Carina’s covers for Barry’s series have been great!
Near the end of Emma Barry’s Private Politics, second title in The Easy Part series, protagonists Liam Nussbaum and Alyse Philips work together on a news story. Liam, owner and editor of a successful political blog, Poindexter, refers to working with Alyse as being “very His Girl Friday.” At that moment, it clicked for Miss Bates. Barry’s second Washington D.C.-set romance novel about the byzantine wheeling and dealing of America’s capital echoes 1930s screwball comedies (which also happen to be Miss B’s film favourites). She was disposed to like Private Politics on this basis alone, but found so much more. While the obvious connection, given the journalistic and political context, is Hawks’ His Girl Friday, Miss Bates found parallels to Capra’s It Happened One Night, with its journalist-hero and rich-girl heroine and themes of professional integrity and disclosure wrapped in a cross-class road romance. While Private Politics contains only a hint of the cross-class element (indeed, Miss Bates loved the cross-religious element to the romance; Liam, middle-class nominal Jew, and Alyse, self-avowed rich-girl, Manhattan-ite WASP), Liam and Alyse journey, though they never hit the road, by navigating the personalities, complexities, and immoral/amoral machinations that people America’s capital.
One of Barry’s many strengths, especially in this series, is writing about the importance of meaningful work to her characters, even while they negotiate a new relationship. Miss Bates is glad to read a romance writer who doesn’t write a workplace romance (not attractive to Miss B.; only Jessica Hart has done it well in Promoted: To Wife and Mother), but still writes about work in a significant way. Moreover, Miss Bates delighted in Barry’s loveable leads and scenes of what Liam and Alyse call “espionage.” She laughed with them, but was moved by their groping awkwardly towards one of the most convincing, most believable HEA-couples she’s read in romance fiction. In a word, she loved Barry’s novel. In this her third, Barry’s hand shows growth and confidence; her pacing is better, her writing coming across as effortless. Thematically, she never relinquishes the romance’s essence: the difficult choice of vulnerability over isolation, of the soft places of the heart over the comforts of pragmatism, and of love over will. Continue reading
Miss 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
Melinda Curtis’s Summer Kisses is the second romance that Miss Bates has read from Harlequin’s Heartwarming line. If this and Sinara’s The Promise of Rain are the standard, the line offers some fine stories. If Harlequin’s “Writing Guidelines” are anything to go by, “wholesome contemporary romances that celebrate traditional values, strong communities, family connections, and true love” (Oxford comma is Miss Bates’s), this would not be to Miss Bates’s taste. Yet, she very much enjoyed Sinara’s and Curtis’s novels. Of the two, Sinara’s is the more technically perfect: the writing is smoother; the characterization, more consistent; the structure, tighter; but Curtis’s novel is strong, interesting … flawed, but definitely worth reading. Truth be told, Harlequin’s descriptor brings on fear of the insipid; however, these titles were engaging, portrayed believable dilemmas and difficulties, gave us intelligent heroes and heroines, complex family connections, and communities that were less cutesy than many small-town contemporary romances. Thus far, Heartwarmings are like Superromances sans nooky. They are also akin to the contemporary Inspired line without the prissiness or de rigueur conversions. (Curtis’s romance narrative brought to mind O’Keefe’s “Notorious O’Neills” trilogy, a category favourite of Miss Bates’s.) Continue reading
Miss Bates read … was it in The Invention of the Human? … Harold Bloom’s claim that there aren’t any happy marriages in Shakespeare. There aren’t any in romance either, but there is the assumption that the couple will be happy. The reader is left feeling that the HEA is a guarantee. It may not be conventional; it may not be traditional, but it will be blithe! Not so with The Bard. In Shakespeare, we sense that some couples, think Bianca and Lucentio, have misunderstand each other thoroughly and will be unhappy; some, like the Macbeths, are unhappy; and some, like Kate and Petruchio, will fall into the give-and-take/renege/renegotiate that every established couple reaches if they want to keep their sanity and commitment (even Bloom thinks these two might work out just fine). Gray’s A Lady Never Lies, based on The Bard’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, runs into that very problem. How could it not when it doesn’t consider the inherent irony in choosing to base a romance novel on a play called Love’s Labour’s Lost? How does a romance writer make the romance per se romantic when her narrative’s basis is The Bard’s ironic, farcical, comedic mode? Well, she certainly writes a hilarious narrative; as for the irony, she has to relinquish it about half-way through. What that does to the romance narrative (at least in this reader’s opinion) is make for an ambivalent, wonky first third. As the narrative moves away from irony and closer to the troth of love and sacrifice and care that is the mark of the genre, it gains in convincing us of the existence of love and sacrifice and care. Though, to credit Gray, it remains as droll and entertaining as its inception. Read on, if you care to, for more convoluted reasoning involving Shakespeare