If 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
Lessons are learned in Kate Noble’s historical romance, The Game and the Governess. One article led Miss B. to reading it: Jessica’s Book Riot recommendation and one made her think about it, Robin Reader’s DA essay on “Romance and the ‘Meaning of Life’.” Robin Reader’s questions about romance’s reluctance to engage in existential speculation, which centred, in the discussion, on inspirational romance, raised interesting ideas. Miss Bates thinks that romance is even more enjoyable when it implies an ideological basis. And really, is there any way to escape the ideological, even when an author purports that she’s just telling a good romantic story? That, however, is not the job of the author, but the critic, which is why, with Northrop Frye, Miss Bates would agree that criticism can be as “creative” an act as fiction-weaving. Miss B. digresses, as is her wont. Suffice to say for her purpose here that Noble’s romance novel is, like Jane Austen to whom she has been compared (see Jessica’s review), a novel of ideas, interesting, reader-chewable ideas of privilege, class, merit, and personality.
Noble begins with an interesting premise, years before she brings her hero, “Lucky Ned” Granville, Earl of Ashby, and heroine, governess Phoebe Baker, together. Her premise is “fortunes falling, fortunes rising.” When Ned was twelve, living modestly with his mother in Hollyhock, Leicestershire, his uncle, the then earl, sent him to school, grooming him to be the future earl. Ned never saw his mother again. When we meet him, Ned is a careless, carefree, amoral aristocrat; he’s not a charming rake, hiding his kindness and consideration. It’s not his dissipation that is important, but his attitude towards others and self-importance. When Phoebe was seventeen, she, because of her father’s bad investments, lost her place in the world: from soon-to-be débutante to orphaned governess (and unlike Jane Eyre, whom Miss B. couldn’t help but think of, no fortune lurks in the shadows to make her palatable to an aristocratic husband). In the midst of her loss of fortune is a fraudster, Mr. Sharp, who also milked the then young earl, Ned. Phoebe’s rage, at the time, led her to writing two hate-filled letters to the young man who had the power and privilege to put an end to Mr. Sharp and did not, though he too had been defrauded by him. When we meet her five years later, Phoebe has wrested equanimity from her situation; she makes the best of her governess role, loving her charges, the delightful Rose and Henry, daughter and son to Sir Nathan and Lady Widcoate, and reveling in her teaching role. Her misfortune has given her, if not passion, then contentment and occasionally delight. Phoebe remains a model of hard work and positive attitude: a lesson that Nat needs to learn if his life is to have purpose. Continue reading
Miss Bates’ Canadian perspective of the American ante- and post- bellum periods is set, in most unscholarly fashion, by popular culture. She read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind when she was in grade six. She loathed it then; she loathes it now. (And no, she wouldn’t reread it to gauge her response years later.) In 1976, when Miss B. was a new teen, she, and millions of others, watched the TV miniseries adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots, a novel with its own controversies and questions. Nevertheless, at the time, Miss Bates and her family, European immigrants to North America, loved it. In 1990, Miss Bates, again with so many others, was glued to Ken Burns’ The Civil War. Who can resist the images, soulful music, and epistolary eloquence? But, it too has its misrepresentations. She doesn’t purport any expertise on the topic other than what she refers to here and that is no expertise at all, really. Moreover, Miss Bates sees the American civil conflict through the lens of a tsk-tsk-ing outsider, her own country’s conflicts never having seen a battlefield other than the legislative (though Louis Riel, the rebellions, his trial, and execution in 1885 might have something to say about that. It is a time and place worthy of a romance). Not that Canada is immune to racism and conflict, au contraire, but our “quiet revolutions” have been linguistically decentralizing, while our neighbours’ claim to unity has always struck her as more mythic than actual. All of this to say that she, nevertheless, welcomes a romance set in the aftermath of the war, though she’s also leery of it, thanks to GWTW, given this period in American history remains a tender, if scabbed over, wound. She’s uncertain, nay ignorant, how well O’Keefe’s Seduced skirted historical and political landmines. From this outsider’s perspective, however, as a romance, Miss Bates loved it … with a few caveats for some weaknesses … but a highly recommended read nonetheless. Continue reading
Until Miss Bates read Jeannie Lin’s Jade Temptress, she’d despaired of recent historical romances. Her faith was restored by Lin’s 9th-century-China tale of mystery and romance, that of the smooth, skillful writing and historical authenticity. Okay, Miss Bates thought, maybe it’s the European historical one should give up … and then she read Duran’s Fool Me Twice and, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth says, “mine eyes are made the fools of the other senses.” Miss Bates was all eyes the two days it took her to read Duran’s novel: eyes glued to e-reader through workplace lunch hours, sneaked-in quarter hours, and staying up too late only to appear bleary-eyed at the breakfast table until she was delivered of a thoroughly satisfying end by late afternoon. Duran has been a favourite since Miss Bates was enthralled by The Duke of Shadows to the more recent, and one of Miss Bates’ favourite romance novels, A Lady’s Lesson In Scandal. Everything that appealed in those, Miss Bates found in gentler mode in Fool Me Twice: a sensitivity to the class issues of the day, a complex heroine, a flawed and compelling hero, wondrously good writing, a central couple who talk more than they couple and embody a meeting of equals akin to Jane and Rochester, who ” … stood at God’s feet, equal … ” Continue reading
Miss Bates is not a fan of the office-romance, even less so of the boss-and-secretary scenario. Nowadays, the secretary is promoted to personal/executive assistant; however, as they exist in HPs, their tasks and challenges are pretty much those of a secretary, which is not to denigrate a position that millions of people, mainly women, have held, hold, and will hold. However, it does not render the romance set-up palatable, given the power inequalities it entails. It’s a rare romance that does it justice by giving the upper hand to the heroine-secretary rather than powerful and wealthy hero. (The only one that comes to mind is Susan Napier’s so-good In Bed With the Boss, with her signature nut-ball, vain hero and peevishly tough heroine. Read it, it’s great.) As for Blake’s What the Greek’s Money Can’t Buy, cut from boss-secretary cloth, well, Miss Bates wanted to give it a fighting chance. It had some good stuff going for it, including an ex-con heroine (more of that later!) and your standard growl-y Greek billionaire. It had a promising start, but went downhill soon thereafter; the chinks in everything that is wrong with the office-romance and an idiosyncratic and ludicrous use of demotic Greek (yes, this is a point with Miss Bates) ran it aground. Continue reading to find out what sank the ship
Miss Bates knew Deanna Raybourn in her incarnation as the creator of the Lady Julia Grey mystery series, one Miss Bates read and enjoyed. But mystery novels, in comparison to romance novels, always make Miss B. antsy. Truth be told, she was more fascinated by the Lady Julia/Nicholas Brisbane courtship and coupling than she ever was by the whodunits. She can’t ever recall the dominant mystery thread that is the core of any of the Lady Julia novels. What she does remember, with reader pleasure/pain, are the antagonistic, oblique attraction and temperaments of the leads, the curiosity to know more and more of their intimate encounters and emotional vulnerabilities. Raybourn is so so good at withholding from the reader. This attracted and repelled Miss Bates, had her anticipate and yet avoid the latest release. In her latest novel, City Of Jasmine, it appears that Raybourn loosened those maddening elements and allowed her hero and heroine to eke out a little more of themselves and their relationship to the reader. In this sense, and coupled with Raybourn’s lovely writing and the strong, amiable voice of her heroine-narrator, City Of Jasmine was a better, more satisfying read for Miss Bates. It was also a tighter narrative than the Julia Grey mysteries: it didn’t get as bogged down in details and developped mystery elements with greater and more engaging alacrity. She would venture to suggest that if you like your mysteries with their cross-hairs on the relationship rather than the body, you’re going to relish this latest from Raybourn. It captured Miss Bates … though she still experienced some frustration with it.
Miss Bates has read much lauding of Stacey’s Kowalskis and she enjoyed Snowbound With the Ceo, an unrelated novella. When the chance to read the latest in the series came up, Miss Bates broke her personal code regarding family-linked or small-town contemporary romances: they dry up after the third. When #4 appears, run for the hills. This was not a “run for the hills” read, though #7, but it wasn’t satisfying either, pressing painfully on many of Miss Bates’ annoyance buttons. There are things to enjoy about Love A Little Sideways, but overall, Miss Bates would say it suffers from the bane of the long-running series: a litany of past couples in the initial chapters and an abrupt and pat conclusion. These can be overlooked, possibly, if the focus is on a compelling hero and heroine. Alas for Love A Little Sideways, while apart these two are somewhat likeable, they’re not so hot together … and they’re not even that hot! That is a serious breach in a genre which emphasizes the courtship and union of a couple. While the writing is competent, even witty and interesting in places, a hero and heroine who aren’t much fun together is a romance-killer. Continue reading
Miss Bates reached a point in March’s contemporary, small-town romance novel where she lost perspective, lost objectivity. Since she started Miss Bates Reads Romance, she’s felt an especial obligation to keep an open mind, consider any given romance narrative on merits to which she might not adhere. This to provide a fair and open consideration for whomever might drop by in the hope of being able to make a to-read-or-not-to-read decision. There came a point, however, in reading Miracle Road where only a miracle could salvage it for Miss Bates. Even now, as she pens this post, she recognizes the attraction of this romance for certain readers, in light of its positive and “life-affirming” message, inspirational drift, and competent writing. It still pushed all of Miss Bates’ buttons of what she intensely dislikes about woo-hoo-miracles-do-happen-“touched-by-an-angel” narratives. You’ve been warned, dear reader, what will follow is not necessarily snark, but a Miss Bates without sang-froid, or the balanced perspective that she likes to think she maintains. It flew away on angel wings …
Miss Bates is a coffee drinker, the darker the better; and, with a cup, the more likely she’ll compose a post, or stay up late reading … a romance, of course. Late in the evening, though, when the wind howls and snow hisses against the window panes, she makes a cuppa … and reads a romance novel. The cuppa is often gunpowder green, its furled leaves popping (hence, gunpowder) to a pleasantly aromatic, mildly-flavored brew. Miss Bates can say the same for Margaret Brownley’s historical inspirational romance novel, Gunpowder Tea. Brownley’s romance doesn’t break any molds, or overwhelm. In places, it brought Saturday-afternoon childhood memories watching old black-and-white Westerns on TV, benign-and-amusing-not-the-Injuns-are-evil kind (on the other hand, this is coloured by the fog of memory ’cause the portrayal of Native Americans, until Dances With Wolves, is a problematic one in the black-and-whites, to say the least). Continue for more of Miss Bates’s thoughts
When “the world is too much” with Miss Bates, when she’s “in disgrace with fortune” and has had the work month from hell, when Friday rolls around and fatigue comes cheap … she reads an HP. HPs are Miss Bates’s preferred escapist reading: the caricatured masculinity of the uber-hero, the moral goodness and myriad virtues of the often-misunderstood heroine (even heiress-party-girls are good and secretly self-sacrificing). Setting is set at minimum and the over-wrought physicality of the hero and heroine’s attraction is strung so tight Miss Bates hears zinging as she reads.
Thus was Sarah Morgan’s The Sultan’s Virgin Bride. Smooth, coconut-flavored chocolate, an espresso as dark as our hero’s eyes and Morgan’s PC-not tale and Miss Bates rejuvenated on a weary Friday night.
When Saturday’s grey-fogged incipient dawn crept into her room, however, she woke with thoughts whirling. She’d enjoyed every moment of her HP; however, niggling and annoying considerations sidled into her consciousness. She’s going to impose them on you, dear reader. Bear with her. This be reader response.
To the HP reader, there are no spoilers. One of the HP’s virtues is its predictability. But if you don’t read them and you’re reading this, there might be mild ones. HPs require the suspension of your suffragette and post-suffragette sensibilities. Continue reading