Though I read less and less inspirational romance these days, I chose to read Henrie’s A Cowboy Of Convenience because Harlequin is shutting down its Love Inspired Historical line and I was feeling nostalgic. Like Superromance, I’ve found some authors I’ve loved in it: Lacy Williams, Sherri Shackelford, Karen Kirst, and Alie Pleiter. I hope they’ve found writing pastures and are busy and happy sowing their talents.
Henrie’s Cowboy Of Convenience contains much of what we’ve come to expect of the subgenre and, most importantly, what I appreciate of it: a certain humility in its world-building and characterization. Nothing in Henrie’s romance rocked my romance-reading world, but I appreciated what it had to say nonetheless. Its story is typical: a cowboy, Westin McCall, who yearns to start his own dude ranch asks the ranch (where they both work) cook, widowed single-mother Vienna Howe, to pool their resources, marry as a “business arrangement” and start their own enterprise. Vienna, with her daughter Hattie, recently inherited her abusive, deceased husband’s near-by ranch, in Wyoming. Until West’s proposal, Vienna was uncertain as to what she would do with her windfall. The idea of creating a country home and business that her daughter could inherit was too good to pass up and Vienna agrees to marry, in name only, with West.
After 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
MissB’s been very busy at the day-job and preparing for Pascha to get a lot of reading done. Though it’s seasonally months-late and incongruous given the Paschal season, she thought she’d try one of her not-yet-reviewed Christmas romances. Maybe get that warm glow of hope going. And … novellas, short reads are good when your time is at a premium. Yet it still took her ages to get through them, despite being possessed of some of Miss B’s favourite tropes. St. John’s “Mistletoe Reunion” has a proto-feminist, no-nonsense alternative medicine doctor-heroine, Dr. Marlys Boyd, and the man she left to be educated and practice her profession, newspaperman and widowed father, Sam Mason. Theirs is a reunited-fiancé(e)s romance with doubt and hurt on the hero’s part and a reassessment of her life-choices on the heroine’s. Shackelford’s “Mistletoe Bride” is a marriage-of-convenience romance, Miss B’s favourite histrom trope. Newly-arrived Austrian immigrant mail-order bride, Beatrix Haas, arrives in Cowboy Creek, Kansas, only to be told that the man she was to marry, Sheriff Quincy Davis, was killed by a local gang. When farrier-hero Colton Werner meets her, it’s because he’s been summoned by the mid-wife to help translate from Beatrix’s German as she labors to give birth. Beatrix travelled to Kansas to give her baby a name and Quincy Davis, it seems, was willing to do so. Now, the realization that she’s near-death and her baby to be born thus and left without a care-giver is devastating. Until Colton offers to marry her, even knowing she might die and he left with an infant’s care. Continue reading
As 2016 draws to an end, Miss Bates offers new-year wishes to her readers: may 2017 bring good cheer, good friends, hearty constitutions, and every book be a keeper! Every year is marked by a particular reading mood and this year was harried for Miss Bates. A new job and responsibilities made reading and reviewing more infrequent than she would’ve liked. Maybe because of this, however, Miss Bates was reminded, as she winds down her reviewing year with a final “best of” post, what a soul-sustainer a life-long love of reading is. No matter how busy the week, how laden with tasks the week-end, even a half hour in another place or time, with characters working their way to an HEA, buoyed her spirits and gave her renewed strength for entering “once more unto the breach”. Romance itself had a lacklustre year. As you’ll note from her “best of” choices below, there are as many older roms as recently published ones. Romancelandia lost its unified magic and its controversies paled in light of world events. Review blogging felt quaint, which might be in keeping with Miss Bates’s own persona, but the loss of waning, or shut-down blogs saddens her. And yet, the genre’s message remains true and good: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and the promise of plenitude, of body and spirit, is a candle in the darkening room that seems to be our world. Reading, thinking about reading, and engaging in dialogue about what we read with others, which is what MBRR always wants to be about, still feels right to Miss B. Continue reading
A Family For the Holidays is the third Sherri Shackelford romance Miss Bates has read and she can say with confidence that Shackelford gets better and better. Miss Bates liked the first one, with misgivings; loved the second; and the third is a charm for auto-buy territory. One of the reasons Shackelford’s romances are getting better is because they’re funnier, without losing the pathos and sentiment romance readers enjoy. A Family For the Holidays reminded Miss Bates of her favourite HPs, Lynne Graham’s The Greek’s Chosen Wife and Sarah Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules. You’ll rightly think, dear reader, what a strange pairing: the contemporary HP with the historical inspie. And yet … like the HPs, Shackelford’s romance has an orphaned, irrepressible, blithely-plunging-into-danger, child-loving heroine and broody, alpha-male hero who turns to putty in the heroine’s small, vulnerable hands, a heroine who grows in bravery and élan and hero who learns how to tap into the pleasures of the heart. Like Graham’s and Morgan’s HPs, Shackelford’s romance is a hoot! The characters aren’t drippy the way inspie characters can be, the plot moppets neither pathetic nor corny. They and Lily beset the hero’s space and heart with their energy and humour until they dissolve his good-bad-and-ugly, cheroot-chewing persona. Continue reading
Terri Reed’s Identity Unknown was an unknown entity for Miss Bates: a new-to-her author and series and tropes that are a hard sell. The combination of inspie and suspense is squirm-inducing: Miss Bates reads with a gimlet eye, waiting to reader-pounce on any glorification of gun- or uniform-adoration. Reed’s romance novel, however, was surprisingly humble. Its humility emanated from her hero and heroine, Canadian Border Services agent Nathaniel Longhorn and Calico Bay, Maine, Deputy Sheriff Audrey Martin. The novel’s opening was its strongest part. Sniper Longhorn is ambushed by the gun- and drug-running Russian gang he and his American counterparts are trying to arrest. Hours or mere days later, he washes up on Deputy Martin’s Maine coast. Audrey’s “John Doe” is groggy from a head wound and doesn’t remember who he is, or why he washed up on this Maine beach. Audrey too wonders if he’s one of the bad guys, or one of the good. While Audrey doesn’t dispute the possibility her “unknown” may be a criminal, she trusts the instincts that tell her this helpless man is ethical. Her impression is confirmed by his request for her prayers. Continue reading
Karen Kirst’s The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins is the ninth romance in her “Smoky Mountain Matches” series and even though after nine volumes Miss Bates would’ve thought the series would feel tired, it’s fresh and lovely. While The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins doesn’t reach Reclaiming His Past‘s greatness, there is much to recommend it. Firstly, a character we’ve followed in many of the previous novels, Sheriff Shane Timmons, protector of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and its environs, finally gets his story and a heroine worthy of his dour, but committed and decent soul. Shane’s heroine is visiting childhood friend, Allison Ashworth, the now-woman whose father once took in the friendless, homeless, orphaned Shane. Allie and Shane are now in their thirties, but thanks to Shane’s continued correspondence with Allie’s brother George, Shane’s bond to his foster family remains strong. When Allie and George’s father, David, brought the 14-year-old angry Shane to their household, 12-year-old Allie immediately latched onto him, regaling him with love, affection, and gentle good-hearted teasing. She wanted to be his friend, to make him a part of every family holiday and tradition, but Shane held back – especially from her. At George’s insistence, he and his family and Allie travel to Gatlinburg, from their home in Norfolk, Virginia, to spend the holidays with Shane. Continue reading
Truth be told, Miss Bates always starts a new-to-her inspy author with trepidation, afraid of the niggling criticisms directed at the sub-genre. Evangelical Christianity is a foreign land to Miss B’s smells-and-bells faith, heavy on the ritual, light on the scripture. And Becky Wade’s Her One and Only ran true to type: the characters are evangelical Christians, alcohol-consumption is demonized, and characters pray, are transformed, surrender to God, but don’t participate in ritual. And yet, Wade’s fourth Texas-set Porter Family series novel also runs atypically. Miss Bates was surprised by and pleased with it. For one, heroine Dru Porter is a bodyguard, set the task of protecting football player Grayson Fowler from a stalker. Dru packs heat, chops hulky men with karate expertise, drives a motorcycle, and brings grit and discipline from her days as a marine. She’s direct, funny, feminist, and faithful. Her large Porter family of older brothers, loving parents, nieces and nephews aren’t cutesy-sweet. They’re funny, fun, faithful yes, but possess a casual irreverence that puts them above your holier-than-thou inspy clan. And hallelujah to that … Continue reading
In 1885 Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Jessica O’Malley discovers “a bruised and battered man,” “his celestial blue eyes” anguished and confused. She half-carries him to the cabin she shares with her mother, Alice. Jessica and Alice care for his wounds, but there is no healing for his mind. What- or whom-ever brought him to this state rendered such a blow to his head that man they call Grant Parker (from a dedicated Bible they found in his pack) cannot remember who he is, where he came from, what he did, or why he was left for dead on their homestead. Karen Kirst’s Reclaiming His Past contains elements that are some of Miss Bates’s favourites: a temperamental heroine, mysterious hero, an idyllic setting, and AMNESIA narrative! Kirst made wonderful use of the trope, so dear to soap-lovers everywhere, to say something about coming to terms with oneself and one’s past. She created a clever contrasting counterpoint between hero and heroine: Grant can’t reclaim his past because it’s a blank; Jessica, in turn, is haunted by hers. Grant and Jessica work together to find answers and lay ghosts to rest to forge a new, beautiful, and hopeful future. Grant struggles to figure out his identity and purpose, while Jessica struggles to put away her cynicism and suspicion. What they share, even when their exchanges are antagonistic, or problematic, is a prayerful stance towards God: whatever their trials, they call on Him for help and understanding.
Candace Calvert’s contemporary inspirational medical romance Step By Step is second in her Crisis Team series. It is Miss Bates’s first Calvert romance novel and won’t be her last. Whatever liking Miss Bates holds for this title, she acknowledges that the problem with inspirational fiction is its appeal to a niche market. This is problematic when Miss Bates finds an author who merits a wider audience. The dilemma remains, however, because inspie romance, even when it’s as well-written and psychologically nuanced as Calvert’s, contains elements that alienate the general reader.
Calvert’s Step By Step is a second-chance-at-love romance for two widowed protagonists. The wounds are deeper and grieving still fresh for nurse Taylor Cabot: ” … the rings had finally come off, after migrating from her left to her right hand in a painfully slow march through grief – like a turtle navigating broken glass.” Step By Step opens with Taylor and her cousin Aimee watching the San Diego Kidz Kite Festival. A private plane crashes, wreaking havoc and death on festival goers. This disaster scene is one of the “crises” that ER health care workers contend with and are heart-stoppingly described in Calvert’s novel. Taylor rushes to help, abandoning her conversation with Aimee about returning to life and love after grieving her beloved Greg for three years. The transfer of patients to San Diego Hope’s ER reunites Taylor with Seth Donovan, crisis chaplain with California Crisis Care and the man who offered Taylor friendship and compassion when she lost her husband.