REVIEW: Linda Goodnight’s THE LAWMAN’S HONOUR

The Lawman's HonourMiss Bates reads less and less inspirational romance, especially in light of what she learned from Ros’s astute observations, as well as insightful posts from Emma Barry and Gen Turner focussing on the “conversion narrative” thread.  Nevertheless, sometimes one yearns for the sheer fantastical wholesomeness of the inspie.  That being said, Miss Bates would argue that inspirational romance is as fantastical, as unrealistic in its “world-building” as sub-genres such as SFF, UF, PNR (wherein we find critique of the ways of our world, a common feature of utopian and dystopian fiction since Swift penned Gulliver’s Travels; if one can categorize inspirational romance fiction thus, then it is of the “utopian” variety, with problematic inclusions and ethos).  The world of most inspirational fiction is populated by uniformity and bolstered by reductive theology.  That is as true of Goodnight’s The Lawman’s Honour as it is of any category inspie that Miss Bates has read.  Part of what prodded Miss Bates into reading The Lawman’s Honor was Goodnight’s name on the cover.  The Christmas ChildShe enjoyed The Christmas Child: there was great tension between hero and heroine and an interesting storyline.  Goodnight is a competent writer, smooth, assured, and adept at adding a dollop of humor.  Miss Bates forgives a lot for a well-turned phrase.  Goodnight’s The Lawman’s Honour started out well, so atmospheric and compelling, but lagged, lost tension, and fell flat by the end.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Susanna Kearsley’s THE SPLENDOUR FALLS … “On Castle Walls”

The Splendour FallsElgar’s Salut d’Amour for violin and piano is one of the composer’s early efforts, charming, moving, though minor in light of the entire oeuvre.  It informs the raison d’être of Kearsley’s Splendour Falls, this greeting of love, this welcoming.  Kearsley’s novel is also an early work, a reissue of a 1995 effort.  Its rawness is evident, the writer not yet in full control of her material, characters, or themes.  These elements are excessive: too many characters, too much detail, a bogging down of the narrative, and various threads  abandoned.  Nevertheless, Miss Bates enjoyed it.  She recognized in it the promise of what Kearsley does in The Winter Sea, or recent Firebird.  (Miss Bates hasn’t read these titles, but she’s read rave reviews.)  There is much to like in The Splendour Falls and like it Miss Bates did.  She can’t embrace it wholeheartedly, but it is thoughtful, serious, and contains wonderfully lyrical descriptive language.  It’s a quiet book; what it lacks in action, it makes up for in thought.  It’s not riveting, but it is well-written and the narrator’s voice is introspective, engaging and sympathetic. Continue reading

REVIEW: Grace Livingston Hill’s THE SUBSTITUTE GUEST, Or “Pilgrim and Stranger Man”

TheSubstituteGuestTo appreciate Livingston Hill’s 1936 The Substitute Guest, one must read it as an artefact. Thus did Miss Bates and was equally fascinated and horrified; the experience was akin to looking at a train wreck, wanting to look away yet unable to. To the general romance reader, this author will have little appeal. To the historian and critic of the romance genre, she is of consequence. To the reader of inspirational romance, she may prove engrossing, if your tastes run to heavy-handed religious content, religious conversions that rival a non-inspirational’s heightened love-scene diction, and characters reminiscent of 1930s Hollywood melodrama. To the women’s studies scholar, this will provide a spellbinding picture of the idealized fantasies of the thousands of women who read Hill. For Miss Bates, reading her was like reading an evangelical Betty Neels, though Neels is, by far, the better writer. (Miss Bates would add that both have a penchant for writing good food descriptions … and in 1936, at the height of the Depression, this too may have been a fantasy for some readers.) Hill’s narrative (and she wrote over a hundred) is the epitome of all things being well that end well. This is not truer anywhere, Hill asserts, than in her vision of the Christian narrative as reflecting her time, place, and concerns. Continue reading for Miss Bates’s commentary on this iconic writer of inspirational romance

CONNECTIONS/REVIEWISH: Juliana Gray’s A LADY NEVER LIES, Unless She’s Trapped in Shakespearean Farce

A Lady Never LiesMiss Bates read …  was it in The Invention of the Human? …  Harold Bloom’s claim that there aren’t any happy marriages in Shakespeare. There aren’t any in romance either, but there is the assumption that the couple will be happy. The reader is left feeling that the HEA is a guarantee. It may not be conventional; it may not be traditional, but it will be blithe! Not so with The Bard. In Shakespeare, we sense that some couples, think Bianca and Lucentio, have misunderstand each other thoroughly and will be unhappy; some, like the Macbeths, are unhappy; and some, like Kate and Petruchio, will fall into the give-and-take/renege/renegotiate that every established couple reaches if they want to keep their sanity and commitment (even Bloom thinks these two might work out just fine). Gray’s A Lady Never Lies, based on The Bard’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, runs into that very problem. How could it not when it doesn’t consider the inherent irony in choosing to base a romance novel on a play called Love’s Labour’s Lost? How does a romance writer make the romance per se romantic when her narrative’s basis is The Bard’s ironic, farcical, comedic mode? Well, she certainly writes a hilarious narrative; as for the irony, she has to relinquish it about half-way through. What that does to the romance narrative (at least in this reader’s opinion) is make for an ambivalent, wonky first third. As the narrative moves away from irony and closer to the troth of love and sacrifice and care that is the mark of the genre, it gains in convincing us of the existence of love and sacrifice and care. Though, to credit Gray, it remains as droll and entertaining as its inception. Read on, if you care to, for more convoluted reasoning involving Shakespeare

REVIEW: Lily Everett’s SANCTUARY ISLAND, Or Finding Shangri-La

Sanctuary IslandEverett’s Sanctuary Island echoes some of the best that contemporary romance offers without being overly derivative: a touch of Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s generational complications, a nuance of Kristen Higgins’s humour, a nod to Nora Roberts’s mystical Chesapeake Bay, and a hail to Shalvis’s loveable secondary characters. Everett stands equal to any of these authors’ series. And, she carries earnestness and genuine love for the genre. Miss Bates has minor quibbles, but overall, she urges you not to overlook Everett’s storyIt is an accomplished, promising romance novel. Among the many sweet contemporary romances buffeting readers, it’s one of the best Miss Bates has read this year. It deserves an audience and Miss Bates hopes readers flock to it. The writing stands a notch above most; the characters are believable, likeable, and flawed, inhibiting the typical small-town romance’s saccharine quality. The setting is beautifully portrayed and carries a lovely suggestion of mystique.
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