When 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
Whenever 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.
If 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
Miss 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
Rarely 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.
Miss Bates made the mistake of assuming that Kate Hewitt was an HP author who ran to trope. What a comeuppance for MissB! About the only thing HP-typical of Hewitt’s romance is the ho-hum title (the cover, OTOH, is lovely, with cool blues and greens). Miss Bates hadn’t read far before it dawned that Hewitt was rocking classic gothic conventions. In A Di Sione For the Greek’s Pleasure, Hewitt nods to Brontë’s Jane Eyre and Du Maurier’s Rebecca, though it’s fair to say the housekeeper is more benign, indifferent matchmaker than nut-bar obsessive. Hermetic, agoraphobic heroine, Natalia Di Sione, braves the world beyond her grandfather’s sequestered Long Island estate (where she’s lived and created art for eight years) to travel to Greece in pursuit of locating a book her dying grandfather is obsessed with possessing again. Still hurting from her parents’ loss and a traumatic teen experience, Natalia wouldn’t easily leave her safe environment. Her grandfather’s precious book, however, resides with one tormented, widowed Greek billionaire, Angelos Menas. Fighting panic attacks during the plane trip, looking “pale but resolute,” Talia walks in on Angelos as he attempts to hire the umpteenth nanny for Sofia, his scarred eight-year-old daughter. When Sofia takes to Talia, Angelos hires her. Talia, in turn, accepts his grudging offer in hopes she’ll be closer to finding her grand-father’s book.
Maisey Yates continues her Copper Ridge, Oregon saga in yet another of Miss Bates’s belated Christmas romance reads, Hold Me, Cowboy. It was the perfect antidote to the bad after-taste of Sandas’s Untouchable Earl. Miss Bates was captured and gave a rueful chuckle when she read in Yates’s first chapter: ” ‘I just need to … I need to rip the Band-Aid off.’ ‘The Band-Aid?’ ‘The sex Band-Aid.’ He nodded, pretending that he understood. ‘Okay.’ ‘I want this,’ she said, her tone confident. ‘Are you … suggesting … that I give you … sexual healing?’ ” You see, dear reader, Miss Bates suffered from nearly 300 pages of “sexual healing” in her previous rom-read/review and it brought out the snark big-time, but Yates understands the fundamental untruthfulness of the healing in “sexual healing.” It takes all manner of touch to heal. What distinguishes romance from erotica is that the central couple may start with sexual touch, but to make a romance and reach the HEA, there must be other kinds of touch, motivated by emotions that aren’t lust, emerging from the impetus to comfort, care for, and succour. To give Sandas some credit, Miss Bates thinks she understood that, but failed in execution. Yates, on the other hand, did the clever and adroit romance writer thing: there’s lust and it’s pleasurable for her protagonists, but it’s a stopgap to other kinds of touch and talk that will connect, bind, and drive them to an HEA of commitment, fidelity, and love.
Miss Bates is always suspect that Maisey Yates can be as prolific as she is and still retain her novels’ high standards. Yates pulls it off with an ensured hand for the most part. Though Miss Bates prefers Yates’s more realistic contemporary romance, she also can’t resist an HP by an author she consistently enjoys. And so … Yates’s Spaniard’s Pregnant Bride, wherein Yates really rocks a lovely reversal of the princess in the tower narrative, with a towered and towering prince, oops duke … the prince is the heroine’s rejected fiancé. Allegra Valenti, at 22, is set to marry Prince Raphael DeSantis of Santa Firenze thanks to the match-making efforts of her brother’s best friend, Cristian Acosta. Cristian, despite his name, is an arrogant donkey-butt of a hero, purporting to know what’s best for the heroine, even choosing her husband. But, like any good HP, the hero’s high-and-mighty will be hoisted on his own petard. Allegra is smart and possesses what Miss Bates most admires in a heroine, integrity and spunk.
About three years ago, Miss Bates loved Maisey Yates’s HP, Pretender To the Throne. Her recent Yates read, Last Chance Rebel, has much in common, though the mythical-kingdom setting is nothing like the small-town-feel of Copper Ridge, Oregon. Nevertheless, both novels are about contending and making peace with the past, recognizing internal patterns hindering connection and love, and how forgiveness of self and others heals us, the other, and the community.
Last Chance Rebel is Yates’s eleventh Copper Ridge, Oregon series romance and more are out, or planned. Yates has created one of the great contemporary rom series around this community. Her view of it is neither rose-coloured nor condemnatory. Instead, she focusses on interweaving various members’ lives as they come face to face with the incontrovertible fact of love, a feeling so strong, so vibrant, and so frightening that Copper Ridge’s men and woman alternately run to and from it. Like Pretender To the Throne, Last Chance Rebel has a physically scarred heroine, scars caused by the hero’s carelessness. Like Pretender To the Throne, family circumstances bring the hero home to confront his past and role in the heroine’s life. Like Pretender To the Throne, the heroine’s rage against the hero is explosive and the hero’s guilt and atonement, spectacular. Continue reading
“The choppers appeared just after the sun.”
Human beings make sense of experience’s ephemerality by embodying it in art. Maya Lin’s controversial Vietnam Veterans War Memorial was/is integral to healing war’s wounds. It offers solace and remembrance as vets and families, foreigners and natives, bring offerings of flowers, pictures, etc., touch, wonder, and heal as they meditate on the war’s wastes and ravages (war is a universal experience, is it not?). Yusef Komunyakaa’s Vietnam-War-Memorial-set poem, “Facing It” also embodies the war, recounting a vet’s turbulent, ambivalent emotions as he touches and is reflected in the wall, naming loss, anger, and the ever-present American tragedy of race. (Don’t read this humble post, but read and listen to the poem as linked. It’s powerful.) The humble romance genre offers its embodiment in Kathleen Korbel’s A Soldier’s Heart (1994). The novel’s opening line is the prologue’s introduction to nurse Claire Henderson, who held dying Marine Tony Riordan and willed him to live. Twenty-three years later, Tony’s final act of putting his war wounds to rest, psychic where physical are long-healed, is to seek, find, and thank Claire. What he finds in her haunted eyes is the confusion, guilt, and self-destructive impulses of his own struggle with PTSD. Continue reading