. BUT, *throws hands up*, the kitten got me … also the word “firefighter”. I do love a firefighter hero, so much easier to pull off than policemen, or military, so much more convincing as heroes. I admit I was leery of the “heartwarming” label: how saccharine will this be? I’m as guilty as the next romance reader of being addicted to the Hallmark Christmas movie, but I don’t want to watch them year-round. I’m happy to say that Denman’s Firefighter+kitten takes place during a hot Virginia-Beach-like summer in fictional Cape Pursuit and is surprisingly un-saccharine. It opens with firefighter Kevin Ruggles and his firefighting crew barrelling through tourist-heavy streets to reach the site of a fire. Though Kevin is a seasoned rig-driver/firefighter, the call’s urgency sees his fire-truck swerving skills take down a double-parked car’s driver-side door. Said car belongs to newly-arrived-to-Cape-Pursuit heroine, Nicole Wheeler. Their meet-cute is hardly the stuff of romance, more of annoyance, insurance claims, and shame-faced remorse on Kevin’s part. Continue reading
Miss Bates will always love Donna Alward’s categories, but her move to longer contemporaries offers readers uneven results: some books, reviewed here, have been great; others, so-so. But Alward’s depth and sensitivity will also see Miss Bates’s return to her books time and again. She did so with Alward’s second Darling, Vermont, contemporary romance, Someone To Love.
Willow Dunaway, owner of The Purple Pig Café, is Darling-born and raised. An unhappy childhood and adolescent trauma saw her leave Darling for years. Now she’s back with a new-found contentment in her business, yoga practice, and embracing of serenity. Willow has fought a long, hard battle to come back from some devastating experiences and the semi-colon tattoo on her forearm proves it to herself daily. She has found many things in her re-found hometown that she sought: friendship, community, and purpose. She does not, however, date … until she meets widowed single-dad and firefighter, Ethan Gallagher. In some delightful initial exchanges, Willow’s flower-child, vegetarian ways clash with Ethan’s carnivorous alpha-tendencies. Continue reading
Shannon Stacey’s romance ethos is a likable one and it’s evident in volume two of her Boston Fire series, Controlled Burn. Her characters aren’t glamorous, super-rich, brilliantly educated, or extraordinary. Boston Fire is set with everyday heroes, their local watering-hole, families and friends. Stacey prefers mature protagonists and Miss Bates likes how the heroes often feel it’s time to settle down, marry, have a family. Controlled Burn‘s hero, Rick Gulloti, is no longer comfortable with his reputation as “not the marrying kind”. Grey’s in his hair and a hint of stiffness in his joints. Otherwise, Rick is content: Ladder 37’s lieutenant, uncle to his two nephews, a good son, and Joe and Marie Broussard’s loving neighbour and friend. Rick rents their upstairs apartment, renovated to his taste and comfort. He helps them out, hangs out, and enjoys Marie’s cooking. The Broussards, however, are aging and less and less able to care for their home, more fragile and prone to hospital stays. One such stay brings heroine Jessica “Jess” Broussard to Boston from San Diego when the hospital contacts her father, Davey, and she intercepts the call. Her father hadn’t shared his parents’ existence with her. They’ve been estranged for years. As a woman running her father’s financial advising firm, Jess is a no nonsense, super-competent woman. She arrives in Boston to meet her newly-discovered grandparents and help them re-settle their lives in an assisted-living community – and runs smack into Mr. Firefighter-Hunk and Joe and Marie’s support and protector.
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
Finding a new auto-read author is great comfort because Miss Bates knows that even if this romance isn’t her best romance, it’ll still be pretty darn good. The reader’s stakes are low; the central couple’s, high. Which is how Miss Bates likes’em. The first romance she read in Talley’s Magnolia Bend, Louisiana, series, Sweet Talking Man, made its way into her heart, head, and running list of 2015 Best Of (to come soon; how time has flown, dear readers). A favourite author’s romance isn’t read because the romance will be good, that’s a given, but to, once again, re-experience the author’s sensibility and world view. In Liz Talley we have an earthier, funnier Janice Kay Johnson. JKJ is one of MissB’s faves, a little more gravitas, a little grimmer, but equally perceptive about the psychology of families, small towns, nuanced child characters (no adorable plot moppets to be found) and love’s challenging transformations. Moreover, Talley does something that Miss Bates looks and hopes for in contemporary romance (maybe there’s a touch in JKJ too, on occasion): a nod to the role religion plays in ordinary people’s daily lives, without the inspirational proselytizing and priggish attitudes to sex and the occasional beer. Bring it on and bring more of it, please! Liz Talley’s third Magnolia Bend romance novel and without the blandness that comes with sweet, or “heartwarming” romance. Sweet Southern Nights, is the friends-to-lovers tale of two firefighting best friends: Eva Monroe, the former new girl in town who’s found a place to belong, and hometown bad boy, Jake Beauchamp, “hardworking firefighter, hard-playing Romeo.” Continue reading
Jill Shalvis gives readers what they want and expect. Her style, content, and way of perceiving and presenting the world are signature, which translates to predictable after reading a few of her books. They’re also good in the same way every time, pithily written, with wit and energy; they are humourous. Her hero is big and tough and sexy. Her heroine is independent, giddily messed up, and gives as good as she gets. People change for the better and HEAs are worked out and made possible because her hero and heroine alter their ways of thinking and relating. Families, especially how parents’ mistakes bear on the adult lives of the hero and heroine, figure prominently. Always On My Mind, Lucky Harbor #8, runs to type and delivers what the reader seeks in a small-town Shalvis romance. Miss Bates has enjoyed, if not loved or been enthralled by, every Shalvis romance she’s read and Always On My Mind did not fail her overall; however, it foundered where no Shalvis romance ever has, at least in Miss Bates’s experience. There is also something in the sameness of it all that disappoints. There is a blandness to the recent Lucky Harbor books that left Miss Bates restless through the first half of book eight … BUT, in typical Shalvis fashion, like her impossible-not-to-love animal characters, it picked up in the second half. Miss Bates has damned Always On My Mind with faint praise, yes, but she’d still like to wax loquacious about it. Continue reading for Miss Bates’s further discussion of Shalvis’s novel