I’ll repeat what I tweeted a few days ago … “Virginia Heath, where have you been all my life?” There’s nothing more satisfying to a reader than to find a great new author. I’ve loved the length and ethos of Harlequin Historicals, but haven’t found a glom-worthy, auto-buy author among them. I am cautiously, optimistically saying Heath may be “it”. The final book in her King’s Elite series, The Determined Lord Hadleigh, had me in thrall the past few days with engaging characters, a slow-moving, slow-burning romance, and an ease and smoothness to the writing that we rarely see in romance, sadly. (I didn’t even mind that I came to the series at the end, even though I was sorry to have missed the previous books.) I was captivated from the opening scene: dramatic and “tell me more” compelling as it was.
Nicole Helm’s True-Blue Cowboy Christmas is the third and final volume of her Montana-set Big Sky Cowboys series. Miss Bates enjoyed the series’s combination of humour, angst, strained family dynamics, and theme of love’s healing, reconciling power. And when it comes wrapped in a Christmas-set romance narrative, all the better! One of the thematic aspects Miss B. enjoyed the most about Helm’s series is her creation of characters at a crossroads. Helm’s MCs come from difficult places, with pasts that hurt and thwart. When we meet them, they’re caught between a crippling past and the glimmer of breaking free of it, with the help of the transformative experience of love. Breaking out of old psychological habits and personal-history constraints is painful, like giving birth, but the potential rewards are great: the promise of living a better, different way is too potent and our protagonists too honest, desirous of it, and good, to forego the opportunity. Continue reading
One of Miss Bates’s favourite romance tropes is the villain’s redemption, the character who serves as the foil and nasty in previous books FINALLY! gets his story, or enters a rom nasty as death and emerges a poignant hero. Miss Bates counts some of her favourite romances among these tropishly-delicious rom-narratives, especially Kleypas’s The Devil In Winter and, oh my goodness such goodness, Georgette Heyer’s first two Alastair trilogy books, These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub. Elizabeth Hoyt’s tenth Maiden Lane novel, Duke Of Sin, has a villain-hero who combines the qualities of Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent; Justin Alastair, Duke of Avon; and, his son, the Marquis of Vidal. Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery is “the most wicked man in London … as deadly as a coiled adder.” He’s beautiful, decadent, a blackmailer and murderer and, though exiled, he’s back and ready to restore his rightful place in society by all unsavory means. But into his blackened heart and hollow soul crawls a little avenging angel of a housekeeper, Bridget Crumb.
Lily Maxton’s The Improper Bride is the fifth Regency romance in the Sisters of Scandal series. The scandal informing it is one of Miss Bates’s least favourite tropes, the cross-class historical romance. Least favourite because, at least in Regency or Victorian Britain where most of these romances are set, was as unlikely as it was scandalous. And yet, the fairy-tale-like mood of Maxton’s version makes it more palatable.
The Improper Bride possesses Eyre-like tendencies, as any cross-class romance owes its raison d’être to the near-bigamous fraught relationship between a dissipated aristocrat and mousy governess. Like Brontë’s Eyre, the hero’s near-death by fire changes him. Henry Eldridge, Marquess of Riverton suffers burns to his face and arm when one wing of his Buckinghamshire estate, Blakewood Hall, is set aflame. In his pain and delirium, Henry feels the soothing touch of an angel. Cassandra Davis, Henry’s housekeeper, seeing to his comfort, is seized by a compulsion to touch him; she’s always wanted to touch the “coldly perfect marquess”. When Henry recovers sufficiently to grow restless and jeopardize the use of his arm, Mr. Faulkner, his doctor, advises Mrs. Davies to keep him occupied. A poor but cultivated daughter of a country teacher who loves to learn, Cassandra asks Lord Riverton to spend some time each day teaching her German. Continue reading
“No, no, Papa. I won’t. You cannot make me.”
Anne Gracie’s 1999 Gallant Waif opens with Julia Davenport’s rejection of hero Jack Carstairs as she pleads with her father to release her from their engagement. Jack returned from the Peninsular War scarred and disabled. Julia could live with his disfigurement and inability to trip the light fantastic, but his poverty is unforgivable. And so, disowned by his father, barred from war’s arena, and spurned by his fiancée, months later Jack still broods and drinks in his neglected estate like a big, handsome male version of Miss Havisham. Until Lady Cahill, his irascible, adorably officious grandmother, befriends Kate Farleigh, her deceased god-daughter’s daughter, and deposits her in his household, ostensibly as his housekeeper. Jack and Kate were wounded by the war. She followed the drum to care for her pastor-father and soldier-brothers until they died and, to her shame, was then captured and became a French officer’s mistress. Jack and Kate share a deep shame for their war experiences and cannot separate what happened to them from what they perceive their failures and shortcomings. Continue reading
Miss Bates isn’t keen on closed bedroom-door romances, kisses-only yes, but not closed door. Why you say? The genre’s beauty lies in the reader’s access to every aspect of a couple’s relationship. The closed-bedroom door turns one important relationship-facet away from the reader; whereas, kisses-only doesn’t. But there are category writers who like their bedroom doors closed and Miss Bates concedes to them because they deliver in other ways. Jessica Hart is one; Liz Fielding, another; maybe Jackie Braun; some early Soraya Lane; and Barbara Wallace, after she proved wondrous in one of Miss Bates’ favourite category romances, The Heart Of A Hero. As a result, she was most eager to read Wallace’s latest, A Millionaire For Cinderella. Set on Boston’s moneyed Beacon Hill, it’s the story of housekeeper Patience Rush and wealthy attorney Stuart Duchenko. Patience takes care of Stuart’s beloved Great-Aunt Ana and they both cater to cat Nigel. Stuart’s arrival to find Patience ensconced at the Beacon Hill brownstone and even “writing checks,” brings out the lawyering suspicion in him, despite the attraction he feels for her Venus-bod. As the vulnerable and pretty Patience notes when she first sees him in the ER where she awaits news after Ana’s fall, Stuart Duchenko is “predatory,” with a “killer instinct.” His suspicions prove correct when revelations about Patience’s past put her in an entirely different light from fresh-faced and competent care-giver, painful, hurtful revelations that should urge Stuart to stay far, far away – instead he grows to like and admire Patience. Continue reading
Until Miss Bates read Jeannie Lin’s Jade Temptress, she’d despaired of recent historical romances. Her faith was restored by Lin’s 9th-century-China tale of mystery and romance, that of the smooth, skillful writing and historical authenticity. Okay, Miss Bates thought, maybe it’s the European historical one should give up … and then she read Duran’s Fool Me Twice and, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth says, “mine eyes are made the fools of the other senses.” Miss Bates was all eyes the two days it took her to read Duran’s novel: eyes glued to e-reader through workplace lunch hours, sneaked-in quarter hours, and staying up too late only to appear bleary-eyed at the breakfast table until she was delivered of a thoroughly satisfying end by late afternoon. Duran has been a favourite since Miss Bates was enthralled by The Duke of Shadows to the more recent, and one of Miss Bates’ favourite romance novels, A Lady’s Lesson In Scandal. Everything that appealed in those, Miss Bates found in gentler mode in Fool Me Twice: a sensitivity to the class issues of the day, a complex heroine, a flawed and compelling hero, wondrously good writing, a central couple who talk more than they couple and embody a meeting of equals akin to Jane and Rochester, who ” … stood at God’s feet, equal … ” Continue reading