Tag: Friends-To-Lovers

REVIEW: Louise Allen’s UNLACING LADY THEA, Or “A Talent for Friendship”

Unlacing Lady TheaOne of Miss Bates’ favourite literary exchanges occurs between snarky Hamlet and his doofus-y friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in Act 2, scene 2:

Hamlet: “My excellent good friends! How dost thou?” …

… Guildenstern: ” … On Fortune’s cap we are not the very button.”

Hamlet: “Nor the soles of her shoes?”

Rosencrantz: “Neither, my lord.”

Hamlet: “Then you live about her waist, or in the middle of her favours?”

This exemplifies how Miss Bates considers most of the romance novels she reads, neither the “very button,” nor the “soles” of goodness, but somewhere about the middle and somewhere about the middle of Miss Bates’ favours is where most lie. This may be said about Louise Allen’s Unlacing Lady Thea, the first half of which Miss Bates slogged through, annoyed with much of it. Nevertheless, competent, smooth prose kept her reading. The second half proved much better: with atmosphere, thanks to lovely descriptions of France and Venice, and a hero and heroine who grew on her. The result is a romance that started out “meh” and ended up fairly good, a lot like our hero and heroine’s journey from solid friends to glorious lovers, from gently green and misty England to the magnificence of canals, gondolas, and the Piazza San Marco. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Joan Kilby’s MAD ABOUT YOU, Friends To Lovers

Mad About YouMiss Bates felt sorry for Joan Kilby’s innocuous little romance novel, Mad About You. Wait, wasn’t that the sentimental TV series that celebrated marriage and went head-to-head with Seinfeld for popularity? Miss Bates watched one episode of Mad About You and can recite reams of Seinfeld dialogue … hence, the spinsterhood. As went Mad About You, thus went Kilby’s Mad About You, Miss Bates’ read immediately after Lin’s sublime Jade Temptress. It just couldn’t win. It was a pleasant enough read, but derivative: plot points and characterization identifiable from the get-go. Moreover, Kilby’s friends-to-lovers trope choice is Miss Bates’ least favourite, though she admits when it’s done well by masters of the genre, it’s fabulous. She’s read Mayberry, O’Keefe, Alward and Bliss’s use and admits they’re some of her favourites (Anything For You, His Wife For One Night, How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart, and Here Comes the Groom, respectively. If you haven’t read them, do). But it takes great subtlety to convince a reader how two people who’ve been friends for years suddenly develop the hots for each other. Kilby doesn’t quite accomplish this: falls back on the gorgeous hero’s obliviousness and heroine’s lack of, and this is a most unlikeable character trait, confidence in her appearance. Despite this, there’s nicely humorous touches in the novel and some clever dialogue. But it’s pat and Miss Bates’ reading mood was less than tolerant after being blown away by Lin’s novel. Continue reading

REVIEW: Robin York’s DEEPER, Or “Like A Drumbeat”

DeeperPhillip Phillips’ “Gone Gone Gone,” made the rounds in Miss Bates’ head as she read Robin York’s, aka Ruthie Knox, Deeper.  The song’s lively beat and Phillips’ glowingly adorable looks, despite the sentimentality of its “everything I do, I do it for you” ethos (more in keeping with Miss Bates’ youth 😉 ) are irresistible and an echo (“When life leaves you high and dry/I”ll be at your door tonight/If you need help … I’ll lie, cheat, I’ll beg and bride/To make you well”) of York’s début New Adult romance series.  York captures youth’s passions, its ignorance and sensitivity, and its resilience, in a story that is as much coming-of-age as romantic.  Miss Bates, especially in light of this post at Vacuous Minx about what is and isn’t a romance, would say this isn’t, lacking, as it does, the de rigueur HEA.  On the other hand, York subtitles Deeper with the caveat Caroline and West, Part I, so the possibility of an HEA is open to later volumes.  Be warned, however, that Deeper‘s end was a cryfest for Miss B. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Grace Burrowes’ ANDREW, or The Hero As Nursemaid

AndrewMiss Bates read Burrowes’ latest “lonely lord,” Andrew, in hopes that she’d get the original pleasure of reading her first Burrowes novel, The Heir.  If Andrew had been her first Burrowes, she might have written this review more positively?  However, for Miss Bates, as well as romance readers who find themselves beset with an author’s work near-monthly, reader fatigue has set in.  Burrowes exhibits the same smooth, competent prose, the same caring characters and sexy scenes, the same concerns with family, love, and children, but it feels so very the same.  This is because Burrowes’ Lonely Lords, or Lords of Despair as the cover subtitle indicates, are “ensemble romances,” romance novels whose concerns are not with the singular courtship and eventual HEA/marriage of a couple, but with the creation of a family saga made of couples in various HEA stages, between incipient and established.  (Many a contemporary, small-town romance is guilty of this too.)  Maybe Miss Bates’ romance-reading tastes are a tad passé, but she rather enjoys an old-fashioned antagonistic, sparring romance narrative like, let’s say for argument’s sake, Pride and Prejudice.  Burrowes’ Andrew is not like that at all, with its surfeit of family politics, married couples, in utero offspring, or toddling around … and way too many clinical details about parturition. Continue reading, as Miss Bates finalizes her verdict

REVIEW: Jill Shalvis’s ALWAYS ON MY MIND, But Never In the Same Room

Always On My MindJill 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

SECOND THOUGHTS On Patricia Gaffney’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH: Why Not JANE too?

In the cool of the evening, Miss Bates swatted a fist-sized wasps’ nest from the back porch. She’d like to do the same to Gaffney’s novel. No matter, the wasps and it will settle in the vicinity to plague her. Not for a full and missbatesian pedantic post, but a pinata swipe, yes, she’ll manage. Miss Bates has settled into ambivalence’s discomfort zone. Ambivalence in an ordered spinster’s world … not good. Need a lodestone, a familiar one … like Rochester at his neediest, she calls out to “Jane.” If you want more, read on, but clarity still eludes

IMPRESSIONS Of Patricia Gaffney’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH

After supper, Miss Bates tried a piece of wasabi-flavoured chocolate. The smoky-sweet flavour of the dark chocolate was familiar; the wasabi, not so much. This is also her reaction to Gaffney’s To Love and To Cherish. She can’t really review it per se because she’s not sure what she can say about it other than you might want to read it. She doesn’t even really want to review it. There’s more, but not much, nor is it articulate

REVIEW: “Cecilia Grant’s A WOMAN ENTANGLED: Or How Jane Austen’s EMMA Triumphed”

Oh, Cecilia Grant, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” With a nod to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, it is what came to mind as Miss Bates closed Grant’s best novel yet, A Woman Entangled. She considers A Lady Awakened and A Gentleman Undone two of the most original and interesting romance novels she’s read. A Woman Entangled is great, less alienating, gentler too. Grant has you reconsider figures such as Samuel Richardson, Jane Austen especially, Mary Wollstonecraft, et. al.. She connects what she does in her novel squarely in the romance genre’s “founders” (and detractors?) and other literary influences. This does not make for a dry romance novel. It is great: memorable, witty, engaging, and heart-wrenching.

Grant’s novels are structured on the basis of one premise: putting her characters in a quandary. This allows her to focus on the most important literary element of the romance novel, characterization. Grant’s premise has been one where the heroine navigates the economic, legal, and social givens of her society. It relies on illuminating and critiquing questions of class and status. In A Lady Awakened, Martha contends with a woman’s inability to retain her deceased husband’s property. In A Gentleman Undone, Will and Lydia are both in straitened circumstances; however, Will is in this position because of honour and obligation. It is a free choice. Lydia’s dilemma, on the other hand, is darker, uglier, desperate. In A Woman Entangled, hero and heroine are caught in a similar dilemma: the desire to restore their families’ reputations. This binds them in friendship, but prevents them from acknowledging their love. Their marriage would result in thwarting their ambitions. Even when they’re willing to admit their feelings, they recognize the impossibility of their union in light of their aspirations.

Kate Westbrook hopes a society marriage will restore her family’s reputation, lost when her father married her actress-mother. Their family friend, Nick Blackshear, has the same mission, his family’s reputation shattered when his younger brother married a courtesan. To this end, Kate cultivates her father’s estranged sister-in-law, Lady Harringdon. When Lady Harringdon summons her, Kate is hopeful that her sponsorship will open society’s doors and lead to a respectable marriage, thus ensuring her siblings’ future. Kate’s father, suspicious of the ton’s Lotharios, asks Nick to watch over her. This proximity forces Nick to reconsider Kate’s rejection of his former suit (oh yes, there’s lovely history there!). It rekindles his love and desire for her, improbable as they are. Kate too harbours feelings she is unwilling to admit. Huis clos. Circumstance and obligation bring them close and the pull of attraction, friendship, desire, and love will leave no room for either to make a marriage of convenience.

We are introduced to Kate at a lending library. She holds a copy of Pride and Prejudice. She ruminates on the novel, dismissing Lizzy Bennett’s refusal of Darcy’s first proposal as impractical, even foolish. Kate is pragmatic. She self-identifies as an anti-Lizzy, content to settle for wealth, comfort, and status. In the end, however, it is a conversation with her blue-stocking sister, Viola, about Austen’s Emma, that helps Kate realize the importance of friendship and a love match, such as she would enjoy with Nick. It is Austen who helps her make up her mind about Nick, Austen who urges her to listen to her heart, not to compromise, to live honestly and openly with her deepest desires.

We meet Nick in court, an ambitious lawyer, pondering the likes of Blackstone, Goldsmith, Donne, Fielding, and a variety of law reformers. Nick yearns for a place in history as a barrister and parliamentarian. He yearns for the respect of his peers, a reward for his talent and work ethic. Kate, in turn, yearns for a place as a society wife. Marriage to each other would not alter their status, or serve their ambitions.

In the end, however, Nick and Kate are worthy of our love because they are essentially good people who love their families. They are worthy of our admiration because they have integrity. At the eleventh hour, they are honest about their feelings. They dismiss society’s hypocrisy and choose to live honestly, even though it means their life together will be spent on the fringe. But, maybe not … Grant describes a society in flux, the rigid hierarchies of early 19th century English society giving way to the stirrings of radical social change. This gives hope to Nick and Kate, but does not matter to them as much as it originally did. They’ve done some growing up since then.

The conclusion to this novel is one of sheer happiness, hope, contentment, friendship, acceptance, and forgiveness.  How they reach it is all the pleasure of this novel. Read it. Grant’s novel posits the triumph of desire over intellect, heart over will, and love over pragmatism. It is a romantic, love- and life-affirming vision and a novel not to be missed. Grant takes her place in the romance novel canon alongside Heyer, Chase, and Balogh. Her novels are complex, beautifully written, conscious of their place in a tradition, original, moving, and a breath of fresh air in the miasma of derivative romance.

Miss Bates is so very pleased and says, “You have bewitched me.” Pride and Prejudice

A Woman Entangled is available June 25th.

This honest review was made possible thanks to a generous e-ARC from Random House/Bantam via Netgalley.