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: Janice Kay Johnson’s IN HOPE’S SHADOW

In_Hope's_ShadowJanice Kay Johnson’s In Hope’s Shadow is second in the “Two Daughters” series. As its title suggests, the second is a “shadow” of the first. Yesterday’s Gone is dramatically visceral: after twenty-some years, a family recovers Hope, their abducted biological daughter, with the help of Seth Chandler, a dedicated police detective. In Hope’s Shadow tells of the romance between Eve Lawson, the family’s adopted daughter, and Ben Kemper, the detective’s partner. Yesterday’s Gone is as a stone thrown in clear water to Hope’s Shadow, its rippling effects bearing on the secondary characters’ lives. Those who merely witnessed the events of the first story are the focus of the second. Eve’s, the adopted daughter’s, insecurities come to the foreground and colour her relationships with Hope, her “new” sister, parents, and evolving relationship with hero Ben. In Hope’s Shadow is a romance novel about the emotional aftermath of a seismic event in the characters’ lives. Eve, her family, Hope and her now-fiancé, Seth, are still adjusting their lives to each others, trying to find an equilibrium in the family dynamic. Ben too is adjusting to new life circumstances. He still smarts from his divorce from Nicole, his high school sweetheart and love of his life, and new role as an every-second-weekend single dad to Rachel, his six-year-old daughter.
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MINI-REVIEW: Tanya Michaels’ FALLING FOR THE SHERIFF

Falling_For_SheriffTanya Michaels is a new-to-Miss-Bates author, with titles in the TBR, including A Mother’s Homecoming, an interesting riff on romance’s “bad mom” as heroine. Falling For the Sheriff is first in Michaels’ small-town-USA series, Cupid’s Bow, Texas. Miss Bates had her trepidations with a cutesy town-name like that, screaming love-cupid-arrow, all the obvious. But Michaels’ novel proved to be more than cutesy, with its lower-middle-class protagonists, whose lives as single parents, though comfortable, require cheque-book balancing and caution spending. Kate Sullivan, widowed elementary school piano teacher, and Cole Trent, town sheriff, are parenting a thirteen-year-old son, Luke, and five-year-old twin girls, Alyssa and Mandy, respectively.

Kate’s widowhood is two years old and Luke, sadly, is acting out at school out of grief and loss. Leaving Houston and returning to her paternal grandmother’s farm in Cupid’s Bow seems like the best Kate can do for Luke and her harried self. Kate arrives knowing she’ll find warmth, support, and a loving home with her beloved “Gram.” “Gram” throws Kate a big ole party and invites, with the conspiring of her friend Gayle, Cole’s mother, Cole and his twin cutie-pies. Kate and Cole share instant attraction, mitigated by single-parent status and protectiveness towards their children, as well as Kate’s yet sore heart over Damon’s, her husband’s, loss, a policemen killed in the line of duty. Cole’s law enforcement career serves as another deterrent to Kate, who quails at the idea of ever being with another cop. But Kate and Cole, other than sharing an attraction, strike a friendship, share similar dilemmas and questions as single parents, and unite in avoiding their families’ matchmaking efforts. They strike a bargain to feign an interest in each other to evade their families’ machinations. Except a joint-family trip to the pool and a few dates and Kate and Cole’s attraction and growing affection see them consider, approach, and finally admit a relationship. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Lauri Robinson’s THE BOOTLEGGER’S DAUGHTER

Bootlegger's_DaughterMiss Bates loves to see historical romances beyond Regency England and anytime 19th century. She adores ye old duke and governess/housekeeper and still enjoys reading them, but she welcomed Robinson’s unusual and uniquely set 1925 Minnesota romance, with its strait-laced law-upholding federal agent hero, Ty Bradshaw, and law-bending bootlegger’s daughter, resort/club manager Norma Rose “Rosie” Nightingale. When the novel opens, Rosie is collecting her Uncle Dave from the local jail, arrested for boozing and carrying on. Except Rosie knows Dave is lethally allergic to alcohol. And, she knows something’s up when smooth-talking, broad-shouldered and too handsome for words lawyer Ty Bradshaw shows up to defend Dave. Though only 25, Rosie’s a savvy gal. She nursed and lost most of her family in the flu epidemic of ’17 and now protects her three younger sisters and father, Roger Nightingale, with all her might. She suspects Ty of being a federal agent, but Ty’s strong, capable, and frankly, quite charming presence convinces her father to keep him on to investigate Dave’s poisoning (as Ty rightly figures out) and dangers to the Nightingales’ livelihood. Papa Roger toes a fine line between a legitimate business and supplying Minnesota 13 (some very fine hooch) to the big lights in the bright cities. But Ty, posing as a private investigator (as he confesses to Rosie and Roger, “not” a lawyer) has another agenda, one he’s determined to see through, even if Rosie, Roger, the Nightingale sisters and resort keeping local families employed and fed are collateral damage. Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Maisey Yates’ PART TIME COWBOY, Full-Time Sheriff, Brother, Friend, and Shining Knight …

Part_Time_CowboyIf you asked Miss Bates her favourite romance trope, she’d tell you “marriage-of-convenience.” Truth be told though, she gets more pleasure out of opposites-attract than she’s realized. This means that a “marriage of convenience” between “opposites attract” would be her favourite rom reading cocktail. 😉 Alas, Maisey Yates first novel in the Copper Ridge Oregon series, Part Time Cowboy, is not a marriage of convenience narrative, but it sure as heck contains two spitting-fighting protagonists in Deputy Sheriff Eli Garrett and crisis-counselor-turned-B-&-B-owner Sadie Miller – and you all know Miss Bates is a fan of fighting in romance. Also close to her heart is a narrative that sees a character, in this case, Sadie, return home years later with unfinished business (wild teen years of drinking, smoking, and trouble-making) to work through. (The theme also features in the returning hero of Yates’ introductory novella, “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.”) The opposites attract trope is obvious in a wonderful opening scene between Sadie, her car out of gas, and a certain Deputy Sheriff who rescues her, but had once arrested her for shenanigans ten years ago. Sadie’s barely entered town limits before she has a re-meet cute with her nemesis, “Officer Hottie,” Eli Garrett – if he’s filling her tank now, ten years ago, he cuffed her. It doesn’t take him long to become “Officer Stick-Up-His-Ass.”  Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Genevieve Turner’s AUTUMN SAGE and the Hero’s Agon

Autumn_SageMiss Bates’ latest read is Genevieve Turner’s second “Las Morenas” late-nineteenth-century romance, Autumn Sage. Miss Bates has enjoyed this series’ sweep: California-set, intertwined Anglo and old stock Spanish families, tales tragic and comedic, characters sympathetic and antipathetic, violent pasts, present trials, and in their midst, love, forgiveness, and forging a new family and better way of being in the world. She reviewed the first book, Summer Chaparral; the eldest Moreno sister and family beauty, Catarina, is the heroine. She enters into a shotgun marriage with newly-arrived rancher, Jace Merrill. Autumn Sage is second-sister Isabel Moreno’s story; in Summer Chaparral, we learn Isabel was attacked while riding with her fiancé, Sheriff Joaquin Obregon. When Autumn Sage opens, her engagement is over; Joaquin is an invalid in the sanatorium; and, she suffers from PTSD. Isabel and Joaquin were ambushed by villain outlaw and rich-daddy’s-bad-boy-son, Cole McCade. Enter hero U. S. Marshal Sebastian Spencer, summoned from LA to Cabrillo by Jace, whose estranged father, Judge Bannister, is Sebastian’s superior. Big, black-clad, and austere Sebastian, appropriately named after the tree-bound, arrow-tormented early Christian saint, protects Isabel and captures McCade. Isabel travels to Los Angeles to testify at McCade’s trial. The silent, controlled, still-waters-run-deep Sebastian is reunited with schoolmarm and temperance-society advocate, broken-but-not-down, Isabel. McCade’s guilty conviction proves elusive. While they work to bring him to justice, Sebastian and Isabel fight their own and families’ demons, while their need, desire, and fierce love for each other are as lovely and wild as autumn sage. Continue reading

Another One of Those Sort-Of REVIEWS: Victoria Dahl’s FLIRTING WITH DISASTER and Betrayal in Romance

Flirting_With_DisasterIf you’re literal-minded, or a prig, or easily titillated, the stand-out elements of Victoria Dahl’s Flirting With the Disaster are explicit love scenes and the hero and heroine’s foul mouths. These may be good reasons to read Dahl’s contemporary romance, or reject it in outrage. Which is why Miss Bates wants to get the review part over with pronto. Because she has other things to say. The first quarter or so, the set-up, left Miss Bates dubious: like taking that first bite of a new dish. The uncertainty: “Do I like this? What’s that strange flavour?” By the time the heroine’s combination of vulnerability and independent spirit were established, she was a fan. The hero had to work harder to win her. By the time things were heart-wrenching, she was a goner. If you don’t want to read how Dahl’s romance about U. S. marshal hero, Tom Duncan, and hermit-artist heroine, Isabelle West, got Miss Bates thinking about genre conventions, don’t read on. Read the novel (consider yourself warned about its rawness; she’ll let its tenderness take you by surprise). Then come back, tell her what you think about what follows. Or not. As long as you read it. Continue reading

REVIEW: Kathleen Eagle’s NEVER TRUST A COWBOY, Wherein Miss B. Is Peevish

Never_Trust_CowboyWhen Miss Bates re-started reading romance eight years ago, she combed AAR’s reviews for titles. One of those was Kathleen Eagle’s nearly-DIK-status The Last Good Man, a romance novel about a heroine living in the after-math of breast cancer treatment and a torch-carrying hero. The details about the heroine’s illness were raw and realistic and Miss Bates thought the novel honest and worthy. The romance wasn’t half as interesting, the least memorable aspect of the book. When an Eagle category became available, Miss Bates wanted to give Eagle another try to cement what she thought of her writing and the stories she tells.

In the South-Dakota-set Never Trust A Cowboy, Eagle tells the story of a signature Lakota Sioux hero, Delano Fox, and heroine, Lila Flynn, who shares a cattle ranch with her father, Frank, stepmother, and stepbrother. Her stepbrother, Brad, meets cow-hand Delano at the local watering-hole and hires him. But Delano is not an itinerant cowboy: he actually works a mysterious, Miss Bates would say vague, law enforcement job catching cattle rustlers. Brad, it appears, is running such an operation out of his step-father’s ranch. While Delano investigates the rustling, he gets to know Frank’s daughter, Lila. Lila lives by herself in the house her grandmother left her and has little to do with her father’s new family. She runs a daycare centre out of her barn, as well as what appears to be a lending library. The chemistry between Del and Lila is immediate and potent. But what of Delano’s secret mission? And why does Lila isolate herself on the ranch? Why is she withdrawn and sad? Nevertheless, the attraction between them, peppered with banter, burns strong. Continue reading

REVIEW: Julia London’s RETURN TO HOMECOMING RANCH, Or “So Much Crap To Overcome”

Return_To_Homecoming_Ranch

Pretty cover!

Miss Bates selected two Julia London titles as part of her 2013 favourite reads list. She wrote lovingly of London’s first book in the Pine River trilogy, Homecoming Ranch, and an unrelated, but terrific novella, “The Bridesmaid”. She eagerly awaited the sequel to Homecoming Ranch, Return to Homecoming Ranch, despite the uninspiring title. Return features the same alternating narration of first-person Leo Kendrick, the physically-challenged brother of the first book’s hero and voice of wisdom, and third-person omniscience. It is set in the same beautiful Colorado mountains, though descriptions of nature and wildlife, which Miss Bates loved in Homecoming Ranch, were less of a focus. The prose is as smooth and controlled in the second Pine River novel as it was in the first. It offers a hero and heroine who, like Madeline and Luke of the previous volume, are hurt, broken by what life threw their way. In Homecoming Ranch, the reader glimpses Madeline and Luke’s potential, the capacity for shoring their failures and starting anew, their capacity for happiness. Though similar elements are present in Return To Homecoming Ranch, Miss Bates couldn’t warm to it. Pages turned; the story held her attention, but she didn’t embrace it as she had London’s previous effort. Miss Bates’ dissatisfaction comes from feeling a tad cheated in the romance department, and a tad cheated in the believability of the HEA, and she feels a heel for saying so. She’s coming down hard on Return because it is women’s fiction, a designation she abhors and books she avoids. As a critic, she should review a novel on the basis of its parametres, not her expectations and preferences. As a reader, she didn’t enjoy it. She respected it, though. London took on serious issues: a mental breakdown in her Libby and alcoholism in her Sam. She handled them with sensitivity and originality … with caveats. Libby and Sam apart dominate the narrative; Libby and Sam together, though sexy and funny in places, are unconvincing; their love and future, dim. Continue reading

REVIEW: Deeanne Gist’s FAIR PLAY, Or “What Did You Do At the Fair?”

When Miss Bates was a tyke, the circus regularly came to town. One spring, a world’s fair did. On Easter Sunday, wearing a white straw bonnet, accompanied by family and friends, she entered its gates. It was 1967: skirts were short; music was loud … but Miss B’s mom and friends wore white gloves and hats with their new Easter outfits. Miss B. would say that anyone whose native city hosts an event of this magnitude holds the experience as a seminal moment in her life. MissB.’s unsure that such an event would have the same impact in our world of insta-experience on the Internet. But the Internet, at least for now, is strictly visual and aural, and therefore more limited. It is in the other senses that our deepest, most visceral memories reside. Miss B. remembers the warmth of the April sun, her slightly pinch-y, round-toed, white patent-leather Mary Janes, the press of bigger bodies in the queues, the inverted triangle pavilion of her native country, the dazzle of Bohemian crystal in the Czech, the tangy mustard on the hot dog, the fuzzy-pink sweetness of cotton candy.

Fair_Play

Miss Bates loves this cover!

It was with bittersweet nostalgia that Miss B. picked up Deanne Gist’s Fair Play, a romance novel set during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and featuring an older, doctor-spinster heroine, Dr. Billy Jack Tate, and younger-man, Texas Ranger hero, Hunter Joseph Scott. Miss Bates has been to Chicago and loved it, walked along Michigan Avenue, gazed into the waters of Lake Michigan, and spent every afternoon of her few days there at the Art Institute of Chicago sobbing before some of her favourite paintings. The bronze lions, indeed the building which houses the collection, have their origins in the 1893 fair. Miss Bates was excited to read Gist’s novel. Her experience of it, however, was akin to a descending musical scale: a bombastically wonderful start, flagging middle, bathetic conclusion. Continue reading