REVIEW: Sherri Shackelford’s THE ENGAGEMENT BARGAIN, or How to Ruin A Perfectly Good Romance

Engagement_BargainMiss Bates’ determination to read inspirational romance is quixotic. (It hasn’t been in vain: there’re last Christmas’s Lacy Williams and Karen Kirst discoveries). Most of her inspirational reads have been duds at worse; “okay” at best. And yet, there goes Miss B., tilting at reader windmills. That the combination of faith in love and God may be conjoined in a romance narrative persists in Miss B’s “this can work” universe. Her latest inspie read, Sherri Shackelford’s The Engagement Bargain, proved to Miss B., once again, the marriage of faith and romantic love, as defined by the inspirational subgenre, is elusive. There was much to like in Shackelford’s effort and much not to. To start, Miss Bates liked the premise, the build-up. Small-town veterinarian Caleb McCoy escorts his sister, JoBeth, to a suffragist rally in late 19th-century Kansas City. Caleb is mesmerized by the speaker, determined, committed, and beautiful Anna Bishop. Anna’s impassioned speech is barely underway when she is shot. Caleb carries her to the nearby Savoy Hotel to succor and heal her. Caleb and Jo continue to care for weakened Anna; Caleb has fierce and uncomfortable urges to protect her. Anna, used to her independence, is discomfited by her reliance on Caleb, but can’t deny how safe and cared for he helps her feel. An unsavory Pinkerton detective shows up; another attempt is made on Anna’s life. The usually reticent Caleb, drawn more and more to Anna’s intelligence, blue eyes, and bearing up under fear and danger, offers to take her to his home town, Cimarron Springs, under the guise of being his fiancée. She will be cared for by his family and her safety assured. Continue reading

Exorcising DNFs: #3

Well, dear readers, here we are again: with Miss Bates’ accumulated DNFs. Her tolerance is low as she chases the sigh-worthy romance read. Sometimes, as evident in this latest DNF post, she ventures outre-genre; it’s much much harder to please her when her preferred narrative arc is missing. The rest, romances that didn’t work for her. She’s also tapped into a few “it-was-okay” reads lately: she’s a tad disheartened, but will persist. The next winner is around the corner … Continue reading

REVIEW: Katherine Reay’s LIZZY AND JANE, Of Sustenance and Austen

Lizzy_JaneWith a book about food, love, and family, Miss Bates launches her review by eating humble pie. “Never say never” should be Miss B’s mantra regarding romance reading. Katherine Reay’s Lizzy and Jane is mild romance; it’s … GASP … women’s fiction, a fictive genre Miss Bates purports to abhor. Indeed, there’s been scorn-heaping. It’s the type of fiction she’s most likely to DNF. She finds it precious and precious becomes boring and boring becomes the worst kind of sentimental. Reay’s novel skirts close to DNF territory: estranged sisters (sibling relationships have never interested Miss B.), acrimony remaining from their mother’s illness, CANCER, one of the two sisters ill with CANCER herself, confronting the past, each other, and salvaging, or sundering, relationships. It focuses on younger sister, Elizabeth, “Lizzy,” Hughes, 33, moving back to the Pacific Northwest (from New York City where her chef’s career was floundering) to come to terms with people she left behind: retired firefighter dad and especially older sister, Jane. Her journey tries to answer: what is home? What do we owe the people closest to us, particularly those with whom we share strained relations? What is family? From where do we derive meaning and purpose? How do we find God amidst acrimony and failure?

It is the start of the Lenten season for Miss Bates, a season of re-evaluation and reflection, and Reay’s novel was a perfect fit. While suffering from the failure of inspirational fiction to make a tangible, ritualistic participation in church life as essential to defining ourselves as Christians, Reay’s novel nevertheless took a eucharistic perspective through Lizzy’s creative food acts. And her spirit guide, and that of others as well, like her sister, Jane, was Jane Austen. Like food, which serves as healer and binder, literature stands in as such as well. Continue reading

Miss Bates’ Favourite 2014 Reads and Your Potential 2015 (Re?)Reading List …

It’s been a wonderful year at Miss Bates Reads Romance, thanks to everyone who dropped by to read, comment, and make Miss Bates’ life that much brighter and happier by her presence. She takes this opportunity to wish you a hearty new year, full of joy, laughter, love, inspiration, conviviality … and great books!

Miss Bates read over eighty-five books in 2014: some forgettable, some precious rereads, some by new-to-her authors; others, familiar and beloved. She kept a running list of books that struck her at time-of-reading; in the past weeks, she pruned pruned pruned. Below you’ll find titles that resonated: the memory of whose scenes, characters, and turns of phrase provokes a smile, thought, or question. They may not be perfect, but, for sundry reasons, Miss Bates holds them close to her heart. (Miss Bates links to her original review and keeps to a few lines about each title.) Continue reading

REVIEW: Lacy Williams’ A COWBOY FOR CHRISTMAS, And For Eternity

Cowboy_For_ChristmasMiss Bates is always happy to salute Wendy the Superlibrarian; Wendy’s led Miss Bates into many a romance love and is responsible for her obsessive love of category romance. Miss B. made a mental note to read Lacy Williams after reading Wendy’s review of her first inspirational historical category romance, Marrying Miss Marshal, which languishes in Miss B’s TBR still. 😦 It wasn’t a wholehearted Wendy endorsement, but it stayed with her because, like Wendy, Miss B. was intrigued by a “marshal,” that is, law-enforcing Western heroine. Reading A Cowboy For Christmas, Miss B. doffs her Stetson to Wendy for recognizing Williams’ potential in that early review. Lacy Williams’ A Cowboy For Christmas captivated Miss Bates from start to finish. Set in Wyoming in December of 1900, Wiliams’ novel tells the redemptive, healing story of two people who’ve suffered plenty and are ready and deserving of human and divine succoring.

Heroine Daisy Richards, with her “empty pinned up sleeve,” after a terrible runaway-horses-and-wagon accident, though fragile, frightened, and angry-sad, finds a way, with the help and support of the eponymous cowboy-hero, Ricky White, to embrace a full life. She learns to be strong and laugh again. Ricky (again with that unfortunate choice of name for a hero; what’s wrong with Rick?), former gambler, drinker, brawler, and promiscuous, with a new-found faith in God’s redemptive power, excavates the goodness that has been in him all along by helping and loving Daisy. As Daisy gains in confidence and begins to return Ricky’s feelings, what she doesn’t know is that he’s implicated in her accident.  Continue reading

REVIEW: Karen Kirst’s “Conveniently” MARRIED BY CHRISTMAS, “Inconveniently” In Love

Married_By_Christmas

Lovely cover art!

Married By Christmas … hmm, thought Miss Bates, inspie historical: low angst, a lot of baking, a little marriage-of-convenience … she liked that “by” in the title, build-up to Christmas! Hurrah! … Click went the Netgalley button back in the day. There’s nothing like Miss B. hoisted on her own petard: Kirst’s novel turned out to be more interesting, more riddled with pain and sexier, yes, sexier!, than most inspies. Miss B. is disappointed she missed out on the previous four books in the late 19th-century, Tennessee-set Smokey Mountain Matches series. Her heart dipped to see that Married By Christmas was fifth in the series: series, after the first three volumes, pretty much fizzle out and die, wane-in-quality has been Miss B.’s usual experience. She was surprised and delighted that she enjoyed Kirst’s effort as much as she did. It didn’t break any molds. You may certainly lob inspie-problematics at it any day; to Miss Bates, however, in the season’s glow and with a generous heart, she thought it was a lovely romance about redemption and second chances. Continue reading

REVIEW: Elizabeth Camden’s WITH EVERY BREATH

With_Every_Breath

Attractive cover!

Miss Bates anticipates an Elizabeth Camden novel. She appreciated Camden’s previous novel, Into the Whirlwind. Since then, she follows Camden into her inspirational-lite, historical bent because Camden is a writer with ideas. Into the Whirlwind had grand sweep and great drama in its setting, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Camden is a thoughtful writer who considers context and a story to tell about how historical circumstances affect individual lives, important. She researches carefully and conveys time, place, and the concerns of ordinary people living in that time with skill and sensitivity. Miss Bates lays, however, the same caveats at With Every Breath as she did Into the Whirlwind. Those shortcomings are more apparent in the former. Set in the fictional Washington Memorial Hospital in 1891 Washington D. C., Camden tells the story of Dr. Trevor M. Kendall, tuberculosis specialist and researcher, and his statistician assistant, Kate Livingston, as they battle to cure a deadly and widespread disease. What a compelling idea for the background to a romance, thought Miss Bates, how unique and interesting. Moreover, how inspiring to have a mathematician heroine! Camden’s novel offers all this in concept, but suffers somewhat in execution. Continue reading

REVIEW: Rachel Hauck’s PRINCESS EVER AFTER, Or Inspie “Roman Holiday”

Princess Ever AfterMiss Bates is not a fan of the Disney princess, nor did she ever deck her five-year-old self in pink tulle and trailing strands of costume jewelry to play dress-up princess. Mostly, she reads a lot of romance fiction and plays at Emma‘s Miss Bates, a definite not-princess.  She was taken in, however, by Rachel Hauck’s Princess Ever After cover, with its hint of frivolity, beautiful dress, and promise of happily-ever-after.  Because what Miss Bates loves is Roman-Holiday Audrey Hepburn and all things Grace Kelly, so the idea of an American girl living her dream restoring vintage cars who finds herself the princess of a fictional duchy is a pretty attractive premise.  What she found instead is a novel light on the romance and heavy on the inspirational element, a story more about identity, heritage, and destiny than finding love and wearing pretty princess clothes.  An uneven read, Princess Ever After has strong passages to recommend it and is competently written, but it’s slow (could have been told in half the length) and contains one too many peculiar woo-hoo moments for Miss Bates’s taste.  Miss Bates’s was foiled in her pursuit of a flaky little read for something more serious, albeit told with a light touch but, in the end, less appealing. Continue reading

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

MINI-REVIEWS For Mini-Narratives: Theresa Weir’s “Geek With the Cat Tattoo” and Denise Hunter’s “A December Bride”

Miss Bates reiterates that she’s not a fan of romance novellas.  They’re often used as a means of “hooking” a reader into a series.  Miss Bates dislikes that publishing ploy.  However, the two novellas she read amidst merry-making and writing her year-end post were enjoyable, not heart-stoppingly memorable, but a pleasant way to wile away an hour.  She didn’t feel manipulated by them; they were genuine.  The authors wanted to tell these stories, enjoyed telling them.  Weir’s “Geek With the Cat Tattoo” was initially alienating, with its first-person Sam-the-Cat narrator and immature protagonists, but she warmed to it.  Denise Hunter’s inspirational, “A December Bride,” caught Miss Bates unawares.  She expects inspirational romances to be preachy and smarmy, but it wasn’t.  Though truncated and possessed of caricaturish secondary characters, it was kinda sexy.  Who’d have thunk it! Continue reading