I requested an ARC of Alyssa Cole’s An Unconditional Freedom for the most superficial of reasons: I couldn’t resist the hunk on the cover. I’m a sucker for an open-necked shirt, soulful brown eyes, and the man is holding a scroll and lantern … can it get any better? As for the contents, I was open to them, but didn’t go in with any great expectations. What I found was, finally, FINALLY, someone who can put the history back in historical romance. You can’t historically “wallpaper” a history so unjust and ugly: how Cole managed to make me hold my breath with excitement, stop my heart with fear for her characters, and root for a slow-burn romance is testament to her mad writing skills.
At the end of the novel, a seasoned revolutionary in the war against slavery advising the heroine on when to hold’em and when to show’em in this righteous war says: ” ‘First thing you learn about being a Daughter — sometimes you gotta be subtle, and sometimes you gotta burn it all down.’ ” As a Daughter of Romance, Cole sure knows how to be subtle and how to burn it all down, navigating American Civil War history with sureness and skill, steering her characters’ inner worlds with insight and sensitivity and though there are moments when she burns it all down with action, she brings the ship to moor with a light touch of love, commitment, hope, and joy. Her narrative is serious, historically fascinating, and in places, even horrific, but it is never sombre, dark, or hopeless. Its movement is ever towards the light of possibility, even though the journey darkens and the way wavers. Continue reading
Man, this series: each book is better than the one before. It’s rare that I’ll start a review with a ringing endorsement: I like to keep my reviewing cards up my sleeve. BUT I’m groggy from lack of sleep, thanks to an early work morning after I stayed up reading Loren’s The One You Fight For (Ones Who Got Away #3), weeping into my pillow (and I’m not a narrative cryer: I was indifferent to Bambi), and then staying up even later, thinking about how Loren pulled off the unlikely – again. And this premise is even more unlikely than the first two series books. How do you make a romance possible, believable, and engaging when it’s between the woman who lost her sister in a school shooting, where she might’ve been killed as well and the man whose brother did the killing? There are several sensitive, interesting things Loren did and they have to do with how she layered and built her characters, how she managed to infuse her novel with heartbreak, humour, and tenderness.
Ah, Hoyt, who’s written some of my favourite historical romances, The Leopard Prince and Duke Of Sin. Therefore, a new Hoyt series is always welcome and I happily plunged into Not the Duke’s Darling as my first 2019 romance-read. Though it didn’t reach the heights of my favourites, difficult to do given how much I love them, it was satisfying. In particular, the storylines and premise it sets up make me eager for the books-to-come.
Not the Duke’s Darling is Georgian-set, Hoyt’s time setting of choice, and centres around reunited childhood friends and former-best-friend’s-younger-sister hero and heroine, Christopher Renshaw, Duke of Harlowe and Freya Stewart de Moray. The opening scene was thrilling, funny, and compelling. Freya is a member of a ancient, secret society, the “Wise Women”, a group of proto-feminists sworn to help and protect women, persecuted as witches and now living in seclusion in an isolated part of Scotland. Freya, however, is one of their agents, living pseudonymously in society, aiding women, and keeping her ears and eyes alert to threats to the group. In the opening scene, Freya is helping a baby-lordling and his widowed mother escape the clutches of an evil uncle, intent on using the infant-lord to control his estates. Continue reading
Donna Alward wrote some of my favourite category romances and seeing her back in “category-form” was most welcome. Alward writes romance for adults and it was disappointing to see her venture into imaginery-royal-kingdom territory in her past few books. While previous books have consistently been bedroom-tame, I think the classic Harlequin romance line results in a good fit.
Best Man for the Wedding Planner is book one of a two-book series, linked by the eponymous wedding planner, Adele “Delly” Hawthorne and her photographer best friend, Harper McBride. I was also delighted to see Alward set Wedding Planner in some of the most beautiful places in western Canada, heck, setting it in Canada alone is unusual and it made me so happy! Moreover, Wedding Planner sees Alward return to some familiar themes and draw her signature adult, mature, responsible characters, who nevertheless still manage to surprise the reader with their honesty and vulnerability. Ne’er is there a stupid misunderstanding or the shackles of bad parenting as explaining EVERYTHING there is to understand about a character’s obstacles to loving and being loved. There’s also the angst that Alward loves to write so well and there’s plenty of it in Wedding Planner, as Adele confronts the “best man” to her latest wedding venture, Dan Brimicombe, the man she loved and rejected eight years ago. Continue reading
When I started reading Yates’s upteenth Copper Ridge novel, Want Me, Cowboy, I thought of abandoning it because it was too much like Helm’s A True Cowboy Christmas. In both cases, hero and heroine have known each other for years and SUDDENLY the hero decides he wants to be married and SUDDENLY notices the heroine’s appropriateness for the starring role of wife and mother in his soon-to-be neatly arranged life. The heroes think everything will be emotionally tidy, calm, organized: he and the heroine will cohabit, get along like affectionate roommates with sex and segue into being calm, adult, responsible parents. Bwahahahaha … “famous last words.” A great premise, a great trope, but did I really want to read another one? Turns out I did and I would recommend you do too. Review over. They’re both good and worth reading.
After my initial eye-roll of exasperation over the sameness of Yates’ and Helm’s novels, Want Me, Cowboy had me thinking about the Romantic in romance. If the Romantic (yup, those guys, early 19th century, etc.) ethos, and I’m simplifying here, posits the primacy of emotion over reason and nature over intellect then, quite often, the romance genre is about the same: the “irrationality” of reason when it denies the primacy of not just “feelings”, but emotional connection with the other. No one does this better than Yates. In Want Me, Cowboy, uber-rational billionaire Isaiah Grayson advertises for a wife and asks his PA, Poppy Sinclair, to interview the candidates. Continue reading
Therese Beharrie’s Her Festive Flirtation is neither festive, nor big on flirtation. It’s a serious romance about two people dealing with past hurt and avoiding their feelings for each other. Heroine Ava Keller was left at the altar by her fiancé a mere year ago. When the novel opens, Ava is in a bad way in various ways: though she still hurts from Milo’s abandonment, she agrees to be in her brother’s wedding party, also a Christmas-set one. The associations with her humiliation are painfully difficult. To add further injury to injury in the opening scene, Ava’s estate home is threatened by wild fire. While she seems to take the loss of her home with equanimity, she’s desperate, above all, to rescue her cat, Zorro. The volunteer fireman who comes to Zorro’s rescue is none other than Noah Giles, her brother’s best friend and the man she was in love with in her youth. Her brother was furious and Noah left town, cutting all ties with her, though he maintained his friendship with Jaden, Ava’s bro, and his own father. Seven years later, Noah is back to stay and both he and Ava have to deal with those pesky feelings for each other.
Maisey Yates opens Gold Valley romance #4 with the line “Grant Dodge was alone. And that was how he liked it”, ensuring the reader that Grant Dodge is about to NOT be alone and that his hold on his solitude is to be shaken by the heroine. Said heroine, McKenna Tate, is blithely slumbering in an abandoned cabin on the ranch Grant shares with his brother Wyatt, sister-in-law Lindy, and sometimes-around veterinarian brother Bennett and sister-in-law, Kaylee. A “full house” of family and connections, but Grant prefers his solitude: what’s up with that and how will it be “shook up”? My tone may be flippant as I introduce Yates’s romance, but the romance is anything but: it’s angsty, heart-wrenching stuff with two very broken, very vulnerable, pain-filled protagonists. One is broken by his first marriage and the other broken by a life as a foster child, unloved, unwanted, uncared for. Reading their story, I thought Yates penned her most painful story yet, unredeemed by humour, or playful sex, banter (okay, there are soupçons of banter, but hardly) tenderness or joy. Grant and McKenna are two suffering characters, with burdens making Aeneas’s look like fluff, and the romance suffers under their weight as much as they do.
After nearly a month of reading Harari’s 21 Lessons, I sure needed a heavy romance dose. Who better than Nicole Helm to provide an antidote to Harari’s intellectual harshness? Why Helm? There are romance writers who love romance and that comes through in their writing, say Mary Balogh, the romance classicist, or the contemporary Lucy Parker. Then, there are romance writers who believe in romance and one of those is Helm. Another is her sister-in-writing, Maisey Yates. There’s a genuine belief in their stories as being tangible, possible, and attainable outside the pages of a book, no matter how idealized their characters. Though I’d recently read and reviewed a Helm romance, I knew she was going to cleanse the reading palate: Harari was nice, like having an exotic meal once in a while, or eating on vacay what you wouldn’t at home. But I was ready for my usual fare and enjoyed every but five minutes of it (more of that later).
I don’t know that you can really trust my review: maybe it’s too coloured by my relief and happiness at reading a hopeful book? I wanted the whole deal, a romance, yes, and one set during Christmas, with a Christmas “deal” of friends-with-benefits between what have been two antagonists through the first two books in Helm’s Navy SEAL Cowboys series – WOW, bring it on. Continue reading
We meet Cora Preston, the heroine of Nicole Helm’s A Nice Day For A Cowboy Wedding, as she comes into her own: “She was reaching for the stars now, or maybe those snow-peaked mountains. Strong, immovable, and majestic.” Five years ago, Cora and her then seven-year-old, Micah, lived with an abusive husband and father. When Stephen threatened Micah rather than her, Cora divorced him, got full custody of Micah and a restraining order. In the intervening years, Cora and Micah moved to small-town Gracely to live with Lilly, her sister. They’ve been difficult, growing-pain years, but the movement has been forward and positive. Cora and Micah are forging a new life. Cora’s gleaned herself off of total dependence on her older sister, is living on her own with her son, and partnering with Lilly to launch a wedding-planning business. More importantly, she and Micah’s therapy, while a work in progress, is helping them cope with the day-to-day. Micah is showing signs of teen-age rebellion and sullenness, but Cora is mothering more than being mothered. Micah is in baseball day-camp and Cora on her way to her first wedding plan client, Deb Tyler of Tyler Ranch. Cora is a vulnerable heroine, but determined to succeed and do right by her son. I liked her from the get-go.
Over the summer, I jumped off the Maisey Yates bandwagon. She’s prolific and I did have an ARC in the TBR. Something Something Cowboy. I read the first page, slapped the Kindle shut and moved on. No can do. There it was *eye roll* the typical Yates antagonism, the heroine with the defiant mouth, the surly and/or laid-back hero … usually, this is reading catnip for me. I quixotically thought, Yates and I are parting company. You’d rightly say: here you are, MissB., reviewing another Yates romance. (Which I loved, btw … ) So, what happened? I have a terrible reader confession, so petty, kinda mean: I cannot read tall heroines, just can’t. No way. Every other ilk I’m cool with, but once a heroine confesses to tallness, there’s a disconnect. And that points to something about what I want as a reader: a tiny connection with the heroine that says, “You’re small, but you can do this.” Maybe because I’m small, like Jane-Eyre small, and since reading Brontë’s novel, it has stood as a model of what a heroine should be: humble, but never diminished. It’s terrible and … prejudicial … and goodness knows, we don’t need any more of that in the world, but there you have it. But with Good Time Cowboy, Yates hit all my satisfaction levels and I’m back on the bandwagon.