Beverly Jenkins’s Rebel is first in her Women Who Dare series and Jenkins, a new-to-me author. I was keen to try a new historical romance author. In truth, though, I slogged through it, taking two weeks to reach the end. Though its opening was compelling, I never warmed to the protagonists and found the persistently declarative prose, flat.
It opens in 1867 New Orleans as New-Yorker Valinda Lacy teaches her recently freedmen, women, and their children. We get a sense of a society, barely out of war, trying to adjust to new historical realities, some well, and others, clinging to their place as the dominant class and race. They pose a threat to the characters and Jenkins does a excellent job of conveying what it feels like to live under a constant edge of what ought to be a safe, going-about-business existence. For example, Valinda’s school is soon destroyed. Her path then crosses with a powerful, wealthy family, the LeVeqs, who give her a home and protection and help her re-establish the school.
My Great Betty Neels read continued with #28, Heaven Is Gentle. I didn’t have too many expectations for this one. There wasn’t much buzz about it as a favourite Betty and consequently, I approached it cavalierly. It surprised me how much I loved it. It opened with a beautifully droll ironic scene. Dr. Christian van Duyl and Professor Wyllie are deciding on hiring a nurse. She must be plain, motherly, large, and eminently spinsterish. Dr. van Duyl is running a special asthma clinic in the Scottish Highlands, of which Professor Wyllie is both patient and participant and said nurse will be on board to aid with patients. Christian and the Prof settle on Miss Eliza Proudfoot, who, when she appears in the Wester Ross clinic, turns out to be beautiful, young, snappy, tiny, and anything but a plain-Jane spinster. At 28, she’s a spinster, but not for lack of offers. What follows holds many Betty delights: Christian and Eliza verbally spar and snap at each other. The more they dislike each other, the greater their attraction. They rescue a cat and kittens, withstand a flood, and Christian rescues Eliza when she’s caught in a dangerous thunder-lightning-torrent storm. Continue reading
Sometimes you need a shot of pure romance and the HP delivers. I went for one of the many TBR ARC HPs I have knocking around, Caitlin Crews’s Untamed Billionaire’s Innocent Bride and got what I was looking for; the HP recipe: eye-rolling premise and plot, standard-fare hero and heroine, and heart-tugging romance experience.
Personal assistant to billionaire Matteo Combe trudges through a Hungarian forest in high heels and red cape to lure a beast out of its lair. Said beast is Matteo’s long-lost half-brother Dominick James, the product of their mother’s foolish youth, abandoned to the miseries of an orphanage, the Italian streets and eventually the army. Though Dominick is wealthy in his own right (the ubiquitous security company having earned him $$$$$$$$), he chooses to keep his own counsel and company in this forest. When Lauren pounds on his cabin door and is granted entry, the inevitable visceral lust-response follows, “lust at first sight”. (Except for the niggling sense that neither Lauren nor Dominick has ever reacted to a man or woman this way before! *gasp*) Lauren tries to convince Dominick to return to England with her to take his place in the Combe family and claim his inheritance. In the interim, she’s going to give his wild, rough, gorgeous ways, a make-over. I must say I did get a kick out of this HP role reversal: it’s usually the heroine who gets the grooming and clothes update.
I have come ’round to being a Kelly Bowen fan-girl. I think her romances are among the best in the historical subgenre. They are elegantly executed; the characters are sympathetically idealized without being insipid. Her plots clip along at an excellent pace and, thematically, she is the nonpareil, with a feminist twist to her heroines, taking nothing away from the rich historical context. I’ve enjoyed two Bowen romances to date, with reservations, but I think this third in her Devils of Dover series is her best. I had been intrigued by glimpses of the hero in previous books: the mysterious Dr. Harland Hayward, Baron Strathmore, healer and comforter, ever on some mysterious, not-quite-legal coastal “operation.” (Sadly, the strangely somnambulistic figure on the cover doesn’t do him justice.) Everything comes home to roost for him in A Rogue By Night, when he finally meets his doctoring and smuggling match, “Dr” Katherine Wright, beauty, healer, veteran, and daughter and sister to two of Dover’s greatest smugglers, Paul and Matthew Wright. Though Katherine is of humble beginnings and Harland a noble, they have more in common than their social status suggests.
For those of you who may have followed along on GR, or Twitter, you know I’ve set out to read the Betty Neels oeuvre, all 134 romances. I’ve alternated between posting short reviews on GR, or commenting #greatbettyread on Twitter. Henceforth, I’ll be posting tiny reviews on the blog, keeping a record of my reading in one place. Plus I prefer its freedom of babbling as I see fit without Twitter constraints, or the fuss of keeping one set of reading thoughts in one place and others in another.
And so, my reading of #27, A Small Slice Of Summer (1975), mainly done in the tub, as most of these are: a good soak and Betty, there’s nothing like it. I enjoyed Slice of Summer, finding nothing atypical about its Betty-fare (why one reads them, no?), but it didn’t rock my world as others have. Nurse Letitia Marsden ends up in Dr. Jason Mourik van Nie’s world by association: her older sister is friend’s with the wife of a doctor-colleague of Jason’s. Their paths cross socially and professionally and proximity is further ensured when Georgina asks Letitia to take their absent nanny’s place when she, husband Julius, toddler Polly, and baby Ivo, visit Holland. BTW, the subtly match-making Georgina and Julius, are the fantabulous Damsel In Green (1971)’s hero and heroine. Continue reading
Today, I had book hangover from staying up too late to finish Caitlin Crews’s Sniper’s Pride. Given it was a back-to-work Monday morning, it took a heck of a lot of coffee to keep me amiable and functional . Was it worth it? Did I love it? I’m not sure.
Sometimes, I read a romance novel not to have to think about those plague-y things that wake you up in the night and leave you with heart palpitations and morning-after disquiet — if you ever do manage to fall back asleep.
In the cooler light of day, wolfing down Crews’s romance left me the way overindulgence in Haagen-Dazs’s Espresso Chocolate Cookie Crumble does, vaguely nauseated with questionable self-respect. Sometimes though, a feral spinster needs to leave the world behind and Crews’s novel hit the sweet spot. With a day’s work done, a dinner-full stomach and some halfway decent rosé, I can think about my response to Sniper’s Pride with more dispassion. Crews is a talented writer; she has a smooth, quick, moving way with words and tropish twists along the way that surprise and delight. I disliked some of Sniper’s Pride‘s content and yet loved the sheer heroine-vindication and HEA-fulfilling development of its core relationship.
The distance in time from my last review, on April 26th, and today, the eve of a new month, feels like a lifetime. I wrote my Yates review Friday morning and spent that afternoon and evening and the week-end in church, experiencing the magnificent journey of the Eastern Orthodox Pascha. I cannot describe how meditative and profound is the experience, at the same time as it’s joyful and renewing. Every year, these few days are a precious time of juxtaposition to the mundane world of work, taxes, and a city going about its business without consideration of the enclaves of worship occurring in it. I like that feeling of being in a protected space out of time (even while I was aware of how blessed I was, given that miles away, in Sri Lanka, safe spaces were devastated). More than anything, the Holy Week of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection is the privilege of entering into a profound, endlessly-giving Narrative. I always take this time to think about what sustains my spirit, other than, obviously my faith, which I rarely mention on this blog. And will not be making a habit of … but it does connect to my social media Lenten fast and why I write this blog.
Maisey-Yates romances breed like bunnies. Yet another one on the recent horizon, fifth in the Gold Valley series, Unbroken Cowboy, features two of my favourite sequel-bait characters from previous books, animal-loving Bea(trix) Leighton, and bull-trampled rodeo star-no-more, Dane Parker. Because, like Betty Neels, I read and review every Yates romance, my review will always be tainted by my mood, whether Yates’s brand of theme and ethos work for me “in the moment,” or not. When they’re published as close together as Yates seems to produce them, I tend to feel less well-disposed. When a whiley-while goes by, then I’m eager to immerse myself in her world. If my introduction to Yates had been Unbroken Cowboy, I’d have been all in with enthusiasm and praise. As it’s one of many and followed by the recently reviewed, Need Me, Cowboy, I read it more for because she’s Yates and I read’em all. No surprises here. In “yatesian” fashion, hero Dane and heroine Bea experience personal transformation, in this case, as the title suggests, from brokenness to wholeness. The glue that brings their resurrection about is the mystical power of love. Continue reading
Lucy Parker writes one of my favourite contemporary romance series, “London Celebrities,” with heroes and heroines as denizens of London’s West End theatre scene. In the series’ fourth volume, however, the West End is in the background. Heroine-actress Freddy Carlton (for Frederica, a nod to Heyer?) joins the cast of a “digital mash-up of characters from different Jane Austen books, transplanted into a murder-mystery, house-party scenario. Outcome guided by the choice of the player,” that is, the televison and app audience. All taking take place on a estate, à la Downton Abbey. The estate, 16th-century Highbrook Wells, magnificent and crumbling, is the mortgaged-to-the-gills family home of acerbic theatre critic and Freddy nemesis, James “Griff” Ford-Griffin. Griff can’t afford to say no to the “digital mash-up” and the company of actors, Freddy too, arrives at Highbrook as if it’s Elsinore. Put Griff and Freddy together in this enforced intimacy and let sparks fly: antagonists to lovers, opposites-attract denying their attraction. Not really. This isn’t a criticism. Parker hasn’t written what at first appears to be your romance trope of antagonists-to-lovers. No matter how witty and thick the banter ( it is fabulous), Parker juggles three simultaneous narratives, of which the romance between Freddy and Griff is the gentlest, the most assured of a positive outcome.
Sonali Dev’s Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors was everything I wanted in Sharma’s The Takeover Effect. Though it’s distasteful to praise one author at the cost of another, Sharma’s ugh-failure was fresh in my mind as I read Dev’s latest and revelled in it. In all fairness, Dev herself came under my miffed-reader scrutiny as my one foray into her books wasn’t positive. I found The Bollywood Bride overblown, melodramatic, and humorless. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is none of those things. Dev bleached the Bride‘s flaws and created a novel that is rich in humor, deeply felt, tender, and moving. Moreover, I’m leery of Austen-homages, finding them derivative (I guess they’re meant to be, so schoolmarm picky of me to say so) and never as good as the original. Dev convinced me otherwise. Her Austen-love comes through as sheer delight and joy in the frothy glory that is Pride and Prejudice. But Dev has wrought something uniquely her own: twisting and turning in Austen’s wake, leaping like a joyful dolphin by taking the familiar, beloved Austen tropes and making them hers. This constitutes Dev’s “other flavors”: coming from teasing out of Austen a remarkable POC-hero-heroine, American politics and the “dream”, class struc-and-stric-tures, family dynamics, and Austen-up-ending gender stereotypes, the most brilliant stroke of which is Dev’s rendering of smarmy Wickham.