MINI-REVIEW: Kate Hewitt’s A VICARAGE CHRISTMAS

A_Vicarage_ChristmasMiss Bates admits she is excited when she sees a new Kate Hewitt romance. Hewitt hits all of Miss B’s reading sweet-spots: a reverence for fidelity and commitment, a diffident sensibility about sexuality, and a portrayal of sympathetic vulnerability in her characters. The first in Hewitt’s latest series (with its cumbersome title, The Holley Sisters of Thornthwaite), A Vicarage Christmas has all that and Christmas! And a curate hero! The BESTEST heroes are Protestant clerical types: Miss B. has a real penchant for them. Also, Miss b. loves a northern England setting, and celibate, but not Puritanical, protagonists. Perfect, thought Miss B., and delved into the romance between third daughter/sister Anna Holley and Simon Truesdell, Anna’s vicar father’s curate. Anna travels home to the village of Thornthwaite (from Manchester, where she works as a legal librarian) to spend the holidays with her family: father Roger and mother Ruth, and two of four sisters, Esther and Rachel. The Holleys are a loving family. The girls obviously grew up in a home of care, comfort, and security. But Anna’s visits home are rare. She usually spends her holidays in Manchester and, while Anna’s mother, Ruth, has the cookies and trimmings and Christmas bows and whistles making up most of the vicarage’s spaces, there is something sad about the family, something off.
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REVIEW: Noelle Adams’s A BABY FOR EASTER, Or The “Resurrection Victory”

A_Baby_For_Easter” … this book … is not an inspirational romance. It is a regular contemporary romance that features characters who happen to be religious … Spirituality is an important aspect of human experience and the lives of a lot of people, but it’s often surprisingly absent from contemporary romances … the point of this story is not to present any sort of religious message, but faith is important to these characters, and so the plot and character development turns on their spiritual condition.” Says Adams in the forward to A Baby For Easter. Miss Bates was fascinated by her distinction and remains fascinated by any treatment of religion in romance, especially if it’s not contained in the obvious, i.e., the inspirational sub-genre. She was also keen to read Adams when she read Ros’s interview with her here. Miss Bates’s opinion of the novel is two-fold, how the religious theme was treated and how it held up as a romance: the former was refreshing, appealing, and interesting, and the latter, uneven. Miss Bates agrees with Adams when she says that religious content should come naturally to the romance novel because religion, or the questioning of religion, or the rejection of it, are ideas that many people consider at some, or many times in their lives. It doesn’t have to be in every romance, but it also doesn’t have to be so strangely absent from it either. It is an aspect that offers one more opportunity to  enrich character and deepen narrative; or not, depending on the treatment and writing. It does so in A Baby For Easter, so much so that the romance pales in comparison. Miss Bates enjoyed Adams’s novel and would recommend it with caveats; as Adams herself says in her forward, “there’s likely to be too much religion for some readers and too little for others.” In Miss B.’s estimation, the religious component was “just right” for her taste and sensibility. What the novel gained in that richness, it lost in the romance. The narrative giveth with one hand and the narrative taken away with another.   Continue reading

REVIEW: Shannon Stacey’s TAKEN WITH YOU, Or Dates and Doubts

Taken_With_YouIt was enjoyable to read a romance novel comprised of meet-cutes, dates, love-making, and the occasional fight, both big and small. It felt real and its lack of drama didn’t have Miss Bates yawning, or growing restless. Miss Bates bided her time, waiting for high drama and angst to set in. She read somewhere that Taken With You was a May-to-December romance, wherein December was the heroine. The angst never set in; the age difference was handled beautifully. Here’s how hero, Matt Barnett, and heroine, Hailey Genest, banter through it: ” ‘You’re only thirty-five?’ ‘Why? Do I look older than that?’ ‘No, I just … you’re younger than me.’ He gave her a thorough looking over, enjoying the way pink spread across her cheeks. ‘Not by much.’ ‘Five freaking years,’ she muttered. ‘I don’t believe it. You should show me your license.’ She snorted. ‘Have you ever met a woman our age, or my age anyway, who lied about being forty?’ ‘It’s just a number.’ ” Hailey’s right and Matt’s righter. If the five-year age difference had seen the hero playing December, it wouldn’t have been an issue, or even worth mentioning. To give credit to Stacey’s Taken With You, it isn’t in her novel either. Well, hallelujah. This is not a novel strong on external conflict: it’s made of things any burgeoning relationship is made of: dates and doubts. “The course of true love never did run smooth,” to quote the Bard, but Hailey and Matt’s “impediments” to love and forever stem from who they are and what has shaped them. The result is an honest and funny and convivial romance. It doesn’t break any ground: it takes ordinary working folk (okay, they might be a little cuter than most) and tells of a  courtship, the “date” part, adds “impediments,” the “doubts” and “misunderstandings,” shows two good people learning to compromise and does it most enjoyably. Continue reading

REVIEW: Irene Hannon’s TRAPPED, Or An Honourable Man Can’t Be Thwarted

TrappedMiss Bates never recovered from Jonathan Demme’s brilliant Silence Of the Lambs as the thriller par excellence, despite the critical controversy it garnered then and since.  And if Miss Bates hasn’t rallied (her discombobulation matched only by the effect of the Dutch film, The Vanishing … kept her sleepless for three nights) from Demme’s horror/thriller film, thriller writers haven’t either.  Irene Hannon’s contemporary, inspirational thriller, Trapped, runs in this vein.  It does not reach Silence‘s heights of horror frissons, portray the killer’s and pursuer’s psychological make-up with the same astuteness and precision, or wow us with penetratingly chilly dialogue, but it kept Miss Bates engaged and … poised and tense for the next scene.  The faith content was relatively minor; the romance, on the other hand, was more interesting than the suspense.  Hannon’s ideas about redemption, second chances, forgiveness, and hope are powerful, but their execution is clichéd. She could have told a more original story, but she did not fail to tell an interesting one.  Continue reading for Miss Bates’s verdict on Hannon’s romantic, Christian thriller