Nicole Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series builds a world of hope and love for broken people. It is no wonder that its geographic setting, fictional “Blue Valley” Montana, is a land of sky, mountain, and range, a world the noise of urban life, or the bombs of deserts far away haven’t touched. Except they have. By war and those who’ve returned from it, broken in spirit and body. Helm’s heroes are men who served in Afghanistan and were injured externally and internally, when one of the them, the ghost who stands sentry to their worst memories and their best (because they cared so much for one another), Geiger. But they are now in Montana, Alex Maguire, Jack Armstrong, and Gabe Cortez, to bring renewed life and hope to broken vets at their aptly-named Revival Ranch. Helm’s heroines are often survivors of domestic wars, now grown women who knew a childhood of abuse, fear, and neglect. Helm brings the broken man and woman together so they can build a new life. Sex doesn’t have the answers (though there’s that too and it’s good), romance doesn’t (though candles are lit and flowers are bought), but healing comes through therapy, talking to each other, striving for understanding, and being honest with, and true to, oneself. Like her obvious professional buddy Maisey Yates, Helm writes to her own tune of redemptive love, through confession (secular and personal), connection, and creating bonds with others, rather than breaking or avoiding them. To reach this point, however, hero and heroine must go through an agon of being broken open and exposed.
Marguerite Kaye’s The Soldier’s Dark Secret and The Soldier’s Rebel Lover were two of Miss Bates’s favourite 2016 reads. Kaye’s latest historical sheikhs series has been less successful in MissB’s humble opinion, but the Christmas-set novella, “A Governess For Christmas” sees Kaye return to finer form: Regency-set, military hero and heroine of humble means and huge spirit. Set on an English-countryside estate during Christmas season, hero and heroine being the charity-case invites, the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore hold lofty sway over their guests, but throw all the seasonal festivities in grand style. Scottish hero, ex-Major Drummond MacIntosh, at 32, has been dishonourably decommissioned for several years. The reason behind his military ousting, by Wellington no less, is a heart-breaking, visceral tale, of which we learn when he tells ex-governess heroine, Miss Joanna Forsythe. Drummond and Joanna, who shares Drummond’s social disgrace, though not military, in having been dishonourably dismissed by her previous ward’s family, are the Brockmores’ socially-redemptive causes. Joanna’s and Drummond’s presence at the Christmas celebrations is an attempt to redeem their reputations and regain the respect and patronage of their social superiors. As Drummond notes, encompassing the season and what he hopes from it, he has “twelve days to impress his hosts sufficiently to earn their patronage and repair the wound he had inflicted on his reputation.” Little does Drummond know that a beautiful governess will repair a far greater wound, that to his heart.
Miss Bates is looking at a very busy few weeks, so her reviews will be especially “mini” and impressionistic. She restlessly DNF-ed several titles … too trite, too much tell, *shudder* insta-lust … before settling on Christine Rimmer’s Ms. Bravo and the Boss, an author she enjoyed with her first foray into the Bravo-Word, a series whose novels run in the double-digits!
Ms. Bravo and the Boss tells of the meet-near-fail, burgeoning sympathy, eventual courtship, betrayal, and reconciliation of two likeable characters, the eponymous “Ms”, Elise Bravo, and reclusive Justice Creek, Colorado-resident thriller writer, Jed Walsh. When the novel opens, Elise’s life is a shambles: her business burnt to the ground, her best friend off to Seattle, her relationship with her family a tad estranged, working two menial jobs (on the humiliating generosity of two Bravo sisters), living above a donut shop, eating too many of the sweet-rounds and not quite fitting into her clothes. Jed too is in a pickle: he has trouble keeping an assistant and is working on a tight deadline. Jed needs to find the right person to help him with his “process”: dictating his novels to a silent, fast typist while he either throws knives, or cleans guns. His gruff ways and beastly temper chased every assistant away. Since his grandmotherly typist, Anna, left to live with her grandchildren, he’s blocked. Until Nell, Elise’s sister, suggests that Elise take the job.
When Miss Bates returned to reading romance oh-around-’07, her choices were either historical romance, or romantic suspense. Of the latter, she vividly remembers reading Cherry Adair’s Kiss and Tell, pulling an all-nighter to finish the story of operative Jake, heroine Marnie, a snow storm, bad guys, and Marnie’s need for life-saving coumadin. Maybe because it was a first, maybe because it’s good, the book stayed with her. She went on to Brockmann’s Troubleshooters (yet to be completed) and fell in love with Pamela Clare’s and Lisa Marie Rice’s romantic suspense novels. Since then, Miss Bates hasn’t really found a romantic suspense writer to keep her up tense for the end, and cheering for a sympathetic hero and heroine – until Laura K. Curtis’s Mind Games! Heroine Dr. Jane Evans works for Clive Handler’s Applied Human Intelligence agency, developing psychiatric medications. Jane is a workaholic, living without partner or friends, research her sole focus. Walking to her lab from a NYC subway one morning, thugs attempt to abduct her, but a blond giant rescues her – a blond hunk of giant who looks awfully familiar. He’s Eric Sorensen, the fellow student she tutored in university. Eric is not there by accident. He’s been hired by AHI’s head to protect Jane. *Someone* wants Jane for her Mensa-mind and the life-changing drugs she can create. Despite Eric and Harp Security’s best efforts, Jane is kidnapped and brought to a Mexican secret-laboratory location. She and her lab partner, Daniela, are forced to work on developing a drug that will create conscienceless super-soldiers. Eric and his team follow the cartel’s trail and stage a daring rescue – but Eric and Jane’s HEA-road remains danger-riddled. Continue reading
Karina Bliss’s Woo Me is one-third of a unique three-part novella series. Its events occur concurrently with those in Joan Kilby’s Win Me and Sarah Mayberry’s Wait For Me. The novellas recount the story of three friends, “sisters-of-the-heart,” attending a traditional Bachelor and Spinster Ball in the Australian outback. Ellie, Jen, and Beth forged friendships in a girls boarding school, seeing each other through farce and tragedy. Now, at 28, they’re in various stages of heartbreak. They congregate at Ellie’s father’s cattle station and resolve to heal their broken, neglected hearts by romping through the bacchanalian shenanigans at the local Bachelor and Spinster Ball. Bliss’s Woo Me is Jen Tremaine’s story. Jen was dumped by her slick ex-boyfriend, the one who re-fell-in-love with his ex-wife. While drowning heart-sorrows with drinkie-poos, Jen accepts Ellie and Beth’s dare to wear Ellie’s “Clarabelle” cow costume at the B&S ball. With Dave’s betrayal fresh, Jen isn’t looking to mend her heart with a fling. She’s going to support Ellie in her unrequited love pursuit of her father’s wrangler, Rick, and heal her newly-divorced, fragile friend, Beth. One sexy, funny, and loving security guard later, Jen re-assesses her “man-ban”.
HelenKay Dimon’s first in the Greenway Range series, Chain Of Command, was easy to pick up in the spirit of nostalgia. When Miss Bates started reading romance eight or so years ago, contemporary romance was rife with military heroes. Dimon was writing some delightful Hawaiian-set romance with protective cops and ex-military-type heroes: they were sexy and fun. Reading Chain Of Command about ex-Marine hero, Sawyer Cain, and heroine, Hailey Thorne, was all about getting those feelings back. But Miss Bates is not the reader she used to be when any romance, as long as it was romance, would do. Tastes change and trends that were attractive eight years ago are no longer. Reading Chain Of Command felt, well, tired. Sawyer Cain and his coterie of ex-military buddies, Jason, Marcus, and Marcus’s SEAL lover, Will (that WAS a nice touch) and sister, Molly, converge on an area north of San Diego to start a business. It is especially important to Sawyer, who carries guilt from their time in Afghanistan and is haunted by the soldiers lost there, to keep everyone together, provide them with viable work and create a safe haven. He wants to acquire the land his deceased buddy, Rob Turner, intended him to have and use it to establish a firing range business. The land, however, was left to Rob’s adopted daughter, heroine Hailey, and her coterie of friends are involved in it too: one of them is Rob’s fiancée, Kat, and their friend, Jessie, who lives with Hailey because of her abusive ex-husband, Pete. Continue reading
Miss Bates doesn’t read as much histrom as she used to, but it is her first romance-reading love. A new-to-her-author, Marguerite Kaye, is someone she’s been curious about since Kaye’s sheikh books were published by Harlequin, Innocent In the Sheikh’s Harem especially looked intriguing. As Miss B’s leery of sheikhs, she took a chance on her first Kaye read in the Regency romance The Soldier’s Dark Secret. It contains some of Miss Bates’ favourite romance conventions: hero and heroine solve a mystery; multiple locations, including continental ones; and, the plot is centred on working together to overcome instead of bickering to make it to the bedroom. Kaye’s protagonists don’t squabble, they converse in heated, or humorous tones … and still manage to be sexy as heck.
Waterloo veteran, former Lieutenant-Colonel Jack Trestain struggles with PTSD at his brother’s, Sir Charles’, estate. Enter Parisian heroine Celeste Marmion, commissioned by Charles to paint Trestain Manor’s grounds before his wife’s, Eleanor’s, planned renovations begin. Celeste, however, has another reason for being in England: she seeks the truth of her mother’s mysterious death, “to find some answers and close an unhappy chapter in her life.” Continue reading
Miss Bates loves chocolate: she likes it with sea salt; she likes it dark; she likes it Lindt; and, she likes it with almonds too. Laura Florand’s novels are an original bar in contemporary romance: Paris-set in the world of the chocolatiers, hot romance, soft-heart-hard-abs alpha heroes, and heroines who hold their own, asserting their identity and independence before the hero’s uber-protectiveness. With the help of one of the most beautiful cities in the world and best cultivated national palates, Florand builds a unique world in contemporary romance. Her latest, the first in the Paris Hearts series, All For You is a title – in light of the hero’s sacrifices – most fitting. A character’s chocolate palate (in this case, the hero’s) serves as a means of identifying and communicating with him – because he is one hard-headed fella. His love’s honey-hibiscus chocolate creation is her way of saying this-is-me “if anyone knew how to properly taste her.” 😉 The chocolatière, heroine Célie Clément, is chief chocolate-creator for Dominique Richard, hero of The Chocolate Touch; the hero, Josselin “Joss” Castel, five-year veteran of the French Foreign Legion. It was lovely to see Dom with his girlfriend, Jaime, soon to be wife if only he were worthy of being her husband. With this notion enters a major theme in this latest novel: to be worthy of the other, deserving of love and trust, to overcome fears of inferiority and abandonment. So much angst and so much sexy in one succinct chocolate-filled soupçon of a delightful novel. Continue reading
In her most recent Donna Alward review, Miss Bates declared Alward the “queen of domestic romance” in reference to her category novels. The first novel in her Jewell Cove series, The House On Blackberry Hill, written under a different publisher, introduced new elements to Alward’s winning category themes: a certain mysticism, a woo-woo-ness and preciousness that didn’t sit thoroughly well. Miss Bates is an Alward fan (from the moment she closed the final, sopping-Kleenex page of The Cowboy Who Loved Her, one of Miss Bates’ favourite category romances and one she’s often suggested to successfully turn readers onto the genre); she was ready to like Blackberry Hill. Treasure On Lilac Lane, however, turned out even better. Alward tempered the woo-woo with a gentle inspirational element, whisper-thin but moving nonetheless, cranked up the fleshiness, and re-introduced her signature working-class, or lower-middle-class hero and heroine, battered by life, struggling to find their way and waylaid by attraction, desire, and love. Continue reading
Reading Rose Lerner’s Sweet Disorder, first in her Regency-Era-set Lively St. Lemeston series, Miss Bates recognized Lerner’s connection to Georgette Heyer and what Miss Bates calls the “nouvelle vague” of romance writers, such as Emma Barry: educated, erudite, both entrenched in the romance tradition and bringing new elements to it. Like Heyer, to whose influence Lerner admits in her author bio, she writes a combination of adventure with touches of farcical comedy, also glimmers of pathos, in an ensemble cast, with nuanced villains and – mai oui – a central couple’s romance. (Sweet Disorder feels like a departure from the sombre tone of Lerner’s previous novel, A Lily Among Thorns, and this lighter touch suits her. Miss Bates hopes she keeps it.) Like Barry’s latest series, The Easy Part, Lerner unfolds the romance couple’s relationship in a political arena. The day’s politics inform the hero and heroine’s courtship, bringing them together, setting them apart. They serve as coalescence and disruption. Sweet Disorder, set in the West Sussex riding of Lively St. Lemeston in an election year, 1812, sees hero’s, Nick Dymond’s, brother, Tony, struggle to beat the Tory candidate. The stakes are high for the Whig Dymonds, as they are, it turns out, for their loyal voters, the Knight family, one of whom, writer of sensational tales for Girl’s Companion, Phoebe, now the widow Sparks, is our heroine. (It’s safe to keep reading, Miss Bates has gone out of her way to avoid spoilers. Sweet Disorder‘s plot is vulnerable to them, so there’s not much summary either.) Continue reading