MINI-REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s A MURDEROUS RELATION

Murderous_RelationAnother volume in a beloved series, read in two days, and now I have to wait till next March for the next one … (be warned, if you haven’t read the series, and you ought, there be spoilers ahead).

Lepidopterist Veronica Speedwell and her partner-in-adventure and love-of-her life, Stoker Templeton-Vane, are caught up in another intrigue involving her half-brother, Prince Eddy, a diamond, a brothel, its procuress, and ever more threats to the British royal family. At its opening, comfortably ensconced at their friend’s, Lord Rosemorran’s estate, Bishop’s Folly, in charge of curating his vast collection, Veronica and Stoker enjoy a respite from their adventures in the best way they know, bantering, bickering, and anticipating love-making. Raybourn has introduced a new tenderness in their exchanges, especially on Veronica’s part, the more hard-assed of the two. A new-found peace and rightness are between them. Raybourn doesn’t disappoint us in this volume: Veronica and Stoker, after kidnappings, extortion, villains on their tail, save the day once again and FINALLY, FINALLY achieve their HEA. (The novel is also set against the backdrop of the Whitechapel murders and Raybourn includes one vibrant, creepy, masterful scene with the Ripper.)
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MINI-REVIEW: Mia Sosa’s THE WORST BEST MAN

Worst_Best_ManBecause I’m not a great fan of rom-coms, I couldn’t believe how much I liked Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. Though I’m not a fan of first-person romance-narration, especially when it alternates H/H POV, there was so much to like about Mia Sosa’s The Worst Best Man. The humour. The ethos. The secondary characters. You’ll notice that I didn’t mention the romance. I can’t say I loved the premise either, but Sosa made it work for me. Carolina “Lina” Santos is left at the altar by Andrew Hartley, thanks to a heart-to-heart the night before the wedding with his younger brother, Max. Cue three years later. Lina is up for a wedding planner job with the luxury-hotel-chain CEO Rebecca Cartright. Whose firm is assigned to work with her on her pitch? Double-nemeses Max and Andrew. To sweeten the competition, Rebecca assigns Max to work with Lina and Andrew with her competition. In a Top-Wedding-Planner showdown, Max and Lina have five weeks to prep their presentation and score the account. There is much at stake for both, financially, also professional pride and family approval.
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REVIEW: Lorelei James’s I WANT YOU BACK

I_Want_You_BackAfter using every moment of my meagre work-week-reading-time to finish James’s I Want You Back, I turned the final page, exclaiming “I loved this book!” Because I prefer to have a measured response, I “slept on it”, woke up and thought, “Still love it.” And yet, had I not requested this ARC “blind”, had someone described it to me with detail, it would’ve been the kiss of death. Firstly, it’s written in alternating first-person POV, which I hate. Secondly, and this is not a spoiler because we know this from the get-go, the hero was a cheater. But that’s not all: when the heroine was pregnant, he didn’t support her, even though he was rich as Croesus, and he dragged her through the courts for custody for years, AND he didn’t give her sufficient financial support when he was making a mint as a star Blackhawks defenceman and was independently wealthy thanks to being a Lund. How can this be borne, much less forgiven by a romance reader? … and let’s not say anything about the heroine. I did that frustrated hair-tugging thing every reader knows when they embark on a book, knowing that the DNF-fairy is only pages away from sprinkling her special brand of lip-curling fairy dust. Continue reading

REVIEW: Elly Griffiths’s THE STRANGER DIARIES

Stranger_DiariesReaders may be familiar with Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway and Stephens/Mephisto mysteries. I listened to the first Galloway, The Crossing Places, and enjoyed it. I have the next two queued, but you know, too many books, so little time: a reader’s lament. I did make time, on the other hand, for Griffiths’s latest, a stand-alone murder mystery and homage to gothic lit. There’s a sly nod to Georgette Heyer: all the wins. The darn thing kept me reading in waiting rooms (nose stuffed while Kindle pressed to it), through half-hearted lunch-time sandwich-eating, and curled up in my reading chair till late. The Stranger Diaries is a heck of a engrossing read; even when the mystery faltered, Griffiths’s love of gothic lit, uncanny knowledge of teacherly ways, especially English teacherly ways, and insight into love-gone-mad-and-bad obsession saw me hitting those Kindle pages furiously. 

Giving you a sense of what The Stranger Diaries is about makes for convoluted retelling, but spoilers will be avoided. Divorcée Clare Cassidy lives in West Sussex with her 15-year-old daughter Georgia. She teaches English at Talgarth High and works on her book about Talgarth High’s founder, the fictional Victorian writer, R. H. Holland, whose short story, “The Stranger,” frames Griffiths’s narrative. Continue reading

REVIEW: Kate Clayborn’s BEST OF LUCK

Best_Of_LuckLike Clayborn’s hero, Alex Averin, I don’t like “luck” … well, the idea of it, anyway. I don’t like its randomness and I don’t like its hidden possibility in what might NOT happen. It played a much larger role in Clayborn’s third “Chance Of A Lifetime” romance than in the previous one I’d read. In Luck Of the Draw, luck was the set-up: three friends win the lottery and how they use the money puts them in certain circumstances, ones they wouldn’t’ve been in had they not won. It didn’t seem all that important to Luck Of the Draw, but in Best of Luck, it becomes an ongoing debate between hero and heroine. Heroine Greer Hawthorne has reason to believe she’s lucky, not only because of the money she won, but what fate dealt her: an illness that marked her childhood and adolescence and continues to be a daily reminder of both how lucky she is and how unlucky. What are the odds of being diagnosed with a life-altering birth-defect? As good as the odds that the surgery Greer had would help her lead a more active, engaged life. “Luck” for hero Alex is a bane and reminder of a childhood of want and neglect, thanks to his “luck-dependent”, gambling-addicted father. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Kate Clayborn’s LUCK OF THE DRAW

Luck_Of-the_DrawI am a stubborn cuss and resisted the lure of Clayborn’s much-lauded first romance, Beginner’s Luck. As my Twitter handle says, “always late to the game”! I confess I’m here to sing praises. I won’t even do it very well because I was up till the wee hours polishing off Luck Of the Draw, despite having a full work day with several important, need-to-be-alert meetings slotted in it. But here I am and here we are and I’m tethered to the cheering bandwagon.

There’s another reason I wasn’t keen on Clayborn’s first, or second for that matter, other than the romance cheering section; more pernicious to me was the alternating first-person narration: heroine/hero, heroine/hero, like that. When one of my favourite romance writers, Ruthie Knox, went first-person-rogue on me, I was annoyed, but I followed. (I’ve only ever fully forgiven first-person narration in my favourite novel of all time, Jane Eyre.) So, between the squee and the self-conscious “I’s“, Clayborn had to work hard to thwart my side-eye. But foil it she did, by keeping the action on its toes; the characters, compelling and lovable; and by a perfect balance of humour and angst (my favourite narrative tone/mood). What I couldn’t fault her for? The premise was all kinds of tropish catnip.
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REVIEW: Rebecca Rogers Maher’s ROLLING IN THE DEEP, Or “Hope Hurts”

Rolling_In_DeepAs a spinster of modest means, Miss Bates was intrigued by Rogers Maher’s premise for Rolling In the Deep. Who doesn’t buy the occasional lottery ticket and dream big? Ramòn “Ray” Lopez and Holly Ward stock shelves at a Poughkeepsie Cogmans, a “Walmart-like” superstore. Single-mum Holly is a Cogmans veteran; Ray, a newcomer. They shoot the breeze when they share an aisle, tell each other about their lives, and harbor a shy attraction. Holly survived a nasty divorce. Brett, her ex, and she share custody of Drew, their eight-year-old son. Brett, a cheating, domineering husband, is still nasty, insulting and demeaning Holly. She is anxious and self-effacing. She believes Drew is better off with his father: there’s a marked difference between the quality of Drew’s life when he’s with Brett and his wife Emma and when he’s with Holly in a dreary apartment and sparse life-style. But she’s “too selfish” to give him up; she loves him. At first, Ray appears the cheerier of the two. Newly arrived from Queens, Ray works two jobs, at Cogmans and a local restaurant, hoping to fulfill his recently-deceased mom’s wish for him to attend culinary school. Ray carries an uprooted grief, but seeing Holly smile and chat make him happy. He wants a date, but senses her single-mum’s caution. On a lark, he asks her to go halfsies on a Powerball ticket. When they win eighty million dollars apiece, their fledgling attraction and financially-straitened lives change overnight. 
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REVIEW: Deanna Raybourn’s A CURIOUS BEGINNING, Or Curmudgeon Meets His Match

Curious_BeginningAs Miss Bates discussed elsewhere, she was a fan of Deanna Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey mysteries. She enjoyed Lady J.’s cool, independent demeanor and was in love with Nicholas Brisbane, Julia’s sometime-partner, occasional-antagonist, at-long-last husband, enigma-in-an-alpha-hero. Her quibble remains: long on long-winded mystery, short on romance. And then … this … Raybourn’s new historical mystery series, with a delightful dose of romance, the début Veronica Speedwell mystery, A Curious BeginningSet in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Year, Raybourn’s murder mystery leaves behind the distancing characterization of Lady Julia and Brisbane to revel in an endearing heroine and hero, poignant back stories, humour and, dare Miss Bates say it, sentiment.

Miss Veronica Speedwell, 25, buries her Aunt Nell Harbottle in Little Byfield, England. Veronica is irrepressible and intrepid: a world-adventuring lepidopterist, sexually uninhibited, no-nonsense, and fiercely independent. She is nonplussed when Aunt Nell’s Wren Cottage is ransacked and finds herself in the protective hands of the kindly, mysterious Baron Maximilian von Stauffenbach.The Baron travels with her to London and leaves her in the protective custody of his friend Stoker, a taxidermist with a workshop on London’s docks, whose robust musculature, piratical eye-patch, blue eyes, and wild Beethovenian black hair stir Veronica’s womanly desires. But Veronica lives by the rule never to take an English lover. Once Stoker growls and snarls, only a tad friendlier than Huxley, his bull dog, sparks fly and, to Raybourn’s credit, flicker, sparkle, and burn bright, depending on the poignancy, or comedy of Veronica and Stoker’s scenes. Continue reading

Sort-Of A Review: Courtney Milan’s TRADE ME

Trade_MeMiss Bates doesn’t know how to write about a good book she disliked, not hated, not DNF-headed, not snark-inspiring, but a desultory slog, like eating a flavourless oatmeal biscuit. Partly, she attributes her response to the unappealing conventions of the New Adult romance sub-genre: the college scene, protagonists’ callowness, first-person narration, and HFN. New adult romance elements Miss Bates’ reader-self dislikes. Nay, avoids. She wasn’t well disposed to Milan’s Trade Me from the first solipsistic notes of “I” and “my”, but the issues were engaging, questions of wealth and privilege, the pressures on immigrants’ children versus good ole wealthy established American families. 

Trade Me is, at least initially, a romance of economic realities. Californian heroine Tina Chen, computer science and chemistry college student, second-generation Chinese-American, struggles to get through school, pay rent, groceries, and help her parents out financially. Her mom succours persecuted Falun Gong members seeking asylum in the US, her dad’s on work disability and sister, with ADHD, requires pricey medication. Tina is poor: she can’t afford to do anything but survive on a shoe-string budget, working part-time and studying the rest. Hero Blake Reynolds is the only child of one of the wealthiest, most influential men in the US, owner of an innovative tech company, Cyclone. Unlike Tina, who has eleven dollars to her name, Blake is worth billions. During economics class, Blake makes privileged, ignorant remarks about people on food stamps. Tina retorts with hard truths about poverty that point to Blake’s cluelessness and presumptions. Blake is chastened and apologetic. He’s also nicer and more down-to-earth than Tina expected. He has the hots for her and she for him. He proposes a “trade,” to learn something about each other: swap lives. He lives in her unheated converted-garage apartment on her budget and she gets his Tesla, condo, and a hefty allowance. For Blake, he gets to be close to Tina while anonymity helps him figure out a “problem” plaguing him. Tina reciprocates the attraction, but also sees an opportunity to help her family. Continue reading

REVIEW: Katherine Reay’s LIZZY AND JANE, Of Sustenance and Austen

Lizzy_JaneWith a book about food, love, and family, Miss Bates launches her review by eating humble pie. “Never say never” should be Miss B’s mantra regarding romance reading. Katherine Reay’s Lizzy and Jane is mild romance; it’s … GASP … women’s fiction, a fictive genre Miss Bates purports to abhor. Indeed, there’s been scorn-heaping. It’s the type of fiction she’s most likely to DNF. She finds it precious and precious becomes boring and boring becomes the worst kind of sentimental. Reay’s novel skirts close to DNF territory: estranged sisters (sibling relationships have never interested Miss B.), acrimony remaining from their mother’s illness, CANCER, one of the two sisters ill with CANCER herself, confronting the past, each other, and salvaging, or sundering, relationships. It focuses on younger sister, Elizabeth, “Lizzy,” Hughes, 33, moving back to the Pacific Northwest (from New York City where her chef’s career was floundering) to come to terms with people she left behind: retired firefighter dad and especially older sister, Jane. Her journey tries to answer: what is home? What do we owe the people closest to us, particularly those with whom we share strained relations? What is family? From where do we derive meaning and purpose? How do we find God amidst acrimony and failure?

It is the start of the Lenten season for Miss Bates, a season of re-evaluation and reflection, and Reay’s novel was a perfect fit. While suffering from the failure of inspirational fiction to make a tangible, ritualistic participation in church life as essential to defining ourselves as Christians, Reay’s novel nevertheless took a eucharistic perspective through Lizzy’s creative food acts. And her spirit guide, and that of others as well, like her sister, Jane, was Jane Austen. Like food, which serves as healer and binder, literature stands in as such as well. Continue reading