In January of 1998, I made my way to work amidst broken power lines, felled trees, and the ping-ping of ice pellets on the roof of my trusty Corolla. By the next day, Quebec, Ontario, and sundry US north eastern states, with whom we share a winter-affinity, were encased in ice, road crews, police, firefighters, and hydro crews working day and night to bring safety and light to 1000s, eventually millions. It was the first mass disruption to my daily work routine (the pandemic, the second) and reading Spencer-Fleming’s Through the Evil Days brought it back. Only someone who lives their winter like Canadians do, in this case Spencer-Fleming lives in Maine, close enough!, can render an ice storm as vividly as she did in this Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery, her eighth. It is one element among many that Spencer-Fleming does well in a novel I consumed in a 24-hour period, following fast upon my too-leisurely read of One Was A Soldier. If you’re new to the series, be warned, spoilers ahead. If you’re a fan and all caught up, read on. Continue reading
“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world” says the inimitable, raspy-voiced Rick in Casablanca. And we in romance-landia think, with that statement, Rick capsized the HEA. World events, ideals and ideologies, peace, order, justice, and equality sitting in every HEA’s background and ensuring it, are imperiled. Then, individual desires for the domestic HEA that completes the romance genre’s narrative cycle, are subsumed by themes greater than those the genre embodies. Miss Bates concurs; recent events make reading fiction, much less romance, difficult. Focus is elusive and the safe spaces we once cocooned in are tottering and toppling. And yet, what greater gift can a free, open, and tolerant country offer its citizens than the safety to make choices, love, live in plenitude and generosity and offer something to the next generation in having or succoring children, plants, animals, knowledge, nature, or art. Embedded in the romance narrative is the conviction that every person has the inner resources, given safety and love, to live without crippling constraints, whether they are internal, or external. Though Miss Bates feels “itchy” and can’t always immerse herself in a romance, she still feels life-affirmation after reading one of its best practitioners. Though she started and dropped it restlessly, she read Sarah Morgan’s Sunset In Central Park, a quiet and lovely romance.
Terri 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
Miss Bates doesn’t understand why Sarah Morgan’s North American Puffin Island romance is marketed in a double-rom volume with Susan Mallery’s Ladies’ Man. If there was ever a romance that deserved to stand front and center on a cover, it’s Some Kind Of Wonderful. Which is why Miss Bates features the U.K. edition’s pretty, whimsical cover.
Morgan’s Puffin Island series has already given us two wonderful romances, one of the best HPs Miss Bates and friends have read, Playing By the Greek’s Rules, and First Time In Forever. Continuing the story of three bosom friends, Some Kind Of Wonderful tells Brittany Forrest’s tale, Brittany whose grand-mother bequeathed her Castaway Cottage on Puffin Island, the college besties’ summer hang-out and sanctuary when things go awry. Brittany returns to Puffin Island after breaking her wrist excavating Aegean Bronze Age weaponry in Crete. Dr. Forrest’s troubles go from “single spies to battalias” when her private plane ride to Puffin Island comes in the form of one silent, sexy stunner, ex-husband of ten years, Zachary Flynn – the bad boy who abandoned her ten days after their marriage.
Donna Alward’s foray into longer contemporary romance is akin to Sarah Morgan’s: coming from wildly, deliciously wonderful categories to extended characterization, detailed setting, and broader themes with mixed success. Readers, like Miss Bates, who adored their categories, followed them, if not happily, then trustfully into new romance territory. Alward and Morgan never fail to deliver heart-stirring and thoughtful romance, however, and surprise readers in the varied ways they use romance conventions. If you enjoy Morgan’s Puffin Island, you’re sure to like Alward’s also Maine-set Jewell Cove. Summer On Lovers’ Island is fourth in the series, after The House On Blackberry Hill, Treasure On Lilac Lane, and novella, Christmas At Seashell Cottage. It stands alone, but Miss Bates enjoys Alward’s small-town world, especially how she imagines and imbues it with a strong sense of its historical past and interconnected characters and families. Her premise is strong, each novel illustrating a character’s growing pains entering small-town life new, or anew in Treasure‘s case, and meeting, not always cutely, a long-established, town-native mate. Lovers’ Island‘s heroine is newcomer Dr. Lizzie Howard, on leave from her high-powered ER position at a big-city hospital. She agrees to take Charlie’s, her best friend’s, maternity leave practice for a few months, a practice Charlie shares with veteran and goldenboy-hometown-hero, Dr. Josh Collins. Lizzie’s got him pegged when she considers his star status at Jewell Cove’s Fourth of July baseball game, “Local star, hometown hero, Jewell Cove’s favorite son.” Continue reading
Small-town contemporary romance is ubiquitous. Miss Bates reads her fair share, especially when it’s by Donna Alward, or Virginia Kantra, who write wonderful contemporary small-town romance in their Jewell Cove and Dare Island series. Sarah Morgan’s Puffin Island series now takes its place next to Alward’s and Kantra’s. Morgan’s first title, First Time In Forever, doesn’t break any molds. It’s typical in characterization, narration, and setting. Miss Bates is interested in the small-town romance as a vision of utopia; she’d argue the hero’s/heroine’s role is complemented by the small town utopian ethos, even so far as to say some of the HEA work is done by its denizens. Our hero and heroine need help and the small-town comes through for them.
For now, Miss Bates sticks to plot and character basics. Emily Donovan arrives at coastal Maine’s Puffin Island a desperate woman, seeking sanctuary and anonymity, the anxious, uncertain, and recent guardian of a niece, six-year-old Lizzy. She meets boating/sailing club owner, tall, dark, and handsome Ryan Cooper, when he knocks on her door offering help, friendship, and smouldering sexy looks. Their encounter breaks open two people wary of love, commitment, and family. Their closed-off selves, cautious and doubtful, are healed as much by the virtues/values of small-town life as falling in love. Emily, in particular, experiences a conversion to small-town living. Ryan, by virtue of having been home for four years, is one of her guides. While he may be advanced in his journey, he needs to take the final steps to finalize/entrench his place on Puffin Island and those steps entail overcoming his commitment-aversion. Continue reading
Most of the time, when Miss Bates reads a romance, her response to it is consistent. The love-hate-or-meh feelings set in with the first sentence … and first-sentence-mini-review-to-self rarely steers her wrong. In Caitlin Crews’ At the Count’s Bidding, Miss B. ran a gamut of responses. Crews’ romance doesn’t deviate from the HP reader’s expectations, but the narrative exhibits abrupt shifts. At the same time, players and plot are typical of the category. Count Giancarlo Alessi, budding actor, and Paige Fielding, young dancer, met and loved ten years ago on a film set. Paige destroyed their young love when she took money from a tabloid in exchange for their nude photos. Paige had shameful obligations she was too embarrassed to share with Giancarlo. Ten years later, Giancarlo, now running his deceased father’s Tuscan estate, still hurt and angry over Paige’s betrayal, confronts her at his mother’s Bel Air mansion. Paige works as his mother’s personal assistant, fetching, carrying, and indulging the famous actress’s, Violet Sutherlin’s, whims. Paige, without family, or friends, clings to Violet as the only person who knows and loves her. Giancarlo is shocked to see her ensconced as his mother’s right-hand and assumes she insinuated herself into the job. It’s an opportunity to finally exact his revenge. He strikes a deal: Paige will cater to his sexual whims while he’ll allow her to remain as Violet’s PA. Paige won’t leave the woman who means so much to her and allowing Giancarlo to hurt her will assuage her guilt over their break-up. Continue reading
In her most recent Donna Alward review, Miss Bates declared Alward the “queen of domestic romance” in reference to her category novels. The first novel in her Jewell Cove series, The House On Blackberry Hill, written under a different publisher, introduced new elements to Alward’s winning category themes: a certain mysticism, a woo-woo-ness and preciousness that didn’t sit thoroughly well. Miss Bates is an Alward fan (from the moment she closed the final, sopping-Kleenex page of The Cowboy Who Loved Her, one of Miss Bates’ favourite category romances and one she’s often suggested to successfully turn readers onto the genre); she was ready to like Blackberry Hill. Treasure On Lilac Lane, however, turned out even better. Alward tempered the woo-woo with a gentle inspirational element, whisper-thin but moving nonetheless, cranked up the fleshiness, and re-introduced her signature working-class, or lower-middle-class hero and heroine, battered by life, struggling to find their way and waylaid by attraction, desire, and love. Continue reading