REVIEW: Jeannie Lin’s A DANCE WITH DANGER, Or An “Irrational Act For Love”

Dance_With_DangerDevoted romance readers are super-readers: reading, when LIFE permits, several books a week and in possession of TBRs stretching “to the crack of doom”. This makes the rom reader knowledgeable about romance archetypes (more familiarly known as tropes) and, as a result, possessing a vocabulary with which to talk about the genre. Rom readers are pretty awesome in the ways they understand the genre. Moreover, they are knowledgeable about their favourite rom authors’ oeuvre. They compare favourite romance narratives and an author’s books to others she’s written. All of Miss Bates’ rigmarole to say that, when she read Jeannie Lin’s The Jade Temptress, the rom reader’s “hallelujah chorus” played at peak volume. When Miss B. saw Lin’s latest (and celebrated her return to category print), A Dance With Danger, she did the Snoopy happy dance. Reading The Jade Temptress, Miss Bates felt herself in the hands of someone who was doing wonderful things with the genre: interesting, original things, things that would linger and influence, set new bars and revive histrom’s flagging presence. Having read A Dance With Danger, Miss Bates can still say, with conviction, that Lin writes some of the best histrom on offer. Comparing A Dance With Danger to The Jade Temptress, however, leaves the former a tad in the dust. Continue reading

REVIEW: Jessica Gilmore’s EXPECTING THE EARL’S BABY … And A Whole Lot More

Expecting-Earl's_BabyJessica Gilmore’s latest category romance, Expecting the Earl’s Baby, holds out the promise of a marriage-of-convenience between opposites. Gilmore is a good hand at tropish writing, aware of the genre’s conventions in a witty, loving way; the last Gilmore category Miss Bates reviewed was a wonderfully written reunited husband-wife story. Though marriage-of-convenience is difficult to pull off in contemporary romance, Gilmore made a great start with a magical castle setting to add a touch of old-world fantasy and top it off with cheeky regency allusions. It reminded Miss Bates of one of her favourite castle-set romances (which also has the advantage of being Christmas-set!) Fiona Harper’s Snowbound In the Earl’s Castle. Gilmore’s heroine, like Harper’s, is an artistic working gal. Daisy Huntingdon-Cross, a wedding photographer, is doing a shoot at Hawksley Castle when her dedication to be last of the party to leave lands her, her stilettos, and flimsy car tires in a foot of snow. Her about-face to the castle to ask for help has her: ” … skid[ding] straight into a fleececlad chest. It was firm, warm, broad. Not a ghost. Probably not a werewolf. Or a vampire. Supernatural creatures didn’t wear fleece as far as she knew.” Said chest belongs to one pragmatic earl who offers chains for her tires because ” ‘… wouldn’t want you to freeze to death on the premises. Think of the paperwork.’ ” Humming “Good King Wenceslas” as she tiptoes in his steps’ wake, Daisy is attracted to The Chest. As is the guy in possession of The Chest, Sebastian Beresford, Earl of Holgate … and, well, one thing leads to another … six weeks later, Daisy returns to Hawksley Castle to tell Sebastian he’s going to be a daddy. Continue reading

Lynne Graham’s THE BILLIONAIRE’S BRIDAL BARGAIN And The Power of Yelling

Billionaire's_Bridal_BargainWhen Miss Bates needs to restore her faith in the romance genre, she’ll read Lynne Graham. First, her buddy over at Shallowreader loves Graham and that’s an ironclad rec and Miss Bates’ last (and first!) Graham read resulted in a precious keeper of delight. Delight is key to Graham’s accomplishment: she delights Miss Bates, surprises her, makes her smile, and upends her moues of romance-reading disapproval. Graham’s latest, The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain, vies with Morgan’s Playing By the Greek’s Rules as HP extraordinaire this year! Damn, but these two ladies can write romance. They can write it because they love it, believe in the story it has to tell of two people finding understanding and recognition of their essential selves in the other. But, the romance narrative’s thematic gravitas is couched in the garments of delight. Graham’s The Billionaire’s Bridal Bargain is the contemporary marriage-of-convenience romance between billionaire Cesare Sabatino and Yorkshire farmer Lizzie Whittaker. As Miss Bates said in a recent review, contemporary marriage-of-convenience is hard to pull off, as evidenced by Celmer’s failure. Celmer’s More Than A Convenient Bride strives for verisimilitude … ack, wrong, realized Miss Bates when she read Graham’s Bridal Bargain. For contemporary marriage-of-convenience to work, it is best left to the fantasy-ridden HP, where the reader expects billionaires, babies, and make-overs … what’s a little MoC to that? Continue reading

TINY-REVIEW: Michelle Celmer’s MORE THAN A CONVENIENT BRIDE

More_Than_Convenient_BrideA few years ago, Miss Bates read Michelle Celmer’s Caroselli’s Christmas Baby, a marriage-of-convenience, friends-to-lovers narrative she greatly enjoyed. Celmer’s latest and the subject of this post, More Than A Convenient Bride, is based on similar premises. South African heroine, Julie Kingston, best friend to, and research assistant of Dr. Luke Wakefield, has to leave the US when her work visa is not renewed by immigration. Friends for years since they met working for MSF, Julie and Luke are devoted to the health and well-being of the residents of small-town Royal, Texas. They are also more committed to their friendship and mutual medical mission than any significant others. Workaholics and free spirits, they agree to a marriage of convenience to ensure Julie stays where she can continue to help Luke rake in the millions by inventing life-saving surgical aides, while acting as chief of surgery at the local hospital and continuing his philanthropic work. These are highly intelligent, committed, professional protagonists and Miss Bates looked forward to their come-to-love story. It didn’t hurt that marriage-of-convenience and friends-to-lovers are two of her favourite tropes. Continue reading

REVIEW: Sophia James’s MARRIAGE MADE IN MONEY, And Convenience Questioned

Marriage_Made_In_MoneyMiss Bates is grateful NOT to be adding Sophia James’s Marriage Made In Money to a DNF post. She was sooo glad to find a romance novel that at least kept her attention to the HEA. James’s alliteratively-titled Marriage Made In Money echoes Mary Balogh’s A Christmas Promise and Rose Lerner’s In For A Penny, favourites of Miss Bates’s. (If you haven’t read them, do it now!) Marriage-of-convenience on the basis of one of the two characters’ need for money, usually the impoverished lord, is often a difficult trope-variation for Miss Bates to stomach. It takes subtle skill to convince a reader that the marriage-deal’s mercenary nature can turn to love and devotion; after all, one of the two protagonists is morally compromised from the get-go. Balogh’s and Lerner’s romances convince. James’s tried. Amethyst Amelia Cameron, 26, and widowed, her former marriage a  sham of abuse and trauma, agrees to marry Daniel Wylde, 6th Earl of Montcliffe and Napoleonic war veteran, to make her tradesman-father, gravely ill, happy. Lord Daniel agrees to marry Amethyst to save his crumbling, debt-ridden estates, brought to this low point by his gambling brother, Nigel, whose untimely death also left him a peevish, spendthrift mother and two unmarried sisters. (Just once, Miss Bates would like to read a romance that reverses that convention … but then mercenary women are not half as attractive as men, right?) The novel follows Amethyst and Daniel as they interact, attract each other, misunderstand each other, and stumble their way to an HEA. Continue reading

REVIEW: Rose Lerner’s TRUE PRETENSES, True Identities

True_PretensesRose Lerner’s True Pretenses is permeated with its protagonists’ sadness and loneliness. Romance readers take it on faith that heroine and hero may be torn by angst and trauma; cataclysmic life-events may alter a person’s consciousness. Yet, we’re often told this about romance heroes and heroines while reading about two people who flail around with pseudo-pain, but seem to have a good time otherwise. Most telling are the love scenes, where angst is forgotten, where traumatic events stop at the bedroom door: all is redeemed in a flurry of physical ecstasy. But people bring their sadness and loneliness, their traumas if they’ve experienced any, into every aspect of their lives. It’s hard to write that into a romance novel: it takes psychological acumen and risk to emerge out of the genre’s conventions to write about two people who are unhappy, who aren’t sure even when they seem to have found someone they’re attracted to and like that they can recover from their sadness. Rose Lerner has done this very thing in True Pretenses, the saddest romance novel Miss Bates has ever read. It’s slow and meandering, and it near broke her heart. As Lerner reached the climax of her story, it intensified; it brought all that disparate uncertainty, ennui, and melancholy into focus: pointed to all the ways we lie and make ourselves unhappy, all the rigid rules and self-regulations that lead to stultified lives.   Continue reading

REVIEW: Molly O’Keefe’s INDECENT PROPOSAL, Or “Harrison, Found In Manhattan”

Indecent_ProposalSome time in the late 90s, Miss Bates saw a film she hasn’t forgotten, much as she’d like to. It was bleak, depressing, definitely anti-romance. In it, the heroine had opportunities to save herself, to achieve an HEA. She was so passive, so unable to accept help from the people she encountered that she perished needlessly. The film is Amos Kollek’s Sue: Lost In Manhattan (it’s available, in its entirety, on YouTube, if you’re so inclined). What does this bleak portrait, in the centre of which is an anti-heroine with a strangely compelling passivity, have to do with Molly O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal? Miss Bates couldn’t help but recall the film as she read O’Keefe’s final book in her Boys of Bishop series. Kollek’s Sue is unemployed, evicted, and meanders through Manhattan looking ethereally, cadaverously beautiful. She worked as a temp and has a degree in psychology. She’s friendless and without family. She cleans up well and is intelligent and soft-spoken. Sue carries a defeated look, her eyes say “I’ve lost even before I’ve begun.” She meets a wonderful friend (actually, she’s a bartender!) and a beautiful man: the friend wants to help her, the man to care for her. She doesn’t reject them: she’s so tired of life she doesn’t call on them.

O’Keefe’s heroine, Ryan Kaminski, could have easily been Sue: a high-school drop-out, a divorcée who survived a shiftless and violent man, a 15-minutes-of-fame teen-age model who makes ends meet by working as a bartender in a Manhattan hotel. Ryan lives in a tenement and buys used psychology books because that’s what she’d like to study if she ever goes back to school. She’s 32, too old, she feels, to call it opportunity. The connections between Sue and Ryan are compelling. Miss Bates couldn’t help but think of these disparate texts because their juxtaposition spotlights what distinguishes the romance narrative. Same girl, same narrative, same edge of hopelessness, same seediness, cheap clothes and worn-out beauty … what does the romance narrative do with the same stuff, the same material, but imbues it with hope in place of despair? (As a side-note, she loved O’Keefe’s Indecent Proposal: marriage-of-convenience, a heroine who gains in strength and love, a Hubbell-hero humbled. What’s not to love?) Continue reading

REVIEW: Karen Kirst’s “Conveniently” MARRIED BY CHRISTMAS, “Inconveniently” In Love

Married_By_Christmas

Lovely cover art!

Married By Christmas … hmm, thought Miss Bates, inspie historical: low angst, a lot of baking, a little marriage-of-convenience … she liked that “by” in the title, build-up to Christmas! Hurrah! … Click went the Netgalley button back in the day. There’s nothing like Miss B. hoisted on her own petard: Kirst’s novel turned out to be more interesting, more riddled with pain and sexier, yes, sexier!, than most inspies. Miss B. is disappointed she missed out on the previous four books in the late 19th-century, Tennessee-set Smokey Mountain Matches series. Her heart dipped to see that Married By Christmas was fifth in the series: series, after the first three volumes, pretty much fizzle out and die, wane-in-quality has been Miss B.’s usual experience. She was surprised and delighted that she enjoyed Kirst’s effort as much as she did. It didn’t break any molds. You may certainly lob inspie-problematics at it any day; to Miss Bates, however, in the season’s glow and with a generous heart, she thought it was a lovely romance about redemption and second chances. Continue reading

Miss Bates’ Favourite Christmas Romances

Christmas_IvyMiss Bates loves Christmas: stars, trees, lights, baking, candle-lit church services. Carols! She decorates; she cuts out gingerbread people. She even mails Christmas cards. And, with Mrs. Bates, they haul a beautiful sapin de Noël up the narrow staircase to her apartment and spend happy hours with tinsel, glitter, garland, and ornament. Early December finds her ribbon-cutting the season by bringing out her Christmas tea mugs. Every year, on November 25th, the feast day of St. Catherine, patron saint of spinsters (also lace-makers) Miss Bates embarks on a month-long reading of Christmas-themed, Christmas-set romances. The genre presents her with a plethora of choices and the covers are sentimental favourites. She’s read some duds and she’s read some wonders. Here are her wonders; if you’re a Christmas-romance fan, you might have read them, or you might consider reading one, or two 😉 this year. Continue reading

Culling the TBR One Letter At a Time: “E” Is for Early, Margot Early’s MR. FAMILY

Mr_Family

Welcome, Willaful, to the Alphabet Challenge! Whittling the TBR one letter at a time! For her “E” read, Willaful read a meh m/m romance, but her voice is droll and astute.

Miss Bates returns to her personal, too-long-abandoned TBR challenge: reading through the Doddering TBR one alphabetical letter at a time. She last posted in this vein in September of 2013! In tackling “e,” Miss Bates opted for a book about which she knew bupkis, but whose cover drew her: a foxy-looking pooch, pretty little girl, and smiling man in high-waisted jeans and bare feet, also leis … it looked awful and turned out great. In Margot Early’s 1996 Harlequin Superromance, Mr. Family, Miss Bates had the rare experience of reading an unexpected, unusual, a true original of a romance. Mr. Family blew her away: it was unlike anything she’s read in romance fiction in ages. Though it dragged in a few places, and its suffering-protagonists’ pitch had strident moments, it was terrific. She hopes that her post urges some of MBRR’s readers to try it: she’d love to hear what new readers make of it. It stands a cut above mundane contemporary romance in several ways: its believable portrayal of a modern marriage-of-convenience narrative (with epistolary element!) its treatment of grief and loss, self-loathing and sexual frigidity, its extensive creation of a cultural context for the protagonists and portrayal of religious ritual that isn’t Christian romance-inspirational.  Continue reading