REVIEW: Mimi Matthews’s GENTLEMAN JIM

Gentleman_JimI have a hard time finding historical romance to enjoy, most are trite and tired, but not Matthews. She never fails to engage and I easily immerse myself in her fictional world. It was so with The Work of Art and “Fair As a Star,” and it was certainly so with Gentleman Jim. I stayed up late and woke up early to read; groggy as I am, I’m here to praise it. The blurb will launch us by filling in some details of character, plot, and setting:

Wealthy squire’s daughter Margaret Honeywell was always meant to marry her neighbor, Frederick Burton-Smythe, but it’s bastard-born Nicholas Seaton who has her heart. Raised alongside her on her father’s estate, Nicholas is the rumored son of notorious highwayman Gentleman Jim. When Fred frames him for theft, Nicholas escapes into the night, vowing to find his legendary sire. But Nicholas never returns. A decade later, he’s long been presumed dead.

After years spent on the continent, John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare has finally come home to England. Tall, blond, and dangerous, he’s on a mission to restore his family’s honor. If he can mete out a bit of revenge along the way, so much the better. But he hasn’t reckoned for Maggie Honeywell. She’s bold and beautiful–and entirely convinced he’s someone else. 

As danger closes in, St. Clare is torn between love and vengeance. Will he sacrifice one to gain other? Or, with a little daring, will he find a way to have them both?

Hmmm, I’m not sure St. Clare is concerned with restoring his family’s honour so much as his grandfather is. With a scoundrel son, notoriously reputed to be the highwayman Gentleman Jim, the Earl of Allenby has put his energy and vast fortune into ensuring grandson St. Clare inherits. Rumours simmer about John Beresford: who was his mother? Were his parents married? Is he legitimate? To Maggie, after a long illness and years of mourning her father and aunt, her beloved Beasley Park is bound to her marrying her hated neighbour, Frederick Burton-Smythe, the very man who exiled her beloved Nicholas from her love and protection. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s CLOSE RANGE CHRISTMAS (Badlands Cops #6)

Close_Range_ChristmasI continue in my nostalgic pursuit of finding category romance. In this case, I read Nicole Helm, an author whose longer-form contemporary romance I enjoyed. And … nope. It wasn’t terrible, except for one puerile bit, but it also isn’t going to send me running to read more of this category. It didn’t help that I came in at #6: there were A LOT of previous book couples, with convoluted family histories, fostered, biological, and adopted, AND, it appears, six? seven? brothers from one ranch marrying the various sisters from the neighbouring one. Yeah, it was Seven Brides for Seven Brothers without the humour, music, or, well, the fun. Without overburdening my poor readers with the endless backstory, let’s give it over to the blurb for some plot and character filler:

Dev Wyatt’s worst fear has come true. Someone from the Wyatts’ dangerous past is stalking his family—and his best friend, Sarah Knight. When she asked Dev to help her have a child, Sarah did not expect her pregnancy would place her in danger, but now Sarah must take shelter on the Wyatt ranch. As she and Dev battle escalating threats, will they survive long enough to become a family?

Um, blurb-foiler: this sounds like it has forced-proximity potential. Au contraire, the Wyatt ranch is peopled with a gazillion brothers, their wives, children, and pets. The sexy times, given Sarah is nine months pregnant (not what we see on the cover), days from her due date, are strictly closed-bedroom-door and sparse, which is a-okay by me. As for the mini-village living together, with a grandmother to boot, I did not even try to figure out who’s who and who’s with who, or who begat who.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Shannon Stacey’s THEIR CHRISTMAS BABY CONTRACT (Blackberry Bay #2)

Their_Christmas_Baby_ContractWhen I started reading romance after 30 years away, one of the first romances I read was Sarah Mayberry’s Best Laid Plans. Introduced to the genre with The Flame and the Flower, Mayberry’s romance was revelatory. It told me how much the genre had changed and how wonderful those changes were. I’d never have believed when The Flame and the Flower was the norm to read about an older heroine and hero, professionals both, disappointed by past relationships, agreeing to share a child (and, hey, it’s a romance, so they also fall in love along the way). I was attracted to Stacey’s Their Christmas Baby Contract because I was nostalgic for Mayberry’s romance and because, foolish as this is becoming, I yearn for a wonderful category romance (two attempts with previously beloved authors left me cold). Stacey’s premise captured me. The blurb will set it up for us:

Brady Nash is handsome and anti marriage. And with IVF completely out of her financial reach, Reyna Bishop is running out of time to have the child she so very much wants. Theirs is a practical baby-making deal: no emotion, no expectation, no ever-after. They’ll even “date” through Christmas to silence their hometown gossips. It’s foolproof…till the time she spends with Brady and his warm, loving family leaves Reyna wanting more than a baby…

Brady isn’t anti-marriage, nor a commitment-phobe: he has a reputation, completely unjustified, as a ladies man. Reyna too has an unjustified reputation as a man-killer. Neither of them live up to either and the town, cutesy-Christmas-parade-Hallmark-decorated is unkind in its assessment. But bargain they do and we’re off to the baby races by chapter three, with two calm, responsible introverts falling in love and ever denying it, uncertain of the other’s feelings, hesitant about their own.  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jenny Holiday’s A PRINCESS FOR CHRISTMAS (Royal Christmas #1)

A_Princess_for_ChristmasI’m not a fan of the holiday Hallmark movie, but I am a Holiday fan *snigger* Despite my worst imaginings: will it be insipid? Will it read like a first-person voice-over? *gasp* Might it be written in the first-person present-tense … *runs away screaming* … nope, nope, nope, Holiday’s foray into Hallmark territory was tongue-in-cheek funny and carried her sexy brand of tender, funny love to a tee. More Roman-Holiday riff than Hallmark, add cussing and sexy times, the most interesting convention-breaking that Holiday does is actually in the reverse-Cinderella-ing. Cue a genuine cross-class contemporary romance, with a financially-strapped, Bronx-born-n-bred cab driver falling in love with an honest-to-God blue-blooded European princess. The publisher’s blurb will give you the details I’m too lazy a reviewer to outline:

Leo Ricci’s already handling all he can, between taking care of his little sister Gabby, driving a cab, and being the super of his apartment building in the Bronx. But when Gabby spots a “princess” in a gown outside of the UN trying to hail a cab, she begs her brother to stop and help. Before he knows it, he’s got a real-life damsel in distress in the backseat of his car.

Princess Marie of Eldovia shouldn’t be hailing a cab, or even be out and about. But after her mother’s death, her father has plunged into a devastating depression and the fate of her small Alpine country has fallen on Marie’s shoulders. She’s taken aback by the gruff but devastatingly handsome driver who shows her more kindness than she’s seen in a long time.

When Marie asks Leo to be her driver for the rest of her trip, he agrees, thinking he’ll squire a rich miss around for a while and make more money than he has in months. He doesn’t expect to like and start longing for the unpredictable Marie. And when he and Gabby end up in Eldovia for Christmas, he discovers the princess who is all wrong for him is also the woman who is his perfect match.

The romance is easily divided into terrific first-half in Manhattan and less-belivable-more-Hallmark-y-thank-the-romance-gods-for-the-love-scenes second half. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s MARRYING WINTERBORNE (Ravenels #2)

Marrying_WinterborneI continue my rediscovery of the new, possibly-better Kleypas with her second in the Revenel series, Marrying Winterborne. We met hero Rhys Winterborne and heroine Lady Helen Ravenel in the first book, Cold-Hearted Rake. Though Rhys was laid up injured for most of that encounter, it definitely established a connection between the genteel, gentle, ethereal Lady Helen and the rough-and-tumble, self-made-man hero. When the present volume opens, Rhys and Helen’s engagement has been severed: Helen was shocked by his punishing kisses and reacted to hurt his sensitive working-man’s pride. But she arrives at his department store, unattended, to convince him to reestablish their engagement-of-convenience, $$$ for her family and an illustrious, blue-blood name for him. Except neither of those “facts” are valid any longer: Lady Helen’s family has stumbled on a financial boon and Helen’s name had nothing on Rhys’s desire for her, which, like Kleypas heroes of long memory, borders on the pathological. To fill in the pub’s version, here’s the back-cover blurb:

Savage ambition has brought common-born Rhys Winterborne vast wealth and success. In business and beyond, Rhys gets exactly what he wants. And from the moment he meets the shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel, he is determined to possess her. If he must take her virtue to ensure she marries him, so much the better… Helen has had little contact with the glittering, cynical world of London society. Yet Rhys’s determined seduction awakens an intense mutual passion. Helen’s gentle upbringing belies a stubborn conviction that only she can tame her unruly husband. As Rhys’s enemies conspire against them, Helen must trust him with her darkest secret. The risks are unthinkable… the reward, a lifetime of incomparable bliss.

Hmmm, Rhys doesn’t “take” Helen’s “virtue”, she rather uses her virtue to win and keep him. No enemies conspire against Rhys, but they definitely conspire against Helen. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that Kleypas kept the hero-to-the-heroine’s rescue nicely balanced with a once-shy, developping-a-spine heroine’s ability to take care of herself. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Andrea Penrose’s MURDER AT QUEEN’S LANDING (Wrexford & Sloane #4)

Murder_at_Queen's_LandingThough I’ve only recently started to read Penrose’s Wrexford and Sloane Regency-set mysteries, they quickly became favourites, with anticipation for the next book to drop into my e-reader. Though beset by the clean-up/book orders/final reports weeks of another school-year end, I joyfully crawled into Charlotte and Lord Wrexford’s world (whose first name still eludes, by the way, but a strong hint in this volume) during my meagre leisure time.

Wrexford and Sloane #4 is as reader-sigh-worthy satisfying as were the previous ones. In this case, I admit to muddle-headedness concerning the financial machinations surrounding the murder (never a head for the numbers, that’s me). The publisher’s blurb will elucidate way better than I:

When Lady Cordelia, a brilliant mathematician, and her brother, Lord Woodbridge, disappear from London, rumors swirl concerning fraudulent bank loans and a secret consortium engaged in an illicit—and highly profitable—trading scheme that threatens the entire British economy. The incriminating evidence mounts, but for Charlotte and Wrexford, it’s a question of loyalty and friendship. And so they begin a new investigation to clear the siblings’ names, uncover their whereabouts, and unravel the truth behind the whispers.

As they delve into the murky world of banking and international arbitrage, Charlotte and Wrexford also struggle to navigate their increasingly complex feelings for each other. But the clock is ticking—a cunning mastermind has emerged . . . along with some unexpected allies—and Charlotte and Wrexford must race to prevent disasters both economic and personal as they are forced into a dangerous match of wits in an attempt to beat the enemy at his own game.

Hmmm, all is correct, except for “Charlotte and Wrexford also struggle to navigate their increasingly complex feelings for each other” … um, nope, it’s obvious they’re in love. With Charlotte’s past of a if-not-failed-then-disappointing marriage and Wrexford’s emotional reticence, maybe they have a tad trouble admitting their feelings, but what they are and who they’re for, clear as a lake on a windless day. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sonali Dev’s RECIPE FOR PERSUASION (The Rajes #2)

Recipe_For_PersuasionI admit I was super-pumped to read Dev’s second “Rajes” romance because I adored Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavours. Moreover, though I can never quite come to a conclusion, it’s possible Persuasion, with its older, melancholic hero and heroine and their second-chance-at-love romance, may be my favourite Austen. And Recipe For had that rom-com publisher designation and a compellingly-Bollywood-ish storyline, signature Dev. From the back cover blurb:

Chef Ashna Raje desperately needs a new strategy. How else can she save her beloved restaurant and prove to her estranged, overachieving mother that she isn’t a complete screw up? When she’s asked to join the cast of Cooking with the Stars, the latest hit reality show teaming chefs with celebrities, it seems like just the leap of faith she needs to put her restaurant back on the map. She’s a chef, what’s the worst that could happen? Rico Silva, that’s what. Being paired with a celebrity who was her first love, the man who ghosted her at the worst possible time in her life, only proves what Ashna has always believed: leaps of faith are a recipe for disaster.

FIFA winning soccer star Rico Silva isn’t too happy to be paired up with Ashna either. Losing Ashna years ago almost destroyed him. The only silver lining to this bizarre situation is that he can finally prove to Ashna that he’s definitely over her. But when their catastrophic first meeting goes viral, social media becomes obsessed with their chemistry. The competition on the show is fierce…and so is the simmering desire between Ashna and Rico.  Every minute they spend together rekindles feelings that pull them toward their disastrous past. Will letting go again be another recipe for heartbreak—or a recipe for persuasion…?

This “rom-com” publisher hint may drive me batty. Hear this, fellow readers, Dev’s novel is light on rom and zilch on com. I had issues with Recipe for Persuasion, but I don’t fault the author on how publisher’s choose to market books. Continue reading

The Great Betty Read #38: Neels’s GRASP A NETTLE

Grasp_a_NettleThe quotation opening Neels’s Grasp a Nettle is quite the thing: “Tender-handed stroke a nettle/And it stings you for your pains;/Grasp it like a man of mettle/And it soft as milk remains,” attributed to Aaron Hill and eponymously referring to the romance’s heroine, Jenny Wren, her surname suggestive of bird-like cuteness. Well, there’s nothing “cute” about Jenny, or her hero, the acerbic, temperamental Professor Eduard van Draak te Solendijk. Jenny is, like the majority of Neels’s heroines, a nurse, but she is independently wealthy, of a storied estate family, and has neither a need to work, or marry to ensure a living. Her parents are long dead, but she may go home whenever she likes to Dimworth House, where her Aunt Bess, aka Miss Elizabeth Creed, would welcome her any time, indeed, would prefer that Jenny remain with her, take care of the estate as it receives visitors and be at her beck and call. Aunt Bess is loving, but imperious, expecting Jenny to care for her and marry her neighbour’s son, Toby. But Jenny is Neels’s attempt at a more modern heroine: Jenny wants to work at her nursing because she loves her work and is devoted to it, is ambitious for herself, and willing to wait until she meets “the one”: “There would be someone in the world meant for her; she had been sure of that ever since she was a little girl, and although there was no sign of him yet, she was still quite certain that one day she would come face to face with him, and he would feel just as she did — and in the meantime she intended to make a success of her job.” How beautifully Betty sets us up for The Man’s entrance. Aunt Bess takes ill, Jenny leaves her job to devote herself to her aunt’s care … and thus encounters and spars with Draak, through England, a cruise, and Holland. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lisa Kleypas’s COLD-HEARTED RAKE (Ravenels #1)

Cold-Hearted_RakeIf I can say a few things about Kleypas, they would be: she still writes books that made me fall in love with romance in the first place (Derek Craven!) and she’s only gotten better over time (except for the woo-woo books). It’s sad that I side-eye so much romance these days: afraid I’ll find yet another novel with trite, or formulaic ideas; or another trying so hard to do something new that it fails to come alive. But Kleypas still takes joy in the genre and it comes through in the Ravenel series. Though I’d read and reviewed Chasing Cassandra (back when the pubs most likely to decline a small-time reviewing outfit like Miss Bates went into pandemic-sales panic and granted ARCs right left and centre), I’m glad I went back and started the series from the first volume.

The pub-blurb makes Cold-Hearted Rake sound like any other standard-fare histrom, but the sheer delight and reader-joy I took in it was more than most historical romances I’ve tried to read have offered:

Devon Ravenel, London’s most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl’s three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon’s own. Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny-and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. Continue reading

The Great Betty Read #37: Neels’s THE HASTY MARRIAGE

Hasty_MarriageThe Christian edict that “the last shall be first” comes true in many a Neels romance. Such is The Hasty Marriage (1977). The waif. The mouse. The mousy-haired. The too-small, too-plump, too-plain heroine. And, horrors, on the shelf too. Pushing thirsty. An *gasp* old-maid-in-the-making. The heroine who declares her un-attractiveness on every page. Is there a more self-deprecating one than The Hasty Marriage‘s Laura (do we ever learn her last name?).

A ward sister at St. Anne’s in London, she comes home to visit her father and finds her Dutch godfather with his colleague, Dr. Reilof van Meerum. Drama ensues, as we learn from the blurb:

Laura had always been used to taking second place to her pretty younger sister, Joyce. If Joyce wanted something, she got it! It was, therefore, no surprise to Laura that when she fell in love with the attractive Dutch doctor Reilof van Meerum, he chose Joyce instead. But when Joyce walked out on him to marry another, richer man, Reilof asked her to marry him. He needed a wife, and Laura, it seemed, would do as well as anyone. So she accepted–but could she really expect to be happy with a man who did not love her?

For the most part, and thank the good Neelsian gods, Joyce is absent from the narrative. When she appears, at the start to lure Reilof and at the end to put a canker in the rose of Laura’s marriage (stilted and unconsummated as it is, it’s hers and she loves Reilof enough to be willing to live with this compromise). Continue reading