I am a stubborn cuss and resisted the lure of Clayborn’s much-lauded first romance, Beginner’s Luck. As my Twitter handle says, “always late to the game”! I confess I’m here to sing praises. I won’t even do it very well because I was up till the wee hours polishing off Luck Of the Draw, despite having a full work day with several important, need-to-be-alert meetings slotted in it. But here I am and here we are and I’m tethered to the cheering bandwagon.
There’s another reason I wasn’t keen on Clayborn’s first, or second for that matter, other than the romance cheering section; more pernicious to me was the alternating first-person narration: heroine/hero, heroine/hero, like that. When one of my favourite romance writers, Ruthie Knox, went first-person-rogue on me, I was annoyed, but I followed. (I’ve only ever fully forgiven first-person narration in my favourite novel of all time, Jane Eyre.) So, between the squee and the self-conscious “I’s“, Clayborn had to work hard to thwart my side-eye. But foil it she did, by keeping the action on its toes; the characters, compelling and lovable; and by a perfect balance of humour and angst (my favourite narrative tone/mood). What I couldn’t fault her for? The premise was all kinds of tropish catnip.
Miss Bates often wonders who can ever succeed Betty Neels in the rom-reader’s world of comfort reads? With every Marion Lennox she reads, she inches towards thinking that it might be Lennox. Not that Neels and Lennox have everything in common, but they do share in the decency, good eats, animals, and pathos of the worlds and characters they create. These elements are present in Lennox’s Stepping Into the Prince’s World. And like last year’s Saving Maddie’s Baby, there’s much to love.
Lennox enjoys writing an accident, or disaster as the hero and heroine’s meet-cute. When Stepping Into the Prince’s World opens, disgruntled Special Forces soldier, Raoul de Castelaise, realizes he must leave the military he loves to take up his native country’s, Marétal’s, rule. With his parents’ deaths when he was a child, his grand-parents ruled while he dedicated himself to military service. He’s reluctant to return, but return he must. Before he does, however, he goes to the Tasmanian port where he and his fellow soldiers had conducted manoeuvres and takes a friend’s boat for a sail, is caught in a terrible storm, and rescued by Claire Tremaine. Continue reading
This summer, Miss Bates listened to a Brene Brown series of lectures called “The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection, and Courage.” (It’s a wonderful series, especially if you’re given to self-protection and perfectionism, as Miss Bates is. Austen’s Miss Bates is beautifully vulnerable, which leads Emma to take that nasty shot at her at the picnic.) One interesting point Brown made was that vulnerability does not mean oversharing, or as Miss Bates less elegantly puts it, TMI. In reference to the same, Brown said you have to really think about who deserves your story. Reading Judith Arnold’s seminal romance about breast-cancer survivor Beth Pendleton and Ryan Walker, the builder-rogue who falls in love with her, Miss Bates thought about Brown’s words a lot. Too often, in romance, the heroine keeps secrets, secrets that result in an annoying Big Mis (I’m looking at you, secret babies) and a sure-fire way to being dumped onto the DNF pile. Barefoot In the Grass, on the other hand, is about a private woman, not a secretive one, whose story earned its privacy. Beth is a charming, intelligent, sympathetic heroine who confronted physical and psychic pain and fought a hard battle to embrace life, as echoed by the novel’s title and Beth’s oft-declared promise-to-self to find joy in “walking barefoot in the grass.” Continue reading
It isn’t revolutionary to say that a writer has a quirk, or propensity that threads throughout her work: a recurring image, character, theme, trope, etc. It identifies her and can be both bane and strength. In Grace Burrowes’ work, it’s the officiously kind hero. When Burrowes’ first two histroms were published, The Heir and The Soldier, Miss Bates, early in her romance reading journey, read them with relish. By the time she read Burrowes‘ seventh Lonely Lord, Andrew, the officiously kind hero was at saturation point, as Miss B. scathingly wrote about in her review. That quirk/trope/image/style that identifies can also stultify, or stall a writer, or turn to caricature – unless she brings new life to it. Grace Burrowes’ foray into contemporary romance takes a steady writerly predisposition and puts it in a new world, the contemporary world of the courtroom drama of family law and practice. Continue reading
Reading Karina Bliss’s A Prior Engagement was a long time coming for Miss Bates. She’s hoarded this romance novel since it came out in 2013. She read and loved the three previous titles in the Special Forces series, Here Comes the Groom, Stand-In Wife, and Bring Him Home. They’re about soldiers returning home from war in Afghanistan, after a horrific roadside attack, and the loved ones who waited for them. With this being the fourth title, and sensing that Bliss is thoughtful but not prolific, Miss Bates indulged in a title-hoard … you know, those romances you allow to linger in the Tottering TBR because “some day” you might have a bitch-day at work, or a fight with the BFF/partner, and YOU’LL NEED IT. Heck, Bliss’s romance novel, sublime as it is, has plenty of cringe-worthy scenes, they’re just not your cringe-worthy scenes and that makes the wait all the more worthwhile. Bliss’s New Zealand-set series is one of the best romance treatments of the effects of our recent wars that Miss Bates has read. As a Canadian, the news of Afghani roadside attacks were sadly familiar. Bliss’s series, however, describes what happens to the survivors, the soldiers, yes, but the family, friends, and lovers as well. Or, as Leonard Cohen sings in “Democracy,” “for the grace of God in the desert here and the desert far away.” Continue reading
The second-chance-at-love trope in romance is one of Miss Bates’s favourites. It offers deliciously antagonistic back-story to a reunited couple; it adds depth beyond insta-lust. It may also, however, suffer from deus ex machina-ism, depending on how the romance writer engineers the reunion. One of Miss Bates’s comfort reads is a second-chance-at-love romance classic, Judith McNaught’s Paradise. She also points to another classic, Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Ain’t She Sweet? Miss Bates characterizes Rachel Gibson as a mini-SEP. She’s written several enjoyable second-chance-at-love romances: in particular, her first and last in the Chinooks series, Simply Irresistible and Any Man Of Mine, respectively; the latter possessing gravitas and poignancy the former lacked. In the scheme of second-chance-at-love romances, how does Jessica Gilmore’s début effort stack up? Miss Bates says that there is no greater joy in the romance reader’s love for the genre than to discover a new voice in category romance. Gilmore’s first novel is lovely: the writing is strong; the characters are wonderful; and the handling of the second-chance-at-love for Lawrie Bennett and Jonas Jones, heroine and hero, one of the best she’s read. It’s not perfect, but it echoes one of the finest writing category romance today, Jessica Hart. Indeed, Gilmore gives a nod to Hart in her acknowledgements: a fine, fine professional mentoring if The Return Of Mrs. Jones is the result. A winner is born, folks! Continue reading
Miss Bates once listened to a CBC radio program called “The Myth of the Secular,” which argued that the demise of religion in the public sphere has not come about as Western philosophical thought assumed. During one of the six episodes, a Muslim theologian presented an alternate view to the West’s traditional notion of faith originating in revelation and followed by practice, the most dramatic example being Paul’s road to Damascus moment. She argued that non-Western notions posit that gesture and practice, the physicality of religious ritual, in other words starting with the body, can lead to and sustain faith, understanding, and thought. Faith follows from practice. (One interesting addendum in support of this argument are testimonies from martial arts’ practitioners for fitness’ sake; they find themselves interested in, even adhering to, the Eastern philosophy in which their exercise routine originates.) Miss Bates, what are you talking about, you’d rightly say … and what does it have to do with Ros Clarke’s An Unsuitable Husband? Miss Bates thinks that in a novel like Clarke’s, indeed in a contemporary marriage-of-convenience, a difficult trope to pull off, (Miss Bates has no sampling here, only speculation) the author argues that going through the motions of being married leads to feelings of love and commitment. Or at least it does when it’s done well … and it’s done well in Clarke’s novel.
(To take this notion once step further, consider a novel like Mayberry’s Satisfaction, a more interesting novel than it’ll be given credit for: a relationship based solely on sexual satisfaction, one whose focus is the sexual satisfaction of the heroine as a matter of fact, leads to love and a desire for commitment.) In An Unsuitable Husband‘s case, marital arts’ practitioners bring about faith in the other and love. Miss Bates, you’ll say, what about An Unsuitable Husband? Should I read it? Yes. It is a romance novel, not without its flaws, but Miss Bates was moved by it. She loved Emile and Theresa and their silly marriage-of-convenience … because, in the end, they were flawed, but loveable. It was a place where love-making and pretense-gestures of marital commitment lead to devotion, fidelity, and love, a good marriage’s triumvirate. Continue reading for more of Miss Bates’ cogitations