Mary Burchell’s A SONG BEGINS: Romance Doesn’t Get Better Than This …

A_Song_BeginsUntil reading Mary Burchell’s A Song Begins, Miss Bates found it hard to believe that anyone could rival her beloved Betty Neels. And yet, here she is, enthralled with Mary Burchell. And all she can say is, MOAR! A Song Begins is the first of Burchell’s Warrender Saga, a series of thirteen romances she wrote for Mills and Boon stretching from 1965 to 1985. They are set in the opera world and feature harsh, closed-off heroes and heroines who can hold their own against them. Burchell and Neels share the exclusive heroine POV and the mystery, which Miss Bates loves, of knowing the heroes only by their actions. Their kindness and love for the heroine are hinted at with only very occasional near-tender gestures. Otherwise, they’re cyphers of raised eyebrows, mysterious smiles, flashing, angry eyes, suppressed frustration, and an exacting work ethic, to which our heroine’s inexperience is subject, in Neels’ case in the surgery and Burchell’s on the stage. A Song Begins opens with Anthea Benton, aspiring singer from Cromerdale, trying to win a TV singing spot to help her pay her way to London and voice training. Anthea’s family is financially humble; while loving and supportive of her aspirations, they cannot afford to help her. This TV spot is her only chance and it is foiled by one of the judges, the famous conductor, Oscar Warrender. Anthea’s disappointment is short-lived, however, because she receives word, through her voice teacher, Miss Sharp, that a mysterious benefactor is funding her move to London to study with none other than the maestro himself, Oscar Warrender!   Continue reading

Cheryl St. John’s and Sherri Shackelford’s COWBOY CREEK CHRISTMAS

Cowboy_Creek_ChristmasMissB’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

Mini-Review: Barbara Wallace’s CHRISTMAS BABY FOR THE PRINCESS

christmas_baby_for_princessOne of Miss Bates’s favourite films is Frank Capra’s 1934 It Happened One Night. Barbara Wallace’s gently romantic Christmas Baby For the Princess echoes it. Wallace’s hero, Manhattan night club owner Max Brown, is a film noir buff. References to Miss Bates’s beloved black-and-white films abound, enriching Wallace’s romance narrative. Capra’s film is not noir, but its themes of class, sex, love, and HEA are certainly of the romance variety. Like One Night‘s Ellie, Wallace’s heroine, Princess Arianna Santoro, has run away from her father, King Carlos IV of the mythical kingdom of Corinthia. Arianna was near-affiancéd to Manolo Tutuola, a Corinthian businessman her father had urged her to date with the hope they would marry. Always conscious of duty, and wanting to make her still-grieving father (after her mother’s loss) happy, she did her darndest to work out a relationship with Manolo. But Manolo turned out to be a cheating rat-bastard and now, Arianna is in Manhattan for the time and space to figure out what to do next. She’s pregnant with rat-bastard’s baby and her flea-bitten hotel doesn’t afford her protection, or comfort. Out and about for some air, she finds that “her wallet was missing”. “Out of all the gin-joints in all the world,” she walks into Max Brown’s for help (Miss Bates knows, wrong film, but since we’re making vintage film references … ) where the charming maître d’, Darius, Max’s friend and right-hand man, mistakenly thinks she’s answering their help-wanted ad for a waitress.   Continue reading

Review: Sherri Shackelford’s A FAMILY FOR THE HOLIDAYS

family_for_holidaysA 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

Mini-Review: Terri Reed’s IDENTITY UNKNOWN

identity_unknownTerri 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

Review: Karen Kirst’s THE SHERIFF’S CHRISTMAS TWINS

sheriffs_xmas_twinsKaren 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

Mini-Review: RaeAnne Thayne’s SNOWFALL ON HAVEN POINT

snowfall_haven_pointAfter savoring the glorious Betty Neels, Miss Bates read a long-established but new-to-her author, RaeAnne Thayne. Snowfall On Haven Point is the fifth romance in Thayne’s “Haven Point” series, set in the eponymous mythical, idealized Idaho town. Heroine Andrea “Andie” Montgomery is a Portland transplant. She arrived in Haven Point after losing her cop-husband and enduring a sexual assault. Miss Bates appreciated that Andie wasn’t a victim. She’s in a good place: working at her graphic design business, establishing a home with her two adorable kids, Chloe and Will, and building new Christmas traditions in her adopted town. She has made wonderful friends and is considering dating again: she doesn’t allow still-lingering grief and trauma to prohibit her from living life fully and well. The encounter with the curmudgeonly neighbour-hero, Sheriff Marshall Bailey, comes when Marshall’s sister and Andie’s dear friend, Wyn, asks her to check on her injured brother. Though Andie finds Marsh taciturn and even gruff at times, she agrees to deliver meals and make sure he’s all right getting around with a broken leg. A romantic suspense element is introduced when we learn that Sheriff Bailey was deliberately run down in a snowy parking lot while answering a tip from a mysterious caller. (Never mind the TSTL hero: what law enforcement officer would answer a call without back-up?)     Continue reading

Review: Betty Neels’s THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS, Or The Sleeping Knight

db4c9567b2f56f219d4ade85391c8f40As you may already know, Miss Bates is a great fan of Christmas-set romances. She anticipates them annually, with much love for publishers’ covers going all out on snow, tinsel, sparkly trees and eggnog-sipping lovers. Romance writers offer a plethora of love in the snow, under the tree, and on the slopes. But there is no closed-cabin romance as good as the one where our couple is snowed in. One of Miss Bates’s favourite Christmas titles is a snowed-in-closed-cabin joy (actually a truck bed, but you’ll have to read it to find out), contemporary category romance Kathleen Creighton’s One Christmas Knight. One of Miss Bates’s favourite historical Christmas romances is Lauren Willig’s The Mischief Of the Mistletoe, with its projectile Christmas pudding as THE key plot point and one of the most endearing heroes ever written. Miss B. has written of her great Christmas romance loves before and won’t bore you, dear reader, with more. Well, maybe one, because it’s a recent addition and deserving of praise: Kat Latham’s Three Nights Before Christmas. This year, MissB’s inaugural Christmas romance post is classic vintage rom, Betty Neels’s The Fifth Day Of Christmas. Because if The Divine Betty can do ordinary days well, with such warmth and wit, what will she do with Christmas!!?? Continue reading

Mini-Review: Becky Wade’s Her One and Only

her_one_and_onlyTruth 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

Mini-Review: Rula Sinara’s THROUGH THE STORM

through_the_storm(With this Miss Bates’s 299th review, she confesses to a slight and temporary change of direction. Miss Bates has taken new professional responsibilities at the day-job and must curtail her reading and blogging activities. The plan is to post a mini-review once-a-week. Gone, for the present, Miss Bates’s deliciously loquacious review-posts. In their place, what Miss Bates hopes will be shorter reviews, still helpful and interesting to her readers.)

Through the Storm is Rula Sinara’s third From Kenya, With Love romance. Miss Bates loved and reviewed the first, The Promise Of Rain. Heroine Tessa is married to Brice Henning and bringing up her nephew, her sister’s son, Nick. Maria and husband Allan were killed in an airplane crash. Brice offers Tessa what she’s craved since a child, stability, safety, security. Growing up with environmentalist-sailing parents, Tessa lived a childhood of fear, always apprehensive her parents would never return from their dangerous missions. With the loss of her sister, Tessa’s fear are re-awakened. When she suspects her husband of taking part in the unethical ivory trade, she must expose him. But first, she must ensure Nick’s safety.  Continue reading