MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s THE RANCHER’S BABY

Rancher's_BabyMaisey Yates remains the sole romance writer who makes me stay up till the wee hours to finish one of her books. The Rancher’s Baby is why I’m writing this review on a snowy March morning, bleary-eyed and groggy, to the sound of the coffee-machine spurting my third cup’o’java. Rancher’s Baby is set in Texas and not part of Yates’s Copper-Ridge-Gold-Valley series, the Yoknapatawpha of romance. It’s written for the “Desire” category, which brings out the best in her. So … “Desire”, “Yates,” “baby” set my readerly heart a-flutter … and draw me in this did. A few provisos, the hero, billionaire-rancher Knox McCoy lost his baby-daughter to cancer, a difficult read for some; and, billionaire-business-woman Selena Jacobs was physically and psychologically abused by her father (a less developped aspect to the romance), again, may not appeal. Lastly, the hero and heroine have unprotected sex, which may annoy, flummox, or result in disapproving tut-tutting. I followed a Yates Twitter convo where she defended this writerly decision (which I don’t think needs defending, btw) that people do have unprotected sex. I would say it’s about context. The circumstances under which this happens in The Rancher’s Baby may not work for all, but they did for me. Many many reasons some romance readers may not enjoy, none of which I had a problem with. With the proviso that Yates’s romances make me leave my chin-tapping critical sense at the door.
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REVIEW: Roni Loren’s THE ONES WHO GOT AWAY

Ones_Who_Got_AwayUncertain and with trepidation, I picked up Roni Loren’s The Ones Who Got Away. After watching the news reports about Margery Stoneman Douglas HS  and its mass-shooting aftermath, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a romance with this premise. But I ploughed ahead and read it because I thought: dammit, is that a niggling doubt that the genre can’t, shouldn’t, would botch, a premise so raw and horrific? Can romance do the subject justice? That little snooty inner judgement said “No, spinster-girl, you’re giving this genre a chance to tell this story.” What I discovered is that Loren got some things right and others, wrong. What Loren got right was situating the story twelve years after the school shooting. While her protagonists’ lives were marked by their experience, the initial horror/trauma has dulled. They have built lives as best they can, found some peace, but the shooting has dictated to them too. The time lapse gives Loren some romance narrative wiggle-room: her hero and heroine are adults focussed on adult things, working, paying their bills, being responsible citizens. They achieved this by leaving their Texas town and what happened at Long Acre High. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Nicole Helm’s COWBOY SEAL HOMECOMING

Cowboy_Seal_HomecomingNicole Helm’s Cowboy Seal Homecoming gave me exactly what I was looking for: Helm’s brand of emotional honesty, quirky animals, uber-masculine heroes whose mission is to set the world aright, heroines who call them on their bullshit and yet don’t shame them for their vulnerabilities, and a beautifully -rendered rural setting, in this case, rancher-country Montana. Honorably discharged wounded warrior hero Alex Maguire comes home to his deceased father’s ranch. He claims an inheritance he shares with heroine Becca Denton, who found, in Burt Maguire’s ranch, a home and father. Now, she’s invited her stranger stepbrother to share in a joint project, creating a therapeutic ranch for war veterans like Alex and the two buddies (sequel-bait!) he brings along on his and Becca’s venture, Jack Armstrong and Gabe Cortez. As far as the romance’s outer trappings are concerned, originality isn’t what makes them up. But then, what romance’s tropes, trappings, and narrative structure do that? The romance’s attraction lies in all the ways the story can be told of how two alone become one united and fulfilled.   Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Stephanie Doyle’s HER SECRET SERVICE AGENT

Her_Secret_Service_AgentIn an opening note to the reader, Stephanie Doyle describes how she’d written Her Secret Service Agent early in her career, unearthed, dusted off, rewrote and gave us the present volume in the Superromance category (which, sadly, will soon be defunct). In retrospect, having spent a few days reading Doyle’s Vivian and Joe, Doyle might as well have left Her Secret Service Agent moldering. This book is a right mess, a wrong mess, and every kind of mess in between. BUT, you’ll rightly ask, “Why did you keep reading?” Goodness knows I never hesitate to DNF, but Her Secret Service Agent reminded me of early Linda Howard, not category Linda Howard, but early romantic suspense Linda Howard and I used to love her. *pouts* Doyle’s Secret Service Agent is Howard with vertiginous character about-faces, a mystery resolution so obvious it sits down and has coffee with you, some dubious suggestions about violence and mental illness, and a hero and heroine who inspire citing Bea Arthur’s immortal words to her golden girl companions, “Which one of you has custody of the brain?”. Why’d I keep reading? The banter was amusing, in places, and the plot pacing kind of clipped along and, of course, the mirror it held up to my Linda-Howard nostalgia.
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MINI-REVIEW: Karen Kirst’s THE ENGAGEMENT CHARADE

Engagement_CharadeAfter reading Amber Belldene’s Not Another Rock Star, with its unique, true-to-life mix of messed-up faith characters and non, minister-heroine, earthy love scenes, the wonder of its ability to posit a faith-based romance with an atheist hero, a novel where sexuality, love, faith, romance, community, goodness and integrity don’t come within the strait-jacket of inspirational romance tropes … well, I really wanted to read an inspirational romance and consider my response to it. Karen Kirst’s The Engagement Charade fit the bill, especially because I’ve loved her books in the past and I’d be inclined to do so again. And, I did … mildly (it isn’t her best). However, it also solidified why the either-or, evangelical-Christianity-based romance narrative brings me out of reader-pleasure-zone to render me hyper-conscious of its flaws.

First, to set the scene: in late nineteenth-century fictional Gatlinburg Tennessee, our hero, Plum Café owner Alexander Copeland broods in his office, tormented by memories of a fire that killed his wife and son back home in Texas. Meanwhile, widowed, pregnant heroine Ellie Jameson cooks and runs his business. Continue reading

READING and REVIEW: Karen Templeton’s SWEPT AWAY

Swept_AwayWhen Miss Bates started reading romance again in 2007, she scoured various “best of” lists looking for titles to read. Karen Templeton’s Swept Away was one of those discoveries. It languished in the TBR for ten years before Miss Bates read it and she hasn’t a clue why, except so many books, so much day-job.

Swept Away opens with three-years widowed Sam Frazier, single dad and one of Haven (pop. 1000), Oklahoma’s family farmers. We’re introduced to his brood: teen daughter, Libby, and five younger brothers, baby Travis, Mike, Matt, Wade, and Frankie, all school-aged, as well as farm animals and sundry house-pets. Having put all the kids but Travis on the school bus, Sam is making his way to the hardware store when he rescues a maiden of stick-like proportions and her father from their ditch-succumbing vehicle. Lane Stewart introduces himself and Carly, his daughter, quipping, ” ‘My daughter, Carly. To whom a certain squirrel owes its life.’ ” The Stewarts, it turns out, are on a road trip, hoping to recover from lives that have been too sad for too long. Lane and Carly lost a beloved wife and mother, and Carly is nursing an injured knee that won’t see her resume her balletic career. With this “meet-cute,” Templeton tells the romance of how nice-guy farmer and prickly, wounded dancer fall in love and reach an HEA that promises family, love, laughter, and community. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Jennifer Hayward’s CHRISTMAS AT THE TYCOON’S COMMAND

Xmas_At_the_Tycoon's_CommandWhenever it’s hard to get “into” a book, given a difficult work week, Miss Bates turns to a category, romance especially an HP, and Jennifer Hayward always delivers. In this case, a Christmas rom in Christmas At the Tycoon’s Command, first in Hayward’s Powerful Di Fiore Tycoons series. The series centres on three bachelor brothers who receive their matrimonial comeuppance in the form of formidable heroines. This Di Fiore is CEO of Evolution, the heroine’s, Chloe Russo’s, legacy. Chloe’s parents, dead in a car crash six months ago, left the running of their perfume and personal care company in Nico Di Fiore’s hands. Nico sees his mission as placeholder to ensure that Chloe takes her rightful place in her family’s company. It’s the least he can do for her father, Martino, who acted as his mentor and ensured his family’s future, after Nico’s father collapsed the family fortune and mother abandoned the three boys. As the eldest, Nico’s shoulders bore the family responsibility and now, true to form, he bears Evolution’s responsibility and Chloe’s success. Chloe, on the other hand, has been hiding in the company’s Parisian lab, developing new perfumes, hiding and definitely avoiding the lethally handsome Nico.
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MINI-REVIEW: Emma Barry and Genevieve Turner’s A MIDNIGHT FEAST

EarthBoundRetroRocket2If there’s one underused trope Miss Bates loves, it’s marriage-in-trouble, which is why she pounced on Barry and Turner’s novella-ish, category-length A Midnight Feast. It centres on the leader and doyenne of the space-race, 1960s-set American astronaut world that makes up Barry and Turner’s Fly Me To the Moon series, Colonel Mitch Dunsford and his wife of twenty-years-and-six-kids, Margie.

Barry-Turner have produced an adept narrative: alternating, especially in the first half, between Mitch and Margie’s present estrangement, set in 1965 Houston, and their courtship, young marriage, and flat middle years of care and children on her part and demanding, exhilarating career-making on his. Barry-Turner adroitly portray a marriage void of friendship, connection, and mutual desire, interspersed with chapters that chronologically fill in the intervening years, starting with a heady, whirlwind courtship set in 1945. In that sense, Barry-Turner tell a whole lot of story with a circumspect page-count; yet, their carefully-crafted snapshots of love, lust, affection to benign neglect and cutting indifference still allow the reader to get to know and possibly like their hero and heroine. The narrative is also beautifully bound together with a holiday sequence: starting with a make-it-or-break-it Thanksgiving for Mitch and Margie’s troubled marriage to a lovely Valentine-Day’s-1966-set epilogue.    Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Donna Alward’s SOMEONE TO LOVE

Someone_To_LoveMiss Bates will always love Donna Alward’s categories, but her move to longer contemporaries offers readers uneven results: some books, reviewed here, have been great; others, so-so. But Alward’s depth and sensitivity will also see Miss Bates’s return to her books time and again. She did so with Alward’s second Darling, Vermont, contemporary romance, Someone To Love.

Willow Dunaway, owner of The Purple Pig Café, is Darling-born and raised. An unhappy childhood and adolescent trauma saw her leave Darling for years. Now she’s back with a new-found contentment in her business, yoga practice, and embracing of serenity. Willow has fought a long, hard battle to come back from some devastating experiences and the semi-colon tattoo on her forearm proves it to herself daily. She has found many things in her re-found hometown that she sought: friendship, community, and purpose. She does not, however, date … until she meets widowed single-dad and firefighter, Ethan Gallagher. In some delightful initial exchanges, Willow’s flower-child, vegetarian ways clash with Ethan’s carnivorous alpha-tendencies.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Ruby Lang’s CLEAN BREAKS

Clean_BreaksRarely does a romance novel see Miss Bates guffaw, snort-laugh, and then read the final page with gulping sobs, but Ruby Lang’s Clean Breaks did!

Miss Bates hates it when romance reviewers dub romance novels “fresh”, as if every other romance written to this point were stale. But Lang’s Clean Breaks felt, to MissB. at least, that Lang’s voice, characterization, conflict, were, ugh, she hates to say it, a “fresh” take on the genre. Clean Breaks made MissB. stand up and take notice instead of sink into the comforting, stock romance arc. What was “fresh”? On a micro-scale, Lang’s ironic quip of a title – that “clean breaks” aren’t possible. As her heroine realizes, love doesn’t call when one is ready, cleansed of messy conflict and perfected in career, life-style, and balanced inner workings. Nope, it asks admittance and its call must be answered, even when life is uncertain and messy. On a macro-scale, Lang made MissB laugh and cry, and discover a “fresh” new romance voice. Not bad for a few hours reading on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon.  
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