I have an innate distrust of any romance with an excess of “baby” endearment and there’s A LOT of “babying” in Love Her or Lose Her, second in Tessa Bailey’s Hot and Hammered series. There were a few things to recommend it: the working-class ethos, that stays working-class, and the marriage-in-trouble trope, which is a rarity and yet should appear more often in contemporary romance. It’s topical and true, after all, and way more believable than ye olde fake relationship. So, my launching into Love Her or Lose Her was with the enthusiasm of the ignorant but tropically engaged. It didn’t take long for my keenness to deflate like a geriatric balloon.
But first, other than the premise, who are the protags and what are their narrative stakes? Rosie Vega works as a perfume-counter girl, then goes home to her taciturn husband, Dominic. He’s a good guy: works hard, doesn’t drink, gamble, or cheat. They share a powerful attraction, which they indulge once a week, on Tuesdays. We don’t really know why they’ve stopped their amorous pursuits beyond Tuesdays, given how hot and bothered they get around each other, but suffice to say, it’s a “symptom” of what’s wrong with their marriage.
I never knew I was a fan of the tropish goodness of a marriage-in-trouble romance until I read Nicole Helm’s Bride For Keeps. It’s not that I avoided the trope, it’s just not one that’s done often, or at least favoured by the authors I tend to read. One of my earliest reviews was of Ruthie Knox’s marriage-in-trouble novella, “Making It Last.” There was an edge to Knox, an anger, that made the marriage compromise, no matter how cheerfully I tried to review it at the time, about diminishing the hero and heroine. This is not the case for Helm’s category-length romance.
Bride For Keeps opens with a family bombshell for the hero: the diagnosis of his father’s MS accompanied by the revelation that he is the product of his mother’s affair. Dr. Carter McArthur is floored: he has striven to be the perfect son, to stand in his father’s medical and community footsteps, giant, important, arrogant footsteps. His one rebellion, his one out-of-perfection decision was to marry wild-child Sierra Shuller. Continue reading
If there’s one underused trope Miss Bates loves, it’s marriage-in-trouble, which is why she pounced on Barry and Turner’s novella-ish, category-length A Midnight Feast. It centres on the leader and doyenne of the space-race, 1960s-set American astronaut world that makes up Barry and Turner’s Fly Me To the Moon series, Colonel Mitch Dunsford and his wife of twenty-years-and-six-kids, Margie.
Barry-Turner have produced an adept narrative: alternating, especially in the first half, between Mitch and Margie’s present estrangement, set in 1965 Houston, and their courtship, young marriage, and flat middle years of care and children on her part and demanding, exhilarating career-making on his. Barry-Turner adroitly portray a marriage void of friendship, connection, and mutual desire, interspersed with chapters that chronologically fill in the intervening years, starting with a heady, whirlwind courtship set in 1945. In that sense, Barry-Turner tell a whole lot of story with a circumspect page-count; yet, their carefully-crafted snapshots of love, lust, affection to benign neglect and cutting indifference still allow the reader to get to know and possibly like their hero and heroine. The narrative is also beautifully bound together with a holiday sequence: starting with a make-it-or-break-it Thanksgiving for Mitch and Margie’s troubled marriage to a lovely Valentine-Day’s-1966-set epilogue. Continue reading
Reading Michelle Smart’s Once a Moretti Wife was balm to Miss Bates’s reading soul after its wounding by Knox’s Madly. Admittedly, if you’re an HP reader, you’re going to recognize some of the line’s pernicious elements in Smart’s novel: a hero and heroine plagued by abusive and/or disappointing families, a heroine the nonpareil to the hero’s negative views of women, and a gargantuan mis. MissB. had one of two choices: cling to every accusation thrown at the HP, even though conventions are givens and if you don’t like them, don’t read them, OR revel in its wit and the characters’ vibrancy. Add a dollop of amnesia to the heroine, show her disoriented and weak, even while the dark, nasty hero conjures his revenge against her, then catches her when she collapses at his feet and nearly has a heart attack from his fear over her well-being. Marvelous, thought MissB., this is going to be great! And it was. Continue reading
Miss Bates can’t tell if it’s something in the air, but this is the second second-chance-at-love romance she’s read this month. It’s not a favourite trope (hello! marriage-of-convenience 😉 ), dependent as it on filler-back-story, but it does have richness potential. Neville’s latest London-set Georgian romance, Lady Windermere’s Lover, did not disappoint. Though it wasn’t as perfect as Ruin Of A Rogue, Miss Bates read it in one sitting because, even imperfect, Neville’s characters and the unfolding of their relationships engage Miss Bates emotionally, the tried-and-true test of any romance worth its mettle.
Miss Bates’s measuring rod for the estranged-couple trope is Balogh’s Counterfeit Betrothal, the most heart-wrenching-please-please-get-back-together marriage-in-trouble story she’s ever read. Lady Windermere’s Lover doesn’t have the gravitas of Balogh’s classic, maybe because Neville’s couple, Lady Cynthia and Damian, Earl of Windermere, are younger, apart only a year after a disastrous start. They don’t have children and the road to their HEA, though painful in places, is lighter, with lovely humorous touches, like the kitten, Pudge, and a terrific larger-than-life secondary character, Julian Fortescue, the “lover of the title,” who often steals the show. There are echoes here of one of Miss Bates’s favourite romances, Rose Lerner’s marriage-of-convenience romance, In For A Penny. Like Penny, Lady Windermere’s Lover is a cross-class romance, of a cit and aristocrat who marries for lucre, and Windermere has a nice working-class history addendum in the struggle of the Spitalfields silk workers. Lerner’s hero is more sympathetic and heroine has greater depth and historical accuracy, but Neville also deftly navigates these elements. Neville is consistently worth reading; Lady Windermere’s Lover is worth reading. And awaiting that wicked, compelling, Heyer-esque Julian Fortescue to tell his story … Continue reading