REVIEW: Tackling the TBR One Letter At A Time: “A” Is For Archer

Velvet Bond“The best laid plans of mice, men” and Miss Bateses often run astray, ’tis true. Miss Bates, with doubt and trepidation vis-à-vis her resolve, embarks on a quest, sprigged hankie in hand: To Defeat The TBR (insert Rocky theme) … one letter at a time! Miss Bates herein commits to methodically and systematically whittle down her prodigious TBR, which now runs at … blush …  ahem … over 800 titles. Among whatever reviews she may have committed to elsewhere, she’s going to nab at the TBR every once in a while and send some snark 😦 or hark! 🙂 your way. Moreover, she’s exploring the whys and wherefores said volume ended up in the TBR. It’s interesting to her why we choose the books we do; join her in the comments to share the state of your TBR and its whys and wherefores. Miss Bates’s first Great TBR Whittle is brought to you by the letter “A”: Catherine Archer’s 1995 Velvet Bond. Read on to find out what Miss Bates thought of this first title from the tottering TBR

REVIEW: Anne Stuart’s NEVER KISS A RAKE/Fallen Angel/Seraph/Cherub …

Never Kiss A RakeWhen Miss Bates returned to reading romance five years ago, one of the first books she read was Anne Stuart’s Black Ice. She loved it; in retrospect, the writing was over-wrought, but the ingenue heroine and dark, dark hero were engaging and believable. She held the same hope for Stuart’s latest, a Victorian romance, Never Kiss A Rake, the first in a series, if one goes by the sequel-tantalizing epilogue. Sadly, this Stuart feels tired, like she’s going through the motions of creating a romance, but lost the heart for it. The recipe’s the same; the inspiration is absent. The fire’s gone and she’s repeating herself. What’s true for the writer becomes the experience of the reader. Even though the dark hero and ingenue heroine are still present, they’re not convincing. An ember glows softly in the last twenty per cent of the novel, alas, too little, too late. Miss Bates was sympathetic to our hero and heroine, Bryony and Adrian, at long last, sort of, but so much that was wrong came before that she can’t say to the discerning romance reader not to miss Never Kiss A Rake.   Continue reading, much snark follows

A REVIEWish Reading of Carla Kelly’s SUMMER CAMPAIGN, or The Hero-Suitor as Grand Strategist

Summer CampaignWhen Miss Bates rediscovered romance and dipped into various authors to determine who would suit for long-term relationships, she resolved to read certain authors’ oeuvres because she enjoyed, appreciated, or found the initial sampling thought-provoking . One of those was Carla Kelly; this reading comes of Miss Bates’s reach into the back-list. Summer Campaign did not disappoint. After a slow start, Summer Campaign was wonderful and had the rare honour of turning Miss Bates into a watering-pot on several counts. What is it about Kelly’s stories that Miss Bates finds poignant, slow in places and imperfect, but moving and loveable? In the case of Summer Campaign, it lies in Kelly’s use of a military metaphor to tell a story about laying a siege of the heart. If you are vulnerable to her writing and the type of stories she tells, Kelly’s novels besiege the reader’s heart, tear down the walls, and expose vulnerable centres all the while reminding us that the purposeful life is a life of service conducted with humour, strength, and good will. Read on for more of Miss Bates’s watering-pot commentary

GASP: Patricia Gaffney’s TO HAVE AND TO HOLD

When Miss Bates turned the last page of To Love and To Cherish, she sighed with relief. It hadn’t been as bad as she’d feared. Nothing’d shocked her; nothing’d disturbed her all that much. On the contrary, in the end, her sensibilities were at ease; she thought Christy endearing and a great study of the meaning of Christian faith. Anne was a good, decent heroine, with integrity and had blossomed in the most wonderful way. All was well in Miss Bates’s romance universe. Gaffney’s first Wyckerley novel had inspired associations with many 19th century novels Miss Bates’d loved, still loved. It was all good and what need was there for any fuss? To Love and To Cherish was what its title claimed: loving and cherishing the other, making the other precious in one’s eyes. Christy comes to this state naturally; Anne has to learn it. There is a darkness to her understanding; there is a price, but it is one that she makes of her own free will. Then, Miss Bates read To Have and To Hold and is reeling. She doesn’t have much to say, hopes to reach some equanimity by the time a much-anticipated discussion takes place at Something More. For now, however, there are only half-formed thoughts.  Read on at your peril; Miss Bates is too riled to say that much and the little she does say would be of mild interest only to those who’ve read the novel

IMPRESSIONS/CONNECTIONS: Courtney Milan’s UNLOCKED, Or Katie Keeps Her Golden Boy

UnlockedAlong with the frisson of utter delight that the first commentator (Pamela from Badass Romance) to MBRR gave Miss Bates, in the exchange, she articulated what always pulled at her when she read Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Yes, Jane got her man, a little broken, but she got him; yes, in the end, she was an heiress. Yes, she had her allotted babies, an indication he wasn’t broken where it counted. Jane won her glorious HEA. More than anything, however, in reading Jane, Miss Bates asks: quoting Hamlet (because Shakespeare always says it better) why do we endure “the oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely, the spurns that patient merit of the unworthy takes”? Why indeed? Why does Jane endure the nastiness of Rochester’s house-party, the fortune-telling fiasco, Blanche and her mother’s jibes, the horrible aunt and cousins, the evils of Lowood? (To a certain extent because she has to, but let’s not be reductive, Jane never is.) Why do we sob in self-pity when we read these passages and secretly remember every hurt to our self-worth and read on and on even though reading causes us pain? Because at the end of Jane Eyre, at the end of every GREAT romance novel, the heroine (or whoever stands in for the “heroine,” but that’s for another discussion) isn’t just LOVED, SHE IS VINDICATED. Hah, we say, see, she showed them! (The ugly-duckling-fat-girl-awkward-girl-heroine incarnates our vindication fantasy … maybe it’s even sweeter than getting your man, the foiling of the queen bee and bullies?) If you read on, yes, Miss Bates’ll link this inchoate burst to Milan’s novella and more

SECOND THOUGHTS On Patricia Gaffney’s TO LOVE AND TO CHERISH: Why Not JANE too?

In the cool of the evening, Miss Bates swatted a fist-sized wasps’ nest from the back porch. She’d like to do the same to Gaffney’s novel. No matter, the wasps and it will settle in the vicinity to plague her. Not for a full and missbatesian pedantic post, but a pinata swipe, yes, she’ll manage. Miss Bates has settled into ambivalence’s discomfort zone. Ambivalence in an ordered spinster’s world … not good. Need a lodestone, a familiar one … like Rochester at his neediest, she calls out to “Jane.” If you want more, read on, but clarity still eludes

REVIEW: Elizabeth Hoyt’s THE RAVEN PRINCE, Or Writing the New Jane

The Raven PrinceElizabeth Hoyt’s The Raven Prince hasn’t been around long enough to be “classic romance,” but give it another ten years and it will be. Miss Bates is jumping the gun, but she’ll stick by this claim. Hoyt’s been in Miss Bates’s “get-to” pile of romance novels for a long time. Silly spinster should have read them ages ago because, if The Raven Prince is typical of Hoyt’s writing, she missed out. She now says with confidence that the reading of The Raven Prince is “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” This is as wonderful a romance novel as one can get and especially so because it plays with references to Miss Bates’s most beloved romance, Jane Eyre. Continue reading

REVIEW: Iris Johansen’s The Lady and the Unicorn: The Myth Of the Alpha

Iris Johansen’s The Lady and the Unicorn was published in 1983; it is available to readers via Loveswept’s digital reprints. This is a romance novel stamped with the flaws of its time and a reader must suspend certain sensibilities to enjoy it. Enjoy it Miss Bates did, however, even while gritting her teeth and squirming with embarrassment in places. No matter its failings, Johansen is a lovely writer and can paint a scene with beauty and subtlety. For that alone, it is worth reading.

The compelling opening to The Lady and the Unicorn puts it in the Brontë Camp of romance novels. For this reader, one of whose favourite novels is Jane Eyre, this is a sure way to hook and reel me in. An original scene opens the novel: Janna Cannon rappels into millionaire Rafe Santine’s fortress, his “Thornfield,” determined to convince him to donate prime development-bound real estate to her employer, a wild life reserve looking for a new home for its wards. The associations to Jane Eyre are immediate: a lowering citadel; a heroine named Janna, an orphaned innocent with an independent spirit and a moral and spiritual bent; a hero who is irascible, discontented, impatient, officious and, to quote the Bard, at a point in his life where “man delights not me, nor no woman neither.” Though brooding, petulant, and seemingly indifferent to her, he’s affected by Janna’s beauty and purity. Her conquest of his stronghold walls is a foreshadowing of her triumph over his emotional ones. (Even her last name, Cannon, is indicative of the power she’ll have over them.) Like Jane Eyre, Jenna is cared for, coddled, protected; she converses as an equal and roams the grounds, experiencing sublime natural surroundings.

Johansen’s writing is graceful, fluent and makes interesting use of natural and animal imagery. The romance is structured around these metaphors and they both elevate and damn it. On the damning side, Rafe strikes a deal with Jenna: he will donate the land and she, in turn, will spend two months isolated in his fortress as his “pet.” Jenna is the “gazelle” that arouses his “hunting instincts.” Metaphors of hunter and prey, pet and keeper necessitate the reader to suspend certain sensibilities regarding the novel. Rafe and Jenna work out their relationship on the basis of this uncomfortable premise, made worse by the fact that Jenna is part Native American. Jenna is stereotyped when Rafe calls her “my little earth mother,” “Pocahontas,” and “little doe.” Rafe holds her captive, manhandles her, and flies into jealous fits. He is always, as he tells Jenna, on the brink of “losing control.” Thus, Rafe is the beast and Jenna the dove who will tame him. He, in turn, will domesticate her and rein her desire for the open spaces and independence. A distasteful scenario of captivity and compulsion.

The Lady and the Unicorn comprises passages of beauty; the writing is consistently polished and flows with ease and grace. As I said above, the use of animal and natural imagery elevates the novel and makes it worth reading. The reader will appreciate and enjoy the lovely passage where Jenna tames Rafe’s vicious guard dogs, the descriptions of the wild and craggy lands that surround Rafe’s castle, whose beauty sustain Jenna’s spirit, and the comfort Jenna draws from the splendor of a sunset when she is sorrowful. Most importantly, the legend of the lady and the unicorn serves as an elucidation of Rafe’s volatile, capricious moods and meteoric personality. In the end, Janna is free to decide her role in the legend and the answer lies in love, compromise, and sacrifice for both characters.

There is much to love about The Lady and the Unicorn and much that one can deride too. It is undeniable that the descriptive writing is a cut above; it is true that Johansen deftly makes use of a charming mythical reference. In the end, it reminded me somewhat of Laura London’s Lightning That Lingers, with the animal and natural world coming to bear upon the romance. You won’t like everything about it, but you won’t easily forget the lady and her unicorn either.

Almost pretty.”  Northanger Abbey

This review is the result of a generous e-ARC from Random House/Loveswept via Netgalley.