MINI-REVIEW: Renee Ryan’s THE MARRIAGE AGREEMENT, Or Redeeming the “Cycle of Sin”

Marriage_AgreementMiss Bates wended a weary way through Renée Ryan’s The Marriage Agreement. Sometimes, the world is “too much with us” and even a romance can’t carry us away from daily worries. Miss Bates can say with certainty the slow pacing and preciousness of inspirational romance make the immersive reader experience elusive. Ryan’s novel is of that ilk of eye-rolling premises calling for reader tolerance and suspension of chagrin.

Ryan’s inspirational romance opens in 1896 Denver, at the Hotel Dupree, with handsome, aloof owner, Jonathan Hawkins, and his pretty, blonde guest services manager, Fanny Mitchell. It’s obvious to the reader Fanny and Jonathan carry a whiff of notoriety. Fanny rejected a suitor, a fiancé actually, at the last minute, a man her parents, family, and friends thought ideal. She held out, rejecting a man she didn’t love who didn’t love her; her reputation, the price. Alas, it looks like scandal dogs her in Denver, possibly, according to Ryan’s rendition, the most supremely puritanical “upright” Christian town ever conceived. A broken engagement and Fanny might as well slap a J on her dress for Jezebel. Jonathan fares no better: though a successful, wealthy, caring man, who runs his businesses with employees who would otherwise be on the street, prostitutes and their children, he carries the stigma of illegitimacy and a prostitute mother. He and Fanny share friendship, affection, and an affable working relationship at the hotel. When a charity ball finds them NOT fighting (horrors! 😮 ) their attraction by sharing a kiss and caught by a gossiping silly puss of a girl, well, Jonathan, to save a woman he’s come to care deeply about, offers marriage. Continue reading

REVIEW: Genevieve Turner’s SUMMER CHAPARRAL, Once Bitten, Twice Shy

SCmockup5copyGenevieve Turner’s début, Summer Chaparral, Las Morenas Book 1, is Miss Bates’ first shotgun-wedding-themed romance. Judging from the places Turner’s novel lead her to, it won’t be her last. Her impression is that a “good” shot-gun-wedding-troped romance needs a historical context where codes of family honour are paramount. (This is harder to pull off in contemporary romance, but HPs do it with sheikh and Greek billionaire romances and Orientalism be damned.) Turner’s near-turn-of-the-twentieth-century California-set romance is perfectly situated within that description. The diminished Californianos, the Spanish-originned families, are still significant landowners in a California with American statehood. The heroine’s, Catarina Moreno’s, family, is such a one, landed, Californian Hispanic gentry: they speak Spanish in their home, live with Old-World decorum, keep a Spanish kitchen, and expect their daughters, in particular, to maintain a cloistered virtue and marry into one of the equally landed and “aristocratic” long-established Hispanic families. For maximum tension and conflict, Turner places her Morenos, and their oldest and most beautiful daughter, Catarina, into a changing world: statehood and the anglo-Americans who now dominate the state. Her hero, Jace Merrill, with his own family baggage, rides into Cabrillo, looking for land and a home, “The valley had enough space to let a man breathe, while the ranges encircling it were close enough to give the impression of protecting what lay below. Freedom and comfort, all in the same place. Odd, that a landscape could be so reassuring.” The landscape is reassuring, with its green-hued chaparral beauty, but Catarina Moreno is forbidden territory.

The chaparral reaches out to him, as do Catarina’s comely curves and cinnamon eyes. Though Jace carries the secret of his family’s power and hatred of Hispanics, though he doesn’t carry their name Bannister, having run away at fifteen, he yearns for connection and family. A meeting by the town trough and some stolen kisses establish his and Catarina’s attraction. He knows that the Bannisters and Morenos have ancient and nasty history. Animosity, family feud, and blood honour mix with desire, attraction, passion, and yearning for a place in the world: Jace for home and wife; Catarina, now 26, for a husband, home of her own, and freedom from her mother’s austere dominance. Continue reading